Living geology with Laura Ngyou

Living geology

Across the Snowdonia National Park, on the north-west tip of Wales, the island of Anglesey stretches into the Irish Sea. Renowned for its 220 square miles of unspoilt coast and landscapes it’s a haven for the staycationing Brit, but also for Laura Ngyou, a goldsmith who can be found wandering through the Corsican pine trees of Newborough Forest. She isn’t there for a holiday, or to see the famous colony of native red squirrels, she’s on the hunt for botanical specimens to inspire and inform her work – but not in the traditional sense; she wants to cover them in molten gold.

“My work is an amalgamation of deliberately ambiguous forms – products of my imagination and lived experience.” Says Laura who uses gold in ways that force a physical reaction between the metal and organic materials. Her favourite samples of plants on Anglesey are pine and hazel, which she carefully selects for quality. As Laura explains “A piece is often the result of many different techniques, I melt precious metal and pour it directly onto varying organic materials, such as pine needles and different species of grass. I look for striated textures and forms with negative space.”

Laura’s design drawings

“My work is an amalgamation of deliberately ambiguous forms – products of my imagination and lived experience.

The idea of bringing sources of inspiration into direct contact with the molten metal brings a raw energy to her work and fuses the piece to the material and the place it was found – taming these forces then requires time and incredible attention to detail. “I hammer, coil, roll and heat these elements to create and reinforce texture in a piece. I include multiple intricate and fine solder joints throughout this process to build up these components often into a setting for a gemstone, which is sympathetic to its original place of discovery.” 

In this way, much of her work on display at this year’s Fair speaks of a living geology that breathes life into her jewellery. This concept of living geology extends to how she selects stones, often using their rough form, or enhancing an original quality, communicating the way nature intended its creation. But again, this means investing time: “The design process can be quite time consuming, composing a 3D structure from a large array of unique elements. I will have a loose sketch or idea in my head, but the final form is the result of many iterations and experiments with composition.” The complex shapes and patterns need a highly creative, yet sensitive touch, to make the complexity harmonious rather than discordant.

A fine example of this is the Celestine Sapphire Ring, which she describes as “fairly understated compared to the Florilegia Explosion Rings, but I love the combination of rich 18ct gold with the understated mauve-grey of the rough sapphire with it’s interesting combination of naturally polished facets and inclusions.”

For such a refined making process, Laura uses equally precise tools, she has collected and got to know over the years, each deployed for a specific purpose: “I use traditional hand tools to manipulate and fashion metal into its desired form,” she says and includes a piercing saw, steel files and a variety of pliers and hammers as her go-to selection. She will also scour eBay and second-hand shops to find interesting tools that complement her style. “My favourite find was a large hammer with a handle that is around 50cm long. The tarnished and rusted metal face of the hammer creates beautiful cloud like marks when it hits silver.” And the one tool she couldn’t live without? “My long nose pliers, which I use all the time to coil wire and sheet metal. The fluted, conical forms in my latest work were created using an antique pair of pliers with elongated spindle-like jaws that are 6cm long.”

In the creation of these living forms Laura also draws upon her rich heritage. “I have a large family who span the globe from Australia to Borneo to Canada. Growing up visiting family always gave me a reason to travel and explore. A lot of my inspiration comes from the exotic flora I would encounter and the natural curios I found whilst visiting family on my travels.”

One of her other favourite places to visit is Gorge du Verdon in the South of France where the Verdon River has a carved a 15-mile-long canyon through limestone cliffs. “It’s an incredibly special and scenic place – there’s a primeval and raw energy that emanates there and compels me to create.” Normal ephemeral ways to capture these feelings such as photography, writing and memory, aren’t enough. If thrown back into the world they capture, these methods disappear; digital files can be erased, books decompose, memories fade. Only gold holds the promise of permanence.

The way Laura finds and creates her pieces point to exploration as the defining living verb to describe how the metal interacts with the botanicals; her pieces stretch and reach for space and light, and capture a moment of possibility, growth and change. Science writer Arthur C Clarke described exploration as one of the hallmarks of life, and when an organism ceases to explore, it starts to die. Laura’s jewellery, which incorporates her unique sense of living geology eloquently communicates the meaning of this philosophy, and brings people closer to a feeling which is often hard to put into words, reminding us on some primitive level that we must never stop exploring and searching for what that means. Her jewellery is the perfect place to start.

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