National Museums Scotland Supporting Emerging Silversmiths: Jessica Jue & Hazel Thorn

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

As I mentioned in my last contribution to The Incorporation of Goldsmiths, the P&O Makower Trust has been supporting emerging silversmiths since 1974. The Trust’s commissioned pieces can be seen on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), National Museum Wales (Cardiff) and our own National Museums Scotland here in Edinburgh. With over forty commissions being made, this remarkable Trust is responsible for helping introduce a wider audience to this age old craft, and placing some of the most renowned names within the craft into Museums at the very start of the careers. Recent commissions have included Ryan McClean, Clare Mallet, and as you have already read about, Hamish Dobbie.

‘Fractal Warp Vase’ by Ryan McClean

P&O Makower Commission for Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2018

Image by Ryan McClean

The Company of Old Roads, 2017by Claire Malet

P&O Makower Commission for National Museum Wales, 2017

Image by Claire Malet

As the relationship between the Trust and the Museum was still quite new, they felt it would be nice to do something a little different for the Commissions going forward for National Museums Scotland that they had not done with the other organisations. And following on from the success of Hamish’s commission, we started talking about how we could work together to create a collection of commissions which would represent the diversity of the silversmithing craft today in its explorations of traditional process, artistic expression and embracing of new technology.

So after more thought and discussion on the area we would like the new commission to highlight, I consulted with art schools from across the UK to gauge if our idea would be embraced by those who were graduating or had in recent years. It was important to discuss ideas with peers who have a specialism or are placed at the centre of developments within the area I’m researching. This not only brings assurance that the project will be well received, but also creates a platform of advocacy that will spread the word about a new opportunity, and in this case, can lead to applications from some of the younger smiths who may not think that a competitive call out for a Museum is for them.

Following the consultation period we resolved our idea and a call out was published seeking those silversmiths whose practice considers the use of colour in metal, be that through the use of patination, mixed metals, or enamelling. The call also stated that we were looking for work that reflected an artistic application in this area and demonstrated the continuing excellence within the craft of silversmithing. And for this year’s jury panel we invited the enamellist Sheila McDonald to sit alongside the Makower family, our former Keeper of Art & Design Dr Xavier Dectot and myself.

‘Lace Sphere’ of patinated silver by David Huycke, 2006 (L.2007.169)

Silver and enamelled cylindrical vase by Maureen Edgar, 1989 (H.MEQ 1616)

Example of works of silver that show the different ways colour is applied within the National Museums Scotland Collection

Images by National Museums Scotland

As with the previous call out we had an extremely high level of entrants whose practise embraces colour within their silversmithing. So it took quite a while, and a lot of discussion to decide upon the four silversmiths who we would invite to present a proposal for the Commission. Amongst these we saw how some were approaching the application of colour through natural chemical patination, traditional processes, and one that challenged the jury to consider how reflection and refraction can create colour change. After a wonderful day meeting these makers, hearing their proposals and debating which we should go ahead with, the group was split between two very different proposals. One that exemplified traditional process whilst the other experimental. It was at this juncture that the Trust felt as we were all so passionate about them both, and after reviewing the funding set aside for the Museum’s commission, that they very generously agreed to support two awards.

The first awardee was the London based maker Jessica Jue, whose practise follows themes of balance and harmony, drawing inspiration from organic forms which she displays to great effect in her highly crafted pieces. These themes are created using a wide range of traditional techniques such as raising, chasing and repoussé to craft contemporary designs. A graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, Jessica impressed the judges with her proposal to create a striking, almost shell-like fluid form, that would feature beautiful surface decoration with the added extra of the Korean technique of Keum-Boo to colour the edges with gold.

Jessica Jue cradling her piece when it was full of pitch.

Jessica Jue’s studio desk at Goldsmiths’ Centre.

Images by Sarah Rothwell

I was lucky enough to visit Jessica at her base within the Goldsmith’s Centre in London last year on a number of occasions when I found myself in the capital for work, to see how things were progressing and discuss the commission and how we planned to display the piece alongside the previous recipient, Hamish Dobbie, and her fellow awardee. This, as you can see from the image, or if you have watched the wonderful film that was created by Jessica whilst she has been in Covid-isolation that features the piece, is the biggest work she has created to date. The commission has challenged her skills as a silversmith as well as her strength, as, after holding the piece she is cradling, I can tell you it wasn’t light filled with all of that pitch. Being placed within Goldsmith’s Centre has allowed Jessica to not only take advantage of their wonderful studio facilities, but also the expertise of her fellow makers based there, and the highly regarded team of technicians. In fact on talking about the piece, Jessica told me that she had received advice from Hamish, so it was lovely to hear that he had been helping mentor her as he himself had.

The work as it is currently, with chasing complete.

Detail of where Jessica envisages where she will apply the Keum-Boo.

Images by Jessica Jue

Once Covid restrictions are lifted, Jessica will be able to return to the Centre and complete the application of the Keum-Boo, which I’m very excited to see.

Hazel Thorn

Image by James Baster

The second awardee was the Edinburgh-based maker Hazel Thorn, who utilises a combination of base and precious metals with chemical patination to produce contrasting colours. These material experimentations inform the artistic output of her forms, creating dramatically sculptural vessels and wall pieces that often reference the landscape and geology of her childhood home in the highlands. Hazel has dedicated her practice to refining her craft in the pursuit of what is now her trademark technique. Hazel is also a graduate of the renowned silversmithing course at Edinburgh College of Art, and carries on her dedication for education within the craft as a visiting tutor at the college.

Visiting Hazel, I saw how she combines the metals, and how these look before she creates the patination.

Using these samples, Hazel created a paper model to visually explain her proposed wall piece.

Images by Sarah Rothwell

Hazel proposed to create a dramatic wall piece using her now trade-mark method of combining silver and copper wire, which are then exposed to her own secret chemical patination process to create blue greens and black surface colour. As you can see in the image of her experiments at the bench, these combined wires are manipulated to create sections, almost like tendrils or branches, which would then be interwoven to create a form. She used prints taken directly from these wire experiments to create a paper model to give an understanding of the shape, texture and colour that would be achieved. And though it was not an exact representation of what the final work would look like, it captured the panel’s imagination.

Hazel Thorn’s installations within Future Heritage at last years’ Decorex Fair, Olympia, London.

Images by Hazel Thorn

Her sculptural proposal has an ethereal and botanical quality, which is something that she has been striving to achieve in her silversmithing for a number of years. This was reflected in the pieces she created for last year’s Future Heritage exhibition within Decorex where I was able to see at first hand the quality of her patination. I personally feel that these experiments, partially made possible by the Makower commission, have really taken Hazel to the next stage in her practise, and I am very excited about seeing how the commissioned wall piece develops.

Both commissions were due to be unveiled this summer, however with the unprecedented times we now find ourselves in, we will have to wait a wee bit longer to see them sat side by side with Hamish’s. These wonderful pieces, thanks to the continuing generosity of the Trust and their advocacy of contemporary silversmithing, will become part of the Making & Creating gallery which features other pre-eminent silver and metal smiths such as Michael Rowe and Simone ten Hompel, highlighting how this age old craft continues to develop and challenge our perception of this beautiful material.

 

Sarah Rothwell

Curator, Modern & Contemporary Design

National Museums Scotland

Our sincere thanks to Sarah Rothwell, National Museums Scotland, Jessica Jue, Hazel Thorn and the P&O Makower Trust.