Little Gems 2012 at Millennium Gallery Sheffield

Little Gems 2012 – new commissions made by next generation of silversmiths

Two young silversmiths who only recently started working in Sheffield, Zoë Watts and Alexander Kerrison, have been commissioned by the Sheffield Assay Office to design and create two brand new silverware objects that will be added to Sheffield’s renowned Metalwork collections. The pieces are now on public display in the main reception area of Millennium Gallery until 17th September 2012.

The Little Gems commissions project was started in 2004 to develop new silversmithing talent in Sheffield and continue the city’s longstanding tradition of metalworking expertise and creativity. The project gives up and coming makers a unique opportunity to see their designs join the work made by some of the UK’s leading silversmiths in the city’s nationally significant metalwork collections. The Sheffield Assay Office has to date commissioned 18 of the new Little Gems pieces, created by talented early-career silversmiths who are part of Yorkshire Artspace’s prestigious Starter Studio Programme for Silversmiths and Jewellers. All of the Little Gems artworks reflect the interests and skills of each individual maker. These commissions, worth £1500 each, provide the silversmiths with time and materials to develop their ideas into an ambitious new piece of work.  

For Little Gems 2012 the Sheffield Assay Office stipulated that this year’s Diamond Jubilee Hallmark was clearly visible in the design. After the display period one piece will be taken into the collection of the Sheffield Assay Office and the other will become part of Museums Sheffield’s Metalwork collection. For Little Gems 2012, Alexander Kerrison designed a carafe, combining his passion for silversmithing and glass blowing. He says: “My idea to combine the two materials developed since I was awarded a place on the Starter Studio Programme at Yorkshire Artspace. I think this work has great potential to be taken into many different directions and product ranges. I am passionate about these materials because they are so different in the way they respond to the making process: glassblowing gives instant results but can so easily go wrong; shaping the silver is a much slower process and requires more planning. I think they complement each other beautifully.

Zoë Watts chose to continue to perfect her chasing skills having recently received a ‘Commendation’ for the use of traditional hammering techniques at the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council’s ‘Craftsmanship Awards’ held in London earlier this month. She used the Little Gems opportunity to create a candle and match-stick holder with candle snuffer, an ambitious and time-consuming set to make as Zoë explains: “I love the energy that needs to go into the skill of raising and chasing. You really have to know the capabilities of the material you are working with. It takes hours of constant hammering and heating which, if you are not careful, can wear the silver thin and brittle to breaking point. This particular piece has been a real challenge for me but I’m very pleased with the results.

Ashley Carson, Assay Master at the Sheffield Assay Office said: “The Assay Office is proud to have been involved in the career development of so many young silversmiths who have been supported by Yorkshire Artspace’s Starter Studio Programme. We believe it is important to help younger silversmiths in this city as they start their career and we are particularly proud of the fact that traditional skills are passed on by the more experienced generations who have made their home in Sheffield.

Little Gems 2012 stays on display in the main reception area of Museums Sheffield: Millennium Gallery until 17th September 2012. Little Gems is a partnership project supported by The Sheffield Assay Office, Museums Sheffield and Yorkshire Artspace.

Aditional Background Notes:

Museums Sheffield’s Metalwork Collection has been classed as a Designated Collection by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) in recognition of its national and historical significance. The collection, which exemplifies the Sheffield’s rich cultural and historical association with the production of metal that dates as far back as the 14th century, is housed in the Millennium Gallery. Comprising over 13,000 pieces it pays tribute to the skill and craftsmanship of past British metalworkers as well as highlighting the most contemporary cutting edge designs by new and emerging talents.

The Starter Studio Programme for Silversmiths and Jewellers is a two year rolling programme for early career silversmiths and jewellers who have access to a fully equipped space, business support, mentoring and technical expertise as well as exhibition and commission opportunities. It has been in existence since 2002 and has supported over 20 young makers to date. Application forms for the October 2012 intake are now available from the Yorkshire Artspace website.

• Little Gems is an annual commission worth £1500 for early career silversmiths who are part of the Starter Studio Programme for Silversmiths and Jewellery at Yorkshire Artspace to design and create new work. These commissions are provided by the Sheffield Assay Office and are displayed for a period of 6 months in the main reception area of Museums Sheffield: Millennium Gallery

The Sheffield Assay Office was licensed to assay silver in 1773 and is one of the four assay offices in the UK. From 1906 changes in the law allowed some its surplus to be spent on providing a collection of books or objects and the Office now has a large specialised library and a magnificent collection of silver, much of it made in Sheffield. The collection numbers more than 1000 items of silver and silver plate, dating right back to 1773 and spanning the centuries right up to the present day. Each year a commission is made to add to the collection, from the most elaborate and ornate historical pieces to the stunning simplicity of the more contemporary pieces, including The Little Gems pieces made by participants of the Starter Studio Programme at Yorkshire Artspace.