A Keen Eye and Nimble Fingers

17th May 2019

Every six months the Heath Robinson Museum’s ‘Maker’s Art’ project introduces work by a new group of artist-makers into the museum shop. Jill Glenn meets the latest trio of participants…

Two of the highlights of my magazine year are the evenings – one in May, one in November – when the Heath Robinson Museum at Pinner launches its new selections of artisan-made pieces for its small-but-perfectly-formed shop, and reveals the three artist-makers. The opportunity to talk to them, admire their skill and surf their creative wave is very special. I always come away exhilarated.

The ‘Maker’s Art’ project has established a distinctive decorative art marketplace here, growing out of Jeannine’s skill in nurturing artists and artisans and collating complementary crafts. For the current collection, the sixth in the series, curator Jeannine Lawder has selected a ceramicist, a printed textile designer and a jeweller to showcase their work.

For the first time, the Maker’s Art includes what Jeannine calls ‘one of our own’: museum volunteer Sylvia Colley. Sylvia is a shining example of how creativity can express itself in multiple forms: a former English teacher, she is not only a published author and poet (currently working on her third novel), but for 30 years – “on and off” – she has been creating sterling silver jewellery.

The pieces she’s showing in the museum shop are called the Victoria Collection, after her youngest child, who studied silversmithing at Harrow Art College, and who was Sylvia’s inspiration for taking up the practice of jewellery making. When Victoria died at 17 (of Cystic Fibrosis, like her sister Juliet before her at 13) Sylvia was left with her silversmithing tools, and thought she might, perhaps, carry on in her memory. She took a course at Missenden Abbey… and then another… and then more… and now here she is with her own hallmark, a regular attendance at a professional jewellery workshop, an online presence via Etsy (in which she is helped by her granddaughter, another Juliet, offspring of Sylvia’s third daughter, Catherine) and a range of organic silver designs that are both delicate and bold. Some feature semi-precious or precious stones; others include gold or brass. Sylvia calls them “imperfect but unique” – a phrase she says she’d like to have on her gravestone – and they are full of individual energy and grace. Far from imperfect, of course, but the words indicate the daring that is required in the creative process.

The thrill of creating a one-off piece is an experience that ceramicist Sarah Crickmore shares. Sarah specialises in raku, “and you never quite know what you’re going to get”, she explains. The pot is taken from the kiln when the glaze is still molten (around 900°C), put into something like a galvanised bucket, and covered with sawdust. The sawdust catches fire and the interaction of the smoke and the cooling, shrinking glaze gives the typical black crackle, the pattern of which cannot be predicted. The big reveal is an exciting moment.

Like Sylvia, Sarah has been practising her craft for around 30 years. She began with evening classes in Amersham, and then started using the creative space at Chorleywood Community Arts Centre; she has a studio and kiln in the garden of her Rickmansworth home now, but still goes in to the Arts Centre, for the social experience of being with like-minded people, each week.

Sarah, who also works four days a week as a physiotherapist at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, finds her ceramic practice therapeutic; it’s hands-on in an entirely different way to her day job. The result of what she describes as “mind-emptying” is a range that is both tactile and aesthetically pleasing – from the rich colours of the raku to the more muted stoneware. Raku is beautiful, of course, but not functional, which is why Sarah has turned her attention to the stoneware process; she is currently developing glazes – “a palette of core colours” – that she can use with simple shapes. In search of the perfect ‘recipe’, she’s up to 85 tester pots already…

That meticulousness in the pursuit of something lovely characterises Colette Moscrop’s work, too. Colette is the first printed textile maker to be included in the Maker’s Art, and her work is available both transformed into wallets, zipped purses and beautiful teatowels, and as packs of mixed fabrics for a craftsperson to use in their own projects. The water-based ink colours are rich and juicy, the fibres are all natural (linen, cotton or a mixture of the two), and the designs are fresh and contemporary, although they also have a pleasing retro vibe.

Colette has been a complusive maker since she was a child using scraps to dress her dolls. She trained in Fashion Design and Jewellery, and her first job was making couture accessories – she recalls what a treat it was working with the finest silks and velvets – for a company that supplied some of the world’s top stores. For several years she worked for small fashion firms, before branching out with her own designs for boutiques in the UK, Europe and Japan.

Then she discovered screen-printing, and has been devoted to it ever since. She is inspired by 1930s-1950s style, by nature and by architecture. She draws everything by hand, with a pencil, playing around with scale and layout to make sure the design works. When she’s happy with it, it’s transferred to acetate, and sent off to a screenprint company who expose it, and return it to her as a framed mesh ‘stencil’ which she then uses to create her ‘everyday luxury’ items, with carefully chosen inks and fabric. Colette is a real advocate of using the beautiful things that she creates, and not saving them ‘for best’.

She’s graduated from the kitchen table to a studio at the bottom of the garden, and is able to work around the raising of her two daughters, now 13 and 11. She has an Etsy shop, and also exhibits at textile fairs across the country.

“Small imperfections may be present,” she observes. “They’re a natural part of the beauty…” It strikes me that you could say the same about all three artist-makers at the Heath Robinson Museum today. And it would be a compliment. It’s the little imperfection that makes something unique; that makes it, in fact, perfect…

Jeannine Lawder is already looking for a new selection of artist-makers for the autumn 2019 to spring 2020 slot. If you are a local practitioner and are interested in learning more, contact her via the Heath Robinson Museum.

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