A gem of an idea

Wendy Ramshaw currently has two exhibitions in London of her jewellery and other work. Janet Fitch marvels at the shows’ amazing diversity and sensitivity

Wendy Ramshaw is one of a rare breed – an artist/designer and craftsperson whose unerring eye and instinct, combined with a free flow of ideas and a discipline in the execution of her work, make her one of the greats of our time.

Her time has certainly come. She currently has not one but two exhibitions in London and there are two very different new books that illustrate the different aspects and complexity of her work.

Ramshaw studied illustration and textile design at the Newcastle-on-Tyne College of Art and Industrial Design, followed by Reading University, and postgraduate studies at what was then the Central School of Art and Design.

Picasso’s Ladies, at the Victoria and Albert Museum shows all her skills. Ten years ago she became fascinated by Picasso’s portraits of wives, lovers and girlfriends, and set out to design a collection of ten pieces to illustrate and complement them. Ten years later, the collection numbers 66 – and is amazing in its diversity: earrings, necklaces, rings, headpieces in everything from diamonds and platinum to steel, resin, paper and pebbles.

The charm of each portrait is perfectly reflected in her pieces, and the hardback catalogue, with outstanding photographs by Bob Cramp, is a must-have for jewellery aficionados. The artist’s notes on each of the pieces and its inspiration are delightfully revealing, not only about Ramshaw herself, but about Picasso and his relationships with his “ladies”.

For the portrait of a severe looking Gertrude Stein there is a “no fripperies bracelet” that separates and “clanks about the arm” or falls together as one neat sculptural piece. A fragile turquoise and green glass tear-drop necklace echoes the tears of Woman with Handkerchief.

“If you read about the women” Ramshaw says, “the paintings are very accurate portrayals”. It is a tribute to her intellectual and aesthetic ability that her jewels do the same and enlighten us further.

At the Lesley Craze Gallery are drawings, maquettes and photographs which illustrate Ramshaw’s work from 1960 to the present day. These also appear in the beautifully produced book Wendy Ramshaw – Jewel Drawings and Projects. Especially interesting are the sketches which shed great light on her working methods.

Ramshaw’s large projects – such as the screen at the V&A and St John’s College Gate, Oxford – are also featured, as well as a selling collection of jewellery from the Sixties by Ramshaw and her husband David Watkins, who is professor of metalwork at the Royal College of Art.

Picasso’s Ladies – Jewellery by Wendy Ramshaw is at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London SW7 until 15 February 1999. The catalogue accompanying the display costs 4.

Progression – Wendy Ramshaw at Lesley Craze Gallery, 34 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1 until 29 October. The book Wendy Ramshaw – Jewel Drawings and Projects costs 24

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