National Museums Scotland Supporting Emerging Silversmiths: Hamish Dobbie

In the first of our guest blogs, Sarah Rothwell, Curator of Modern & Contemporary Design at National Museums Scotland, shares the story of the relationship between National Museums Scotland and the P&O Makower Trust.


Back in 2015 the P&O Makower Trust approached National Museums Scotland to become part of their now over 45 year journey to support emerging silversmiths with an opportunity to be commissioned to create a work that would be displayed within significant museums across the UK, which include the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ashmolean and National Museum Wales. So it was an honour for me to be asked to participate alongside my former colleague Rose Watban, then Senior Curator of Modern & Contemporary Design and the Trust, in developing a brief for the Commission, interviewing the candidates, and then supporting the winner during their commission.


Pope and Oliver Makower, founders of the Trust, relaxing in their Bishopsland garden.

Image by P&O Makower Trust

During this period the National Museum of Scotland building was undergoing a series of restorations and redevelopments of 10 galleries which would reopen in the summer of 2016. One of these galleries, Making & Creating, would focus upon the development of the Studio Craft movement and design world from the mid-twentieth century to the present day. And we had one very specific display in mind. The section entitled Pushing the Boundaries would showcase those artists, designers and makers within the National Collection whom have either challenged the perception of their chosen mediums by utilizing cutting edge technologies and processes, or create works that advance traditional skills in new and exciting ways. A perfect location for a new commission to be placed which celebrated the contemporary developments of silversmithing.


Works of metal art within the Pushing Boundaries display. Parametric Bowl, silver plate on copper, by Peter Musson, 2007 (K.2008.39).

Image by National Museums Scotland

Campionissimo milled aluminium, by Drummond Masterton, 2009 (K.2009.262).

Image by National Museums Scotland

So the call out went out that National Museums Scotland and the P&O Makower Trust were looking for emerging silversmiths whose practice pushed the boundaries of silversmithing. And as the applications filtered in, we brought together an eminent selection panel which included the Makower family, leading patron of the arts Elizabeth Salveson, silversmith Grant McCaig, as well as Rose and myself, to judge who should be worthy of the inaugural award. The mixing of specialists for a judging panel is important to create open and candid discussions. Though an understanding of the craft or subject in question to gauge the potential of the concept is helpful, it isn’t necessary for a judge to have; however, an unbiased approach and keen eye to be open to the right proposal which fits the brief outlined, is needed.

Meeting together late in that year, we interviewed a selection of wonderful makers from across the UK, who all approached the brief in very different ways. Some more traditional, others conceptual, and excitingly for me personally, a couple that were challenging the craft experimentally. After much discussion and debate, we came to a unified decision that the proposal from Glasgow based silversmith Hamish Dobbie would be the winning concept.


Hamish Dobbie

Image by Hamish Dobbie

Scottish silversmith Hamish graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 2013 with a BA (Hons) in Silversmithing and Jewellery Design, and has since gone on to be widely respected for his pieces which are inspired by the geology and landscape of his country of birth. His proposal was to create a vessel that combined both traditional silversmithing processes, and new 3D printing technology. The panel were particularly excited to see how these two were to be combined, in the creation of an almost brutalist style crown, which would seemingly float from the body of a much more minimalist, clean lined, column. Personally I was also thrilled that we were able to support, in our first Commission with the Trust, not only a Scottish based maker, but also a graduate of one of the fantastic silversmithing courses we have within the Scottish art schools.

Part of a P&O Makower Trust commission is to support the young graduate with education and mentoring. We were extremely grateful that the wonderful John Creed agreed to support Hamish. Creed, as I’m sure readers are all aware, is internationally renowned for his innovative approach to metalsmithing; often employing a combination of materials with a range of techniques from traditional to the technologically innovative. Likewise he is well known for creating works from small domestic pieces, to large scale public artworks. So this mentorship, from such an experienced maker, would be invaluable to Hamish throughout the commission. And it was lovely to see the friendship that developed between the two as a result of working together.


The stunning geology of Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa

Images by Hamish Dobbie

Hamish’s practice, as I mentioned, is inspired by the geology and dramatic landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. And he choose for this commission to concentrate upon the hexagonal basalt rock formations found within Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa as inspiration for his desired crown.  To be able to achieve the look of these basalt columns, he first created a series of sketches, models and 3D rendered designs, before 3D printing the spiky components to create his silver casts. These, once he had achieved the desired configuration, were then plated with Black Rhodium to create the darkened effect. The interweaving and flowing hexagonal forms of the crown would not have been achieved to the same effect without the use of digital technology. Yet it was Hamish’s skill as a silversmith, and John’s patient mentorship and knowledge of process, which saw the combination of traditional hand skills in the casting, forging and finishing, as well as digital technology being brought together successfully in the creation of such a spectacular piece.


Hamish working on the configuration of the crown.

Image by Hamish Dobbie

The finished piece with its black rhodium crown floating above the silver vessel.

Image by Thomas Dobbie

You can learn more about the piece by visiting National Museums Scotland’s website and reading our Collection story around the commission, and watch a short video where Hamish explains the processes he used to create the work and his inspiration:

Hamish Dobbie P&O Makower Trust Commission at National Museums Scotland

In my next contribution for the Incorporation, I will tell you about our second collaboration together to support emerging silversmiths, and the wonderful opportunity to commission not one but two makers thanks to the P&O Makower Trust for National Museums Scotland.

Sarah Rothwell 

Curator, Modern & Contemporary Design

National Museums Scotland


Our sincere thanks to Sarah Rothwell, National Museums Scotland, Hamish Dobbie and the P&O Makower Trust.