HALE W18 Masthead

Bodywork: Australian Jewellery 1970–2012

Wendy Johnson

It’s been seen by thousands of people in nine venues and five states and has, after a very long journey, come home to the capital for its final showing.

We’re talking about Bodywork: Australian Jewellery 1970–2012. This eye-catching exhibition, featuring the work of some of the country’s most important and influential contemporary jewellers, is on now at Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre.

The exhibition showcases the work of 42 Australian designers, hand-selected by Dr Robert Bell AM, Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, National Gallery of Australia (NGA), who wanted to ‘inspire, intrigue and inform the viewer’ about this rich period of jewellery design. It was no doubt a huge challenge to make the final selection from the NGA’s collection.

No matter what your taste, you’ll find each piece of jewellery in Bodywork an amazing study in its own right, so take time to really explore—you’ll be delighted at what you uncover. At the same time, watch the short film featuring Dr Bell discussing the works.

Brenda Ridgewell Space edifice, armband 2002 925 silver and 9 carat gold National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2003

Brenda Ridgewell, Space edifice, armband 2002, 925 silver and 9 carat gold, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased 2003.

The jewellery is beautifully displayed in six specially designed cases and is grouped under six themes— Romanticism, Interpreting the Vernacular, Encapsulating Nature, Technics, Social Message and Sculpture for the Body. All pieces are from the NGA’s collection, which is the largest in the country and a major point of pride for the Gallery—and Australia.

An added bonus for Canberrans is the four artists from this region, all of whom have a piece in Bodywork. Included are Simon Cottrell, Head of the Gold and Silversmithing Workshop at ANU, and Robert Foster, of Fink + Co, who are both Accredited Professional Members of Craft ACT, as well as Helen Aitken-Kuhnen and Johannes Kuhnen of Bilk Gallery.

Elizabeth Olah Sunrise and shade, brooch 1981 sterling silver, 18 carat gold, porcelain, opal National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Crafts Board Collection donated by the Australia Council 1982

Elizabeth Olah, Sunrise and shade, brooch 1981, sterling silver, 18 carat gold, porcelain, opal, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Crafts Board Collection donated by the Australia Council 1982.

The diversity of the jewellery is mind boggling. Take Simon’s engaging ‘Round and back’ monotone brooch (2010), made of monel, a hard nickel alloy. It has been described as an ‘architectural miniature’ that ‘engages the eye’.

Robert’s Bandaliero II 2009, is equally dramatic but in an entirely different way. It features a series of bright orange containers that are linked. It’s designed to be worn diagonally across the chest and the wearer can tuck items into the containers, such as keys and a wallet. The containers cause no end of delight when they glow in the ultraviolet lighting of bars and clubs.

Helen’s ‘Ocean blue’ necklace is made with ‘glass paste’—very finely crushed glass mixed with other materials to form a paste, which is then put into a mould and heated to fuse it together.

Helen Aitken-Kuhnen Ocean blue, necklace 2009 sterling silver, cast glass pâte-de-verre, stainless steel National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2009 with funds from the Meredith Hinchliffe Fund

Helen Aitken-Kuhnen, Ocean blue, necklace 2009, sterling silver, cast glass pâte-de-verre, stainless steel, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased 2009 with funds from the Meredith Hinchliffe Fund.

A 1998 brooch by Bilk’s Johannes Kihnen is included. It’s made of granite, anodised aluminium and stainless steel.

Pieces by other fabulous jewellery designers include brooches, arm bands, lockets, rings, bangles, and pendants created out of a wide range of materials to produce highly desirable and durable objects. Materials include gold, sterling silver, copper, coral, aluminium and polypropylene. Fragments of manufactured objects pop up, as do other recycled materials.

Craft ACT was chosen to be part of the travelling circuit for Bodywork because the exhibition fits perfectly in with its strong outreach program. ‘The National Gallery and Craft ACT are both the same age, having opened in the 1970s,’ says Dr Bell. ‘Craft ACT has been part of the national scene for a long time. It’s appropriate that Bodywork’s final showing is in its home town and with our friend Craft ACT.’

Also showing at the same time at Craft ACT Gallery is Table Tools, a solo exhibition by gold and silversmith Alison Jackson, who is also a Craft ACT Accredited Professional Member. Alison’s line of commercial tableware and handcrafted jewellery is now available through Agency, Ori Building, Braddon.


the essentials
What: Bodywork: Australian Jewellery 1970–2012
Where: Craft ACT Gallery, 1st Floor, North Building180 London Circuit, Civic
When: From now until Saturday 24 October 2015. Craft ACT Gallery is open Tuesday to Friday 10am to 5pm and Saturday from 12 noon until 4pm.
Web: For more details visit www.craftact.org.au.

Feature image: Blanche Tilden, Palais, necklace 2010, borosilicate glass, 925 silver, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Gift of Sandy and Phillip Benjamin, 2010.

Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, a few decades ago. She’s been living in Australia since 1995, having fallen in love with eucalypt trees and kangaroos. Wendy is passionate about Canberra and all the nation’s capital has to offer. She loves to write (about everything and anything) and owns her own pr and advertising business. More about the Author