Following the remarkable offer of a personal interview with British jewellery doyenne, Wendy Ramshaw, I thought I ought to do some research into her background; I don’t want to be struck dumb on the day!
It would be churlish not to share…
Born at the start of WWII in Sunderland, the child who was to grow into one of the UK’s most influential designers was, by the end of the hostilities, “making trinkets out of scraps of fabric and barbola*.” She was just six years old.
Britain came out of the war triumphant but tired and, following more than a decade of austerity and rationing, the British government felt the population needed a tonic; they also wanted to commemorate the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851.
The Festival of Britain took place in the summer of 1951 and celebrated the historical achievements of the British in fields as diverse as science, agriculture, literature and industry. The festival was also designed to challenge up-and-coming artists and designers. A visit to the Festival was life-changing for the twelve year old Wendy Ramshaw, this first exposure to modern art and architecture was to provide the impetus for her formal art studies. Between 1956 and 1960 Wendy studied illustration and fabric design at Newcastle’s College of Art and Industrial Design.
It was in 1961, whilst studying at Reading University, that Wendy met David Watkins. The couple “fell quickly and completely in love” and married in 1962. During their time together the couple have collaborated on many projects, including one that I remember clearly – paper jewellery back in the 1960’s. They have worked together, shared a studio for 35 years, travelled together and raised their children together, all whilst at the same time pursuing independent, equally successful, careers. Achieving their golden anniversary in 2012 will be no mean feat.
This couple has made a huge contribution to the art and design culture not just in the UK but internationally too, and one gets the feeling that, although their work is distinct and separate, it is their strength as a duo that has fuelled their passions and triumphs.
In 1970, Graham Hughes, then art director at Goldsmiths’ Hall and Chairman of the Craft Centre of Great Britain, bought some of Wendy’s work for the Goldsmiths’ collection, which shot her career into the stratosphere. Even so an initial suggestion that her work should be acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum was rejected; a decision that was overturned by Roy Strong in 1975 when the Science Museum acquired some of David Watkins’s work to demonstrate the technologies and possibilities of acrylic.
There is little doubt that Wendy Ramshaw is Britain’s foremost jewellery designer. She has achieved Fellowship of both the Chartered Society of Designers and the Royal Society of Arts, and she was one of the first two women to be admitted as Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. In 1993, Wendy was awarded an OBE for services to the arts and ten years later, in 2003, she was honoured as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
Even if you don’t know the name, Wendy Ramshaw, you will have seen her work. Her signature pieces are sets of rings that, when displayed on her beautifully sculptural ring stands, are transformed into works of art and great beauty and are inspired by a wide range of things, including women from Pablo Picasso's paintings.
When asked about her work, which is based on the geometry of the circle and the square, the band and the ring, Wendy says it is “about complication and how far you can push an idea.” Much of Wendy’s recent work is on a far larger scale and her gates, screens and sculptures ornament buildings and architecture much in the same way that her jewellery ornamented the body.
* For the uninitiated, barbola is the craft of making small models of fruit, flowers, and other decorative items from gesso.
Just some of Wendy Ramshaw’s Awards & Residencies
1972 Council Of Industrial Design Award (UK)
1975 De Beers Diamond International Award
1978 'artists In Residence' Western Australia Institute Of Technology
1983 Designers And Art Directors Association - Award For Graphics (UK)
1984 Visiting Artist, Glass Department, Royal College Of Art, (UK)
1993 Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship (UK)
1993 'art In Architecture', Royal Society Of Arts (UK)
Work In Selected Public Collections
Abbot Hall Gallery, Kendal (UK)
Art Gallery Of South Australia, Adelaide (Australia)
Art Gallery Of Western Australia, Perth (Australia)
Australian National Gallery, Canberra (Australia)
Birmingham City Art Gallery, Birmingham (UK)
Broadfield House Glass Museum, Stourbridge (UK)
Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institute, New York (USA)
The Corning Museum Of Glass (USA)
The Crafts Council, London (UK)
Helen Williams Drutt Collection Of Modern Jewellery (USA)
Kundstindustrimuseet, Oslo (Norway)
Liverpool Museum & Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (UK)
Musëe Des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (France)
Museum Of Modern Art, Kyoto (Japan)
Museum Fur Kunst Und Gewerbe, Hamburg (Germany)
National Gallery Of Victoria (Australia)
National Museum Of Wales, Cardiff (UK)
Die Neue Sammlung, Munich (Germany)
Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseet, Trondheim (Norway)
Philadelphia Museum Of Art, Philadelphia (USA)
Powerhouse, Sydney, New South Wales (Australia)
Princessehof Museum (Holland)
Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh (UK)
Schmuckmuseum, Pforzheim (Germany)
Science Museum, London (UK)
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (Holland)
Victoria & Albert Museum, London (UK)
Worshipful Company Of Goldsmiths, London (UK)
‘Wendy Ramshaw', published by The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1982
‘Wendy Ramshaw And David Watkins', published by Schmuckmuseum, Pforzheim, 1987
‘From Paper To Gold', published by The Royal Festival Hall, London, 1990
‘Jewellery Studies, Vol.4' Society Of Jewellery Historians Magazine, 1991
‘Wendy Ramshaw - Jewel Drawings And Projects', published by Hipotesi, Barcelona, 1998
‘Picasso's Ladies - Jewellery By Wendy Ramshaw', published by Arnoldsche, 1998
‘Room Of Dreams', published by The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh, 2002