Watch the exhibition videos
Art, jewellery and the everyday
Our exhibition tells the story of art jewellery and a collaborative project between sculptor, Jacqueline Stieger, and the jewellery-makers, Nicola Fidell Chapman and Victoria Prince. For many years, alongside her large sculptures, Stieger has used sculptural and experimental techniques to create distinctive art jewellery or 'microsculpture'. Her work is often inspired by everyday items. As trained jewellers, Chapman and Prince use quite different methods to design and create their work at Oresome Gallery in Hull.
With funding from the Arts Council, and the support of Goole Museum and Boyes stores, Chapman and Prince have worked alongside Jacqueline Stieger. They have explored new methods and adopted a sculptor's approach to the jeweller's art. Inspired by everyday items from Boyes stores, all three have created new works. Their artistic journey has been documented by the art historian and freelance curator, Gerardine Mulcahy-Parker of the Exhibitiours, and the storytelling photographer Nigel Walker.
Wearable works of art
Since the early 20th century modern painters and sculptors have been creating works of art to be worn on the body. The American artist, Alexander Calder, was an early pioneers. Like his contemporaries, Calder saw no distinction between the various art forms, be it painting, sculpture, ceramics or textiles. So alongside monumental art installations, Calder worked on an intimate scale, creating art jewellery. Although he never trained as a goldsmith or jeweller, Calder made all his own work. Other distinguished artists such as Pablo Picasso and George Braque preferred to collaborate with jewellery-makers to create jewellery based on their unique designs.
The first exhibition of Modern Handmade Jewellery opened in New York in 1946.It featured jewellery by both 'craftsmen-designers' and artists. It wasn't until 1961 that British art jewellery was given a boost with an unusual exhibition organised by Graham Hughes, art director of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, in collaboration with the V&A. Described as a 'pivotal event in the evolution of artists' jewellery', the International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery 1890 to 1961 included works by professional jewellery-makers, goldsmiths and artists.
Contemporary British jewellery was uninspiring at the time. Consequently Hughes commissioned British painters and sculptors including Terry Frost, Lynn Chadwick and Elisabeth Frink to design jewellery to be made by the master goldsmith, David Thomas. Hughes also invited 'up-and-coming' jewellery-makers like Gerda Flockinger and John Donald to contribute to the show. Further glamour was added by the inclusion of jewellery by international artists including Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Jean Arp. The response to the exhibition was overwhelming, kick-starting a revolution in modern British jewellery design.
In 1969, having lived in Switzerland for many years, Alfred Gruber and his wife Jacqueline Stieger, settled at Welton in East Yorkshire, close to Stieger's family home. Both were successful sculptors, who had been exhibiting in Europe for many years. Alongside their sculptural practice, Gruber taught bronze and metal casting at the art school in Basel and was experimenting with silversmithing techniques. Despite never training as a jeweller, he began creating art jewellery, which he exhibited for the first time at the Galerie D'Art Modern in Basel in 1968. Fellow contributors included Alexander Calder, George Braque and Jean Arp.
The Gruber-Stiegers moved to Welton the following year, where they acquired an old farm building that they converted into a studio, foundry, smithy and home. They were refining their unusual techniques, casting various materials together, including lead, resin, glass and bone. Like many artists at the time, they were inspired by everyday objects. Alongside their large sculptural works, they created jewellery or 'microsculpture' based on an assortment of materials. These included plastic fishing line, wire bundles and even bitumen and asphalt, generally used for constructing roads!
Their distinctive work attracted the attention of Graham Hughes, who acquired their jewellery for the collection at Goldsmiths' Hall. Sadly Gruber died in February 1972. As the poet and art critic, John Hewitt, declared:
"... cancer [has] robbed us of one of our most forceful and relevant sculptors ... His sculptures - and those of his wife - are painfully direct â€¦ their jewellery which draws on some of the same inspiration is extraordinarily beautiful."
Jacqueline Stieger shops at Boyes
Alongside fishing line, wire bundles and buckets of asphalt, the Gruber-Stiegers began trawling for inspiration from everyday items from their local Boyes store. Gruber had been ill since they left Switzerland and as his health failed, he found it easier to focus on small-scale items of jewellery. Nevertheless, he had a lasting ambition to create a pair of working trousers at life-size in bronze! Using the age-old process of lost-wax casting, with Stieger's help, Gruber created 'Wearing Trousers'. With one foot missing, a footprint is left behind - a touching legacy. For despite his death, what remains is the distinctive work of an inventive artist with exceptional skills in bronze casting.
Following Gruber's death, Stieger continued alone. With the support of patrons in Switzerland and in the UK - including Graham Hughes at Goldsmiths Hall - her work developed and flourished. She began exhibiting art jewellery alongside her sculpture, the jewellery often echoing her larger sculptural forms.
Boyes became a 'go-to' store for materials, bargains and artistic stimulation. Growing up at Brough near Hull, Stieger had been familiar with the store since childhood. Its long association with Hull dating back to 1898, when William Boyes was trading on Prospect Street at 'The Remnant Warehouse'. Having established successful shops in Scarborough and York, Boyes set up on Hessle Road, Hull in 1920. The shop thrived and was expanded in 1956. Using plastic tablecloths, bandages, iron-on hemming, Boyes paper bags and more, Stieger expanded her sculptural range. With 18ct gold and precious or semi-precious stones, she continues to create unique items of jewellery that celebrate the significance and value of everyday items.
Bespoke Jewellery at Oresome Gallery
With a tradition of Goldsmithing dating back to the 13th century when, for a time, the town minted is own silver coins, Hull was an ideal location for trained silversmiths and designer-jewellery makers, Nicola Fidell chapman and Victoria Prince to set up store. Both were Hull born. Chapman trained as a silversmith and jeweller at Sheffield Polytechnic. Having graduated with a BA (Hons), she entered the mainstream industry. Working for Abbey Crest, the Leeds-based jewellery firm, she mastered a range of techniques and processes such as piercing and cutting metal and cutting and setting stones. During her time at Abbey Crest, she also worked with the master engraver, Malcolm Long, and subsequently studied hand engraving at Leeds School of Art and Design. By 1990, Chapman had established her own workshop in Hull, designing and creating bespoke jewellery. She began teaching at the Hull School of Art and Design, where she met her future business partner, Victoria Prince.
Victoria Prince initially studied 3D Design in Hull, before attending the Birmingham School of Jewellery, where she studied silversmithing and jewellery, graduating with a BA (Hons) in 1998. Awarded a fellowship with the Design Enterprise, she went on to work for 'designGAP', an organisation devoted to promoting the work of creative practitioners. International travel followed and on returning to Hull, she took up a teaching post at Hull School of Art and Design.
In 2011, Chapman and Prince established Oresome Gallery in Hull's artistic quarter on Humber Street. More recently, they have relocated to Sutton-on-Hull, where they continue to create bespoke jewellery, restore historic silver and offer courses and workshops devoted to the art of jewellery making.
Quality goods at bargain prices!
Gruber and Stieger had welcomed art students of various disciplines to work alongside them in their studio since the mid-sixties, when Gruber was teaching at the art school in Basel. When they left Switzerland, a number of renowned Swiss artists, architects, craftsmen and jewellers made the journey to East Yorkshire, to develop their skills by working alongside this innovative pair. Following Gruber's death, Stieger continued to welcome students and assistants to her studio. She enjoys collaborative working and developing her own artistic practice through sharing creative experiences. So, when she was approached by Dr Mulcahy-Parker, who asked if she would work with Chapman and Prince and introduce them to her distinctive methods and sculptural approach to jewellery making, she was delighted to accept.
Stieger's jewellery celebrates the significance and value of everyday items. As Boyes stores has served her well since the 1960s, this 'Aladdin's Cave' of haberdashery, hardware, stationary, kitchenware, clothing and more, provided an ideal inspirational starting point. Shopping trips to Boyes followed, with Stieger, Chapman and Prince gathering materials and ideas. Through drawing, printing and painting, they studied the shapes, textures and linear patterns of cooking spatulas, whisks, rubber bands, spiral notebooks, pencils and more. Moulds and models were made, exploring three-dimensional abstract form: and experimental casts were created using the lost-wax method. The resulting art jewellery is stunning!
From the outset, Boyes stores have been unstinting in their support for our project. Built on a reputation of providing a massive range of quality goods at bargain prices, Boyes encourage us all to get 'crafty' and discover our own creative streak!
Up Close: Our Creative Journey
We invited Nigel Walker to document our project from the outset. As a storytelling photographer, Walker was interested in capturing the creative journey. He began with a trip to Oresome Gallery where, like a fly on the wall, he observed Chapman and Prince at the jeweller's bench on a regular day. Both were focused and decisive, with precision tools at hand for detailed work. A visit to Stieger followed. She too was working at the bench when Walker arrived, creating a portrait in wax, to be cast in silver. He recognised the same focus but there was a different working approach evident in the scattered wax fragments, unusual tools and the array of familiar objects in the unfamiliar setting of a sculptor's bench.
Following trips to Boyes, all three artists worked alongside each other at Stieger's workshop. Away from the familiar, Prince began playing with glass marbles and rubber bands: exploring light, line, shape and form. Chapman probed and questioned, trying and testing new materials. They experimented with melted wax, Plasticine and even mud gathered from the banks of the Humber, discovering an artistic freedom with Stieger's approach.
The Covid-19 lockdown brought an abrupt halt to the photographic recording. The artists were forced to work in isolation. However, they maintained contact, continuing to share ideas. In the months that followed, observing social distancing guidelines, Walker could again join them at Stieger's workshop. While Covid-19 took its toll on our project, as the new jewellery by Stieger, Chapman and Prince reveals, it didn't put a stop to their creative journey!