It was working for his father’s building company in Castle Bromwich that enabled Stephen Kettle to develop the skills that he now employs for his unique form of stacked slate sculpture.
Born in Castle Bromwich in 1966, Stephen served in the Royal Navy for seven years after leaving school and then worked for over 15 years with his father in the construction business, practising a whole variety of building techniques especially plastering.
At the dawn of the new millennium Stephen began to experiment with sculpture, developing his own unique style with small pieces of slate glued with an adhesive of his own invention built up to form realistic forms.
A Full Time Sculptor
He became a full time sculptor in 2002 following a life changing event. As a member of the Oxford Dangerous Sports Club, he witnessed a fellow ‘human catapult’ fatally injured while attempting to be flung across the Thames by a replica medieval trebuchet.
Following this tragic accident, and showing his enterprising spirit (in the same year he rowed single handed across the English Channel), Stephen decided to dedicate himself to sculpture with slate as his chosen medium, a love affair that had started on family holidays to north Wales.
He says it ‘cannot be matched by any other substance on earth, natural or man made, in terms of beauty. It is silky when dry and glistens when wet. It incises cleanly which makes it unmatched in terms of durability.’
Using slate of different hues and texture from various parts of Wales, Stephen regularly works sixty hours per week. Stacking slate takes a great deal of time, the process can’t be hurried without compromising quality which is something he will not countenance.
Kettle has produced works both figurative and abstract and in a variety of sizes. Deeply patriotic, he is especially known for his statues of Winston Churchill, codebreaker Alan Turing and Spitfire designer R J Mitchell.
The Churchill statue is part of the Darrah /Harwood Churchill Memorabilia Collection at Bletchley Park and is made from pieces of slate taken from the mansion during repairs in 2008.
The Alan Turing statue is comprised of tens of thousands of pieces of slate weighing over 1½ tonnes. Also housed at Bletchley Park, it shows the famous codebreaker at work on an Enigma machine.
Fittingly for someone brought up in Castle Bromwich, Kettle has also created a life-sized statue of R J Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire.
Mitchell is portrayed standing at his drawing board working on a drawing of the plane’s prototype. Taking over 2000 hours to create, the statue was unveiled on 15 September 2005 to mark the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
The Mitchell statue is on permanent display at the Science Museum in London, the city which Stephen Kettle now calls home.