Sunday, May 26, 2024


Bird bonbonnière replication, copper substrate (left) and artefact BI648 (right, image courtesy Wolverhampton Arts and Culture), and overlay comparison (middle) Photo: J. Grayson, 2018

(Revaluing Lost Craftsmanship)
Exhibition Mon 26th Nov 2018 – Fri 18th Jan 2019.

The Vittoria Street Gallery is delighted to host Enamel|Substrate, a solo exhibition by John Grayson, crafts maker, academic and researcher.
John’s career in ‘making’ spans some thirty years: his practice is rooted in a fascination for exploring the creative value of processes employed by defunct Midland metal working ‘toy’ trades and a passion for satirical story-telling through object making.

By appropriating techniques from the printed tin box/toy industry and the enamel trade and melding it with historic reference points he has made automata and narrative based objects for exhibition and commission, with work held in collections including The National Trust and The Crafts Council.

Enamel|Substrate is the culmination of John’s practice-based PhD investigating the [lost] craftsmanship employed in the 18th South Staffordshire enamel trade.

The trade made objects for the person and the home such animal-shaped snuff boxes, Rococo and Neo-Classical styled candlesticks and Medieval armour shaped mustard pots, from paper thin copper foil coated with enamel. John’s past craft practice identified a knowledge gap in literature with regard to the manufacture of the fundamentally important copper substructure of these objects.

The copper substrate created the surface upon which the decorative enamel coats were fused, and, ultimately gave objects their form.

It was the novelty created by this three-dimensionality combined with the brightly coloured, exquisitely decorated and lustrous enamel that resulted in the objects being regarded as highly desirable by the burgeoning middle classes of the period.

Whilst the decoration has long been celebrated (and the focus of much study), the importance and significance of the substrate construction has been disregarded. John’s research identified its importance, and, through contemporary craft making re-valued it both in historical and contemporary making contexts.

The exhibition encapsulates the research method, the journey of enquiry and its findings. It presents: examples of the method of analysis of museum objects – analytical drawing, photographs and video – that reveal hitherto unknown construction; samples from contemporary craft making – material experiments, sketch-books and John’s contemporary craftwork – that formed the method to both investigate, understand, and demonstrate the creative value of the 18th century craft processes; objects replicated to test construction hypothesis – examples of an 18th century candle snuffer, a bird-shaped bonbonnière and a candlestick – which, for the first time, reveal the complex and ingenious construction of the copper substrate previously hidden under the enamel.

The exhibition will be of interest to historians, museum and heritage professionals, and contemporary crafts makers alike.

Making bird bonbonnière in the workshop. Photo: J. Grayson, 2018

The exhibition has been co-curated with Ruthin Craft Gallery and Wolverhampton Art Gallery. The research has only been possible through access to the museum enamel collections of Wolverhampton Arts and Culture; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Museum of London; The Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library, Preston; and Birmingham Museums Trust: and the generous support of Birmingham City University through a STEAM Doctoral Training Grant.

Exhibition | Monday 26th November 2018 – Friday 18th January 2019
Closing Celebration with Artist Talk, Thursday 17th January 2019 6pm – 8pm

John Grayson |
Vittoria Street Gallery |
Twitter | @Vittoria_St

Located in the heart of Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter the Vittoria Street Gallery is a unique exhibition venue situated within the School of Jewellery, Birmingham City University.

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