“Ooh, I’d love one of those.”

“Wow, that’s amazing!”

Just a couple of sentiments you might hear (or exclaim yourself) while passing by James Barrett-Nobbs' stand at craft fairs and events.

Working under the guise of Acorn Forge, the East Anglian sculptor regularly draws crowds, who are utterly blown away by his incredible creatures, forged from recycled cutlery.

A kingfisher perched on a branch dangling its prey. An owl, wings spanned, ready to take flight. A fish caught in motion.

James admits he “was terrible at art” at school, and wasn’t entirely sure what he’d do with himself, until he fell into working with a blacksmith and welder nearly 15 years ago. When his mentor relocated to Wales, James went out on his own...and hasn’t looked back, remarkably being almost entirely self-taught in his trade.

Eastern Daily Press: Sculptor James Barrett-Nobbs with a kingfisher he made from cutlerySculptor James Barrett-Nobbs with a kingfisher he made from cutlery (Image: Archant 2022)

“I wanted to do something for myself. Something based around wildlife and nature, which I love,” he says. “This is totally different to anything I was interested in at school.”

Early work included firepits and chimeneas, which he continues to make today. “The firepits are hexagonal,” James explains. “I made my first one 15 years ago and I’ve still got it. There are so many poor-quality ones out there. I wanted to create something that would last for ever, and that’s aesthetically pleasing. Mine are made with thick steel.”

The sculptor’s lightbulb moment, and what was the start of his most lucrative venture, was when he noticed a bunch of cutlery handles on a table looked like a dragonfly’s wings.

“I experimented, and a small dragon fly was one of the first things I made, from fork or spoon handles. And it went on from there really. I base them on pictures I’ve taken myself, or taken by others. I’ve just done larger birds of prey for a couple in Loddon who are wildlife photographers, recreating pieces from their photos. Recently I had a commission for a cockerel as well!”

Eastern Daily Press: A woodpecker, one of James Barrett-Nobbs' sculptures made from cutleryA woodpecker, one of James Barrett-Nobbs' sculptures made from cutlery (Image: Archant 2022)

James laughs that he’s keeping local charity stores open with his mass buys to make his work. “And I’m pretty regular at Kessingland car boot! I work with some house clearance people, and bits and bobs are always coming my way.”

He really hit the jackpot a few years ago when a hotel restaurant that was closing gave him 1,500 teaspoons in exchange for a hummingbird sculpture. “It’s so rare to come across lots of cutlery that’s the same. You can have 10 spoons in front of you that look alike, but actually are completely different.” With those spoons, James made a giant fish, one of his favourite pieces to date, which was sold at this year’s Royal Norfolk Show.

“I’d become quite attached to that actually. I’ve done some very very large butterflies, which were favourites too, and a quite interesting one I made was a large butterfly on a 24ft tall dandelion made of 6ins steel nails. It was beautiful. It was exhibited at Sculpture in the Valley at Potton Hall last year and won the Peoples’ Choice Award. I still think it’s one of my best pieces.”

Eastern Daily Press: Scultptor James Barrett-Nobbs made this fish using 1,500 teaspoons from a hotel restaurant that was closing. It was sold at this year's Royal Norfolk ShowScultptor James Barrett-Nobbs made this fish using 1,500 teaspoons from a hotel restaurant that was closing. It was sold at this year's Royal Norfolk Show (Image: Archant 2022)

James works on commission, and in the background is squirreling away making various pieces to take to shows and fairs, which keep in considerably busy in summer. Pieces range from £20 for a dragonfly, up to around £3,000 to £4,000 for a large installation.

His sculptures can be seen and bought at Designermakers 21 store in Diss – a collaborative co-operative shopping experience run by a group of artists.

“I’ve got something for everyone, and every piece is a total one-off. No two are ever alike,” he adds.

Find out more at acornforge.wixsite.com

James is exhibiting at Strumpshaw Tree Fair near Norwich on July 16 and 17, Raveningham Sculpture Trail from July 31, Harlequin Fayre in west Norfolk from August 4 to 7, and Folk East at Glemham from August 19 to 21.