Nicola Ellis + Ritherdon

Chemistry and Magic Straight Down the Line, 2018

The mysterious relationship between company founder Percy Ritherdon and Chung Ling Soo – the American illusionist whose fatal encounter with a magic bullet trick shocked 1918 Britain – resonated in Nicola Ellis’ embedded residency with the company. Percy’s interest in chemistry and magic led to an unusual range of Ritherdon products, initially concentrating on electroplating and enamelling for the Edwardian bicycle boom, but also on making tricks for magicians.

Like Chung Ling Soo before her, Nicola subverted factory processes for the production of something magical, producing a series of powder-coated ‘paintings’ and industrial sculptures in a ‘sleight of hand,’ that removed her touch from the work, leaving the final mark of creation to the factory machinery. Nicola’s paintings, sculptures, sound and video works transformed an empty industrial unit in Blackburn town centre, before being dismantled and returned to Ritherdon to complete the life cycle of these materials.

Listen to the podcast episode about Chemistry and Magic Straight Down the Line below.

In Focus

Nicola returned to Ritherdon to extend her residency for a further two years with new work being exhibited at the National Festival of Making 2022. Read about Nicola’s work in an essay written by Lauren Velvick for The Tribune Magazine here and listen to ‘Incidental Rendition,’ a collaboration between Nicola and Manoli Moriaty; a podcast made from layers of sounds recorded while walking around the Ritherdon factory floor. View photos of the work exhibited at the Festival below.


“My practice weaves in and out of existing workplace ecosystems, disrupting the traditions of production techniques. The parameters for my sculpture, site responsive installation, drawings and videos are informed by relationships between people, materials and processes.”

Nicola Ellis


Nicola Ellis is interested in the material properties, function and circulation of metals and their impact on human culture. Her work draws on the visual language of industry operations, fabrication and profiling processes. The sculpture and installations often feature scrap material and industrial detritus, referencing the tradition of mid-twentieth century abstract metal sculpture. Breaking from this tradition, Nicola orchestrates situations for improvised and impermanent works. Materials are often loaned from places of industry local to an exhibition site; treating steel as a kind of currency in its own right. Each work is not only a response to its material properties and site but it also functions as a reflection of material and industry within local, national and international systems of value.


Established by Percy Ritherdon in 1895 to take advantage of the Edwardian bicycle boom, Ritherdon & Company has survived two World Wars and the Great Depression thanks to three resilient generations of the famous family. One-hundred years on and the firm continue to produce a variety of products for a variety of industries; from meter boxes and meter box repair units for the housing industry, to passive safe products, feeder pillars and electrical enclosures for the Highways industry. A combination of a passion for innovation and close working relationships ensures the continual development and expansion of product ranges.

“We did develop our creative skills, learnt a lot about the process of creating artwork and the whole experience definitely opened our minds to new things.”

Ben Ritherdon, Ritherdon


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