Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor | 100 Women 100 Brooches 100 Stories
Posted: 28 Apr 2012 | By: Patricia Anderson - Editor
Many of us attach some symbolic significance to the pieces of jewellery we wear — over and above their decorative potential. And we can also recognise that significance in the pieces others wear.
In 2004 Helen Drutt-English, the director of a gallery in Philadelphia and owner of one of the most important collections of international contemporary jewellery in the world, commissioned sixty-one artists from sixteen countries (Australia included) to create a brooch for the then US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. As an aside, one of those jewellers was the Australian Margaret West, whom we featured in our September–October issue of aAR and whose work Drutt-English had collected assiduously.
The brief was fluid but it took into account the impact images can have on the subliminal feelings of both wearers and observers. Albright was known to wear brooches that hinted at her views on whatever political situation was at hand. “I found that jewellery had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal.” She added: ‘While President George H. W. Bush had been known for saying ‘Read my lips’, I began urging colleagues and reporters to ‘Read my pins’.” Thus the Statue of Liberty, bees, eagles, snakes and balloons featured prominently among the brooches which ranged from the naturalistic and the surreal to the entirely abstract.
The whole project gathered momentum. And on 30 September 2009, a selection of 200 brooches from Albright’s personal collection was displayed at the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan. The exhibition was accompanied by a book titled Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, which was published by HarperCollins.
A similarly ambitious project was undertaken here in Australia in 2011 by curator Kirsten Fitzpatrick, who, inspired by the unprecedented number of women in prominent public roles (2010 had seen the first female Prime Minister appointed and she was sworn in by Australia’s first female Governor-General), invited jewellers to create brooches for Australian women of achievement.
Thus the exhibition Tinker Tailor Soldier: 100 Women 100 Brooches 100 Stories was born, accompanied by a handsome catalogue produced by the publisher Artisan. Women are prominent at every level of the project’s development. Jeweller Dorothy Erickson has written an eloquent introduction and Fitzpatrick has written an essay which uses a mediaeval rhyme to remind us of the focus on men’s achievements and the corresponding neglect of women’s — whose roles as anything other than mother, servant, helpmate or nun were all but proscribed. Yet in Australia, where western settlement has extended barely 200 years, these achievements have been astonishing.
Evie Franzidis, another contributing writer, has delivered an informative and lively text to accompany the adventure of matching one Australian contemporary female jeweller to one prominent Australian woman — exploring her personality and deeds and embodying something of them in a single brooch.
Jeweller Sheridan Kennedy, who grew up on a sheep property, at a time when early pastoral impressions remain ingrained in our view of this land, decided to create a silver and wool ram’s head brooch for Elizabeth (born 1766), the less well-known wife of the celebrated wool industry giant John McArthur. Kennedy positioned it on a laminated $2 banknote where she replaced McArthur’s head with Elizabeth’s.
Kathy Mclay celebrates Maria Ann (Granny) Smith (born 1799), who developed the first Granny Smith apple from a seedling. This apple became a staple in Australian and international supermarkets. Mclay chose silver and the gemstone prehnite (whose colour and translucency closely match the flesh of the Granny Smith apple) to create a celebratory brooch for this early pioneer.
Belinda Newick has fabricated a silver brooch in the shape of a rainbow kelp shell, which refers to the objects that brave and resilient Aboriginal woman Truganini (born 1912) might have worn in her necklaces when she was exiled to Tasmania.
Janine Tanzer has created an elaborate silver and gold brooch form which represents Saint Mary MacKillop (born 1842). MacKillop is wearing a nun’s habit and holding a cross and this is set within a circular (almost mediaeval) design of cut and perforated metal.
Alice Whish’s contribution is an extremely finely wrought silver brooch whose filigree design embodies the twin interests of Margaret Ann Field (born 1842) of astronomy and crocheting. Field, who at the age of seventy-five enrolled in the London Slade School of Art, published a book called The Stars for 3D, which explained how to find the southern sky’s constellations.
Bronwyn Goss’s contribution is one of the most subtle and enigmatic. Three objects constructed from kangaroo bones, silver, steel and pigment represent the peripatetic career of the arch and eccentric Daisy May Bates, who had once been married to the Australian folk hero ‘Breaker Morant’. After a career in journalism, Bates settled in the outback to study Aboriginal kinship systems and the arcane spiritual lives of Aboriginal communities. Her reputation is a mixed one but she was audacious and undaunted by physical hardships.
Enamellist Barbara Ryman grew up in Turramurra, just two streets away from the celebrated post-impressionist painter Grace Cossington Smith (born 1892). Thus, her beautifully calibrated silver brooch in crayon colours suggests the bright undiluted palette which Cossington Smith employed in her canvases. “I often walked past her on my way to visit my cousins. My brooch is inspired by the way her paintings used richly applied paint in a mosaic structure.”
The scientist Dr Mabel Josephine Mackerras (born 1896) was one of Australia’s most eminent entomologists and parasitologists. In World War Two she worked with the Australian Army Medical Corps and was instrumental in managing diseases such as malaria. Later her research focused on cockroaches. Jeweller Sue Lorraine, aware of Mackerras’s detailed study of these creatures and her collection of specimens, has fabricated a supremely elegant abstraction of this insect, using mild steel and pieces of vinyl LP record. Lorraine remarked: “I was fascinated to discover that cockroaches can be trained using vibrations.”
Jess Dare has constructed a dazzlingly bright, multicoloured brooch from powder-coated metals, glass, silver and steel to encapsulate the crisp design concerns of Marion Hall Best (born 1905). Best’s numerous interior commissions made her one of the most celebrated designers from the 1950s to the 1970s. Her fabric design business also imported Marimekko fabrics. In 1951 she was instrumental in the establishment of the Society of Interior Designers of Australia.
The exhibition and catalogue is distinguished by its breadth of information and evidence of the sensitive exploration by the invited jewellers of their subjects. The materials span the traditional (gold, silver and gemstones) and embrace more unexpected or playful ones like huon pine, stainless steel, acrylic, paper, enamel paint, limewood, fur, buttons and banknotes.
The big names of the contemporary jewellery movement are represented: Brenda Ridgewell, Margaret West, Helen Britton, Dorothy Erickson, Catherine Truman, Rowena Gough, Darani Lewers, Marian Hosking and Julie Blyfield. And a host of engaging jewellers, both emerging and established, such as Christel van der Lann, Maureen Faye-Chauhan and Jessica Morrison.
An exhibition of this nature is in part a reflection of the diversity of jewellery making in the country today, and it is welcome news that it will travel to a number of venues through 2012 (Jam Factory Adelaide, Grafton Regional Gallery, Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, Bunbury Regional Art Galleries and Geraldton Regional Art Gallery) and in 2013 (Logan Art Gallery, Rockhampton Art Gallery, Gosford Regional Gallery, Tamworth Regional Gallery and Hurstville City Museum and Gallery).
Images from top:
Barbara Ryman, Cossington, (Grace Cossington Smith), 2011, vitreous enamel, sterling silver, 60mm.
Alice Whish, Lace Star-Rigel, (Margaret Ann Field), 2011, sterling silver, 45mm.
Sheridan Kennedy, Ram Tremblant, (Elizabeth Macarthur), 2011, sterling silver, wool, laminated paper print, 138mm.
Belinda Newick, Truganini — Saltbush, 2011, sterling silver, black diamond, stainless steel, 65mm.
Jess Dare, Colours challenge the clear bright mind, (Marian Hall Best), 2011, lampwork glass, sterling silver, titanium, powder-coated copper, stainless steel, 85mm.
Kathy Mclay, Maria, (Maria Ann ‘Granny’ Smith), 2011, rhodium-plated sterling silver, onyx, prehnite, 45mm.
Bronwyn Goss, Daisy Bates — An Archaeology, 2011, kangaroo bones, pigments, sterling silver, stainless steel, longest dimension 102mm.
Janine Tanzer, Mary MacKillop, 2011, yellow gold, white gold, red gold, silver, 64mm.
Jessica Morrison, White, purple and green, (Dr Quentin Bryce), 2011, fine silver, 24ct gold, sterling silver, glass enamel, 95mm.
Sue Lorraine, Roach Brooch, (Dr Mabel Josephine Mackerras), 2011, mild steel, recycled vinyl record, 110mm.