You can’t miss the Wolverhampton School of Art. Self-contained over nine floors in an iconic, architectural landmark on Molineux Street, Charles Wheeler’s brave and iconic architecture dominates the West Midlands city.
The same boldness and impact are found in the career trajectory of its graduates.
Since the 1850s, when the Wolverhampton School of Art’s first purpose-built art school was commissioned, the school has been at the centre of the city’s creative and industrial strategy. This link with industry, civic and community partners has allowed its Art, Design and Screen based courses to come to life through school/college experience days, the annual Artsfest and degree shows, exhibitions, conferences or public lectures.
In 2022, the school will host the prestigious touring exhibition British Art Show 9 and open its brand new multi-million pound Screen School, which builds on the established reputation and specialisms at Wolverhampton for delivering subjects such as Animation and Games Design
These events and facilities provide a unique avenue for creative enquiry as well as professional practice and enterprise. More importantly, they form a creative, practice-led community, where students find the time, space and resources to gain high level skills as makers and learn to understand the historical and contemporary scope of their subject.The result? Thousands of graduates who have gone on to become successful in their chosen field – covering the entire spectrum of its subject portfolio. Here are three students and graduates on their thriving careers and the school that inspired it all:
MA Design and Applied Arts (now MA Design and Applied Arts – Glass)
“Blown Away” is a Netflix show where 10 master artists take on glassblowing sculpture challenges for the chance to win US$60,000 in prizes and the title of champion. Elliot Walker, Wolverhampton MA Design and Applied Arts graduate, is the winner of the second season.
Walker has had a meteoric career since graduating from Wolverhampton. He began working at the London Glass Blowing studio, under the expert guidance of Peter Layton and his team. As part of the team for eight years, he had the opportunity to exhibit in the gallery, a feat that “pushed his development like nothing else could have.”
“I feel I have developed very well in my career in the nine years since my graduation,” he says.
During his degree, he had the opportunity to work at the Red House Glass Cone, in the heart of the historic glass making area of the UK. Today, he is one of a handful of glassblowers in the world whose focus is solely upon figurative sculpture. It’s a role that demands extreme dexterity, speed and precise temperature control and exposes him to temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees.
Walker does these with ease — and recently, with grandeur. “I have very recently opened my own studio on the outskirts of London to pursue my own sculpture and also take on larger commissions for a number of design companies and artists,” he says. “I work there with my assistant and partner Bethany Wood and alongside another glassblowing team with whom we share the space. I exhibit with a number of galleries in the UK and America.”
Master’s degree in Product Design
In June 2021, Joe Geehan put the School of Art firmly on the map with his Aero chair.
He secured a place at the prestigious Dutch Design Week 2021, the biggest annual design event in Northern Europe, which takes place every October in Eindhoven. His unique chair sat among the work and ideas of more than 2,600 designers, which were presented to more than 350,000 visitors from home and abroad.
“Some of Aero’s inspiration has come from high performance aircraft and bicycles influencing the forms and choice of the high-performance carbon composite element,” says Geehan. The black American walnut was chosen to complement the distinctive black tones of the carbon whilst providing warmth to the chair.
“Aero is a premium design with luxury in mind. It was important to tailor the materials to ensure the user can interact with the contrasting textures and forms of the chair. The traditional craftsmanship element of the design is enhanced with the beautiful strong grain structure hand finished with finishing oil.”
Geehan is a reflection of how the school turns passion into impact. “Joe is only one of many talented students that are studying with us, creating all kinds of products that have more benefits than just being furniture,” says Jason Fernandes, 3D Design Lecturer.
In 2019, Chris Day was selected to exhibit as part of the prestigious British Glass Biennale, where he received a special commendation. The next year, his solo exhibition at the Vessel Gallery: “Blown, Bound and Bold” – the result of his research into black slavery and the civil rights movement – was featured as part of London Craft Week. His work has also been featured on BBC Midlands Today.
Pretty impressive for someone who never thought he’d go to university. Yet, at 48, and with a mortgage and two kids, Wolverhampton “sparked” his enthusiasm. He found the studio and facilities “amazing,” convincing him that he wanted to work with glass.
“Studying as a mature student and graduating from The University of Wolverhampton I have been able to develop work which involves black history and identity and try to reignite the conversation surrounding these issues,” he says.
“I can’t thank the university enough for inspiring me, they have nurtured me and they have instilled confidence in me. I needed something to spark my enthusiasm. When I saw the studio and facilities at the School of Art, it was such an amazing space, I knew I wanted to work with glass – I’d never worked with it and it’s something that doesn’t really want to be worked with so that was a real challenge for me from the start.