Meeting Point: Emma Smith at The Brickworks Museum


12th May 2022

‘Coralent’, artwork in progress, by Emma Smith at The Brickworks Museum © Pascal Vossen

A new art installation commemorating the UK’s brickworks and the thousands of forgotten workers connected to the industry goes on display at The Brickworks Museum in Southampton from Tuesday 31 May as part of the celebrations marking the museum’s 125th year.

Coralent – the name given to a pattern made of bricks – is a new artwork by visual artist, Emma Smith, that will see an installation of suspended bricks hung from the ceiling of the drying room at The Brickworks Museum, with each one representing an individual worker from the industry. Each brick will carry the initials of the person it commemorates.

Artist Emma Smith said:

“Bricks are so ubiquitous that we don’t often think about them or how they are made, but each individual brick has passed through many different hands. It was the original brick making process that inspired me to think about the thousands of forgotten and invisible workers from the industry, many of whom were women and children. Historically, the number of people who have made bricks is astounding, and while we often don’t tend to give bricks much thought, we are all in some way connected through this inanimate object that exists all around us.

While company stamps are a fascinating part of brick history, because of the way bricks are handled using the palm of the hands, there are typically no marks or imprints by the people that make them. This installation is designed to remember all the women, men and children that made the bricks that created the homes we live in, the offices we work in, and the built environment all around us.

It’s also a celebration of the passion, skill and talent that exists in brick making; whose invisible labour results in a product so visible it is rarely seen.”

Visitors to the exhibition will be invited to add to the installation by creating their own brick in memory of people connected to the brick making industry, allowing it to build over time.

The installation will be hung to create a circular chamber, marking the Quaker history of The Brickworks Museum site, and the Quaker practice of coming together in the round as a space of equality.

The Brickworks Museum is located in the Victorian brickworks founded by the Ashby family in 1897. At its peak, the factory was producing in excess of 20 million bricks a year, making it one of the main producers of bricks in the region. Bursledon Brickworks closed in 1974, and after being saved from demolition, reopened as a museum in 2014.

Carolyne Haynes, Project Director at The Brickworks Museum, said:

“Because it’s something we see everyday, we don’t think about our love affair with bricks and how deep they are in the British psyche. They really are an important part of our history.

Brick making has a real human connection, I think that’s why it’s so fascinating. So many different people are part of the brick making process and each one has a story to tell.

Emma’s artwork is about remembering the people behind each brick and honoring their role in an industry that is still essential to our lives today. When people visit the museum they’ll feel immersed in its history and the significance of the site.”

Coralent is presented as part of Meeting Point, a national programme led by Arts&Heritage.

Steph Allen, Executive Director at Arts&Heritage said:

“Emma’s installation is a great example of how working with an artist can help heritage venues and museums bring their stories to life and connect with a wider audience.

When we uncover human stories connected to our history we can better understand its impact on our lives. Even a simple item like a brick can tell us so much about who we are.”

Emma Smith added:

“There is a history of brick making in my family, which has made this project really personal. My great granddad worked in a brick works, and my granddad hung the bricks for the steel work furnaces. I hope by making these human connections to such an everyday object I can help people view them in an entirely new way.”

Coralent opens at The Brickworks Museum from Wednesday 1 June and runs until the autumn as part of the museum’s celebrations marking its 125th year.

For more information about Coralent and The Brickworks Museum, visit www.thebrickworksmuseum.org or the A&H project page.

For more information about Emma Smith, visit www.emma-smith.com.


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