Renowned local sculptor Mick Henson shares the secrets of his art
The artist has his public sculptures displayed across the county
Sculptor Mick Henson is an engineer by trade. Now he uses those skills to create works of art that can be seen throughout the county. He talks to Julia Thorley about how this came about.
When Mick Henson left school in the 1980s, he started working in the maintenance department of a shoe factory in Wollaston, then moved into the tanning trade. Both these jobs involved him in rebuilding and fixing machines, and all this experience was great training for the creation of his, often huge, sculptures, which he makes from sheets of metal and reclaimed materials.
Mick’s development as an artist seems to have come about almost by accident, through a series of events, connections and opportunities.
“Everything I know about sculpture has been learned along the way, through research and practice. The only formal art training I’ve had was when I took a course on ceramics through Tresham College in Kettering. I met some lovely people there and I’m still in touch with them.”
From the start, he made a conscious decision never to pay for materials, but to use only recycled and repurposed resources that other people might consider as junk.
“I had a work contact who was able to get me some waste resin that was no longer fit for commercial use, and I explored papier-mâché-style working. I sprayed the finished piece with sand from a builders’ merchant and the result was that it looked as though it had been carved from stone. It ended up on display in Weston Favell library and there was an article about it in the Northampton Chronicle.”
Changes in his personal life led to him exploring new experiences and opportunities for developing his art projects.
“These were tough times, but I started noticing a resurgence in what you might call pop-up art. I was working away in my shed at home, hammering and welding, and I created a mask out of steel, which I hung on my wall. I decided it needed a companion, so I started building a fantasy piece, complete with dragon. This became a bit of an obsession; it was all I could think about.
“Then friends from the ceramics course told me that some low-rent art studios were available at Barton Hall, which was owned by the Wicksteed Trust. This was in 2006, I think, and I was there for about six years. I had a barn with plenty of space to create my big pieces. The biggest sculpture I built at my studio there was made from conveyor beds I used to work on before being made redundant. I had been working shifts, which meant I had time to spend on my art projects, but redundancy gave me the push to focus on art full time.
“This all led to more of my work being exhibited. Then a chat with someone I knew at Corus Steel led to a commission of a piece called Weightlifter, made out of 16-gauge tin, and this got me more publicity, which was great.”
Mick’s first public sculpture was created for the fifth anniversary of the Castle Theatre in Wellingborough, and is still on display outside the main entrance. It’s called Son of the Soil and is one of a set of four pieces inspired by the elements. The other three went to Wollaston Museum.
Mick has worked in schools, and enjoys encouraging young people to explore their creativity. One example is a project he did with Wrenn School in Wellingborough where they created an archer to commemorate the London Olympics in 2012. The rusty steel the school wanted was provided by a local building firm.
“I also did a lovely project with Park Junior School in Kettering. I’d been given a load of clicking press knives used to cut out shoe components. I used them to make shoe patterns in card and gave them to the children to put designs on. The plan was to make a big sculpture of a shoe to go into Kettering Manor House Museum, but then we went into lockdown and the children never got to see the finished article, which was a real shame.”
Another reclamation project is a creature made out of old fire extinguishers, sprayed red and assembled in situ at 78 Derngate, Northampton. (Most of his sculptures can be taken apart to move them and then rebuilt.) He has since added some automation so this model can send out jets of fire and water! He has also made a robot called 09, which lives at his shed.
As well as outside the Castle, Mick’s work has been widely exhibited. At the Open Studios exhibition at Lamport Hall, two of his pieces – the Knight and the Weightlifter – were on show, and his Kneeling Knight is a popular sight at Wicksteed Park.
As he says to his students, “If you can make it out of cardboard, I can make it in steel!”
You can find Mick Henson Sculptures on Facebook.