Archive | October, 2021


31 Oct
Emma Metcalfe Children’s Illustrator

In lustrate – to throw light upon. Emma Metcalfe passed away this month, young, bonny and blithe, struck down by the recurrence of an aggressive cancer.

When she told me not long ago that her illness would kill her, I offered to make her coffin. What else could this carpenter do?

My suggestion was so outrageous that it made her laugh out loud and say:

“Only you could say that, Henk, and mean it.”

I was indeed serious, I wanted, at least to enrobe my wonderful friend in a wooden raiment as fine as any of her glorious illustrations. Finest elm, myriad carvings of bicycles and swifts, her favourite bird and passion for sustainable transport.

I had a practice and made a 1/12th scale model in mdf (those who know me, will understand that I didn’t do this lightly)

I photographed my childhood rabbit pal, Bunny in it.

In the end I didn’t find it funny, and neither did he. Even with beads adorning the lid – glued on with super glue by my neice Percie, it still looks bloody grim. My wife, Clare, was appalled “Poor Bunny!”

I do hope bunny forgives me, I’m sure Emma did.

I’ll give the piece to my grandson for Halloween.

In Ghana, the country of my childhood, the dead are honoured in spectacular fashion. Ghanaian carpenters make coffins that celebrate the deceased’s life – in a most beautiful way.

What the deceased did, or what ‘did’ for them, no morbid sadness here.

Ghanaian Coffin

I think Emma would have liked a bit of bonkers, like this.

As it happens, her dear fella Matt will plant her on a hillside in Stannington, on the 17th November. She will have a grand view as she becomes the very substance of the Earth and the myriad creatures she drew, bringing to merry life in her work for children.

How will I remember her? Well, Emma and I were the first artists to move in to Exchange Place, Yorkshire Artspace, Sheffield in 2013 – then a neglected ex council property and now fully restored as a flagship centre for Art in Sheffield.

We used to meet up on the ground floor kitchen to make a cup of tea. She, slightly wild haired and bebothered, me, covered in sawdust and bored.

Emma radiated a certain kind of insouciant brilliant Englishness which was a delight. I could imagine her at Bletchley Park, decoding puzzles with the other ‘gels’ in 1944. She was that clever.

With a penchant for collecting weird plastic artefacts, toys, figurines and the like and housing them on a pretend mantle piece in her studio. I think she deserves the soubriquet ‘eccentric’.

No doubt people will remember her work for Cycling in Sheffield and Nottingham, her staunch defence of accessible transport networks in cities and her work to make homes for swifts.

I won’t remember that, I will remember a cup of tea, a look askance (find it in all her animals) and an infectious belly laugh.

Emma to me was like a daughter-on-loan, about the same age as my own daughter, and so very dear to my heart. I was able to indulge a certain fatherly care when she was around. She lived her short Life spectacularly well, may she rest in pieces, within all out hearts recycled, re-loved and daily missed.