Architectonics, Foundations in Jewellery

Article  /  Behind the Scenes
Published: 17.07.2007
Architectonics, Foundations in Jewellery.
Heather Skowood
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While architecture defines the spaces where we interact with one another jewellery defines who we are as individuals within these defined spaces.
This text is the exhibition talk Heather Skowood gave at Urbis on the launch night of Architectonics on 16th June 2006.

Examining our history through architecture and jewellery gives us a very unique perspective of where we come from, who we are and where we may be in the future. While architecture defines the spaces where we interact with one another jewellery defines who we are as individuals within these defined spaces. By combining these two art forms together in this exhibition we are inviting you to join us in taking a closer look at the people, places and creative spirit that have given Manchester its renowned reputation. 

As you can probably tell I am not from Manchester but this city is where I have called home for the last 4 years. Since the moment I arrived I have learned many things about this city thru its people and its architecture. I arrived in Manchester just as the Common Wealth Games had finished and there was still a very distinct community spirit buzzing in the air along with the excitement for the regeneration plans that both the games and the 1995 IRA bomb had jump started. It was proving to be an exciting time to be living in Manchester. The first Mancunian I ever met was Colette Hazelwood who works from a studio in the old converted fish market we all know as the MCDC in the Northern Quarter. I was instantly struck by Colette and her distinct Northern accent, dry as well as extremely honest sense of humour, her generosity and of course her overtly expressive jewellery. I was instantly drawn to her fearless personality and innovative spirit and it was thru Colette that I was introduced to the MJN when it organised its first meeting in 2002. And it was thru this network I met the magnificent jewellers you see here tonight in this exhibition. Manchester’s Northern Quarter is where some of these jewellers have their studios or conduct business with other artists and clients such as, photographer Jonathan Keenan, graphic designers at Reform Creative and photographic services like Black Door who helped make our exhibition possible. It is the highly creative energy and professional practices of these creative people living and working in the Northern Quarter that make it a place where people want to work and hang out as well as an inviting place for architects and developers to create new urban dwellings. 

Architecture and jewellery can be seen as documents of human history thru which we can examine ourselves. We can look back thru history at different cultures and learn how people lived and what they valued by looking at the buildings they lived in and how they adorned themselves. From the Egyptian pyramids and the gold work buried within them, the jewel encrusted Taj Mahal to The Crown Jewels displayed in the Tower of London, architecture and jewellery and other precious adornments often share a direct relationship with one another, revealing a story specifically about the identity of the people of a given time period. When we examine Manchester’s architecture the story that unfolds tells of a very innovative people who are not afraid to take risks. From the Free Trade Hall where the 1815 Corn Laws were disputed to the grand Victorian mills and warehouses of Ancoats and Princess Street that are reminders that Manchester is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, these landmark buildings are a testament to the city’s strong political and influential heritage that has reached people around the world. In recent history Manchester’s most significant cultural export to the world is probably its music. With bands like The Smiths, Joy Division/New Order and Oasis throwing Manchester directly into the world’s spotlight it is hard to deny the significant impact this music has made. Though the days of Madchester have declined and all that is left of its home in the Hacienda is a block of flats the creative spirit of the city has not faltered. It is this creative and innovative spirit at Manchester’s heart that has always led this city forward into the future and often showing the world how to do it. 

Which brings us to why we are here tonight, to celebrate Manchester architecture and its creative culture at Urbis, one of the most interesting buildings the city has acquired in recent years. Architectonics by definition is the scientific study of architecture or of or relating to architecture or architects. The title of our exhibition ‘Architectonics: Foundations in Jewellery’ therefore is a study of architecture through contemporary jewellery. Each of the 10 jewellers have chosen an architectural structure in Manchester as the foundation of their jewellery exploration not only to highlight the architecture but to challenge each of them to create a piece of jewellery unrestricted by usual commercial restraints and push their ideas of how jewellery can be as an art form. Contemporary jewellers today are designing and creating jewellery that challenges the traditional ideas of jewellery being seen as symbols of wealth and status, by exploring alternative materials such as Perspex, nylon, steel, and tagua nut thus shifting our attention from the emphasis of precious materials to the concepts and ideas behind the work and broadening the dialogue between contemporary jewellery and art. For example, Eddie Grundy’s necklace inspired by the Manchester Town Hall elegantly blends old and new thru his highly skilled traditional approach to making and his choice to use silver combined with steel cable. By using these materials and his highly skilled jewellery techniques the necklace is a perfect reflection of the building itself set against the backdrop of the ever changing city around it. Rachel Hearne uses a mixture of industrial materials such as copper, steel and tagua nut that are steeped with the history that surrounds the docks of the Lowry Centre site. Rachel does so by drawing your attention to this history thru the use of Tagua nut that is a material once used to make spools for the textile industry. Another approach by Samantha Mills explores the Daily Express Building and its timeless art deco design. Samantha chose black Perspex and steel to mimic the alternating pattern produced by the building’s translucent and black glass to make her restrictive cuff bracelet. Her choice to use laser etching and cutting to create each individual plate not only comments on the changing technology used in printing but also shows how jewellers are employing new industrial technologies to create their jewellery designs. 

These are just a few examples of how contemporary jewellers are changing traditional approaches to jewellery making by seeking out new inspirations from the world around them and exploring the use of new materials and techniques. Like the wonderful Manchester architecture we have chosen to be our inspiration, the jewellery created for this exhibition is a document of Now, of who we are and sheds light on the direction we are heading into the future.

About the author

A jeweller who draws much of her inspiration from urban terrain and industrial sites in search of unsuspecting beauty that she infuses in her contemporary jewellery. Using bold geometric forms in contrast to the human body Heather’s jewellery celebrates the union between maker, wearer and voyeur.

She is a 1995 graduate of Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia and has spent the last 4 years living in Manchester, England working with the Association for Contemporary Jewellery and their Manchester Regional Group promoting contemporary jewellery in the UK and abroad.

Heather is also the concept author and co-coordinator of the latest Manchester Jewellers Network (MJN) exhibition, ‘Architectonics: Foundations in Jewellery’ that was presented at Manchester’s Urbis museum during Architecture Week 2006. The exhibition is a celebration of the creative talent of the MJN as well as other professional Manchester creatives who worked together on this exhibition.


Photograph by Jonathan Keenan
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