If a Story is Never Told, It Becomes Forgotten…

As I ponder, plot and delineate my field of enquiry and its potential future path, I dig deep in justifying my decision making to date and I ask myself the following question – Why is it so important to me to share the stories ingrained in our sentimental jewellery or heirlooms? My work to date specifically pulls on the nostalgic ties we hand down with jewellery, these stories are never written down but readily instilled in these small portable and wearable objects.

In much of my background reading, it discusses that UK narrative jewellery in its current incarnation evolved from the 1960’s and 1970’s. At the time spearheaded by names working against the grain such as Kevin Coates, more recently as the narrative pack has thickened, the likes of Jack Cunningham and latterly the mantle has been taken on by artists such as Lin Cheung and Laura Potter. The reality of course is that our need to symbolise our life path through bodily adornments goes back centuries, more commonly in the form of belonging, power, wealth and status, but still this foundation had been laid well before the mourning Jewellery of the Victorian era or Georgian eye miniatures which populated the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Jack Cunningham, The Great Barrier (Series), 2010, silver, wood, shell, plastic, readymades. Courtesy of the artist.

In Transplantation: A Sense of Place and Culture, authored by Cherry, Norman; Bloxham, Jo, I was particularly taken with Dr. Elizabeth Goring’s assay “About You: British Narrative Jewellery”. 

‘Jewellery is uniquely placed to tell stories. Like other art forms it has the capacity to communicate on several levels, perhaps combining a more generally understood narrative with a more private meaning specific to its maker. However, what principally distinguishes jewellery from those other art forms is the underlying intention that it should be worn on the human body – often that of a person other than its creator. Once sited on that most individual of canvases, it attains the means to move through physical space and time, its story palpably connected to that of its wearer. And jewels are not just passive portable objects. They have been handled and caressed; they have rested in or on intimate areas of the human body like the back of the neck, the earlobe or the ring finger; they have eavesdropped on personal exchanges on personal exchanges of love, passion and displacement. When a jewel changes hands, it carries with it he accrued memory and experience of human interaction. Jewels can thus provide an ideal creative medium through which to explore deeply personal issues such as cultural identity.’ 

Not only does Goring historically ground the current embodiment of narrative jewellery in a context I am born from. The most poignant for me is Goring’s discussion of Suffragette jewellery and their symbolic use of the colours, purple, white and green. But she also touches on this beautiful notion of our ‘accrued memory’ imbued into our jewellery and as this changes hands as does the life experience entwined with these memories. This impression of the biography that is carried with jewellery has become central to my own enquiry, even beyond the physical jewellery. This always struck me as a key factor in why you would purchase a piece of second-hand vintage jewellery – The assumption that you are buying into romanticised notion. The reality is probably very different, in the auction world, much of the jewellery I witnessed going under the hammer, passed from buyer to seller with no information as to its provenance. But does this matter as long as we believe in the narrative?

In the book, which accompanied the exhibition, Maker Wearer Viewer: Contemporary narrative European jewellery, and curated by Jack Cunningham, publishes an assay, Adventure and Power, Jewellery and narrative in the 21st century by Amanda Game.

‘Sentiment of course is a strong motivation for jewellery wearing. We inherit jewels from our families: we are given them or give them as tokens of love, we use them as markers of rites of passage. Dutch artist Felieke van der Leest’s Spermheart pins are witty, sexual take on the love token. Karl Fritsch, a contemporary German jewellery artist has a strong empathy with the sentimental motivation of wearing jewellery. He will take a worn, much loved, perhaps in itself very ordinary jewel, but imbued with magic because of its personal associations. He does not destroy this delicate object, but mends it and adds ideas of his own. Free form casts of gold – bearing sometimes literally the fingerprint of the artist – join the worn jewel, create a new object and very intelligently and subtly remind us of the sentiment as a positive not trivial emotion, embodying idea as it does of love, passion and memory.’

Felieke van der Leest, Spermheart, brooch, 1996 crocheted textile, metal safety pin, (rubber) 8 x 2.5 x 1 cm

Like putting a name to a face, it feels good to learn that I could in fact join an existing tribe of ‘narrative jewellers‘. In the most recent publication on narrative jewellery, Mark Fenn’s, Narrative Jewelry, Tales From the Toolbox – I draw on Jo Pond’s assay, Identifying with the Narrative.

‘The desire to create any artifact or jewel, which in turn creates an emotional response within ourselves and others, brings reward. Fulfilment through our creations motivates further creativity, and momentum subsequently enables us to generate a voice and establish an identity.’

Archival materials and the provenance they exhume, were integral in my previous life working as an auctioneer. First hand in the auction room I have witnessed the responsibility (or not) bestowed in the guardianship of this provenance or social history. I was never happier than when I was presented with the opportunity to get my teeth into a good ancestral or military research project, spending hours searching through the archives of the London Gazette, or deciphering armorials, proving and uncovering lineal decent. This dialogue with a client, the collaboration in joining together the pieces of a historical jigsaw were so rewarding. Life is way too short to engage in a subject you aren’t genuinely engaged in or enjoy. So, it seemed completely natural that this perspective would become central to my MA studies.

If a Story is Never Told, It Becomes Forgotten…


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