By Frances Parton
About four years ago, I had one of the most exciting days of my professional life to date. I was working at the V&A, in the Metalwork section, when John Moore dropped in to show us a winged tiara he had just completed. John describes himself as a creator of ‘Adventures in wearable objects’ and the tiara had been commissioned by American collector Robert Hiller for the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City. A few months later John would go on to win the prestigious 2016 Goldsmiths’ Company award at the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Awards with his compelling Verto necklace. He describes the necklace, formed from a repeating series of flat silver pieces, some with a diamond set into their periphery, strung edgewise to the body, as ‘a turning-point’ in his career.
Movement is key to his work and the construction of the necklace allows each part to fold endlessly in and over itself; it can be worn flat on the neck, or raised on an edge, or with part raised up like a coat collar. In 2019 John would go on to win the Goldsmiths’ Company award a second time for Lacewing, an even more ambitious necklace created on similarly dynamic principles. This year, he is one of the select group of artists included in Melanie Grant’s new publication exploring jewellery as an art form, Coveted. At the time, however, I was unaware of John and the surprise, the intensity and the arresting beauty of his technically accomplished jewellery.
The tiara, or winged head-piece John had brought to show us that day at the V&A was visually very simple; a steel head band with a series of overlapping feather-like gold and silver plates fixed on each side, to sit just over the temples. My colleagues and I admired it greatly and were curious as to how it would look when worn; to my astonishment and delight John invited me to try it on. As a curator, in a national museum, one does not ever try on pieces from the collection. No matter how tempting. John’s tiara, fresh from the workshop, had yet to be presented to the Nelson-Atkins museum, however, and when you are lucky enough to meet the maker of a beautiful object, and invited not only to handle it but to try it on, no-one could refuse! As you can imagine, it felt glorious. Perfectly balanced, the gentle weight and pressure of the metal plates on either side of my forehead was both comforting and transformative; debutante, deity, superhero, royalty – wearing the tiara I felt a little of all of those things.
The chance to explore the tiara with John, to hold it and try it on, to discuss his design ideas and his techniques, and to hear him describe the experience of constructing it, was an exceptional opportunity. It allowed me to make a connection with that object which will stay with me even though I am unlikely ever to see it, let alone hold it, again. It also gave me an interest and a respect for John’s work which is similarly enduring. As John was packing up the tiara, I admired a brooch he was wearing. It was one of his own pieces from his Flight series, a small, colourful feather in greens, yellows and blues made of ridged anodised aluminium, carefully weighted with a delicate central spine of stainless steel wire. I was astonished for a second time when he unpinned it and gave it to me, not to try on but to keep. Each time I wear it I am reminded of that day, of John’s generosity and unwavering ambition, and I feel again the pride, the privilege and the adventure of engaging with wearable art.
Frances Parton is Deputy Curator at the Goldsmiths’ Company