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  • Rind Sets from The Scottish Gallery Collection 19882012. Photo Will Van Esland

Wendy Ramshaw: a life in projects

We celebrate the life and works of jewellery designer Wendy Ramshaw

Wendy Ramshaw, who paved the way for modernist jewellery design, has died aged 79 years, following a long-term illness. Born in Sunderland in 1939, she passed away on 9 December 2018, and is survived by her husband, the artist David Watkins.

Ramshaw forged an artistic career that was a far cry from her family’s seafaring roots. Her path began when she enrolled at the Newcastle College of Art and Industrial Design to study printed textiles and illustration, eventually graduating in 1960. Throughout her time at the college, she would make jewellery from scrap metal – eventually selling pieces to the Liberty department store in London.

She went on to complete a teacher training course at Reading, where she met her soon-to-be husband David Watkins, a sculptor who, at the time, was making money as a musician. The pair’s collaborative compatibility was cemented in 1963 when they presented their first joint exhibition of sculptures and stabiles.

Following this, Ramshaw’s career took off – particularly throughout the 1970s, with a string of high profile commissions and exhibitions. It seems apt, if not a little melancholy, that her career was celebrated in its entirety last year, with a retrospective at the Scottish Gallery. Marking the exhibition, Corinne Julius wrote in Crafts issue 269:

“Her achievements remain quite staggering, her style recognisable, her quality of making unsurpassed, her mastery of colour intensity. She is meticulous and painstaking, demanding of others the same (impossibly) high standards that she demands of herself”.

We take a look at five seminal projects by Ramshaw:

The New Edinburgh Gate in London's Hyde Park

The New Edinburgh Gate, Hyde Park, London

Ramshaw was commissioned by developers Candy & Candy to create a gate for the Knightsbridge entrance to London’s Hyde Park. Erected in 2010, the 15 metre-long structure is typical of Ramshaw’s geometric style, with shapes constructed from cast bronze.

Ramshaw's ringsets, photo by Sophie Mutevelian

Ringsets

Whether making medals for to celebrate the millenium or gates for public spaces, a constant throughout Ramshaw’s career were her so-called ‘ringsets’. Although stacking rings are now commonplace in jewellery design, Ramshaw was arguably the first to explore this method of personalisation – creating options of rings for wearers to layer and arrange at their own discretion.

“I have known her gently take the rings off a client’s fingers and arrange them the right way round”, recalled Christina Jansen, director of The Scottish Gallery.

Goodwood Gate at Cass Sculpture Foundation

Cass sculpture foundation gate, Chichester, Sussex

Visitors enter the Cass Sculpture Foundation in Chichester through an abstract gate designed by Ramshaw in 2001. In her classic abstract style, the forms and shapes are intended to be representative of the number five – marking the first five years of the foundation’s existence.

Millennium medal, photo courtesy of David Watkins

Millennium medal

On the eve of the 31st December 1999, Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a medal to celebrate the upcoming millenium. It was designed by Ramshaw to represent the architecture of the Millennium Dome, designed architect Richard Rogers, and featured two layers of cutout patterns enclosed within a stainless steel casing.

Something Special paper jewellery, photo courtesy of David Watkins

Something Special paper jewellery

Ramshaw was making this jewellery right at the beginning of her career. Although humbly made from paper, it was the ‘self-assembly’ concept that got her noticed by fashion designer Mary Quant, who went on to stock it in her London Bazaar in the 1960s. 

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