Continued from previous post… Hannah's Work at the Bowes Museum
Two weeks ago today, our #Untitled10 exhibition opened at the Bowes Museum in the old market town of Barnard Castle on the edge of County Durham.
This project has been part of my life for over 8 months now. I hadn’t realised it’d been that long. I attended a briefing day waaaay back in March in the teeth of the worst winter I can remember, and spent the blistering summer thinking about it, working on it, developing it, testing it. And now - suddenly - it’s all over.
I taught myself the traditional craft of sand casting through trial and error. Once I’d sourced and set up all the equipment - including a specialist oxy-propane casting torch - it took me six attempts to successfully cast a passable figure in fine silver.
I went behind the scenes at the museum, into storerooms and up to the high attic archives, and had complete creative freedom.
I found almost an exact copy of the necklace which Pradier’s figure of Sappho is wearing - an antique Victorian silver collar - which is now in my personal jewellery collection.
I cut up a book of Sappho’s poems and burnt the remainder; a kind of smoke-offering of thanks.
I created a 100 page reflective journal, filled with collage, embroidery, feathers, tissue paper, antique Victorian scraps and a mirror of real silver. I included my treasured cuttings of Tim Walker’s photoshoot of Lily Cole in India which I’d saved from the July 2005 issue of Vogue, interspersed with fragments of Sappho’s poetry.
I ended up listening to the same songs over and over again - you can find my playlist silvered on Spotify.
I transported my real jewellery bench, the one which I’ve used everyday for 14 years, to the Silver and Metals Gallery of the museum. It’ll remain there until January next year.
I met some wonderful, deeply creative people.
What’s it all about?
In the museum, if you look at the text on the wall just next to the statue of Sappho, you’ll see a quote from Benvenuto Cellini, a renaissance metalsmith, which reads “…I completed my work in a style which did me the greatest credit. Next I set about to cast it in bronze…Suffice it to say that the figure came out splendidly, and was as fine a specimen of foundry as had ever been seen…”.
When we see beautifully curated museum displays, especially in this particular gallery here at the Bowes Museum, every single object is finished, polished, perfect, clean. We can’t see any evidence of the actual manufacturing process; it’s as if the objects have appeared suddenly, miraculously, and fully formed. As a jeweller and silversmith, I know first hand that the creative and developmental processes used by metalsmiths, founders, and casters can be extremely grimy, dusty, uncomfortable and noisy. There are prototypes, practice-runs and maquettes; chemicals, oxides and acids. Inevitably there is a very fine layer of metal-dust all over everything in the studio, necessitating the use of protective goggles and face masks whilst at work. Cellini makes it all sound so easy and instantaneous, so I decided to take this as a direct challenge!
Over the summer of 2018, I taught myself the traditional technique of sandcasting. I based my work on the solid silver figure of Sappho by James Pradier, since she was also manufactured by casting. I took the existing fragments of Sappho’s poetry and pieced together a reflective journal which documented my mind-journeys, creative processes and practical experiments, the hypothetical culmination of which would be a classical-style necklace made from hand cast solid figures.
I thought it would be an interesting concept to install my actual jewellery bench in the Silver & Metals gallery. This is my ‘real’ bench, which my father made for me when I was starting out as a self-taught jeweller in 2004. It’s very simple, and was made from off-cuts of wood and bits of MDF. The tools on the top surface are my real tools. The crucible-holder and crucible are the real things I used when I made the silver figures in the nearby display case. The worn and dirty bench beg has been used for 14 years and is testament to hours and hours of work at my bench. I seek to ‘deconstruct the museum’ and show that creative developmental processes have a great deal in common with everyday ways of living and working, like those which take place in the family shed, our friend’s garage, or neighbour’s barn.
The Finished Gallery Setup
About the Baby Sapphos
To accompany her work on display at the Bowes Museum, Hannah has created a limited edition run of her solid silver figures; ‘Baby Sapphos’. Only ten are (and will ever be) available.
Inspired by James Pradier’s silver figure of Sappho dating from 1848, these diminutive figures are individually sandcast in solid sterling silver. Hannah took inspiration from fragments of Sappho’s poetry to create a ‘hypothetical’ necklace in the classical style, assembled from chained links from which are suspended these solid silver ‘baby Sapphos'. Each of these ten figures are a finished individual link from the necklace, if the necklace were ever to be made.
Each figure has been individually cast from the original Frozen Charlotte in a handmade single-use sand mould. Each figure will be struck with Hannah’s personal hallmark, and will also be hand-engraved with their series number. They will have a sterling silver pendant bail attached to their feet, so that they can be worn as pendants or pinned to a coat. They are made from solid sterling silver and weigh approx 7g each.
Who are the Other Nine Artists?
You can see the creative and developmental work of the #Untitled10 collective at the Bowes Museum from 9th November 2018 until 11th January 2019.