The Academy of Silversmithery

Selina Campbell, Enclosed Vessel
Selina Campbell, Enclosed Vessel

One of the great silversmith websites I keep coming back to is the Contemporary British Silversmiths which is setup by the association of the same name. Membership is on a selection basis so the standard of work on display is very high.

Most of the work is functional and decorative tableware but they also have a sculptural section that’s worth a look. There is such a great selection of work, it shows how successful the colleges in Britain are at turning out highly skilled silversmith graduates. Since the apprenticeship route is all but gone in Ireland it would be great to see art colleges here establishing silversmithing departments. There are some art colleges like NCAD that have craft design degree courses. Also, the Crafts Council have a jewellery course in Kilkenny which has been great for jewellery design in Ireland. As far as I know the closest place to study as a silversmith is Belfast. Please tell me if I’ve overlooked somewhere.

If it were up to me I’d love to set up a silversmithing department where students would acquire skills from early silversmithing, modern advances in metalwork and everything in between. There are so many processes that you don’t get the opportunity to explore when you’re in a commercial work environment. It would be great to have at least a little knowledge of these before you head out into the world.

When a student leaves college they usually can’t afford machinery like spinning lathes and micro welders. Wouldn’t it be great to equip them with these skills while they are still in college where they can practice for free?

There should also be a history of silversmithing and design module. I think your work is strengthened by your ability to write about it, drawing references from other artists.When you do this, I think you learn more about your inspiration and where this will take your work in the future.

Most art colleges now provide a business module whereby students learn about setting up their own business or how to submit proposals for commissions. The best students in college don’t always go on to become the most successful business people.

Silversmiths who can make amazing pieces in silver often have difficulty relaying these ideas in their sketches. It would be really beneficial for people who do not have a natural aptitude for drawing to learn simple draftsman skills.

Finally.. problem solving! I know most professions spend days banging their heads on brick walls. Sometimes, working in silver, you spend ages picking apart the design for potential pitfalls, and still, you end up cutting out your silver only to discover you never allowed for something. While this mostly happens on a new piece you haven’t made before, I think you could equip students with the skills to preempt these pitfalls.

Anyway just a few suggestions for my Eileen Moylan Academy of Silversmithery!

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