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Media centre home > News > Lecturer discovers way of the samurai - in Preston


An artist on a one-man quest to rediscover an ancient Japanese metalwork technique found what he was looking for in the unlikeliest of places - the mayoral offices in Preston.

The unlikely discovery led senior research fellow and silversmith Coilin O'Dubhghaill to complete a restoration of the Preston civic chains of office, after discovering that its creator, 19th century sculptor Alfred Gilbert, used shakudo - a unique alloy first used to decorate samurai swords.

Gilbert was an innovator in the use of materials in sculpture at the end of the 19th century – he famously used aluminium to produce the Eros statue in London's Piccadilly Circus at a time when aluminium was more expensive than gold.

Gilbert's use of Japanese materials was always suspected, but never proven, despite a lengthy search for his work throughout the UK and Ireland.

Coilin is set to talk about his search for shakudo, and other projects, at the Engineering For Life conference to be held at Sheffield Hallam next month.

Coilin said: "Alfred Gilbert was an important sculptor and goldsmith in Britain and was commissioned to make the Preston chain in the 1890’s.

“Based on his correspondence, Gilbert was considered by historians to be the first person in Britain to work with Japanese alloys and patination techniques, but we could never find an example of this groundbreaking work.”

Coilin had recently completed a study of Japanese sculpture techniques in the 16th century when he was contacted by a goldsmith who was working on a restoration of Preston's mayoral chains.

He said: "They contacted us when they found that the Preston chain contained panels of shakudo. Our three-year study of traditional Japanese alloys and patination combined the expertise of material scientists and traditional metalworkers working across the University and put us in a unique position to help with the restoration."

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