WHIZZ BANG! Silversmithing with the public at the V&A

by Rebecca de Quin

On 21st September 2010 the V&A threw open the doors of the Sackler Centre art room to the public, to view silversmiths in action. The drop-in event, entitled ‘Whizz, Bang!’ was one of the many events hosted by the V&A for the London Design Festival.

IMG_2497Contemporary British Silversmiths chairman Mary Ann Simmons and Christopher English, director of the Silver Trust (pictured) worked in Collaboration with the V&A to install a collection of silver work representing both organisations in showcases in the Sackler Centre. The demonstration day was conceived as a complementary event and was subsequently organised and run by Contemporary British Silversmith members Pete Musson, Max Warren and Rebecca de Quinn. The aim was to expand public understanding of silversmithing practice, and in so doing, add to the experience of viewing the fabulous collections of Contemporary British Silversmiths work and that from the Silver Trust’s Downing Street Collection. Tools and equipment were generously lent by Prof. Hans Stofer from the department of Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork and Jewellery at the Royal College of Art, a stone’s throw away from the V&A, and transported by us from the forth floor of the college to Brompton Road. This was no mean feat as the kit included three tree trunks, bench tops, gas bottles and several extremely heavy stakes. Bullion was supplied by Argex, who then took it back as scrap after the event.

IMG_2484We set up three stations in the art room to demonstrate raising a bowl, forging a spoon and scoring a box, and ran a loop of the images from the Contemporary British Silversmiths website on a large plasma screen. During the day we received approximately one hundred and fifty visitors, many of whom had a go at raising, forging or both. The interest was terrific and we were able to make the whole experience really meaningful for our audience by referring to the pieces on display in relation to the practical process on view. It was great to hear positive comments from folks who had struck some hammer blows and were then shown a raised or forged piece in the showcases.

We all agreed it was a really worthwhile event and that Contemporary British Silversmiths could consider doing this again perhaps at another venue to coincide with a display of work. It really does bring the silver alive for people when they see how it’s done and in terms of marketing, anything that showcases skill and craftsmanship is a very good thing.