Susan Cummins has been involved in numerous ways in the visual arts world over the last 35 years, from working in a pottery studio, doing street fairs, running a retail shop called the Firework in Mill Valley and developing the Susan Cummins Gallery into a nationally recognized venue for regional art and contemporary art jewelry. Now she spends most of her time working with a private family foundation called Rotasa and as a board member of AJF and California College of the Arts.
There was a lovely chill in the air as the AJF London trip got off to an appropriate start with a tea and scones event at the traditional Draycott Hotel. Most of the participants had not been to the COLLECT fair before, so we asked Liesbeth den Besten, a writer and curator from Amsterdam to give a talk about the galleries and jewelers we were about to meet. She had done her research well and not only talked about what we might see, but also showed a number of pieces of jewelry that we actually saw at the show.
Then it was off to the event itself. The Saatchi gallery is in a beautiful stately building just off King’s Road near Sloane Square. As we entered the high ceilinged rooms, a beautifully diffused light illuminated it all. It was evident that these spaces were made to show off artwork in a particular way. This light was very much of a presence and perhaps even a distraction in viewing the displays, but of course that didn’t stop anyone one from looking. We all scattered to look at the fantastic jewelry and make our decisions about what to add to our collections. There was lots of excitement expressed about our discoveries.
Then we were on to Tom’s Kitchen for dinner in a large private room. We were joined by a British couple Jacqueline and Jonathon Gestetner, who livened up the evening by asking us questions about the group and about our collections. It was a dinner filled with laughter and important transatlantic exchange, and by the end of the evening we were all completely worn out.
On the second day of the trip we were invited back to COLLECT for a VIP breakfast and most of the group found that they needed a second look. We met for an early Italian lunch across the street from the Victoria & Albert Museum and were subjected to the Italian sense of timing, so arrived late for our appointment with Beatriz Chadour, David Watkins and Wendy Ramshaw. Once back on track we were taken through the permanently installed William and Judith Bollinger Jewelry Center and the temporary retrospective of David Watkins. The V&A is an overwhelming visual experience and jewelry is intense enough in its own right, but when there are 35,000 pieces in one display it literally takes your breath away. Beatriz tried to orient us to the historical things in particular, which was helpful, but only served to make us wish we had the whole week to learn more. The David Watkins exhibition was located in the midst of a long, long hall of silver work and stained glass windows from throughout the ages. It was actually shocking to come upon the very cool and minimalist aesthetic of his jewelry amidst all the fancy ornamentation. He was a lovely and patient host along with Wendy Ramshaw, who answered all our questions about their lives together and his jewelry.
Next we met Hans Stofer at the entrance to the V&A and walked over to the Royal College of Art to visit his class of students. He told us a bit about the program there over tea and coffee. The program is only for graduate-level students and everyone is encouraged to pursue their own interests on a deep level. This program was under the guidance of David Watkins for several decades and Hans has been there for just the past three years. Then we went into the student spaces and spent an hour or more talking with the students. We were completely won over by the variety of imaginative and thoughtful work being done. It was the highlight of the trip for many.
Back at the Saatchi Gallery, Mark Lyman and Anne Mesko from SOFA, the American equivalent of COLLECT, arranged a classy cocktail reception to announce their new grant. The first ever New Voices Grant for International Decorative Arts and Design Discourse was given to AJF. It was the first grant we have ever received and we were honored to be recognized. As AJF chair, I had the pleasure of announcing that Damian Skinner would receive this £3500 award to come to COLLECT next year to review the work on display and report back in the fall at SOFA Chicago. The rest of the evening was free.
The third day of the trip started in the early afternoon at Electrum Gallery, with a talk about the historical significance of the space to the development of contemporary jewelry. This is where Barbara Cartlidge and Ralph Turner displayed the most modern and exciting work of swinging London in the 1970s and beyond. Dorothy Hogg, former chair of the jewelry department at the University of Edinburgh was there to talk about the current show called Natural Beauty. Next we walked over to the Contemporary Applied Arts (CAA) space and had a thoughtful talk from Amanda Game about the work in a show there called Drawing with Objects, where she discussed the relationship between drawings and objects as she sees it.
Then we went downstairs to the shop where there were many temptations made by some of the 350 makers who belong to CAA, as well as a grouping of necklaces and bracelets by David Watkins. David and Wendy, our new best friends, were there as well. It was important for some of the group to be able to try on these to see what they looked like and how they felt. The new book about Wendy and David called David Watkins, Wendy Ramshaw: A Life’s Partnership by Graham Hughes was also there for purchase and autographs.
Our final visit of the day was a cab ride away at Gallery S O on Brick Lane. Hans Stofer was having a show here in Felix Flury’s beautiful new gallery space. Hans’s show was like no other jewelry show you have ever seen. His pieces were collages of doors, buckets, boxes, carts, light bulbs, plywood and jewelry made from cast-offs. It was imaginative, free flowing and about as different as it could be from David Watkins’s work. It made us wonder how the students at RCA that were caught in the transition from one teacher to the other survived. Despite that, Hans’s show was probably the one of the few exhibitions made by a jeweler that actually engages the contemporary art scene on its own terms. Quite good to see it is possible.
We ended the trip with a lovely dinner at Whitechapel Gallery dining room. It was a fantastic meal to end a fantastic and stimulating trip.