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Barbara Heath – Tinsmith: An Ordinary Romance…

October 5, 2010

Today, I am delighted to talk to Barbara Heath, experienced and visionary Brisbane-based jeweller, artist and artisan, whose work spans jewellery, original artwork and artwork for the public realm, involving in depth and dedicated historical and cultural research. I’m looking forward to dedicating a full DESIGN SPOT feature to Barbara’s diverse and prolific practice, however, today we get to take a sneak peek into her upcoming exhibition at ArtisanTinsmith: an Ordinary Romance…, which features as part of Brisbane’s inaugural Design Triennial – Unlimited: Designing for the Asia Pacific.

First, we should know that Barbara’s practice, Jeweller to the Lost is “a bespoke jewellery commission practice and retail consignment business, thriving since 1987, which also engages in the design and fabrication of large (and small) sculptural artworks for the public domain.” Now on to the Q & A…

Barbara, can you tell me about your project?

Tinsmith: an Ordinary Romance is an exhibition of metalwork, which reveals how new work is informed by historical research. This research traces the trade of tinsmithing, which was common in the mid 1800’s to early 1900’s in Queensland, but which has now mostly disappeared. It is about understanding the work of this era, produced by artisans whose methods were closely related to our own.

Can you describe your background and what led you to starting this project?

My work has often been described as architectural, I love clarity of form. Increasingly I want to identify our outcomes with a relevant sense of place. References to the vernacular in early Queensland architectural detail; in our work with lattice and screens, has already characterised our practice. The Tinsmith project identifies the actual shapes and forms fabricated by these local metalworkers to expand the scope of our new work.

How did you come up with your project name?

I think there is always a kind of nostalgia for the idea of ‘lost skills’ – The very name ‘Tinsmith’ or ‘Tinker’ evokes nostalgia and has romantic connotations, it is a trade with nomadic origins, they were fixers of things, outsiders. I think their work has been overlooked because it is perceived as ordinary.

What kinds of new works have eventuated from this?

New works such as Candlesticks rediscover some of the simple methods of tinsmithing; of bending, folding and tinning. The Hausgeisters and Hanging Crowns are recurring forms in our exhibition work, which have taken a new direction here, reflecting in pattern and form the tinsmiths often whimsical architectural ornamentation. We have also made a 3 metre long rain chain, an object which is probably more Japanese in origin, but the tinsmith techniques are so suited to these simple folded and repeated forms, just the sort of thing they would make today (if they were still around).

What are the most important things for you to communicate through this work?

I will be speaking at the opening of the exhibition about the genealogy of ideas. In both jewellery for the body as well as objects for the public domain, threads of continuity, belonging and inheritance are expressed. Then there is this desire to understand how utilitarian skill sets can migrate across centuries and continents. I love the way these workers re-iterated their designs and patterns, as if compelled by a genetic code. I believe their output strengthens our ideas of place and of collective history.

Where can we find out more information about this project?

You can trace this project on our blog. I would also like to mention, this project has received financial assistance from The Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.

Thank you Barbara for sharing with us a little about Tinsmith: An Ordinary Romance. Check below for exhibition details – see you at the opening!

Exhibition Details:

When: 7 October – 13 November, 2010

Where: Artisan

Vernissage: 7 October 2010, 6-8pm

More info: Visit Artisan’s website and Barbara’s blog

Images: L to R, Top to Bottom:

Q-1000, Candlesticks, Playscapes, Ridge Cresting reference, Hanging Crown Guardian, historic photograph of a Queen Street butcher shop in Brisbane

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jay Dee permalink
    October 19, 2010 10:44 PM

    Hi KT! Back in town and so glad to hear this exhibition is still on at the moment :). I love Barbara’s work – thanks for the great interview! Xx


  1. Unlimited: Designing for the Asia Pacific – In Review – Day 4 « KT Doyle
  2. Tinsmith: one of many opening day messages received « viewer site

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