THE WORKS of Stourbridge artist Luke Perry are part of the landscape now across swathes of the Black Country – his cast-steel tribute to the women chainmakers in Cradley Heath, and his historical pieces along the Dudley Canal are among the most prominent.
But there will very soon be some of his Black Country steelwork down south. A set of five huge sculptures have been commissioned by Watford Council, and by next week they will gracing the parks and gardens across that town.
We went down to the Solid Swivel works in Cradley Heath, where Luke does all the heavy work, to see the finished sculptures being wrapped up ready for loading onto a lorry and carted off down the M40 to their new home.
Having become aware of Luke's work on his home patch, Watford Council approached him looking for original ideas to heighten public awareness of some of their parks and open spaces.
"They have quite a few parks in Watford, which have survived being built on because they always flood," Luke told us. "Because of the constant flooding they're almost forgotten as parks, just seen as part of the flood plain, but they've been irrigating them in recent years and now the council want to draw attention back to them as parks again." Five of Watford's parks will each gain a sculpture, standing five metres (nearly twenty feet) high on their shiny steel columns. The subject matter evokes the history and the wildlife of the town, and Luke has gone to great lengths to canvass local opinion regarding what should be portrayed.
"I went down there and organised workshops so that I could speak to the locals," said Luke. "I saw craft groups, loads of local kids, and got a really broad idea of what people wanted to see."
Not surprisingly, the River Colne, source of those floods, is a major influence on the sculptures. One features a huge heron in flight; wings spread wide as it takes off with a fish in its bill. Another features bream, perch, and a green-headed mallard.
The third features a fisherman up on a pole, a nod to one of Watford's quirkier bits of history, when locals would fish from their upstairs windows when the river burst its banks. The fourth is a portly gent in striped bathing costume, a reference to the lido which was on the river in the pre-war days of water so clean you could swim and dive in it.
The fifth piece is a tribute to the Land Girls. Being just a few miles from London, on a flood plain but with plenty of farmland around, Watford inevitably had a big part to play in the wartime push to keep our supplies topped up, and it remains proud of its Land Girls to this day.
To make the sculptures, Luke has departed from his usual technique of casting steel. With the works up on tall columns and out of harm's way, he has been able to make lighter, more detailed sculptures.
"I started by welding together interior supports – steel bars to form a skeleton, then built up a 'skin' of rings, from hand-beaten steel straps. It's easier to work with than plate, and it allows for some very textured finishes. It's all galvanised, and the galvanising alone should last for eighty years."
The five sculptures are due to be unveiled on June 9, with Luke in attendance – and long may they last.