Inspirations from the Archive

Powder Puff Bowl and cover

Powder Puff Bowl and cover, pierced and engraved silver, designed and made by Fiona McAlear, London hallmarks for 2012. © Fiona McAlear

Opening our archive to young designers and makers is an important activity for the V&A. The display Inspirations from the Archive now showing in gallery 68 until June 30th 2013 reveals the results of a fruitful collaboration with some young silversmiths.

Bishopsland students studying at the Archive of Art and Design

Bishopsland students studying at the Archive of Art and Design in December 2011. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

These silversmiths, who were training at the Bishopsland Educational Trust in 2011-12, spent a day at the V&A’s Archive of Art and Design at Olympia in December 2011. Gareth Harris of Smith & Harris, an experienced practising silversmith, and I helped them explore and interpret the rich archives of the London silversmiths Edward Barnard and Sons. Then they spent some time examining, photographing and drawing objects in the collection.

Bishopsland students studying at the Archive of Art and Design

Bishopsland students studying at the Archive of Art and Design in December 2011. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The archive they had to play with is vast! It is probably the most complete archive for a silversmith anywhere in the world. Edward Barnard and Sons was one of Britain’s largest and most successful commercial silversmiths and the centre of a trading network that spanned the globe. The archive material covers about 200 years from c.1805 to 2002, when the factory finally closed, and is an outstanding record of silver design and production. A major element is the rare survival of the firm’s “pattern room”. This reference and resource centre of manufacturing process and design must have been common in the past but the loss of the large manufacturing firms in the late 20th century has made the Barnard pattern room unique. It was at the heart of the business providing ideas and models and helping to make silver more quickly and cost effectively.

Selecting and Collecting the Pattern room

Selecting and Collecting the Pattern room in May 2006. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Archive of Art and Design had owned 250 items of the silversmiths’ business ledgers and papers and over 2,000 glass plate negatives of the silver products since the 1980s. The pattern room archive was generously presented to the V&A by the firm’s owner, John Padgett, in May 2006. It comprises metal casting patterns, paper designs, prototype cutlery, pattern books, as well as more photographs and business records.

One of the Pattern room drawers showing metal patterns of “Figures old” dating from 1840-1870. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

We let the students handle all types of material and select what was of interest to them. There was plenty to choose from: some 30,000 metal casting patterns, including models of sculptural figures made to ornament presentation centrepieces in the 1840s to 1870s. These carried moral messages with their depictions of justice and law, industry and commerce. The paper designs date from between the 1820s and 2002. Most of the 10,000 designs come from the pattern room of Edward Barnard and Sons but a few hundred were found in the workshops of Wakely and Wheeler, an associated silversmith working on the same site.

Preliminary paper designs by designer Atholl Hill

Preliminary paper designs by designer Atholl Hill for a Rose Bowl commissioned by the Goldsmiths’ company for the new University of York in 1964. It was made by the London silversmiths Wakely and Wheeler. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Design for a soup tureen

Design for a soup tureen, pen and ink on paper, about 1825. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Inspired by their visit, the young silversmiths have created silver that shows a strong sensitivity to historic patterns and designs. Working drawings and copper models in the display show the students’ ideas in progress. Workshops led by highly accomplished silversmiths, including Malcolm Appleby, Jane Short and Rod Kelly, developed the students’ skills in engraved, chased and enamelled decoration.

Favourite Place beaker

Favourite Place beaker, engraved silver, gilt within, designed and made by Kate Earlam, London hallmarks for 2012. © Kate Earlam

The Bishopsland course provides a bridge between academic training and a professional career. It helps young silversmiths create a stock of objects, make contacts, establish a reputation and prepare them for setting up a workshop of their own. Here the students have been encouraged to delve into history in order to create contemporary silver.

The silver and models have been kindly lent by the silversmiths through the Bishopsland Educational Trust.

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