Lessons from Lockdown: Moving our Exhibitions Online

By The Goldsmiths’ Company Curator, Dr Dora Thornton

Our new online exhibition, Designs on Silver, began as a ‘real’ installation in the Exhibition Room at Goldsmiths’ Hall, which we prepared for the Goldsmiths’ Fair in 2020. When the Fair went online because of Covid-19 restrictions, so did we, curating our first online exhibition, The Brooch Unpinned. That exhibition taught us a lot about the potential of the digital platform. We were keen to use this as intelligently as we could to explore small, intricate objects using new photography we had taken expressly for this purpose. We wanted to show the backs as well as the fronts of our selected brooches; to help people understand their microengineering and to take people closer to individual sponsors’ marks and inscriptions which place each brooch within a maker’s biography.

Theresa Nguyen, drawing for ‘Spiritus’ centrepiece, 2010

As we now prepare to display our brooches for real at the Goldsmiths’ Centre, March – June 2021, we are taking down our online exhibition of them. We had the opportunity to use the same digital exhibition space on the Goldsmiths’ Fair website to do something new online — and we decided to take this opportunity to use the superb drawings we had gathered together earlier (which very few people had had the opportunity to see) with new images of the finished objects in our Collection. Having explored small scale jewellery, and having analysed how this appealed to new audiences, we saw the potential of applying the same approach to silver — allowing more people greater access to the world of contemporary British silversmiths and goldsmiths.

Theresa Nguyen, study for ‘Spiritus’ centrepiece, 2010

The emphasis is on silver, but we couldn’t resist slipping in a few drawings for jewellery where these were particularly fine or revealing for the way a maker works. Our Exhibition Designer, Manuela Holfert, has worked her usual magic in making the drawings and objects sing, and we are very grateful as always to the makers featured here for allowing us to share their work in this way. We would also like to thank Eleni Bide for her support and help in making these design drawings available online from the Company’s Archive.

Rosamond Conway, drawing for Wafer Box, 2008

Designs on Silver explores the role of design drawings in the art of the contemporary silversmith. Shown alongside the pieces they inspire, the drawings take us to the heart of the creative process. A maker uses a drawing to feel their thinking. It is a way of exploring the world. They can consider a range of possibilities through sketches of source material; work out how to find or abstract a motif; and decide how to translate a concept into silver. We hope that the exhibition will encourage close looking and stimulate the imagination, and that it might further inspire you to explore the work of a particular maker. There is so much here to discover: painterly designs for enamel; annotated working drawings with pre-calculations; presentation drawings for patrons; a proportional drawing according to the Golden Section; designs for lettering and chasing; and even a 3D paper model which is a work of art in its own right. The essence of each individual maker is revealed.

Jane Short, drawing for Speech Timer, 2014

The Goldsmiths’ Company’s pioneering support for contemporary makers through competitions, acquisitions and commissioning plays an important part in enhancing the vitality of design and craftsmanship in silver, jewellery and art medals into the 21st century. We now acquire drawings, models and videos as an integral part of our commissioning process. These record the design concept and making of an object as a key element in our understanding of these objects and how we can interpret them, now and in the future. We hope that this exhibition might inspire makers to consider giving us more design drawings, models and other material which relate to their pieces in the Collection, so that we can use them for teaching, publication and further research in the years to come. Our ambitious plans to digitise our collections will eventually make all our material — objects and archives — freely available online through our website to show who we are and what we do. It is a vital element in our support for our makers as we move towards our 700th anniversary in 2027.

Michael Lloyd, drawing for bowl, 2009