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Keepin' the ommer in the frame

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 20, 2014

By John Workman

  • Grant Mills keeping the ommer in the frame

  • A picture by Grant Mills of the Bradney family hard at work at the Temple Meadow School chain shop (original photograph by J. Workman)

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FROM an early age Grant Mills was good at art, a rare talent that few of us are blessed with, but the particular discipline he was best at has only recently come to the fore.

In a recent conversation with the Bugle he told us, "I can remember my dad, Wallace Mills, sitting me down on his knee after a hard day's work at the steel works and teaching me to draw a cup and saucer using outline, shading and perspective. Perhaps at that age I thought all dads could draw, but I later realised his manual labours had always taken priority to keep a roof over our heads, and his drawing, which was indeed a gift, had to be treated like a hobby he could dabble with from time to time.

"His guidance and encouragement throughout those early years helped me to develop a style of my own, but I have always had a problem with my confidence and I also suffer from dyslexia. There were two art teachers at Macefield Secondary School, Mrs Parson and Mrs Weald, who continued to encourage me and they could see I had something to offer as an artist, so much so they were instrumental in getting me into Stourbridge Art College where I was accepted solely for my artwork with no other exams to back me up. But my old problems came back to haunt me and I had left within two weeks. I can now imagine how my dad must have felt. He had talent but he knew it would never earn him a living, and it was the same for me. My future lay in manual work and for years I worked in the construction trade and more recently as a tarmac layer."

Grant's ability as a scraper board artist was recently brought to the Bugle's attention by woman chain maker Annette Bradney. Grant told us, "After injuring my shoulder it looked like my tarmac laying days were over. Meanwhile I had completed a few boards and had them on the wall at my mom's house. A chap called John Crown from Black Country Windows saw them and got really excited. He told me I should do more and I started to look for subject matter.

"Annette and Mick Bradney are neighbours of mine and they showed me a few photographs that had been taken of them working the chain. I suddenly realised I had discovered my forte; to keep the ommer in the frame and portray traditional Black Country industries, at the chain shop and the forge, with sparks flying, the toil and sweat of endeavour and the tears of manual labour.

"I'm very lucky to be able to show evocative views of the old Black Country at work, and had it not been for my dyslexia and total lack of confidence perhaps my life would have led me down a different path and given me the chance to explore art as a living at a much earlier age. It's all about encouragement by the right people at the right time and a belief that you can succeed, come what may. I now feel I have overcome my dyslexia and lack of confidence by channelling my energy into scraper board art.

"We all have a talent for something and despite the various problems we have to face in life, anything is possible."

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