Pendant/brooch

Fretwork: An unhealthy obsession?

‘Stolen Kisses’ was part of my College requirement and so I had to follow a brief. Part of the brief was a requirement for geometric fretwork. Thus began my slightly unhealthy obsession with producing ornamental designs in silver with my piercing saw…

After a class on fretwork – how to design it; the importance of interconnecting sections (cut out too much and you could end up with more ‘gaping hole’ than ‘openwork’); selecting the bits to cut out and the bits to leave in place (positive and negative spaces); how to pierce out really tiny holes etc., I started experimenting.

In fact, I was so excited about fretwork, I ended up including three different kinds of fretwork in my final piece…that’s a lot of piercing and a lot of back ache!  So in ‘Stolen Kisses’, there is the silhouette of R&J, the fretwork quote around the edge and, for the geometric bit, a rose window pattern. Not only that, I actually then continued with fretwork for my second piece – ‘The Noble Fool’ – and have now begun working on a fretwork quote collection.

The art of fretworking:

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The design – in this case a quote from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ – is drawn out on paper.

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The design is transferred onto the metal and holes are drilled in the ‘negative spaces’. A saw blade is then fed through one hole at a time and secured in a saw frame.

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The holes are cut out one at a time with a piercing saw.

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Once the holes are cut out, the paper is removed and then the cleaning up starts.

Fretwork is a long and fiddly job. It’s complicated and challenging but the results are well worth the effort… and the back ache!

 

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Acting the Fool – the Goldsmith’s Apprentice

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Statue of Touchstone Henley Street, Stratford Upon Avon

The other area of research for ‘The Noble Fool’ was touchstones.

I had been keen to look at the character of Touchstone, the fool in the play, and early in my research, I discovered that Shakespeare wrote the character for a new member of his company called Robert Armin, who had originally been an Apprentice Goldsmith.

This link was really exciting for me: Imagine, my first major piece of research into a Shakespeare play to create jewellery and I stumble across a Goldsmith who inspired one of my favourite characters!

Touchstones, usually slabs of black stone or slate, have been used by the Assay Office for more than 700 years to test precious metals. A streak would be made by the gold or silver to be assayed (tested) and then it was compared with streaks made by touch-needles or strips of gold or silver of known quality.

Through my research, I found out that this link was used by Shakespeare quite explicitly in the creation of his character. Touchstone always ‘tells it like it is’ in the play – he is the measure of all things, exposing counterfeit and falsehood, in the same way that a touchstone is the method used by Goldsmiths to test metals, identifying counterfeits.

I decided that I wanted to include a real touchstone in my piece and so my next task was to work out how to set it…

The picture is of a touchstone that is used every day by the samplers at the Assay Office. The pattern created by their scratching and acid tests looks like patchwork and gave me inspiration for my final design.

The picture is of a touchstone that is used every day by the samplers at the Assay Office. The pattern created by their scratching and acid tests looks like patchwork and gave me inspiration for my final design.

 

“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds”

How do changes in human subjectivity over time affect how we view a Shakespeare play? Should Shakespeare’s plays be staged as they were in his day, or can they be staged in a modern setting?

These questions were posed this week on a course I am following on Future Learn about Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Personally, I don’t think Shakespeare’s plays have to be staged in Elizabethan costume at all. The thing I love most about seeing Shakespeare performed is the seemingly infinite interpretations of the same text – surely it’s what makes the Director’s job so challenging?

I have seen Hamlet several times and costume or setting rarely make a difference to the overall experience. Perhaps this is because the play is predominantly about emotions; and politics and conflict are universal themes. In any case, I enjoy seeing Shakespeare’s plays re-imagined with settings and costumes that are often surprisingly relevant, even when they are a far-cry from what the Elizabethans, or even the modern-day Globe audience would expect to see.

The current productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won (or Much Ado About Nothing) at the RSC are cases in point. Beautifully staged productions set either side of the first World War, they are spot on and work brilliantly. Likewise, the RSC’s Merchant of Venice with Patrick Stewart, set in modern-day Las Vegas with an Elvis Impersonator, and a South-African influenced Tempest with Antony Sher as Prospero – both genius productions, still true to the text, but shedding a whole new light on the plays.

This whole notion of how Shakespeare’s plays are performed is something I feel very strongly about. After all, there wouldn’t be anywhere near as much inspiration for my design work if every performance was firmly entrenched in 1599!

 

Forming attachments

The Noble Fool was my final piece for my three-year jewellery design course. My starting point, once I’d chosen As You Like It for my focus, was to look at Elizabethan costume fabrics and patterns and the fastenings used. Alongside my more academic studies of the play, I wanted some visual inspiration for my design work and initial research suggested that period-style costume would give me plenty.

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A page from my sketchbook – after my initial visit to the RSC Collections Warehouse in Stratford Upon Avon

I had decided to look particularly at hook-and-eye fastenings, lacing and corsetry, since these offered interesting design options. I was not short of examples to look at, but was a little surprised to find a prevalence of velcro being used – not particularly Elizabethan obviously, but as it turned out, far more convenient when performing a quick costume change in the Wings before going back onstage.

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Hook-and-eye fastenings. M. Le Beau, As You Like It, RSC 2000

It was, in fact, the incredible black-and-white costume of Monsieur Le Beau that inspired my research into the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of the play in 2000, designed by Kaffe Fassett and Niki Turner.

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Initial work on patterns using the M. Le Beau costume, As You Like It, RSC 2000

Not only did this production inspire my final design, but the time spent at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust looking at production photos, production records and Costume Bibles, cemented a new and happy, but quite unexpected relationship between Shakespeare’s plays in performance and the jewellery design process.

Please note: All costumes owned and courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company Collection. Although I have taken inspiration from its productions and costumes, the RSC has not endorsed my jewellery collection or had any direct involvement in this project. I would like to thank the RSC for granting me permission to use images obtained during research as part of this blog. 

‘Nothing was hidden, everything was revealed’, Jay L. Halio

“Once, the theatre could begin as magic: magic at the sacred festival, or magic as the footlights came up. Today, it is the other way round…We must open our empty hands and show that really there is nothing up our sleeves.  Only then can we begin.” Peter Brook, ‘The Empty Space’, 1968

In April, I’m taking part in an alumni exhibition with ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter’ as the theme. Initially, I thought about focusing on a famous Shakespeare Sonnet (I bet you can guess which one) or looking at The Winter’s Tale, but really there was only one obvious choice for this project…

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not only one of Shakespeare’s most popular and most performed plays, it’s also a personal favourite and rich with very ‘jewellery-friendly’ themes and imagery. The biggest problem was deciding where to start. There have been so many productions, both in the theatre and on the big screen, that finding inspiration from performance archives was going to be a big task.

Fortunately, back in May when I was at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust researching As You Like It, I met 84-year old Roger Howell, who was Stage Manager and then Production Manager for the RSC for 30 years. As well as working with actors such as Judi Dench and Richard Burton during the early part of their careers, he also worked extensively with Peter Brook, Peter Hall, Hal Rogers and Ralph Koltai and was involved in the design process of several productions. It was at his suggestion that I decided to begin my research by looking at Peter Brook’s iconic 1970 production of The Dream.

Brook’s production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford is seen by many as the definitive version of the play in modern theatre history. As I explored the Production Records, Costume Bible, photographs, original costume designs and programme, I couldn’t help wishing that I had been there to see it. It’s absolutely fascinating.

Peter Brook believed that it was important to reinvent the theatre and find the ‘secret play beneath’. In fact, what he did with his production was so new and different, it really did reinvent the way theatre was performed.

Once I ‘found’ this production, I stopped searching for inspiration – I had it in bucket-loads. And whilst other productions will feed into my design development, this production is, without doubt, the starting point.

Magic, mischief and a little ginger cat called Puck

Well here I am, back on the train on the way home after an extremely packed few days in Stratford Upon Avon.

Embarking on a few days of intensive research feels like stepping off a precipice into the unknown. I’m never quite sure where my research is going to take me and this time was no exception. But I leave with a mass of notes, images and inspiration around Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I’m hugely excited.

So now the really hard work begins. I need to take everything I’ve absorbed and pull it apart, examine it and then put it back together. In doing so, I have to somehow translate what I see as the essence of my findings into design ideas. It’s a bit daunting…I’ve reached another precipice.

But as I left The Shakespeare Institute last night, with thoughts of fairies and lovers, mischief and enchantment whirling around in my head, I experienced a bit of the magic of The Dream.

A little ginger cat appeared on the path to greet me. He apparently turned up mysteriously in the grounds of the Institute just recently and yes, he really is called Puck. I didn’t discuss any of my ideas with him, but perhaps I’ll be able to show him something next time I visit.

 

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“I am that merry wanderer of the night.” Robin Goodfellow (Puck) Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1

 

The thing that did it for me

I began looking at how Shakespeare could inform my jewellery designs when I was in the third year of my City & Guilds.  Up until that point I had felt a bit lost – I had no real problems making a piece of jewellery, in fact I was loving it; I just struggled with inspiration. Most of the jewellers I have met use nature or architecture for inspiration and this really works for many successful designers.  It just wasn’t doing it for me.

I’m not saying I don’t find architecture or nature inspiring, I do. I just don’t feel a burning desire to make jewellery from it. I was blown away by the architecture in Dubai, I completely adored the buildings in Italy – the Duomo in Milan literally took my breath away – and I’m quite partial to the odd bunch of peonies. But inspiration for my next jewellery collection? Nope.

So that got me thinking. I needed something to inspire me and take me through my third year and beyond. I needed to find that theme or focus that would help me to find my own personal language.

Then it hit me. Why did I have to confine my source of inspiration to objects, why not find inspiration in what I love? Why not start with concepts, ideas, words, feelings? I love the theatre and I particularly love going to see Shakespeare’s plays, so why couldn’t this be my starting point?

As I sit writing this, I’m on my way up to Stratford Upon Avon to spend three days in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library and Archive, the Shakespeare Institute and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. I’ll be drawing inspiration from my surroundings, from a trip to the Theatre and from the many, many books, photographs, production records and studies of Shakespeare’s plays in performance.

When I get home, the hard work begins…turning this inspiration into jewellery. I can’t wait!

Photo taken by me

The Duomo, Milan. Both photos taken by me in August 2013