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Elton John World News: A Roadie-Turned Artist

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Tuesday 22 May 2007 @ 18:11 - GMT

A 32-year-old who once assisted Elton now plays a role in how gardens, subways and benches look, according to the Sentinel.

Anthony Hammond's most recent collaborative creation is the mural that has brightened the Enderley Street underpass in Newcastle, done with the help of pupils from St John Fisher High School. He's also pleased with the oak carvings in Oakamoor around the village hall, again done with the assistance of volunteers.

Anthony specialises in working with communities and helping them bring their own visions to life.

"I don't go in and say, 'I'm the artist, this is what we're going to make,' he says. "But I've got the skills to help people produce the art they want.

"First I need to find what their images are or where they're coming from. Are we using local history or the nature of the area? A lot of the youth work is addressing issues so I have to find out what's important to them.

"Sometimes it's very obvious; sometimes it needs to be developed. Oakamoor is a good example. They wanted carved bollards and the only images they had were an acorn and a kingfisher.

"We did those the first day and I found out as we went along that it was the first village to have electric light and there were a lot of buzzards in the area, so we included those in the finished carving.

"I do a lot of carving, though I can't go into a school of four-year-olds and let them loose with chisels. Instead, you might get them to make ceramic tiles and get them fired and glazed.

"It's important that they should have their hand in the finished work. If it's a mural, then the children should paint it rather than some guy from Cresswell because it's for their community."

As long as he can remember, he has been fond of art. He also likes music, playing the guitar since he was 11 or 12, and ''playing all over the place in bands.''

He adds: "I used to be a roadie, which sounds impressive when I say I've worked for Elton John at big venues like Wembley, but you're in after the gig clearing up. You might pass people in the tunnel but it's not like you sit down and shake hands."

The former Blythe Bridge High School pupil studied at Stoke-on-Trent College and Newcastle College before going on to gain a first-class degree in applied arts at Derby University.

He says: "The course was techniques rather than fine art, which is more about how far you can take the theory. It's how you cast, how you throw a pot.

"I'd done some public art projects at university and seen there was money coming in from the Lottery into participatory art. Even my final show was a public art piece. I made a mobile for a shopping centre.

"After that, I got a summer job with Staffordshire Moorlands District Council helping kids do art. Then I had a job with the Youth Service for four years.

"If you can work with young people, you can work with anybody. Probably the hardest bit is getting them to come up with their own ideas.

"I did a community art course at the University College of Central England in Birmingham, which gave me the skills to go out and work with people - everything you need to start a project and take it through to the end."

That was the beginning of Anthony's new career as a community artist, working in collaboration with groups from SureStart age to retirees. Since then, he has created art all over Staffordshire.

The carving of Leek skyline in the sensory garden of the Moorlands Hospital is his handiwork, as is the carved oak commemorative archway in Ipstones. There's a mosaic in Leek's Salisbury Centre and a shelter in Leek's Brough Park. All, of course, created in collaboration.

Anthony prefers to use wood and willow rather than sculpting in stainless steel.

He says: "I try to be sustainable and use materials that are natural and will grow.

"The beauty of natural materials is that people connect with them more.

"Carving is a contemporary way of using traditional materials. You can get laser-cut wood done industrially but if you can keep the old skills alive that's a valid education as well."

Not all of Anthony's art is still around, however. He likes working in willow or even in hay, making works which are as transitory as the seasons.

"I'm not a massive fan of work that lasts forever," he says. "It's done in willow with the understanding that in four or five years time it will be gone. It's about inspiring people rather than creating a monument.''

Even so, Anthony's main ongoing project is the house he's renovating in Norton Green with his partner Nicola Barnes, aged 31.

He says it is nearly complete.