Florence on a hot summer’s day. A perfect backdrop to the private school for contemporary jewellery, ‘Alchimia’. It has attracted a number of prominent makers to teach over the last twelve years, including Robert Smit, Lucy Sarneel, Manfred Bischoff and Sofie Lachaert.
Our first day began with nine students and two tutors, from eleven different countries, all full of enthusiasm.
Helen Britton and David Bielander believe that lack of rigor in investigating materials and themes can cause some contemporary jewellery to lack an authentic style of ones own.
The way to make a piece of contemporary jewellery: throw a few bits of colourful junk together and glue it to a pin with as little skill as possible. To guarantee success make it organic: a lack of clear form, and a lack of reference to any kind of tradition, history, context or geography. 1
Damian Skinner comments on talking to a group of Swedish jewellers, that like most European jewellers he has encountered, none of these jewellers saw themselves as making Swedish Jewellery, despite the fact that they made their work in Sweden. 2
It seems that some makers of contemporary jewellery may have forgotten their roots, in an attempt to make work to show at exhibitions such as Schmuck in Munich.
Yet it is our national identity, culture and up bringing that makes us unique. It is this that shapes how we view and analysis the world and should be harnessed when creating, according to Helen and David.
So taking this as a starting point, how did this Irish jeweller, Based in England, draw inspiration from Florence and interpret it into a meaningful working methodology?
We began by taking photos.
A theme of brutal beauty, bodge it construction, layering of colour, along with a sense of history and inherent memory within the objects photographed soon became clear.
Helen and David reminded us of the need to thoroughly investigate each material before deciding its use. I chose a piece of cedar wood, a material completely new to me. I began to burn, bash, scratch, colour, nail, file and sand it, all the while under strict instruction NOT to think about jewellery.
In between the (sometimes) frantic making, there where trips to La Specola, Galleria Uffizi, Pitti Palace and Bargello and intensive talks over dinner and Prosecco.
An invigorating chat and my (many) ‘samples’ of wood reviled themselves as rings. Next began the process of finding appropriate constructions to grow the ‘samples’ into functional rings, while maintaining that ‘bodge it’ Florentine attitude and my own fast and instinctive design technique.
The Workshop ended on a high with an exhibition, a chance to step back and really see what we had made.
So what has come out of doing this course, other than very good friends?
A better understanding of how I work. Of my interests and aims as a jeweller, and as an artist. A reminder to treat all materials I use with a sense of possibility. A reminder to treat all my explorations in jewellery with respect, especially the less successful ones, as it is these we learn the most from. And most importantly, that though it takes patience and time to develop and make good work, it is well worth every moment.
1 Thoughts on Jewellery Now notes from Helen Britton and David Bielander, read out during the Workshop.
2 Dr Damian Skinner is a freelance art historian and curator who lives in Gisborne. His research interests include customary Māori carving in the twentieth century, New Zealand modernist art, and contemporary jewellery. www.pauadreams.co.nz ‘Identity Issues, December 22, 2009.
>> first published in Findings Magazine, issue 51. London; Association for Contemporary Jewellery.