WENDY RAMSHAW 1939 - 2018
British jeweler, ceramicist, sculptor, Wendy Ramshaw was a passionate explorer into the possibilities that drove her creative life, whether at the precise moment of making or stretching over a lifetime. Her distinguished reputation reached beyond the United Kingdom, Europe and across the Great Pond into North America. During the time of her ascendency as a creator, she was eagerly followed by those impressed with her innovative designs and she increasingly influenced a generation of contemporary jewelers exposed to the power and breadth of her work.
She not only utilized high karat gold, silver and traditional gems but in little used materials as the 1960s craft movement took them up: feathers, wood, paper, porcelain, aluminum. Indeed, one of her pathways to artistic celebrity was through clothing designer Mary Quant who showed her paper jewelry in her boutique in the late 1960s.
By the early 1970s Ramshaw was receiving recognition like the Design Council Award for innovation in 1972. This was due to her signature rings consisting of as many as twelve stacked and displayed on a single post, a kind of portable sculpture, and said to be inspired by the space exploration of that generation. These ring sets and other pieces are now in over eighty public collections worldwide, including the Goldsmiths’ Company, Victoria and Albert Museum, National Museums Scotland, Art Gallery of Western Australia, British Museum Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Kyoto’s National Museum of Modern Art.
A meticulous designer, her work evinces a classical ambiance, but within that format Ramshaw produced in her jewelry startlingly adventurous pieces. In 1989, there was Picasso’s Ladies, a series riffing off specific works by Pablo Picasso and composed of fifteen distinct jewelry compositions. She selected females who had been portrayed by Picasso, who represented beauty and individuality, and seemed “content and self-possessed, relaxed, at ease with themselves and the world.” She faced this very complex project as not an imitator of a larger than life genius, but as one that would stimulate her into taking “imaginative leaps,” creating “pieces I would otherwise never have made.” When something resolved itself in the process, she said: “It was like magic.” Picasso just might have understood.
She went on to do the same with other extraordinary exhibitions: Rooms of Dreams (2002), Prospero’s Table (2004) and a Journey Through Glass (2007). While her early training was as an illustrator and textile designer, she went on to include jewelry and metalsmithing in her repertoire, and additionally more expansive projects: a steel and glass screen for the Victoria & Albert Museum; a cast bronze gate for Hyde Park; a set of door panels in glass and gold leaf for Southwark Cathedral. She was among the first women admitted to the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.
Firmly birthed in the twentieth mid-century movements, Ramshaw’s growth and maturity as an artist seemed unimpeded by the times and conditions taking place in art and culture. She was her own unique self always. And she had the strength to spill over into our present one with works dynamic, singular, pure.
See Ornament Volume 14, No. 3, 1991: “Wendy Ramshaw: Picasso’s Ladies” by Carolyn L. E. Benesh; and Volume 36, No. 4, 2013: “Wendy Ramshaw: Rooms of Dreams” by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell.