Have you ever visited STEAMhouse in Digbeth? Last week’s School of Jewellery research away day included a tour round the impressive workshop facilities there. However, what interested me most were the ‘lightening’ talks by several practitioners, three of which revealed a strong interest in narrative jewellery. Each of these makers drew on their personal archives and the sense in which the past leaves a trace in the present.
Jo Pond spoke about how she had drawn on a collection of diaries, family stories and trinkets amassed by her grandmother during the London Blitz to craft her own heirlooms. She spoke of how she was descended from generations of habitual hoarders and how she had embraced that legacy, working with misplaced memories to create pieces that encourage the viewer to engage with the lived experience of her grandmother as a wartime wife and mother. Her exhibition, Rationed, was shown at La Joaillerie par Mazlo in Paris earlier this summer.
Toni Mayner talked about her research on the theme of bereavement, loss and remembrance. This included spending a period as artist-in-residence at the Foundling Museum in 2014, which led to her creating an interactive art installation inspired by the token collection in the archives there. These record the day-to-day running of the Foundling Hospital, a children’s home established in the 1700s for the education and maintenance of children left there because their families were no longer able to care for them. Each mother would bring a token, which would be broken in half. Half would be given to her so that she would be able to reclaim her child if her circumstances changed; the other half kept by the Hospital. The tokens in the collection therefore symbolise the children who were never able to return home. The jewellery she made for Small Histories encouraged the viewer to reflect on those forgotten lives.
Together with Naomi Clarke’s brief talk on the enamelled brooches and other pieces she’d made that incorporated photographs, press cuttings and snippets from her grandfather’s diaries, this led me to wonder how the individual stories contained in our own archives might inspire other examples of narrative jewellery. Our Marion Richardson collection, with its large number of personal letters (some from well-known individuals) immediately springs to mind. Could this be something you’re interested in exploring?