The Nature of Silver

August 21, 2018

The upcoming special exhibition of silver treasures from the Goldsmiths’ Company Collection puts the spotlight on innovative historic and contemporary silver inspired by nature. The Nature of Silver will be on display at this year’s Goldsmiths’ Fair in late September and early October.

Dr. Dora Thornton, Curator of the Goldsmiths’ Company Collection, has delved into the collection to create a fascinating special exhibition of rarely seen historic and contemporary silver. These unique treasures share organic and natural origins and challenge viewers’ ideas of the creative potential of precious metal. At the same time, each piece presented a unique challenge to craftsmen to innovate and adapt techniques to realise the final designs. This extraordinary display of creativity and expert craftsmanship serves as a reminder of what is possible when inspired artisans employ traditional and modern techniques to achieve their visions.

The pieces displayed show how silver offers endless potential in form, texture and finish. Outstanding examples from the exhibition include the following:

David Thomas’s nautilus shell cup [1968] is a jewel in which chased seaweed-like strands follow the curves of the shell and flow into the foot.

Gerald Benney’s Cocunut Cup [1961], with its textured gilded chevrons edging half a coconut, translates a traditional drinking vessel into a modernist idiom.

Louis Osman’s fantastical ‘Unicorn Horn Balance’, made from the horn of an Artic narwhal. The horns, which washed up on beaches, were traded to Europe as talismans, and were said to be horns of the mythical unicorn. Louis Osman’s fascinating balance was commissioned by the Goldsmiths’ Company in 1963. It recalls the role of the Assay Office in the testing of precious metals and the unicorn supported on the Company’s arms. Fitted with a rose quartz weight and jewelled counterweight, the piece combines modernist architectural rigour with medieval fantasy.

Shells and sea creatures are a constant source of fascination to silversmiths.

Nan Nan Liu’s oyster shell box [2012] is built up from soldered layers of metal to suggest growth rings while the flowing engraved patterns evoke the shell’s relationship to ocean tides.

Junko Mori’s Organism [2005] is built up from hand-forged elements welded together to form a sea anemone as table sculpture.

Gerald Benney’s witty, spiky crustaceans [1957] made from folded origami-like silver will be instantly recognisable to anyone used to prawning.

Sheila McDonald’s Shetland Bird vase [2013] conveys the imagery and texture of a whole landscape: etched cliff faces with wheeling seabirds built up in layers of blackened and gilded enamel.

It is through such exquisite works in precious metal that The Nature of Silver takes us inside the imagination of makers and collectors.


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