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  • Oxford ring. A cluster of Oxford spires. Silver, red & yellow gold.

Vicki Ambery-Smith: Architecture in Miniature

Architecturally inspired jewellery at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Crafts Council Directory maker Vicki Ambery-Smith talks to us about her upcoming exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, the importance of scale and her work on Heatherwick Studio's Garden Bridge.

Tell me about your upcoming exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum

The starting point was the 350th anniversary of one of Oxford's most iconic buildings - the Sheldonian Theatre. To commemorate this, the Ashmolean Museum offered me a space to exhibit a small number of pieces which celebrate Oxford.  My co-exhibitor is ceramist Hugh Colvin, whose work is also architectural, and although we have a very different approach the combination works well.

Oxford ring.  A cluster of Oxford spires.  Silver, red & yellow gold.

How do you decide on a building to recreate in miniature?

Some buildings appeal to me because of their iconic status, such as the Radcliffe Camera, which features in any view or skyline of Oxford, or the Pantheon because of its pure Classical proportions and influence from 2000 years ago.

I feel I simply have to pay homage to the buildings of Palladio, Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren. Other buildings appeal because of their charm or quirkiness, like the Penguin Pool in London Zoo. 

I’m always happy to find a connection with story in the news; the duck houses of the MPs expenses scandal fame became cufflinks.

Radcliffe Camera brooch.  Elevation & cross section showing the interior of the building.  Silver & 18ct gold.  65mm high

How important is the sense of scale?

Some lovely buildings work well in their settings, but would not work well for me, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water. A building like The Shard works well at 9 cms high, at that scale it becomes abstracted but still recognisable when you look more closely.

What’s your background?

I grew up in Oxford and studied at Hornsey Art College in London where I had an excellent design tutor, Vera Lane. She taught us to observe through drawing and modelling; we would extract design ideas from what we had been looking at and I began to sketch buildings. I was attracted to buildings from the16th and 17th centuries, this, I later realised was my Oxford childhood coming through.Keble College box.  Photo etched silver with red gold plate.  50 x 40 x 70 mm

What materials do you work with?

Mainly silver for the basic piece but I also use gold to accent certain details to achieve the building’s character. Silver alone can look a bit monochrome, but by using gold in a figurative way, say, red gold for roof tiles or yellow gold for limestone, which is richly yellow in sunshine, helps lift the design.

I also use oxidation to blacken the silver in certain parts to define the design and give an illusion of depth.

How important is it that these objects suit their function?

If they’re to be worn they must be the right size to fit a lapel and not too heavy.  The rings look bulky, but they are comfortable on the hand.  Also it’s important to me that they stand up when not being worn.  The boxes are, I admit, not strictly practical. What’s more important to me is a playful aspect, for instance, the unexpected way that it opens, or perhaps a surprise detail revealed inside.

Sheldonian Theatre box.  The roof lifts off to reveal the seating plan etched into the base.  Silver with yellow gold plate & cold green enamel. 71mm long x 85mm high

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a collaborationwith Heatherwick Studios.  We’re making a limited edition of mini silver Garden Bridges 23 centimetres long which will help toward the fundraising for the bridge. We’re also working on a larger bronze version, while we found a way to depict trees and shrubs in nickel silver on the smaller version the same approach doesn’t work at a larger scale, so we’re experimenting with tiny electro formed twigs. 

Architecture in Miniature runs at the Asmolean Museum, Oxford from 14 Nov 2015 to 15 May 2016.