Wendy Ramshaw (1939 – 2018) was a leading contemporary British studio jeweller renowned for her innovative approach to jewellery design and production. Ramshaw emerged on the international jewellery scene in the 1970s, exerting a significant influence through inspiring exhibitions, workshops and artist residencies in countries such as the USA and Australia (1978). In 1982/3 a retrospective exhibition was held at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum in London, and she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to art in 2003.
Ramshaw’s first major breakthrough was her signature sets of rings which were introduced in the late 1960s. Ranging from two to more than 20 in one set, they are intended for wearing as singles or in clusters. Each set comes with a lathe-turned nickel alloy or coloured Perspex cylindrical stand for storage and display. This Museum has one such ring set, Spinner, made in silver, gold and steel.
Among other significant developments that further consolidated Ramshaw’s career as an artist-jeweller, was jewellery inspired by iconic 20th century paintings such as Pablo Picasso’s portraits of women* and artworks by Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and others.
The Dream earrings were designed in response to the 1910 French naïve painting by Henri Rousseau of the same title. Depicting a reclining nude woman (Rousseau’s mistress from his youth) amongst a luscious jungle landscape, ‘the earrings echo the moon, peering eyes and exotic flowers amongst the dense and varied greens of the forest, animals and humans’ explained Ramshaw. Surrealist and quirky, the earrings were designed for Ramshaw’s exhibition The Room of Dreams at the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh in 2002. The Room of Dreams later became the centre-piece of a larger touring exhibition (2002-2014)*
Ramshaw’s work has been displayed in exhibitions at the Powerhouse Museum, notably A Fine possession: Jewellery and Identity in 2014-2016, which displayed her Spinner and The Dream earrings. In 2011, the Museum selected Wendy Ramshaw’s red collars Collar of Petrified Lace for inclusion in the Love Lace exhibition. The steel collars were inspired by the lace collars seen in the 15th, 16th and 17th century grand European portraits.
Ramshaw described the inspiration for her work. ‘I imaged that lace – so soft and delicate, a magical material – might be reinvented in a harder and stiffer state to be worn in a different way. My Collar of Petrified Lace still performs the same function as the original wonderous material: the ornamentation of clothing. It is a reminder of the glorious lace of the past, enhancing and elevating the wearer.’ **
A jeweller who also designed textiles, screens, gateways and large-scale sculpture, Ramshaw has received many international honours and awards. Major collections that have acquired her works include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
MAAS curator Eva Czernis-Ryl said:
‘A pioneer of the contemporary jewellery movement, Wendy Ramshaw was a highly original jeweller and designer who inspired two generations of jewellers through her innovative work and belief that jewellery can be precious beyond its intrinsic worth. Working in a wide range of materials and across disciplines, Ramshaw’s fifty-year career was marked by continuing creativity and her legacy lives on in her unique works in numerous public and private collections around the world.’
Written by Anni Turnbull, Assistant Curator, December 2018
*Wendy Ramshaw & David Watkins official website, http://www.ramshaw-watkins.com/ (Downloaded 12/31/ 2018)
** Love Lace, Lindie Ward, Editor, Powerhouse Publishing Sydney, 2011, p109