After a lifetime in Gravesend, in March this year I moved to Norfolk. We’d always loved Norfolk and went on holiday there most years with the dogs. But good friends and various family and work commitments kept us living in the Gravesend Riverarea.
Things change though. The pandemic meant my wife, Davina, moved her tutoring online. My mum was safe, well and settled in her care home. I was offered the opportunity to do the same work in a new region. And as a few other bits fell into place, we found we were free to go. So we did.
And so far, it’s been great. We’re about ten minutes drive from the Broads, half an hour from the coast, and within walking distance of Norwich, which (as we’ve discovered) has great beer and food and a really vibrant art scene. What more could you want?
I’ve only been here for a couple of months but I’ve started to dip my toe (pen?…brush?) into the local art community.
I’ve got six ink drawings on display in a new restaurant Harry’s Soul Station which recently took over what used to be The Fat Percy pub. The family-run business started two years ago as Harry’s Soul Train, a food truck that toured Norfolk.
In the new restaurant, they’ve just installed the hanging system I designed for non-traditional venues and they’re hoping to feature work by local artists on a regular basis.
I’m also going to join Norwich Open Studios in the autumn, which is part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, so look out for a post about that. I’ve done a few paintings and drawings while I’ve been in Norfolk over the years. Some originals and A3 and A4 prints are available in my gallery.
Jane Sedgwick: Sustainable jewellery
So what’s that got to do with brooches and badges? Well, while I’ve been settling in in Norfolk, a little bit of Norfolk has come to Gravesend and has been staying in a hotel right opposite my old house.
Jane makes wooden jewellery, which she turns by hand and then hand paints in her studio near the North Norfolk coast. Her work uses geometric forms, repetition and colour and is inspired by classic educational toys and nautical imagery.
Jane grew up in a small mining village in West Yorkshire and studied for a degree in metalwork and jewellery at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee.
‘I loved Dundee, and my final degree show was all about marine architecture,’ Jane remembers. ‘I used to go around all the little fishing villages in Fife looking at lighthouses. But it was quite a traditional jewellery and metalwork course and the pieces I made were bigger works – silverware and vessels to be held, rather than worn. I really enjoyed the course but, by the end, I wasn’t really sure that I’d found my thing.’
After she graduated, Jane went to the Royal College of Art in London to study for an MA in GSM&J (Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork and Jewellery).
‘I thought it would help me to find out what it was I really wanted to do and give me more time to study,’ she says. ‘And although I intended to do more jewellery, I ended up developing performance scale work – so, things you might wear over your head – and focusing on the space around the wearer and how the piece made that different.’
When she left college, Jane worked for a while making props for shop windows, and then for a high-end interior design company, where she worked as part of a team creating interiors for Marco Pierre White, Vivienne Westwood and the restaurant at Claridge’s.
‘The job was quite multi-skilled and I loved the camaraderie of working in a team and getting an insider view of these nice venues,’ she says. ‘But being freelance, I got a bit nervous living in London with the rent to pay. So I took on some teaching at Westminster Adult Education Services where I did a couple of morning courses teaching prop making – basically making a lot of things out of paper mache – and another course about window dressing.’
From there, Jane was offered more teaching. Firstly, at Sheffield Hallam University, where she taught drawing on their jewellery and metal course and then, in 1998, at the University of Derby, where she worked for 13 years, teaching on their degree craft course, which had a strong focus on sustainable approaches to making and design.
‘The course was ahead of its time really,’ Jane comments. ‘There were a couple of members of staff teaching on the course who were doing PhDs looking at sustainability-related issues and that really fed through into the programme. So we did lots of work with reclaimed and natural materials.
‘I’d used a lot of reclaimed plastics on my first degree. I’ve always liked colour and although it was a silversmithing and metalwork course, I wasn’t keen on the traditional options for incorporating colour into jewellery, such as enamelling and precious stones. So, probably from a need to save money at the start, I used to rummage through the skips of the sign-makers in Dundee, to find bits of acrylic and plastic that I could combine with my metalwork. I really like that intuitive approach to things – not knowing what you might find, or finding something that you weren’t expecting and thinking how you could use it.’
It was when a lecturer at the Royal College of Art, Onno Boekhoudt, challenged Jane about a piece of jewellery she had designed, that she really started to think seriously about the sustainability of her own work.
‘The piece was designed to light up, and he pointed out that the bulb and the battery would need to be replaced and asked if that bothered me,’ Jane recalls. ‘And it did. I hadn’t thought about that until he touched on it with me. Now sustainability is a real focus of my work.’
In 2010, Jane moved to Norfolk with her partner, also an art educator and maker. The house came with a 10-acre woodland which they manage, and which provides a sustainable supply of sycamore for Jane’s work. Her work also incorporates recycled and yarns, and cordage that she makes from plants, such as nettles and brambles.
Once settled in Norfolk Jane decided to go back to her roots and to try to make a living from making and selling wooden jewellery.
‘My skill set in working with wood was quite limited, so I gave myself a bit of time to try out various woodworking techniques with different kinds of wood, and I did a bit of wood turning and found I was quite good at it! ‘ she exclaims. ‘I’ve always liked Bauhaus and Constructivism, as well as nautical imagery and I collect classic educational toys. And it’s these influences that, I think, come through in my work.’
Soon Jane was exhibiting her work at design and craft shows and selling jewellery through her website.
Meanings and Messages
Jane heard about the LV21 Ship and Shore residency through her membership of the Association for Contemporary Jewellery (ACJ). The association works to promote greater understanding of contemporary jewellery and to bring it to new audiences, as well as supporting the creative and professional development of its members.
The residency call-out was exclusive to ACJ members and was timed to coincide with ACJ’s 25th anniversary touring exhibition, Meanings and Messages, which opened at St George’s Arts Centre in Gravesend, on the 30th April.
Meanings and Messages features 60 brooches, designed and made by ACJ members from UK and around the world.
Jane’s exhibited brooch, Forget Me (K)not, is a tribute to her late mother. The brooch represents the tacit exchange of skills between mother and daughter and incorporates threads from her mum’s sewing box.
Exhibition manager and curator, Jo Haywood, who also has a piece in the exhibition, explains how the power of brooches to communicate, makes them distinct from other pieces of jewellery.
‘Unlike bracelets or rings, for example, which are designed to be worn in a very specific way, brooches are not confined to the task of curving around a body part,’ she says. ‘The wearer always decides its placement. Brooches are like miniature canvases and microcosms – an ideal way to convey meanings and messages. And even when they are not being worn, they remain as standalone pieces of art.’
Jo has curated exhibits into six themes:
- Social justice and societal change – a fairer world for all, technology,
consumerism and conflict
- Supernature – celebrating the wonder of the natural world
- Tributes and personal narratives – for our heroes and loved ones, personal reflection and biographical pieces
- Our beautiful planet – Climate change, conservation, sustainability, ecology and animal rights
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Personal reflections and global impact, and
- Love, hope and faith – Humanity, lore, talismans and amulets.
‘There are many pieces of work in the exhibition and some of the messages they convey could be quite difficult to access without presenting them with sensitivity, so we thought it was important to organise them into groups,’ Jo explains. ‘We invited prominent jewellers and researchers from our own community to write a short introduction to each theme, to set the scene, but without reference to individual brooches.’
So while the themes give a clue the meanings and messages of individual pieces, visitors are invited to bring their own interpretations to the work.
‘In the exhibition, each piece has just the name of the artist and the title of the work: there are no artist statements,’ Jo continues. ‘We want the audience to try to guess what the meanings and messages are and write down their interpretations on the luggage tags that are suspended from the community artwork in the gallery. But, of course, if people want to know what it was that the artist really intended, they can look at the catalogue in the gallery.’
Through their time exhibiting in Gravesend, the ACJ hope to achieve two main objectives.
The first is to introduce contemporary jewellery to new audiences.
Jo defines contemporary jewellery as being wide-ranging in its profile.
‘It can include both traditional and fine art jewellery, moving into fashion jewellery and everything in between,’ she explains. ‘Generally, artists will be independent makers with a focus on exploration, which could be of particular materials or processes. Innovation is often a driving force too.
‘Contemporary jewellery can be made using traditional materials, but it can also include other materials, precious or non-precious. This year’s pieces feature gold, silver, aluminium, copper, wood, textiles, ceramics, semi-precious stones and a range of found objects, including gramophone needles, leather gloves, spent bullet cartridges and faux leather made from citrus peel.’
To reinforce the bespoke nature of contemporary jewellery, a PowerPoint display featuring images of the makers working in their studios, forms part of the exhibition at St George’s Arts Centre.
‘St George’s is a fabulous venue because it is right in the middle of the shopping centre so it’s very accessible, and we hope to tempt new audiences to come in,’ Jo says. ‘We’ve tried to make a lot of the participation work accessible as well. There are colouring and design sheets for young children, and each venue has been offered a toolkit of education resources from the Crafts Council, our education sponsor. The toolkit includes ‘making tutorials’ to involve people more in delivering workshops which could, perhaps, be used by gallery staff .’
The gallery also has a tactile wall of sensory objects – test pieces and samples associated with the exhibited pieces. This helps make the exhibition more accessible to visitors with a visual impairment, and allows sighted audiences an opportunity to experience the exhibits in a different way.
‘There are fabrics, metals, plastics and enamel where you can feel the raised design elements,’ Jo explains. ‘So often when you go into galleries you’re told not to touch anything. But we really want people to get close up and personal with the materials that the makers have used.’
The second objective of the exhibition in Gravesend, which also supports the first, is to create legacy opportunities for ACJ members through a participation programme of master classes and workshops. The aim is to create ‘a network of sustainable practice’ and paid opportunities for members that will continue after the tour is finished.
The Ship and Shore artist residency is just one example of this.
As part of her brief, Jane Sedgwick will work with a small group of local makers from the LV21’s Making More group and the Gravesham Arts Salon, with the aim of encouraging new members to join these groups and learn new skills.
ACJ members Jennifer Kidd and Rebecca Ilett, will deliver a jewellery making masterclass at the Gravesend Adult Education Centre, while other ACJ members will deliver workshops and events as part of the Meanings and Messages programme and beyond.
Ship & Shore
A key part of Jane’s residency, is producing a new, collaborative piece of work reflecting, in some way, Gravesend’s maritime heritage and/or wider nautical references. To link with the Meanings and Messages exhibition, the residency brief suggested that she might like to draw upon LV21’s vast collection of illustrated archive records of badges, issued for ships built at Chatham Dockyard.
In the early 20th century, ships’ badges began to replace figureheads and gilded carvings as a way of identifying ships. The shape of the badge conveyed information about the type of vessel, while the design illustrated the name of the ship and its historical associations. Approved designs were carved in wood and then cast in metal before being installed aboard.
At present, Jane is exploring possibilities. She has visited LV21 and St Andrews Church on the riverfront, explored Gravesend and is planning a trip to Chatham Dockyard for further inspiration. Jane is also looking at the meanings conveyed by signalling flags and nautical buoy shapes.
She is excited about where the journey might lead, but wherever that is, Jane sees her residency on LV21 as an opportunity to develop her own making practice.
‘The work that I make for sale on my website is studio jewellery and though it is bold and colourful, it’s still practical for everyday wear,’ she says. ‘So I’d like to take this opportunity work more intuitively, to have fun with nautical themes and see where things go. I’d like to push myself to be a bit more ambitious and explore scale and wearability.’
You can follow Jane’s residency journey and see what she creates on her Instagram account @janesedgwickjewellery
LV21 Ship & Shore programme is a partnership project with Gravesham Borough Council supported by Arts Council England and, to accompany Jane’s residency, there will be free creative activities aboard LV21, at St Andrew’s Arts Centre and on the surrounding quayside.
On Saturday 21 May, Jane will run a Making More workshop aboard LV21. And the residency culminates on Saturday 28 May with an Open Day, where you can meet Jane, learn more about her work, and take part in family friendly drop-in activities exploring textures and jewellery techniques, led by jewellers Jennifer Kidd and Jo McAllister. For further details please go to: https://lv21.co.uk/whats-
The ACJ Meaning and Messages exhibition continues at the St Georges Arts Centre in Gravesend until 29th May 2022. Details of future venues and dates for the tour can be found below.
What’s On https://lv21.co.uk/whats-on/
‘Making More’ workshop
Association for Contemporary Jewellery
Meaning & Messages tour dates and venues
Exeter University – Conference pop-up exhibition: 1st – 3rd July 2022
Vittoria Street Gallery, Birmingham School of Jewellery: 19th September – 28th October 2022
Mission Gallery in partnership with Swansea College of Art UWTSD: 16th November – 21st December 2022
Goldsmiths’ Centre, London: 9th January – 24th February 2023
New Brewery Arts, Cirencester: 14th April – 18th June 2023
Duncan Grant: Norfolk ink drawings and prints
You can buy my artwork featured in this blog here: