Disruption Masthead

The Silver Spoon Lady

Amanda Whitley

Tucked away deceptively under a takeaway café on the corner of Gilmore Road in Queanbeyan’s west, you’d never guess to find the pocketsize silversmithing studio of Canberra-based Alison Jackson.

With its upright timber logs dotted across the floor each fitted with a vise or clamp, and the sunshine streaming in through the garage roller door, the studio is rustic and quirky yet surprisingly clean for such a creative space.

Since she was a little girl, Alison, unlike most kids, hung out in her dad’s workshop under the house working on little projects and so looking around I notice half-raised bowls and vessels scattered about the shelves. A habit she only recently became aware she had.

“I tend to start something, and then get an idea half way through of how I can manipulate the metal in another way,” says Alison as she notices me looking around.

“Rather than finish what I’m already doing, I’ll stop and start again on a completely different piece. It’s where some of my favourite pieces have come from.”

Bustling about, Alison offers a bowl of fresh strawberries and pulls up two stools for us to sit.  Just a few years shy of 30, she is a self-confessed tinkerer, both modest and humble in the success of her distinguishingly unique collections.

It’s no surprise that both her quaint yet contemporary Jewellery and Tableware Collection have been shortlisted in this year’s 2013 Australian Craft Awards, a program that celebrates those who produce excellent craft works across a number of categories.

Exploring concepts surrounding the use of silver in the everyday, her Tableware collection naturally falls into theHomewares category. Reflected in Alison’s design themes, functionality and simplicity has always been at the core, with her Little Spoons a fusion of these principles and traditional silversmithing techniques.

“I love to work with silver,” says Alison. “It’s a really nice material, particularly to raise and I always like to see how I can manipulate it.”

“It might have a dent, but you can always fix it.”

Included in the collection are Butter Knives, copper vessels, candlestick catcher, soup spoons and a tea tin, all hand fabricated but each challenging and extending the possibilities of her work without at all comprising her quality.

Silversmithing, in terms of making hollow vessels (that is a bowl or vase) as opposed to jewellery, is a fast dying art in Australia with no more than 30 or so still in practice, yet for Alison it is a passion she hopes to pass on to her students at each of her Pocket Studio weekend workshops.

“Silversmithing is being learnt by less people, meaning that less people are passing it on to the next generation,” says Alison.

“But in my weekend workshops, it’s really exciting to watch people create something of their own and realise that they made it. Particularly when you have mix of students who may or may not have done silversmithing before because they each learn something from one another as well.”

Where jewellery and silversmithing were once classified as two separate arts, they are now more commonly accepted as just jewellery making, focusing less on object design and more on the shiny, pretty things we like to wear around our necks, fingers and wrists.

A realist at heart, Alison says there is little money to be made in silversmithing itself but her commissioned pieces and teaching helping to sustain the business.

“While I really love objects, and creating more things that have an industrial process, such as my spoons and hollow ware, it is teaching that keeps it all going,” she says.

Although her hollowware, cutlery and jewellery has been showcased at exhibitions previously, specifically Melbourne’s Design.Made.Trade last year, Alison sees it more as an opportunity to engage in marketing research, and admits that despite a genuine interest in her designs the challenge is turning that interest into sales.

“People like it. They even love it – but they don’t want to pay $2000 for a bowl. I mean I wouldn’t pay $2000 for a bowl,” Alison laughs.

With offers to create production lines in China, it’s the furthest thing from Alison’s mind. Alison wants to ensure her collections remain handmade not mass-produced.

And that in itself is worth something.

“I really like that my pieces are individually handmade with different characteristics so it’s finding that middle ground and being able to produce it in a way that is time effective, cost effective and affordable,” says Alison.

“I want to make my designs accessible to the public. My vessels and cutlery are made to use, not sit on a shelf gathering dust.”

Finalists for the 2013 Australian Craft Awards will be announced on October 28.

Alison has also exhibited her full range of hollowware pieces at the German leading jewellery trade fair, Inhorgenta in 2011 and is currently an entrant in the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards.

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Amanda Whitley

Amanda Whitley is the founder and director of HerCanberra. In her 'spare time', she instructs zumba, loves to cook (and eat), and wrangles two gorgeous little girls. She's done everything from present the tv news to operate a stop and go sign and is passionate about connecting Canberra women. More about the Author

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