designer to jeweller – part 3

In light of the exhibition First and Last beginning in Sydney yesterday, I thought it was a good time to finish up my little tale of ‘where did I come from – jewellist style”.

This is the tale of how I wended my way back to jewellery after a few years lost in the interior design wilderness. The first part was documented in the previous post Mr Daniels and the second in Quizzing Sarah.

In my final year of interior architecture, while visiting Melbourne as a research trip for my thesis (with my friend, The Bride) I stumbled on Bizarre Beads on Swanston St.  We went in, and it was love at first sight. I bought pliers, wire and beads, and when the wire and tiger tail didn’t do what I wanted, I started playing with beads and pins (yep, the common variety with sharp ends that you buy at Officeworks) in my spare time, and visiting local bead shops. This began in earnest a little after our immediate return to Perth, as at that stage I was rather occupied with writing up my final thesis document.

On graduating I went off and got a job in a design firm. I had some spare time (despite the rigorous hours demanded by the design profession, 9-7 was normal – funny though how much time stressing about uni takes up, versus stressing about the day-job), and a general surprise for what constituted creativity in the day job. I kept on making jewellery pieces for me to wear, or for my four sisters and even little brother, and because I enjoyed it. I came up with my own way of working, and as I worked each area of the body asked questions of my method and suggested new pieces and combinations. I was eager to engage with each new possibility that I saw on finishing a piece. I made more works for my friends, and then friends of friends, for brides and bridesmaids, and eventually with the encouragement of my family, pieces to sell at a market stall in Kalamunda.

As I progressed, given what I had learned of jewellery from the pieces I made in high school, I knew there was a much richer area of practice. At this stage I wasn’t aware that I wanted in on that action, but I was soon to wake up to the fact.

In early 2004 I woke up one morning and couldn’t convince myself to go to work. On seeing me in the bathroom in clearly a fragile mood, my partner, the ubiquitous TurboNerd, asked me if I was ok. I broke down crying. I tried to protest that I was fine, I would calm down in time, but he wasn’t buying it, and declared it ‘Melissa Day’ for which we would both take the day off.* Together we walked around our neighbourhood and he asked me what I would most like to do on Melissa Day. I said that I would like to go to the art gallery. We went, and saw and exhibition of Howard Taylor’s work.

I was (and probably remain) pretty naive, and so had never made the leap that people in galleries can come from places I have heard of, and even from my city. I knew it intellectually, and my parents had friends who were artists, but it did not resonate within me until I found out that the man that had marveled at that morning was not only Western Australian, but had lived in Kalamunda, the suburb where I was from. Little did I know that I was soon to find out more. On mentioning seeing the retrospective exhibition to my mother, keen to share what a revelation it had been, I found out that my Nan, the person I loved most in the world, was, for a period of a couple of years, driven by Mr Taylor from Kalamunda to her job at Belle Gladstone’s (sounds like a made-up name, but it was a hat store run by Belle herself) also in the city, when he was teaching there.

On seeing Taylor’s maquettes along the gallery wall, I realised that I wanted to be an artist, in fact I couldn’t not be an artist. He was an excellent craftsman, this came through in all his works, as well as a intensely driven. I only realise now that the balance in me deciding my career was tipped in favour of design because it lead to a clear-cut profession, and that was important because I was scared of uncertainty. Taylor’s works that day showed a real professional, and I was drawn to this clarity of vision as much as the works.

I went back to work the next day with a renewed vision, but one I quietly tucked next to my chest. I made an appointment to speak with Brenda Ridgewell at Curtin University and started looking for a new job.

In April I attended a mini-symposium of jewellers on a Saturday morning. Organised by FORM, it allowed the four jewellery artists who were making works for an upcoming show called Home Ground to speak to a small audience. Helen Britton, Sarah Elson, Bronwyn Goss and Carlier Makigawa were all on the one bill. Seeing their work while hearing them speak about jewellery was beyond inspirational. Almost another epiphany.

These were actual jewellery artists. They were doing what I had only started to sense was what I wanted to do. There was a pathway for me to follow, and right here was some of the best travelling that road.  They spoke so naturally and with such knowledge about what was, for the most part, still a new world to me. And their work was amazing.

I had haunted the jewellery cabinets at Craftwest (what is now known as Form) when it had been in the same building as the train station in the city, so I knew of contemporary jewellery, but little of the artistic richness nor any of its protagonists. But that day I recognised one of the panel. Sarah Elson (who had her small [second?] child slung across her for most of the day, a picture of maternal serenity) looked really familiar. And as part of her presentation she mentioned that she had taught art at high school for two years. In Lesmurdie.

I spoke with her briefly after the presentation, she had recognised me also, and I told her that I had an appointment with Brenda for the coming week. She pointed her out to me, and I nervously introduced myself, telling her I’d see her next week. I didn’t have the confidence to tell Carlier and Helen how much I had enjoyed their presentations, but the clarity by which I remember the day tells me the impact that it made.

Home ground it was for me and my career too. The significant fact for me was that all these amazing artists had all began their training in little old Perth. In fact, that knowledge is still important to me.

In May that year I started a new job that involved lots of travel, an awesome boss and a new and interesting team of people. If I had not already decided that my career laid in jewellery, I may never have, at least not while in that job. I was so much happier.

As always, timing is everything.

* I have long promised a ‘Turbo Day’ in return, but he has yet to take me up on that offer

2 responses to “designer to jeweller – part 3”

  1. Hi Melissa,
    I was at that same talk (with Brenda) and loved it too. I was a student at Curtin – the first to do the Post Grad Dip in Jewellery Production and had sold my house in order to move over to Perth for a year and get back into jewellery! Unfortunately I am back in the UK now, but look back at the time in Perth as one of the happyest times in my life – loved the country and the jewellery community.

    I think your work is fantastic – beautiful forms!

  2. Hi Jane! Great to hear from a fellow Post Grad Dip grad 😉 So, you were the first eh? Wow! And the presentation, it was such a small affair, with little fanfare, yet so impressive. I’m glad to not be the only person who remembers it. All the way to Perth for more schooling? I’m glad it was worth it.
    Thanks so much for leaving a message.