Focus On: Commissions with Tamar de Vries Winter

March 7, 2014

Acclaimed jeweller and silversmith, Tamar de Vries Winter, is co-director of Studio Fusion Gallery at London’s OXO Tower. Having grown up in Israel, Middle Eastern influences and ancient cultures have made a great impact on her work. She has a great interest in ceremonial objects which signify an event, memory or celebration. 

Her time at Goldsmiths’ Fair has landed her many commissions. We caught up with her to learn more about the process.

I.  How did this piece come into being?

This Mezuzah was commissioned by a Goldsmiths’ Fair client, who is a collector of Jewish ceremonial objects, and has commissioned me many times in the past.

II. Could you explain briefly what it is and how it is used in Jewish ceremony?

A Mezuzah is a sacred parchment inscribed by hand with two portions of Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21). It is stored in a protective case and hung on the external doorposts of Jewish homes, and by many Jews, also on the doorpost of each room. It is intended to be a reminder of God’s presence in the home or, for more secular Jews, the continuity of Jewish tradition.

III. Which techniques did you use for this piece?

I use different techniques of applying enamel to the object, traditional and contemporary, depending on the nature of the piece.

For this Mezuzah I have used the method of champlevé, a French word meaning ‘raised field’. The technique has been used since the Middle Ages; the design was inspired by Middle Eastern Islamic tile patterns. The object combines contemporary industrial photo-etching and hand-applied enamelling.

Before enamelling, the etched pattern is hand engraved. The transparent enamels are more reflective to light when the metal is cut in different angles. I grind the enamel crystal colours in an agate mortar and pestle, with distilled water, to a very fine powder. The object is fired 4-5 times at 800-850 degrees until enamel is level with the top level of the etched surface.

The final process is grinding with a diamond file, re-firing and polishing the enamelled surface. Lastly, the Mezuzah is assayed by laser method, so there is no risk for the enamelling to be damaged.

IV. Typically, how many commissions can you expect to take on at Goldsmiths’ Fair?

It varies. I usually take on between 3-6 commissions.

V. Do you regularly work to commission?

Much of my work is to commission; I also make special objects for collaborative exhibitions.

VI. What do you enjoy about the commissioning process?

I very much like the dialogue with a client, and I am continuously fascinated by the relationship between the client and the object I am making.

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