TO SEE her work you wouldn’t have thought she’d been struggling with a chronic illness for the last decade.
The rhythmic clinks of the metal, the welding finesse and delicate yet concentrated buffs all give the impression of an artist through and through.
But scratch away at the surface and you’d be surprised to learn that a Micheldever girl owes her love of metal sculpting to her own metal work; that is, the pins she had inserted into her legs nearly three years ago.
When former Perins student, Jessica Bradley, was diagnosed with malalignment syndrome at the age of 19 most people thought she’d need to take a break. She was encouraged not to do any sports and to prepare for some very long (and very painful) surgery.
It took two surgeons four hours to complete and left the now 24- year-old in a wheelchair for months.
But her birth defect, as she prefers to call it, didn’t inspire her to start sculpting. It merely helped her to accomplish her dreams.
“My family and I took a trip to Vienna for a holiday during one summer and I saw a particular piece by Alberto Giacometti called Walking Man,” she said. “I asked my dad if I could make one and before I knew it I was designing all sorts of things. I’d never been in a workshop before but I knew from the moment I started it was what I wanted to do.
“I began by making horses and dogs and found they were getting bigger and bigger as the months went on.”
But she soon found out how much she would learn to love sculpting when her diagnosis finally came through.
“I had a lot of physical trouble, you could say, at school,” she said. “I was diagnosed with malalignment syndrome which means as I grow I grow twisted. I had to have it corrected two and a half years ago by effectively having both my legs broken.
“I’d had trouble since I was 12 but wasn’t diagnosed until I was 19.
Initially the doctors thought it was due to the level of sport I was doing at school so I slowed that down but it just didn’t go away.
“As a result my life had a lot to do with my work because I had to have metal pins inserted into my legs. It’s become integral to what I do. Perhaps if I hadn’t had been born with this birth defect I would’ve gone down a different route.
“Being confined to my workshop meant I had to really explore my imagination to make sure my work stayed as creative as it could be.”
And it seems the hard work has really paid off. Guided by her art teacher, Lorna Billington, and head of house, Paula Pearce, meant Jessica had her GCSE work displayed at the Courcoux Courcoux art gallery in Stockbridge when she was just 17. Fast forward a few years and she’s taken home an award from the blacksmiths competition at the New Forest Show and gets regular commissions from clients from as far away as America.
“I do get commissioned to do specialist works for some people but doing my own work means I can be an artist and it’s far more satisfying,” she said.
“One of the things I like most about working specifically with metal is that it’s very forgiving. I don’t like working to cost and each piece is completely unique.”
Actively encouraged by her dad Peter, an engineer, and her mum, Alison, a former teaching assistant at Micheldever Primary School, Jessica’s business, Jessa Bradley, seems to be going from strength to strength.
“It stopped being something I just enjoyed doing and soon became a real option because of my legs,” she added. “Both my parents are so incredibly supportive but had I not been confined to my workshop I wouldn’t have had anything else. It’s because of my birth defect that I’ve been able to do what I love.”