Centre for Fine Print Research University of the West of England Centre for Fine Print Research

Innovation in Enamel Forum site

The discussion forum has involved a number of internationally prominent enamel artists all of whom demonstrate a non-traditional approach to their enamel practice. The forum was operated as a members’ only project, meaning that the site could only be accessed by registered members and they alone were able to view the content and submit comment. The rational for this was to encourage those involved to freely discuss their ideas without the constraints of operating within a public arena.

Forum Members
Stacey Bentley -
 UK / Stephen Bottomley
 - UK / Susie Ganch
 - USA
Sangeun Kim
 - USA / Ann Little
 - UK / Liana Pattihis
 - UK / Jacqueline Ryan
 - Italy
Isabell Schaupp
 - Germany / Marjorie Simon
 - USA / Jessica Turrell - UK

In addition a number of other makers have contributed to the discussion on a more informal basis. These include:
Kathleen Browne - USA / Helen Carnac - UK / Fabrizio Tridenti - Italy
Bettina Dittlmann - Germany / Linda Darty - USA / Deborah Lozier - USA
Robert Ebendorf - USA / Lydia Feast - UK / Christine Graf - Germany

The forum’s opening statement and extracts from the ensuing discussions are reproduced below.

I am currently undertaking a three-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and based at the Enamel Research Unit at the University of the West of England, Bristol. The focus of the fellowship, entitled Innovation in Vitreous Enamel Surfaces in Jewellery is an investigation into the use of innovative and experimental enamel techniques in the production of contemporary jewellery.

Alongside the practical aspects of this project I have set up this discussion forum to bring together a group of internationally prominent jewellers all of whom demonstrate a non-traditional approach to their enamel practice.

The central aim of the forum will be to highlight the potential of enamel as an innovative medium and to stimulate debate about the aesthetic, conceptual andpractical considerations that govern the use of enamel in contemporary jewellery practice. Ultimately it is hoped to affect a change in the commonly held perception that enamel is amedium not readily associated with contemporary practice.

The forum will initially exist in an online format. In the longer term I anticipate that this project will lead to a significant group exhibition.

Unlike practice in the USA and Europe, enamel and jewellery communities in the UK have largely failed to recognize the great potential for innovation in enamel that is evidenced elsewhere. I hope that this forum will make a significant contribution to the debate about the place of enamel within the contemporary jewellery arena and help to challenge negative perceptions by promoting enamel as an exciting and contemporary material.

Jessica Turrell       AHRC Research Fellow
University of the West of England, Bristol, UK

Initially each member contributed two images of their work plus a short narrative biography and an artist’s statement.

forum artist screengrab

Jessica provided a contribution about the place of skill in enamel practice which is reproduced below:
Is an element of de-skilling an inevitable consequence of the desire to experiment and innovate?

"The work I make is informed as much by my understanding of materials and the technical skills developed over many years as it is by the ideas and concepts that underpin my practice. My aim is always to make work that has a level of refinement and an aesthetic that relies to a great extent on the material qualities of the enamel. Put simply, it is important to me that my work is well made.

I’m interested to examine the work of a number of contemporary jewellers who use enamel in a very immediate and often rather crude way. I don’t necessarily mean this to be pejorative but I’m curious as to what motivates this approach, which could be seen to have a direct correlation with the trend in contemporary jewellery I once heard described as ‘Pavement Schmuck’, work that sets out to be provocative and challenging, both aesthetically and in the choice of materials and in the refusal of the maker to rank skill over content.

Is the crude/direct handling of materials and techniques a deliberate challenge to the conventional associations that enamel often carries or is it simply the result of a lack of skills. If the latter is this a reflection on the teaching of enamel within art schools or the consequence of an increasing number of jewellers who would consider themselves to be generalists rather than specialist, who use whatever technique or material most appropriately conveys their intentions? I suspect that, in order to subvert what could be considered a restrictive practice, some enamellers ‘deconstruct’ from a point of having achieved high levels of traditional skill and that others simply pick up and put down whatever skills and techniques are necessary in order to realize their ideas with no specific emphasis on a particular skill set.

I’m aware that I’m in danger of sounding very parochial, as if I’m advocating skill over content but this is not the case. I am equally (if not more) skeptical of work that is beautifully made but that has neither reference to contemporary practice nor any basis in research or the exploration of ideas. It may be that one could consider the ‘crude’ use of enamel to be a direct challenge to a predominance of technically skilful but essentially vapid work.

My questions to you all are; is making with skill just a convention to be broken? Is an element of de-skilling the inevitable consequence of the desire to experiment and innovate and to retain immediacy? What is your position? I would be really interested to hear your views on this issue. 

Jessica Turrell
 July 2009

1. Lynne K Murray, Conference Paper at ‘Inside Out – Ars Ornata’ Contemporary Jewellery Conference, Manchester 2007

This piece initiated a lively discussion about the place of skill in contemporary enamel jewellery which provided useful insight into the differing approaches to both enamelling specifically but also to making skills more generally; the influence that the contributor’s educational and training backgrounds have in shaping their views as to the importance of skill, and the difference in approach that stems from amateur and professional practice.

The discussion strands have informed the written and theoretical aspects of the research and the production of a number of case studies.