Funds for the works were made available from the Redditch Development Corporation, the Needles Industry Group, and the Arts Council of Great Britain, whose 'Arts in Public Places' scheme assisted the commissioning of works of art throughout the country 'for the benefit of the public at large', especially in non-metropolitan areas far from the other centres of modern art. The amount granted from the Arts Council represented the largest public commission for public art in the 20th century up until that date.
A brief was prepared, stipulating 'a feature/artwork related to the most significant industry base within Redditch, namely, needles'. Eduardo Paolozzi was approached, and he soon accepted the commission.
Paolozzi was given the freedom to interparty the brief relating the mosaics to the needle industry theme in his own terms, and declared that the needle industry theme ran through all twelve panels in the form of:
"a multi-evocative metaphor, floating in some cases against woven material, symbolizing the uses and results of the needle in its widest sense - a vital tool for the uniting of many substances in both a global and metaphysical sense."
He considered the shape and the pattern of needle packets as well as the machinery used in the needle industry and he also included such natural imagery as butterflies and lizards 'which might be found in tapestries and fabrics'. Many historical sources were consulted for the palette of colours, including the British Museum and the V&A. The astronaut, the camera, aeroplane and spaceship, together with the mechanical and electronic images, emphasise the contemporary setting and the progression of the town of Redditch, and the overall impression is one of pulsating manufacture, progress, and modern life in technicolour.
Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) was a visionary and inspired choice. He was a British artist, born in Scotland of Italian parents best known as one of the founders of 'Pop Art'. For example, this can be illustrated in the fact that in the 1960s he used the technique to colour-change combinations to be employed four years later by Andy Warhol in his iconic Marilyn Monroe images. Paolozzi trained at, amongst many other fine institutions, the Slade School of Fine Art, and he himself went on to teach at St Martin's School of Art and Central School of Art before becoming Professor of Sculpture in Munich in 1981. The amount of artistic output that Paolozzi produced during his life was phenomenal. Some of the more notable examples include work of a similar kind to that which you see today in Tottenham Court Road Tube Station in London, large scale sculpture work outside Euston Station in London, on Birmingham University Campus, and in his monumental bronze figure of Newton after Blake (1997) sited outside the British Library. Paolozzi was knighted in 1988, and died aged 81 in 2005.
Paolozzi produced and selected the images for each of the twelve panels which were drawn individually, hand-coloured, and then put through a Xerox machine to regularise the colours used. They were then cut out and collaged onto sheets to form the individual panels, and the pattern sheets were sent to Spilimbergo, northern Italy; a town with a mosaic-making tradition dating back two centuries. Paolozzi chose the exact tile colours to be used, in consultation with a resident mosaic artist. A master pattern was made for each panel and each colour was coded for assembly. Interlocking numbered sheets were individually hand-made and numbered following the patterns, and the sheets were used for fixing and grouting the panels. It took three craftsmen, based in Birmingham but originally from Spilimbergo, two weeks to install the work.