Exhibition preview: Switch City, Walsall Museum, Walsall, until April 6 2013
Walsall’s central museum describes the strange, futuristic domes made by Derby ceramicist Elaine Lim-Newton as “something from a sci-fi film”. Their inspiration, though, is one of the town’s most successful firms of the past century.
© Courtesy Elaine Lim-Newton
Since 1919, JA Crabtree and Co have made light switches, plugs and sockets for homes and businesses around the world. And as part of a site-specific collaborative project, Lim-Newton sized up their factory on Rushall Street, creating hand-made plaster moulds cast from some of their original fittings.
“Crabtree manufactured electrical fittings when electricity use was in its infancy,” she explains.
“The Lyndon House Hotel is located on the old site where the factory used to be. At one time it was Walsall’s largest engineering company, and in its heyday, in the mid-20th century, the company was the largest private employer in the town.
“It eventually closed its manufacturing base in Walsall in 1997. But even today, the Crabtree name continues to be a leading brand in the manufacture of electrical switch gear and fittings.”
Some of the ex-employees have been back at the grind. In a workshop run by the artist, former factory workers helped fashion ceramic takes on the switches, incorporated in the final display of dome and box sculptures.