The art of enamel magic

Clive Aslet dis­cov­ers the alchemy of the enam­eller and the del­i­cate crafts­man­ship in­volved in cre­at­ing items of such ir­re­sistible lu­mi­nos­ity

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden - Pho­tographs by Richard Cannon

’ve al­ways just loved the colour,’ ex­plains Jane Short. She’s in her stu­dio, which oc­cu­pies the front two rooms of a house in Brighton, a space that is part al­chemist’s study, part chemist’s shop. There are dozens of en­graver’s burins, nu­mer­ous pairs of pli­ers, sev­eral kilns, many books and sketches and a cou­ple of hun­dred pots of glass ‘lump’. For what she de­scribes as ‘down the rab­bit hole’ pieces, she straps mag­ni­fiers and lights to her head, us­ing equip­ment one would nor­mally as­so­ciate with sur­geons.

Jane is an enam­eller who, this year, was awarded an MBE for her con­tri­bu­tion to the craft. ‘It’s about putting ground glass onto a me­tal,’ she says dis­arm­ingly. One look at her stu­dio tells you that there’s more to it than that. ‘en­am­oured’, an ex­hi­bi­tion open­ing

Ito­day at the Gold­smiths’ Cen­tre, Lon­don ec1, will dis­play the many rav­ish­ing ef­fects that can be achieved us­ing tech­niques that, in some cases, date back to the sec­ond mil­len­nium

enamel glows. The colours—flam­ing reds, au­tum­nal rus­sets, ul­tra­ma­rine blues, egg-yolk yel­lows, sappy greens, per­haps made even more sump­tu­ous by the ap­pli­ca­tion of gold—have a lu­mi­nos­ity that can only be com­pared to stained glass. enam­ellers can take ad­van­tage of the unique flu­id­ity of their medium, as a re­sult of the melt­ing of the hot glass.

The scale can be big—in the 19th cen­tury, signs were often made of enamel, a durable ma­te­rial that didn’t fade (the Lon­don Un­der­ground roundel still is)—but, th­ese days, enamel is more com­monly em­ployed to dec­o­rate sil­ver or make jew­ellery.

Don’t think about be­com­ing an enam­eller un­less you’re neat, pre­cise, rea­son­ably tidy and very, very pa­tient. ‘A lot of it is very time con­sum­ing,’ Jane tells me. ‘It isn’t some­thing you can rush. For­tu­nately, I feel less need to rush as I get older.’

Jane cur­rently favours the cham­plevé method. This in­volves en­grav­ing a piece of sil­ver—those burins—with a de­sign of dif­fer­ent depths. To do this, the sil­ver is at­tached to a wooden stump, which is then clamped in a vice. Be­ware the tiny mites of sil­ver that fly from the end of the burin: ‘They can be ex­tremely painful if they get into your shoes and stuck in your foot.’

Then, the colours are se­lected. Jane has been col­lect­ing lump glass since she was a stu­dent in the 1970s; some of it is ir­re­place­able, ei­ther be­cause the com­pany that made it has dis­ap­peared

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