Terry Grimley meets the Barber Institute's sculptor-in-residence.
Katherine Waters has just completed a residency at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts which has got her thinking about reviving a dead Birmingham industry.
Her sculpture inspired by the Barber's painting The Three Fates by Italian artist Sebastiano Mazzoni has been executed in papier mache, usually thought of as a humble craft technique, but once the basis of one of Birmingham's thriving trades.
Mazzoni's painting shows the three mythical female figures who visit each new-born child on the third day of its life and determine not only how long it will live but also the method of its death.
"I chose it because I liked the subject of the Fates and I like Mazzoni's painting because they are normally old hags and he's made them young women."
Mazzoni's figures are nude, but Waters has chosen to portray them in opulent baroque costume as they pay their ominous visit to a newborn female child.
"I wanted to give them different personalities which depicted what their jobs were. I liked the idea of them coming out of the same material, and because they are forces of nature I wanted it to have an organic, natural aspect."
One figure is made from copies of the Financial Times and another from the yellow pages. Because the theme suggested games and gambling, the costumes contain references to Snakes and Ladders and Monopoly.
Katherine trained as a figurative sculptor, serving an apprenticeship with one of Epstein's former students, so she is familiar with techniques involving plaster, clay and bronze. She has been working with papier mache for about two years.
"The figures are very strong, but they can't get damp," she says. However, she is working on techniques inspired by the former Birmingham industry, led by companies like Jennens & Bettridge, which combined papier mache and lacquer to produce a range of robust items, including chairs.
"I've been looking at the old recipes for that period. It's a mixture of paper waste and petro-chemical waste.
"I like the idea of the resurgence of an industry that died out quite a long time ago, and it's not a huge leap of imagination - we have a problem now of waste paper and of petro- chemicals. A hundred and fifty years ago there was a whole industry based on that.
"I love that whole thing about the Midlands, that they are so inventive. You could have a competition for design students, concentrating on a new Birmingham look. Wouldn't it be great if a backer came along and you could sell it to somewhere like Habitat?"
The idea of helping to resurrect Birmingham's papier mache industry seems to be part of a general reconnecting with her home town.
"It's nice being back. I was born in Sutton Coldfield, grew up near Lichfield and travelled a lot around Britain but also Eastern Europe and Italy.
"I remember Birmingham when I was 18 or 19 as a place where you got beaten up on a Saturday night. Now it's completely changed. It really has a nice feel to it, like Glasgow or Madrid, and I do want to stay here."
* Fates by Katherine M Waters is on view at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts until May 11 (Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12 noon-5pm; admission free).