In an unprecedented move of playfulness and exploration, I flew to the UK in early December and delved into all things metal, mud, and fun.
One of the better ‘Coronabonuses’ of the last 4 years was the many airline credits and thousands of points my husband and I had racked up in our limited travel years, enough to get us to the UK in the pointy end of plane…for free. From now on, however, we’ll refer to first class and its supposedly flat bed seats as the “trying to sleep in a closed MRI machine end of the plane.” Still, it beat the chaos of British trains.
Eventually, via Manchester Airport and numerous delays and train changes, we arrived in Avalon. Tradition says Avalon is located in Glastonbury, but having now experienced the magic of Northern Wales, tradition can take a hike, which I did a lot of, but that’s another story.
Nestled amidst the mountains, old quarries, clouds, and ‘mizzle,’ was our first week’s destination: the Nantlle Valley and my friend Rauni Higson’s studio. If the Nantlle Valley is Avalon, then Rauni’s workshop is the Narnia of hammers and stakes. Seriously, she has the largest collection of hammers and stakes I’ve ever witnessed in one place, and she puts them to excellent use. She taught me how she forms and forges sheet metal into fabric-inspired waves and ripples, and I taught her Eastern repoussé. The exponential implications and ideas of combining the two techniques utterly blew our minds. Stay tuned.
Potters look at the insides of things. Painters examine the brushstrokes, but we metalsmiths understand the world from the reverse perspective. That’s a profound way of saying that we want to examine everything from the back. Rauni’s and my show and tell took the better part of two days as we handed over to each other our artwork we had only seen in photographs. However much we’re connected by screens, there is nothing like holding someone else’s artwork in your hands, turning it over, and understanding how things come together. It can feel like a revolutionary glimpse inside someone else’s skill-set and creativity.
On one of our precious days together, we drove to Stoke-on-Trent to see the Staffordshire Hoard and meet with its curator Joseph Perry. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a collection of historical metalwork with a similarly skilled peer with whom to share and advance theories of how the work was made. The scale of most of the work is unbelievably tiny. Some granulation and filigree beads, that in photos looks like they are 3-5 centimeters in length, turned out to be less than 1 centimeter.
What was most exciting for me was seeing a piece that had been intentionally damaged enough to reveal the inside back. Truthfully, I’ve never had the slightest doubt that the one-of-a-kind relief work was done with the technique Eastern repoussé, but to confirm it in person was beyond validating and made both of us feel more connected than ever to the lineage that is our smithing heritage.
From Wales my potter husband and I traveled to Cornwall (only a car ride and 3 trains this time!) for him to spend a week meeting with his fellow board members at the Leach Pottery and getting happily muddy at his teacher Kat Wheeler’s studio, then we braved the trains yet again to spend a week in London that was pure fun. We ventured to the Courtauld Gallery, saw Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, had Christmas dinner in a 16th century pub that Charles Dickens mentioned in the Pickwick Papers, walked 10 miles the day we went to Kew Gardens and played like big kids at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park…and I finally got Covid. Thank goodness it was mild, but the lingering fatigue sucks, so I’m easing back into things as much as possible.
Stay tuned for more images, revelations, interviews, and stories I’ll share here over the coming months.