Fit for Purpose – Contemporary British Silversmiths at the V&A

When I was in London for Jewellery Week I made some time to sneak down to one of my favourite parts of the city – the Victoria and Albert Museum. Over the summer it’s hosting a show for the Contemporary British Silversmith‘s Society entitled ‘Fit for Purpose‘.

At the back of the silver galleries is a delicious little case filled with contemporary silverware:

The show has an interesting concept given that, in the last century or so, the market for silver has changed so radically and the ‘purpose’ for which most silverware is now made has shifted. Gone are the days of large firms making household, utilitarian silverware and the market is now much more dominated by studio makers exploring the craft for private clients and small retailers.

The work on display is varied, from that clearly designed for a more traditional purpose – like Louise Mary‘s salad servers (utilitarian, but no less elegant for being so) to the intentionally conceptual pieces of Rajesh Gogna.

There’s also a beautiful piece of Kevin Grey‘s laser welded work, a stunning set of angular beakers from Mary Ann Simmons and a wonderful sculptural tray from Alex Ramsey, which bears her distinctive and delicate cut patterning spread across a form I’ve not seen before.

For a small case it’s a wonderful collection of work that’s well worth a visit – the show continues in the V&A silver galleries until the 16th of September 2012.

Reticulated texture

While my workshop was open over the weekend I used the opportunity to make a batch of my new seaside pieces for a couple of galleries. I find, when I have multiples of one thing to make, that I easily get into a good working rhythm and gain some good working momentum.

I’m fairly new to reticulation though and I have to watch these pieces like a hawk to avoid melting them! Lately I’m getting a better feel for how the surface textures of the silver changes, and how to spot the warning signs of over heating – but when  started out it was all rather trial and error.

So, you start off with your nice, shiny wire:

and get heating, with a nice, gentle, feathery flame. I use charcoal bricks to support work that I’m reticulating – it tends not to stick to the charcoal and the heat reflects really nicely (which helps to keep the temperature even through the metal). There’s a brilliant tutorial on Ganoskin which takes you through the process and a quick video of me reticulating the wire here. With this being the end result:

Going back over the piece with a slightly more intense flame, right at the end, seems to even out the surface really well too. Once it’s all pickled clean for the final time it’ll look something like this:

these polish up beautifully into a texture that proves to be  wearing ever so well:

All set for Open Studios:

I set the workshop up today for the Centrepiece Open Studios:

It was nice to have a bit of a spring clean, blow the dust off the lamps and lay out my wares in the workshop again. I had a few visitors this afternoon (we trialed an evening opening this year which I think worked quite well) and hopefully there’ll be some more tomorrow. Drop by if you’re in Birmingham to see me – and the 30 other Centrepiece members and guests who’ll be opening their workshops:

Centrepiece Jewellery Quarter Open Studios Map

Centrepiece Open Studios map – Click to enlarge

 

Made in the Middle – MAC, Birmingham

I wandered down to the MAC in the wintery sunshine today and paid a visit to Craftspace’s new Made in the Middle exhibition which moved in a couple of weeks ago. Featuring work from 35 makers in the middle of the UK (and, bizarrely, at least one from Wales…) the show covers the broad sprectrum of contemporary craft from ceramics to textiles via silversmithing and glass.

Made in the Middle at the MAC

It’s great to see so much diversity in a show like this – there’s a lot to connect with no matter what your taste and, while obviously I was drawn like a magpie to the metalwork, I was also fascinated by this:

Made in the Middle - detail of Charlotte Clark's glass

It’s a close up of Charlotte Clark‘s cast glass sculptures which are just stunning. She cuts through blocks of glass that are filled with voids and swirls of colour to expose the rough textures within – this one contained a hole host of beautiful tones and bubbles that evoked a storm at sea.

Made in the Middle - Charlotte Clark

There’s a posied sense of balance about her work, while the shapes of the sculptures are all geometric their harsh, mathematical lines are broken as the internal bubbles and ‘flaws’ in the glass touch the surface. Working with a substance like this must make for a constantly suprising results …

Just next to Charlotte’s work is case full of Kevin Grey‘s silversmithing. He’s something of a rising star at the moment with his distinctive, layered pieces that are gently organic and show off a dedicated attention to detail:

Made in the Middle - Kevin Grey

One of the nice things about this show is that it’s set out to discover how people made their way into working in contemporary craft, whether they’re straight out of uni or have come into it as a second career. Kevin is one of the latter, with years of experience in the luxury automative industry impacting his work. This background, blended with traditional skills means that he’s pretty free to bend the age old ‘rules’ of silversmithing to good effect. On the Made in the Middle website there’s a super photo diary of how Kevin made one of these gorgeous pieces which is well worth a look, here.

Made in the Middle - Kevin Grey

And, as I was heading out I spotted these:

Made in the Middle - Marcus Steel

With industrial overtones these base metal and silver sculptures are part giant chess pieces and part art deco factory buildings. They’re suberbly constructed with neat, smooth lines and clever details that are understated yet elegant. The base metals that make up most of the pieces have been chemically treated to patinate the surfaces – leaving rich, deep colours that highlight the silver details.

Made in the Middle - deatil of Marcus Steel's work

I really would recommend a visit if you’e got an hour or so to spare. Made in the Middle is open at the MAC until the 15th of April then it heads off on tour around the middle of the UK, finally closing in July 2013.

Made in the Middle - feedback board

Visit: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

I had a spare moment last week and snuck off to have a look at the silver collection at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  The collection covers many centuries and each time I visit I seem to spot something that I hadn’t seen before.

How did I miss this?

Jewel Box by Alex Telford in silver 1974-5, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

I love the pebble shapes on the lid (it isn’t exactly clear how it opens …) which are beautifully, asymmetrically smooth and quite inspirational for the fly pressing I’m planning to do later this week. I would love to know exactly how it was made.

Detail of Jewel Box by Alex Telford in silver 1974-5 at Birmingham Museum and Art Galler

The only other example of Alex Telford work I’ve been able to find is in the V&A:

Coffee Pot, Sugar Bowl and Milk Jug, 1974 by Alex Telford at V&A

the gorgeous mix of silver and flawless enamel is here again – plus the bulbous, pebble-esque shapes in the handles of the vessels. I really like how clean and modern the enameled body is, it sits really well alongside those polished handles.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for his pieces in museums in the future …

Desire Jewellery and Silver Show, March 2011

I made full use of my rail card on Friday and ventured down to Desire, a Jewellery and Silver Fair held annually in the Bank of England Sports Club in Richmond. I’ve never visited one of these shows before but the exhibitor list is prestigious so I was pretty sure that I’d be in for treat.

Another plus for going was to scope out the venue and see if I could apply to exhibit in the future. I’ve done the odd fair in the past where I’ve been disappointed on arrival with the venue, the quality of work or something else and have learned the lesson. So, this year I’m committed to visiting shows that I’m interested in  – or at least bending the ear of other jewellers I know who attend them.

Anyway, there were no anxieties about this one. It was lovely – from the complimentary bus to the venue:

(a helpful treat for the geographically challenged among us, thank you Desire)

to the venue itself.

A lot of shows of this profile feature a mixture of craft disciplines so in a way it was nice to just be surrounded by jewellery and silver makers. It must be how normal women feel when they stumble into Jimmy Choo… I had a blast looking at the extraordinary variety of work on show from people like Sarah Hutchinson:

Sarah Hutchinson

Her work is just gorgeous. It looks incredibly intricate on first glance but is, in fact, deceptively simple. She’s all caught up in experimenting with saw piercing and the result is floral and mesmerising. My favourites are the ones just brushed with a little blush of gold at the edges, they’re like sunflowers just caught in opening.

Alongside these was the stunning work of Michael Berger:

Michael Berger

He’s an eye catcher at any show he attends with his stunning and slightly unreal Kinetik Collection. This sense of unreality is helped along by the maker himself – he seems to make a habit of standing in his booth, looking nonchalant, as his little sculptural creations appear to flaunt the laws of gravity.

The way these things are put together is extraordinary (I’m still not quite sure that I understand how it all works) but do click the image which links to his website – there’s a subtitled video there that begins to explain things.

And I very much liked Hannah Souter’s work too. I haven’t seen it before, it’s so neat and lovely.

Hannah Souter

It reminds me a little of some of my own work, which might be why I identify with it so, but I wouldn’t say no to owning a pair of these beauties.

Sadly, the fair closed today, but there’s another in Winchester in November which will be well worth a visit too.