The moving inspiration behind Tamar de Vries Winter’s ‘Travelling Cups’

From a talk given at Goldsmiths’ Fair with Goldsmiths’ Company Deputy Curator Dr Frances Parton and Fair exhibitor Tamar de Vries Winter.

In 2019 The Goldsmiths Company invited metal worker and enameller Tamar de Vries Winter to create a commission. No one could have foreseen the events that were to occur and the pandemic that brought a stop to the world. However, the difficult times that we have faced collectively and yet in many ways alone give Tamar’s work great relevance than could have been predicted. After two years the intricate beauties that are Tamar de Vries Winter’s Travelling Cups finally take pride of place at the Goldsmiths’ Fair entrance. On October 7th Dr Frances Parton, deputy curator of the Company, invited Tamar de Vries Winters to talk to us on the inspirations for the pieces and her expertise in the fine art of enamel.

Throughout her journey as a metal smith de Vries Winter has been exploring our attachment to objects. Much like the British Museum curator Neil Macgregor who sees objects as communicating across time, de Vries Winter is fascinated by objects and the stories they tell. As she explained, this interest and lifelong obsession with enamel came when on a trip to Venice as she happened upon Byzantine religious enamel works. She was impressed by the rich colours the works still held since their creation in the 11th century. For de Vries Winter, enamel work with its long enduring colours offers a permanency that stands as a testament to past times.

For those uneducated in the skill of enamel, this was an opportunity to learn from an expert, of a gruelling and often arduous technique that requires extreme patience. She detailed the grinding of enamel colour, which can take up to an hour, and the undivided attention one must pay to kiln, as only a second more could ruin precious metals in the process. Enamelling up until recently has required the use of many poisonous colours, de Vries Winter joked “the more poisonous the more beautiful”. This chemical process that requires such laborious work fusing glass transfers with metalwork, results in intricately beautiful pieces.

Close up of ‘Travelling Cups’ by Tamar de Vries Winter

Though fascinated by objects, her work does not concern itself with the everyday. Tamar de Vries Winter was born in Jerusalem and lives and works in the UK. Her work is influenced heavily by her dual heritage and the Jewish traditions she holds dear despite of her secular thinking. Ceremonial vessels have been the subject of her work for quite some time, including pieces such as a pair of marriage cups that have been exhibited in the Jewish Museum, New York City. Although often referencing the Jewish faith, her pieces transcend religion, as tradition is a concept which holds meaning for all of us.

In continuation with her work the commissioned piece Travelling Cups are, as Dr Frances Parton describes them, “a pair of interconnected ceremonial vessels”. The enamelling that decorates the silver cups is a design combining trees of her Cambridge home and an old oak tree found in Jerusalem. They are a uniting of de Vries Winter’s two homes, enabling them to carry both with her. These cups are not only personal, but a universal symbol, as she explains, they are “dedicated to the unknown refugee”. In creating these works she focused on the continuing images we are now faced with of those fleeing their homes, and asked herself what would one carry with them.

From ‘A series of pinched bowls’ by Tamar de Vries Winter

The natural imagery that decorates these cups imbue the pieces with universal understanding. We have all, particularly over these hard solitary months, been more conscious of our immediate surroundings, having only these to comfort us. However, a part of her Jewish heritage still remains as the cup’s shape is a subtle nod to those used for blessings during Hannukah.

As was made clear by Dr Frances Parton, although the piece was commissioned prior to the pandemic, and the global grief and trauma we have felt, these events have served to strengthen their meaning. The enamelling though beautiful is also stark and serious, reflective of an isolating time. While the “loss and separation sings out in these pieces” as Dr Frances Parton articulated, they are also a beautiful reminder of the importance of our surroundings. We have in this time grown to appreciate the small and everyday beauties, as well as the rituals, traditions and routines that have kept us going. Much like the Byzantian enamelled artefacts that first inspired Tamar de Vries Winter, these pieces will become a testament to a significant time that has markedly changed us all.

‘Travelling Cups’ by Tamar de Vries Winter

Dr Frances Parton is Deputy Curator of the Goldsmiths’ Company Collection. She developed her love of metalwork and passion for jewellery in previous roles as a curator of metalwork at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and of decorative arts and interiors at English Heritage and the National Trust.

Tamar de Vries Winter was born in Jerusalem and trained as a jeweller-designer in the UK, where she lives and practises her work. Treasuring personal memories inspired by two cultures with their rich history of tradition has had a major impact on her life and career as an enameller, jeweller and silversmith. Tamar’s interest in the universal role of marking important life events with objects has led her to create a range of ceremonial work enhancing the preservation of heritage.

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