‘Making Connections – Craftsense’ 

Making Connections was an AHRB supported project that formed part of the wider Craftsense permanent exhibition at Bilston Gallery. Craftsense commissioned three makers to make new work in response to traditional industrial manufacturing processes associated with the region. Jeweller Laura Potter produced work in response to the lock making heritage, textile artist Karina Thompson was inspired by 18th Century textiles decorated with steel beads and Grayson was commissioned to make new work focusing on the gallery’s important collection of Georgian enamel artefacts.

John’s Making Connections – Craftsense project centred on how to engage audiences with the Georgian enamel objects in terms of their method of manufacture, historical context, and their relevance in the 21st Century. Through the production of innovative new works, which referenced historic enamelling processes, ways to engage audiances with both historic artefacts and contemporary craft were explored. Visitors used visual and tactile enquiry as a means of making sense of this aspect of local industrial craft history.

‘A Raspberry Trifle from Bilston’ Vitreous enamel box.

First he undertook a period of research into Georgian enamel ware in order to gain a better understanding of form, decoration, methods of manufacture and function of these historic objects.  This was achieved in three ways. Time was spent handling and visually recording the archived enamel collection at Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery in order to gain an understanding of the diverse range of enamel ware produced in the 1700’s.

A period shadowing enamel conservator, Lesley Durbin of Jackfield Conservation Studio gave an insight into some of the traditional manufacturing methods employed and finally knowledge of contemporary manufacturing processes was acquired through support from Bilston and Battersea Enamels Ltd.

Through fusing this knowledge, an understanding of how to translate these traditional decorative qualities and processes into a range of new contemporary craftwork was developed.

The project resulted in the production of three new enamel boxes and materials for a handling display. The works were all made to resemble ready made dessert trifles often purchased from supermarkets, the contemporary form making reference to the common inscription on Georgian enamel boxes ‘A Trifle From…’.

‘A Raspberry Tart From Bilston’ vitreous enamel box.
‘A Raspberry Tart From Bilston’ vitreous enamel box.

In addition John co-authored with Andrew Alvarez and Lesley Durbin the article, Celebrating the Conservation of the Bilston Enamels,  for Conservation News, the journal for the United Kingdom Institute for the Conservation of Historic Artefacts. The article focused on how the Making Connections project was informed by research into: historical artefacts, contemporary enamel practice, and the importance of conservation work in providing an insight into how the historic objects were manufactured.