Hannah Grace Ryan is one of the first jewellers to join Art Pistol, with her impressive collection finding a spot in the 15° Graduate Show. Hailing from Glasgow School of Art she produces statement jewellery that has a particularly regal air about it. The contemporary pieces have a modern take on Hannah’s historical inspiration, with intricate techniques being used to create the jewellery. With some stunning pieces an inspiring balance has been struck between ornamentation, show-stoppers and wear-ability – a balance that Hannah seems to have managed with ease, with a beautiful collection being the outcome.
We managed to have a good chat with Hannah and find out all about her inspiration, technique and life after the GSA.
AP: What’s the inspiration behind your work?
HGR: My inspiration comes from my love of studying history. I have always been fascinated by the subject of historical jewellery and the telling of stories associated with such precious archival objects.
My degree show work focused on the telling of two historical stories – the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his beloved slave, Antinous, and King Ludwig II’s obsession with King Louis XIV. This allowed me to study and be inspired by everything from Greco-Roman sculpture to the Palace of Versailles and explore varied techniques and aesthetics, in order to develop a modern take on narrative jewellery.
Talk us through the process of creating a piece?
I find I primarily use my sketchbooks for collaging images and scribbling down bits of information I’ve come across while researching and my designs only begin to take form once I’ve sat down at my workbench. By drawing down wire, building models and experimenting with the metal I can establish a better idea of what I want to make and how to go about doing it.
My Sun King and Moon King rings are a combination of carved wax which is then cast in silver and granulated. Granulation, a technique which involves fusing together tiny balls of silver to create elaborate patterns, is a process I had experimented with long before I decided to use it in my designs. I then build the gold-plated structures, which sit on top of the rings, and finally set the stones. I find there is a great amount of satisfaction in perfecting all of these steps and knowing that each has been carefully completed by my own hand.
Work in progress photo
What, for you, make a good or successful piece of jewellery?
I’ve always said that a successful piece of jewellery is one which delights the wearer, intrigues the viewer and satisfies the maker. I understand that narrative jewellery, jewellery which tells a story, needs to be explained before it can truly be understood, but I’ve always been of the opinion that the concept should never compromise the aesthetic. I want my jewellery to be worn and loved, so I try to put a lot of emphasis on how a piece will feel on the body. Although I wouldn’t recommend attempting to do the washing-up while wearing one of my rings, if I don’t feel a piece is durable enough to withstand regular wear then it simply won’t leave my workshop.
Work in progress photo
How do you strike a balance between wear-ability and design? Is this a difficult thing to achieve?
Wear-ability has always been in the forefront of my mind when designing. However, having studied at an art school, which always encourages students to push boundaries, I try to strike a balance between wearable and unusual.
My enamelled silver brooches can be incredibly heavy and although they are perfectly comfortable to wear, they tend not to be hugely practical. These are what I would describe as exhibition pieces – items of jewellery which are larger and more extravagant, which I display in order to spark the imagination of clients. I suppose with the larger pieces there is also an element of showing off and saying “look at all the things I can do!”
How would you describe jewellery’s place in the art world?
The subcategory of ‘Art Jewellery’ has definitely earned its place in the art world. It has become as valid a medium as sculpture in creating emotive objects with stories to tell. I have found that most jewellers also draw, paint and print and the resulting jewellery becomes an extension of this.
Art jewellers such as Naomi Filmer, who has created ephemeral jewellery out of ice and Tiffany Parbs, whose work includes rings, which burn and blister the skin, have introduced a performance element into their work and in doing so have reinvented what it is to be a jeweller. If a ring is unwearable, or a neck-piece can melt into nothing, is it still jewellery? That’s not a question I can answer, but it does show there’s more to it than gold and diamonds.
What are your plans now that you’ve graduated?
Ultimately, to keep the ball rolling! I will soon be setting myself up in a studio as part of the Edinburgh Contemporary Crafts graduate programme and will hopefully be exhibiting as part of the New Emerging Makers stand at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair. I’d love to continue to exhibit my work in and around Scotland and build a good relationship with local galleries. I’m a firm believer in saying yes to every opportunity which comes my way and I’m always eager to learn and increase my knowledge of my craft.
Do you have any fears and what are you looking forward to in stepping out on your own, away from University?
My biggest fear, I suppose, would be losing the support I had from sharing a studio with my classmates. The atmosphere in our studio at GSA was wonderful: the constant sound of hammering from the silversmiths, the whirr of drills and files and of course non-stop chatting and laughing. Even in fourth year, when deadlines were looming, we all still found time to sit down to have lunch as a class and discuss our work. I know it is inevitable that once you’ve left art school you lose that safe, nurturing environment, but I hope that that great unknown will inspire me to stay motivated and productive.
What are you working on at the moment?
Now that I have had a chance to exhibit my work at the Glasgow School of Art Degree Show, New Designers in London and, most importantly, Art Pistol on Cresswell Lane, I have also had a chance to collect some feedback from the people who had viewed my work. The feedback I have received has encouraged me to want to design and make a more wearable range of rings, brooches and neck-pieces based on my degree show work. I hope that this more accessible range will inspire clients to look at my exhibition pieces and will enable me to make bigger and bolder work in the future.
If you’re on the hunt for a special piece of jewellery pop down to the gallery where you can try some of Hannah’s amazing pieces on – soon to be available online as well!