What is Materially Speaking?
Materially Speaking is a podcast where artists and artisans tell their stories through the materials they choose.
We start by hearing from artists working in a small town called Pietrasanta in northern Italy. Generations of sculptors have been coming here since Michelangelo arrived 500 years ago to work with the locally sourced marble and skilled artisans. Later we’ll meet people working in wood, bronze and other materials to explore their relationships with their chosen medium.
Sarah Monk was initially inspired to make this podcast because of the influence of her father. ‘He was a craftsman who carved Renaissance musical instruments from wood so I’ve always admired craft skills.’ Later, when she saw how the unique artisan population of Pietrasanta was ageing and new technologies were taking over, she says ‘I wondered what we would all lose if these skills, wisdom and experience disappeared forever.’
Nature’s ability to inspire artists seems infinite, but with the climate emergency and likelihood we’ll lose these natural resources that have sustained us for thousands of years, isn’t now the time to listen to those who work slowly with stone and make objects that will last for centuries?
The seeds for Materially Speaking were planted early. While Sarah’s father carved cornetts and serpents – 16th century wind instruments – she’d accompany him carving wood in his workshop. The noise of wood-turning lathes and musicians trying out mouthpieces became the soundtrack to her childhood. His passion led him to experiment with casting instruments in resin and using computer-driven machinery, giving Sarah a lifelong interest in the links and differences between old and new methods of making.
Before setting up Materially Speaking, Sarah produced other audio work including a series of ten stories about railway workers and commuters at King’s Cross, for King’s Cross Story Palace. While in the US, Sarah was director of CultureFiles in Philadelphia, producing an online guide to the arts and culture of the city. She also wrote and presented a live weekly arts segment on NBC, What to do at the weekend. Sarah’s passion for music led to her founding Prelude Entertainment, producing concerts and providing musicians for corporate hospitality at venues including The British Museum, Royal Academy of Arts, Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Tate.
Sarah lives and works in north London.
Sarah would like to thank the many people who made Materially Speaking possible. Most particularly, all the artists and artisans who gave up their valuable time to speak. Sarah also acknowledges the support and encouragement from the wider community – historians, studio heads, gallery owners and others – who offered advice, shared contacts and pointed her in intriguing and welcoming directions. For the composition of the musical ‘sting’, Sarah thanks Guy Dowsett.