Busman’s Holiday: Making our own wedding rings

You may not know this, but I’m getting married in three months. I mean, I never talk about it in minute detail, because it’s definitely not a huge logistical undertaking I should be allowed to put on my CV to show my organisational skills…

Since we got engaged last year, I knew I wanted to make our wedding rings. There was just one problem: I’m a silversmith, and we wanted gold rings. Silver and gold don’t behave that differently, so I did consider just giving it a go, but there’s one big problem with gold compared to silver: it’s a lot more expensive if you mess it up.

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Imagine the scene: ‘Honey, I’m home! Say, what’s that melted lump on your workbench?’ ‘Oh, that? That’s the £300 of gold that was going to be your wedding ring – oopsy-daisy!’ Not ideal. The Goblin is also the fussiest human alive, and the risk of him having hitherto-unknown very strong feelings about the particular hammer pattern I’d used once the ring was done wasn’t really worth it.

Luckily for us, the JQ struck again in the form of The Quarterworkshop, where couples can make their own rings under the supervision of a professional jeweller, Victoria Delaney. I also thought it would be cool for The Goblin to see what I do and have a go himself (and hammer his own ring to his liking – wahey).

 

The first thing to do was decide on colour and size for our wedding rings, as well as come up with ideas for styles. Our engagement rings are cheap (albeit much-loved) place-holders for the real thing…and it shows. They’re 9ct white gold, with mine measuring in at 3mm wide and The Goblin’s at 5mm. Because of the composition of the metal, they were seriously dinged about within the first month of wearing, so we knew we needed to go with something a bit more permanent and lasting for our wedding rings (how appropriate!).

 

I decided to slim my ring down to 2mm whilst The Goblin stuck with 5. We both liked the D-shaped profiles of our current rings, so those stayed, meaning that when we got to Victoria’s (adorable!) workshop, this is what was waiting for us:

 

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Seriously, though, how cute is this workshop space?!

After some coffee and a chat about designs, we got stuck into annealing, cutting and shaping – all just another day for me but really fun to have an experienced goldsmith directing the process and giving hints and tips.

 

Victoria also introduced me to a method of shaping and cutting through the seam (the bit where you make the ends of the ring line up so you can join them together) which was waaaay simpler and quicker than the one I was taught. Definitely going to be using that on my pieces in future! The Goblin had a lovely time shaping, soldering and filing his ring, and took it all very seriously. Look at this concentration:

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Then came the really fun bit: playing with hammers. The Goblin knew he wanted a subtle hammered effect, but I was torn between hammering and engraving, so we both spent a fair while whacking aluminium with the huge range of hammers in the workshop to find the right pattern.

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I decided to go with engraving in the end and am having a bramble pattern engraved on mine, so I started polishing it ready for engraving whilst The Goblin started beating his up with great glee.

 

After a lot of hammering (probably The Goblin’s favourite part of the day) and getting covered in polish, we admired our creations:

 

The rings are now off to be hallmarked with the Brum Assay Office anchor mark, which we love – wherever we move in the future, we’ll always be wearing a bit of the JQ! I can’t wait to see mine once it’s all hallmarked and engraved (I’ll post an update picture here when it arrives). We had a lush day making our rings and would definitely recommend it to anyone else looking for something a bit different for their rings. As The Goblin’s ring shows, no prior knowledge is necessary!

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All pictures are by Victoria Delaney © The Quarterworkshop, apart from the ones of our engagement rings.

Letter From The Ephesians

I recently got back from a Mediterranean trip, and things took a surprisingly jewellery-themed turn (even for me) everywhere we went, so a few historical/travel-themed posts are on the way.

One of the highlights of the trip was undoubtedly the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey. A historic centre of jewellery-making, Ephesus is famous for its Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – where worshippers left beautiful jewellery as votive offerings:

Artemis of Ephesus was a cross between the Greek Artemis and the Anatolian mother goddess Cybele, and she’s been getting giggles from schoolchildren (and probably some adults) for centuries:

Laughing at her many bosoms might not be the wisest idea, though, since she was the guardian of all civilisation, and ruler of all nature. Oh, and she was the queen of bees – a literal queen bee – which is why bees feature so heavily in the gold and silver offerings to her, and even in Ephesian coinage:

Other symbols incorporated into jewellery dedicated to Artemis of Ephesus included crescent shapes (Artemis was goddess of the moon), sparrowhawks, rosettes, and double-headed axes.

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The first mint and gold refinery in Anatolia was founded in the seventh century BCE. In fact, some scholars argue that the first metal coins ever issued were used in in Ephesus around 650. With the amount of metalworking activity going on at Ephesus, it’s little wonder that the vast majority of surviving jewellery in the Eastern Greek style during this period comes from the repository found at the Temple of Artemis – jewellery which is made even more interesting by its Oriental and Mycaenean influences.

Later, around 53CE, Ephesus was made famous for a different reason by St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. St Paul, misogynist and killjoy extraordinaire, spent some time in Ephesus in the mid-1st century CE, and was not impressed with what he perceived as the excessive covetousness of the locals. Obviously this didn’t go down too well with Ephesian silversmiths, who relied on the cult of Artemis for their livelihood, and a mob apparently dragged some of Paul’s pals to the theatre. Paul himself decided not to go and face an angry mob made up of people who were presumably good with small, pointy tools (probably wise), but luckily for him, the group eventually broke up.

Unfortunately, the silversmiths turned out to be right about the spread of Christianity killing their trade in Artemisian offerings, and the whole episode highlights the importance of Ephesus as a seat of early Christianity. Supposedly the Virgin Mary died there – not really surprising that a cult of Artemis morphed into a cult of the Virgin Mary. It’s quite a sweet little house, actually:

Sadly, our archaeologist guide, Hakan, confirmed that it’s a 6th-7th century church, so definitely not the house of the Mother of God (shocker).

We opted to visit Ancient Ephesus (with its Terraced Houses) and Didyma instead, and I think we made the right choice. (Side note: we went on a private tour with Meander Travel, and it was incredibly interesting as well as being amazing value for money – I’d definitely recommend Meander if any of you visit Turkey (they do tours all over the country, including in Istanbul). We were able to design our own tour to suit our interests and everyone at the company was lovely, helpful and knowledgeable. And no, I’m not being paid to write this – that’s how good they were!)

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The base of an enormous column at Didyma (Florence for scale!)

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Library of Celsus at Ephesus

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The theatre at Ephesus (minus angry mob)

Kusadasi, the port city near Ephesus, continues to ply the jewellery trade into the 21st century. In fact, Turkey as a whole is a major player in gold and silversmithing today, processing 400 tons of gold and 300 tons of silver annually and employing 300,000 people. Unfortunate geopolitical circumstances at the moment meant the sites were incredibly quiet, which was great for us tourists but terrible for the Turkish tourism industry. It’s a real shame, because Kusadasi and the surrounding sites are some of the safest and most stunning in Turkey – definitely recommend a visit if you’re thinking of heading to the Eastern Med!

 

Sources

Brummie Buttons

I really like buttons. I mean really like them. Like this much:

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p027b3t8/player

Buttons are of local importance as well. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Jewellery Quarter, and Birmingham more broadly, made all the fixings and fripperies needed for contemporary life, from buttons to buckles and hinges to coffin plates. Come the nineteenth century, it also made 75% of the world’s steel pen nibs. Birmingham became known as the ‘toy-maker of the world’, ‘toy’ being another word for small items of fashion such as buttons, buckles and snuff boxes. Apparently, the Jewellery Quarter wasn’t just the home of trinkets and gems.

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And now it’s the home of bars with roof terraces and delicious food

So, Birmingham was originally the centre of the buckle-making trade:

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but when this was massacred by the humble shoelace in the late-eighteenth century, buttons came to the rescue. In 1800 there were over 100 separate button makers in the few square miles making up the city centre. In 1770 there were even two separate button makers in the tiny street where I work, and nine at larger Snow Hill.

Buttons were the city’s miniature money-maker until the early twentieth century. As William Hutton stated on a visit to Brum in 1780, ‘it would be no easy task to enumerate the infinite diversity of buttons manufactured here…’.

Buttons were Birmingham’s stock in trade because they were both functional and fashionable, desirable and essential. Originally made of horn (lovely, trendy, stinky cow-foot buttons), buttons have been made in Birmingham since at least the twelfth century, according to recent archaeological excavation at the Bull Ring. However, in the eighteenth century the trade exploded, with buttons being made of mother of pearl, glass or shell, embossed or stamped, or even covered in silk.

Button-making was also a huge employer, even after the partial mechanisation of the trade in the mid-nineteenth century, due to the fragility of some of the materials.

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As I mentioned before, I love buttons – they’re the epitome of functional beauty, and (as Terry says in the video) a fascinating window into social history. In fact, that great social commentator, Charles Dickens, wrote an interesting (and very, very detailed) article about the Birmingham button trade. You can read the whole thing here if you fancy it, but I’ll leave you with an apt quote from the piece:

‘It is wonderful, is it not? that on that small pivot turns the fortune of such multitudes of men, women, and children, in so many parts of the world; that such industry, and so many fine faculties, should be brought out and exercised by so small a thing as the Button.’

[All designs available at Tiding of Magpies]

 

Sources:

 

The Pearly Queen

Recently, I’ve had a lot of comments about (and orders for) my Tudor coin necklace; more than I was expecting, actually. Originally the necklace was more of a fun, nostalgic, ‘hey-look-it’s-that-coin-I-saved-from-Kentwell’ design I did on a whim than an homage to Tudor style itself, but people have really responded to it. Turns out people love a bit of Tudors (who knew?!), so I started thinking about how to incorporate Tudor influences into new designs.

The first thing most people think of when you mention Tudor jewellery is vast numbers of pearls, but why the sudden pearl explosion? The first reason is scarcity (or perceived scarcity). After all, what shows wealth and status better than something someone may very well have died trying to pull out of a sea creature? Interestingly, by the 1580s pearls were actually flooding across the Atlantic from the ‘land of pearls’, as North America became known. Fortunately for contemporary privateers and merchants, instead of devaluing the gems, this supply surprisingly did the opposite. Not only were pearls still fantastically expensive, they were now attainable in vast quantities, the better to adorn your way to the top.

The other reason for pearls’ PR boost in the British Isles towards the end of the 16th century was the reign of Elizabeth I, aka The Virgin Queen. For centuries, pearls have been associated with purity and perfection; in Ancient Greek lore, pearls were formed from the droplets of water which rolled off Aphrodite as she emerged from the sea.

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As Elizabeth built her image as the virginal monarch married to her country, symbolism was paramount, and pearls, with their centuries of pure connotations and their glowing luxury, were the perfect fit. She put them on everything, and ensured they featured in every portrait:

However, even this the Pearly Queen couldn’t always afford the vast quantity of precious stones needed for the desired, so the smaller pearls on her clothes were sometimes fake. You’d think this would be an obvious switch, but fake pearls (made from glass or nacre) were actually so common and of such relatively high quality in the 16th century that they were banned in Venice because of the danger they posed to the pearl traders.

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The Tudor obsession with pearls both spawned some truly gorgeous pieces and fed into new trends.

Bracelets came back into vogue in the late 16th century, after having been largely neglected since the early medieval period, and many were made of (you guessed it) strings of pearls:

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Late-medieval and early-Tudor headdresses also gave way to the ferronière, strings of pearls or jewels which festooned elaborate hairstyles:

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And finally, a post on Tudor pearls wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Mary I’s famous La Peregrina, the gratuitously large gem which eventually ended up around Elizabeth Taylor’s neck:

 

Sources:

  • Stoned, Aja Raden
  • Jewellery From Antiquity To The Present, Clair Phillips
  • 7000 Years of Jewellery, Hugh Tait

“A little something from Fabergé”

It’s the long weekend break in the UK, so I’m spending four days in Mid-Wales with the in-laws doing a whole lot of this:

(Learnt Monopoly Deal and then won twice in a row, just saying.) Not pictured: roast lamb and amazing homemade treacle tart courtesy of my future mother-in-law. But between all the food and scenery and aggressive card play, I’ve whipped up a little virtual Easter treat for you all. An Easter egg, if you will…(sorry).

I’m assuming most people (if not everyone) reading this have heard of Fabergé Eggs, but I thought they deserved a bit more of a detailed look (because, God knows, they don’t get enough attention…). Essentially, the Fabergé Imperial Eggs are a collection of 50 intricate, jewelled metal eggs, filled with equally intricate surprises, which were given as Easter gifts by tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II to their female relatives (predominantly their wives and mothers). The eggs were made by the world-renowned Fabergé workshop in St Petersburg, and 43 still exist, most of which are owned either by oligarch Viktor Vekselberg or the Kremlin Armoury.

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I was lucky enough to visit the Fabergé Museum in St Petersburg last year, where I saw 9 of the surviving Imperial eggs, as well as a whole host of other Fabergé treasures. Fun fact: although Peter Carl Fabergé is most famous now for the creation of the beautiful eggs, he also made a vast range of other trinkets. In fact, in the late 19th and early 20th century, it became fashionable for the European aristocracy to gift each other “a little something from Fabergé” for almost any occasion. With Fabergé’s continuous technical innovations, cigarette cases, watches and photoframes could be had in a dazzling array of enamel colours:

And let’s not forget the stunning jewellery the workshop created (so many egg-laces):

He also made some gorgeous faux flowers, which I now desperately want for my wedding centrepieces…

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Source: royalcollection.org.uk

Faberge-flowers

Source: viola.bz

But back to the eggs. Although there are 9 impressive eggs in the Fabergé Museum’s collection, these are my top picks:

First, the Coronation Egg, presented as an Easter present to Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna by her husband Nicholas II, the last Romanov ruler, in 1897. Among other skills, the egg’s construction involved the use of guilloché. Like my Staffordshire Hoard blog post, researching the details of these eggs has introduced me to new metalworking techniques, and this is one of them. Basically, guilloché, originating in the 16th century, is the engraving of a repeating pattern into a base material by mechanical means (engine turning).

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Source: Pinterest

The egg also features a range of enamels, and the Empress’ crest set beneath a large diamond (one of many in the design). More exciting than the egg itself (at least to me), is the surprise inside: a miniature, working replica of the Empress’ coronation carriage, less than four inches long and fashioned in enamel and gold. The carriage features opening doors, moving wheels, and even tiny folding steps.

 

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Source: Pinterest

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Source: Pinterest

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Source: Pinterest

The second of my favourite eggs from the museum’s collection is the Bay Tree Egg, which I found the most impressive in terms of mechanical ingenuity.

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Source: Pinterest

Fashioned from jewelled nephrite (a type of jade) and enamels, this egg was presented to Nicholas II’s dowager mother, Maria Feodorovna, in 1911. As if the individual leaves and enamelled planter weren’t impressive enough, the surprise inside is incredibly impressive. When a lever disguised as a jewelled fruit is turned, the tree opens and a feathered songbird which moves and sings appears:

My final pick from the Fabergé Museum is the First Hen Egg. As the name suggests, it was the first egg presented to Empress Maria Feodorovna by her husband, Alexander III, in 1885. Although the egg is much less showy than its descendants, it makes up for that in execution and number of surprises. When the first white egg is opened, it reveals a pure gold ‘yolk’, inside which is a golden chicken with ruby eyes. The hen’s tail feathers have hinges, and the hen opens up to reveal even more surprises. Unfortunately these are now lost, but they would have been a tiny gold and diamond replica of the imperial crown, with a ruby pendant suspended on a chain inside it.

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Source: Pinterest

The Empress was so taken with the egg that Alexander put in a standing order with Fabergé for one egg per Easter, giving him free rein to be as innovative as he liked, as long as each egg was different.

I loved the Fabergé eggs I saw in St Petersburg, but there are three in particular in the Kremlin Armoury collection that are on my itinerary for my bucket list trip to Moscow: the Moscow Kremlin Egg, the Memory of Azov Egg, and the Steel Military Egg.

The Moscow Kremlin Egg, by far the largest Imperial egg at more than a foot tall (36 centimetres), sits within a phenomenally beautiful model of the Uspensky Cathedral, where all of the Romanov tsars were crowned, forming the cathedral’s dome. The interior of the cathedral is fashioned in gold and enamel, and includes minute enamelled icons, carpets, and a high altar. The surprise inside is a music box which plays Easter music, including one of Tsar Nicholas II’s favourite hymns. The egg is from 1906, and is considered so precious it has never travelled outside Russia, unlike many other eggs, which have toured to different museums across the globe.

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Source: Pinterest

Frustratingly, I couldn’t find a picture of the inside of the egg’s cathedral, which only makes me want to see it more…

The Memory of Azov Egg, presented to Maria Feodorovna in 1891, is carved from a single piece of heliotrope jasper which has been richly jewelled. Inside is a perfect replica of the Memory of Azov ship, part of the Russian Navy, upon which Nicholas II (then the tsarevitch, or prince) cruised to Far East Asia in 1890. It is fashioned in red and yellow gold and platinum, and the windows are made of tiny diamonds.

The final egg I’d like to see is the most stylistically interesting, hinting at the Soviet Realism style that was yet to come, and far plainer than the other early 20th century eggs. The Steel Military Egg was presented in 1916, when Nicholas II was away fighting in the First World War. Set on four steel ‘artillery shells’, the egg is plain steel with just the Imperial crest and crown adorning the outside. Inside is hidden a tiny painting by Vassilii Zuiev, which sits on a gold and steel, enamel-covered easel. The painting shows the Tsar and Tsarevitch examining military maps, surrounded by senior army officers. The frame is filled with diamonds. With hindsight, this austere egg almost seems portentous; it was the last egg Fabergé delivered to the Tsarina before the revolution, removal of the monarchy, and nationalisation of Fabergé’s workshop.

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Source: Wikipedia

What’s your favourite Fabergé egg? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter/Instagram.

Now, we’ve been doing dry Lent (The Goblin’s idea; never again), so if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for an enormous glass of Malbec. Enjoy the rest of the Bank Holiday weekend, UK readers!

New designs, old inspirations

Last weekend I went to Stratford-upon-Avon with one friend and one goblin (my fiancé), and it made me think about the Elizabethan obsession with pearls (of which more in a later blog post). I’ve created a new pendant inspired by the trip, and by the success of my other Tudor-inspired piece (which was actually based on a coin I got from Kentwell in Year 5). Enough brackets; I thought I’d give you all a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating a new design from scratch.

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I didn’t actually draw up a design for this one, so the process was a little messier than usual, but here’s the rough blueprint…

Start with some D-shaped sterling silver wire (this is 4mm x 1.4mm):

Cut it to size with a hand saw:

File the ends smooth:

Bend the filed wire into a teardrop shape, continuing to file and shape the ends to get a perfectly flush fit. This will make for a much more successful solder.

Once the ends are filed and bent flush together, saw through the seam. This removes the tiny gap between the ends and allows for a tighter seam and better solder. (No pictures, because it involves both hands and a lot of swearing.)

Have a bit of a soldering mishap, blacken and warp the teardrop, and give up for the day to embroider and write a blog post. After some sewing, napping and sulking, redo the above steps…

Once soldered with a hand torch, the teardrop shape goes into the pickle pot (a slow cooker full of water mixed with a chemical compound that removes the residue from the flux used when soldering).

After that, file down any visible edges of the seam.

Draw guide spots for drill holes with a pencil, like this one I got on my Stratford trip:

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Drill through each side (I use The Goblin’s power drill with a 1cm bit):

Shape and cut a silver pin, then affix into a half-drilled pearl (half-drilled as in only one hole which reaches halfway through the pearl):

Cut some unfinished chain to the desired length (I went with a classic 18-inch):

Thread the chain and pearl through the holes drilled earlier. Later on, decide the pearl needs to hang lower and add a couple of jump rings (see later pictures)…

Solder fixings to each end of the chain:

And finally, back into the pickle pot! (Just the ends though – don’t want to have to re-polish everything.)

 

Et voilà! Tudor-inspired, minimalist pearl pendant, available now at Tiding of Magpies.

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Intimate Jewels: Surrealism, Fetish and Fairytales – thoughts on a lecture by Dr Sabina Stent at the UCB School of Jewellery

The Jewellery Quarter continues to surprise me with little treats: it turns out the School of Jewellery (University College Birmingham) is currently running a lecture series called ‘Talking Practice’ which is open to the public as well as students. Research seminars are one of the things I miss most about university, so I’ve been planning to take in a talk or two for a while now. I hadn’t got round to going to any before last week, but as soon I heard there was an upcoming talk called ‘Intimate Jewels: Surrealism, Fetish and Fairytales’, I registered on the spot. Jewellery and feminist scholarship? It’s like the event was made for me…

I scooped up a like-minded friend (obviously I’m not enough of an adult to go to something new by myself – who does that?!) and we headed over. I’d checked a dozen times that the talk actually was open to interlopers like us, but I still left feeling a tiny bit like this:

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So, Dr Sabina Stent gave us an introduction to female surrealists (who I knew precisely nothing about before the lecture, to my slight shame) and their contribution to material culture.* She highlighted the fact that with female surrealists, as in all Art History, people tend (understandably) to focus on paintings as the evidence of artistic output, and sculpture, furniture, clothing, and so on often get left by the wayside. So far, so good (I like a good painting as much as the next person but I find objects much more interesting. The Cour Marly is my favourite part of the Louvre by miles).

Another interesting point Sabina made right off the bat was that part of the reason female surrealists are underrepresented in scholarship is because they’re too often viewed as the muses of male surrealist artists rather than artists in their own rights. For example, Dora Maar was immortalised in the public mind as nothing more than Picasso’s Weeping Woman, but was actually an exceptionally talented photographer.

Two artists were discussed in particular detail: Elsa Schiaparelli (who Chanel described as ‘that artist who makes clothes’ – great bit of vintage shade there) and Méret Oppenheim. Both created a variety of objects, and both tapped into the surrealist movement’s love of using disembodied body parts as a key type of imagery. Some of the key pieces Sabina introduced to audience to included gloves, hats, accessories and tableware:

Straight away you can see the focus on disembodied limbs and externalising the internal. (I also really, really want that last brooch.)

Of all the pieces Sabina introduced, the most difficult and interesting was undoubtedly Méret Oppenheim’s Ma Gouvernante:

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There’s no other way to put it; it’s uncomfortable to look at, from the scuffed, white shoes that suggest the Madonna/whore complex to the overtones of bondage and cannibalism. When it was originally shown in 1936, a female viewer flew into a rage and smashed it, forcing Oppenheim to make a second version. The lecture emphasised the female surrealists’ practice of creating sexually-charged, whimsical and provocative art, attempting to reclaim femininity through dark humour. From that angle (and I’m assuming statistically that Oppenheim had at least tangential experience/knowledge of the sexual violence which the piece suggests), I feel that Ma Gouvernante externalises a distinctly female set of intense and difficult emotions, experiences and societal expectations.

And while we’re on the topic of expressing difficult issues, the other thing the lecture highlighted was the surrealists’ exploration of the lines between civilisation and wilderness, as epitomised by Oppenheim’s werewolf gloves:

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Subversion of fairytale tropes? Check. Weaponised femininity? Check. Suggestive of raw female power? Check.

These gloves are particularly interesting to me in the context of the surrealist movement’s attitude towards mental health issues (shocker). When I reached out to Sabina after the lecture, she made the point that the male surrealists had a tendency to romanticise the ‘mad man’ while shunning the ‘mad woman’, but that several female surrealists did use their work to express their mental health issues, notably Leonora Carrington and Dora Maar.

Sabina was kind enough to give me some recommendations for further reading (yes, yes, I know, I went to a lecture voluntarily and asked for homework – I’m the worst), so I might come back to this post with a bit more insight at some point in the future. For now, I know I’ve focused heavily on two of my specialist subjects (feminist issues and mental illness) in this post, so it’s probably going to seem a bit intense, but what else is art criticism but projecting your own meaning and experience onto the artist’s final product?!

So, let’s finish on a sparklier note. The only criticism I can make of the talk is one I level at the world on a regular basis: there could have been more jewellery. I’ve had a scout about online to satisfy my own interest, and found some gorgeous Schiaparelli and Oppenheim pieces to share with you all:

For me, these pieces demonstrate the full potential of jewellery, which, if you think about it, is essentially wearable art. They also remind me of a quote from the lecture (one of my new favourites):

‘Jewellery reigns over clothing not because it is absolutely precious but because it plays a crucial role in making clothing mean something.’

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*For anyone interested in learning more, the surrealists referenced in the talk were: Leonora Carrington, Emmy Bridgewater (a Brum-based surrealist!), Dora Maar, Elsa Schiaparelli and Méret Oppenheim.