The enchanted world of A Wolf and I

Jewel Citizen talks to Jesa and Al Marshall

The name A Wolf and I immediately suggests a romantic fairy tale, something which is actually pretty spot on. It’s the intriguing business name of Dorset-based husband and wife jewellery duo Jesa and Al Marshall. Not only do they create exquisite bespoke jewels but they sell their work through an online shop, and they also teach jewellery making skills at their own school, Flux ‘n’ Flame.

A few years back I stumbled across their website and was drawn to Jesa and Al’s ‘Our Story’ page:

‘Once upon a time there was a little curly haired girl who liked climbing trees and hunting pixies and making stuff. In a strange kingdom, just east of London, she met a little hairy boy who liked wheels and fast things and making stuff and they liked each other so they hooked up…’

Immediately I’d read those lines I wanted to know more! So I signed up for an evening class and made stuff and throughly enjoyed every moment of it. But that was many a moon ago… Fast forward to summer 2017 and the time felt ripe for a little more of their magic. In the guise of Jewel Citizen I took a road trip down Dorset’s winding lanes and into the leafy countryside to meet the pair once again.

Jewel Citizen – Jesa, Al, when and how did you decide to become jewellers?

Jesa Marshall – Ever since I was a child I was headed for a creative job. I went to Art School where I specialised in ceramics and then went on to take a degree in Art History. During my degree I discovered a jeweller near Brighton who was running weekend jewellery making courses. I went along to one and was completely and utterly hooked. Boom! Just like that! After this I set out to make jewellery my career. I continued studying with Jinks McGrath in Brighton, I then took a City & Guilds at Portsmouth and went on to London Guildhall University to study Precious Jewellery for 3 years. Ta dah!

Al Marshall – My journey was a little less conventional and began with a 20 year career in the motor trade as a panel beater. It was through this that I learnt how to move and form metal to create three dimensional shapes. Shortly after Jesa and I met we attended a weekend course with Jinks McGrath together and I realised that my metalworking skills were totally transferable , I just needed to learn to work with precious metals and on a MUCH smaller scale !! I was also hooked and have never looked back.

JC – Guys, how important is having a vivid imagination to making it as a jeweller?

JM – I think my imagination is the single most important thing in my career as a jeweller. I’m sure any person working in a creative job would say the same. Our jewellery designs have their roots in dark fairytales, folklore and legends, so are particularly dependant on having a wild imagination !!!

AM – I would also say very important. As Jesa said, for the design side of things, you obviously need to be able to imagine collections and cohesive themes but also, from a practical angle you need to be able to imagine the piece as a three dimensional, wearable object. With jewellery, your ‘art’ has a practical function. It needs to be attractive, individual, unique but also comfortable and practical. All things you need to be able to visualise before you start making.

JC – Tell us about a couple of your favourite commissions and the stories behind them.

JM – Hmmm that’s so tricky as our commissions are always so different and always a great challenge !! I guess one of my favourites was our Maleficent bracelet. (photo below) We were given the theme by our lovely customer who wanted something super special for his wife. We took elements of Disney’s Maleficent character and turned them into a ring and bracelet which were joined together. It was so much fun and we were so proud of it when it was finished. It was silver and 18ct gold and had a huge spectrolite, a tourmaline and a ruby as well as a sprinkling of black diamonds. The ring and bracelet were joined together with a fine chainmail which was dotted with little moonstones. The ring was also a double ring which wrapped itself around two fingers!! So much fun!

 

 

AM – To be honest, almost all of our lockets end up being a favourite. What is really special about the lockets when we make them as commissions is that they each tell a story. We’ve made lockets to remember a life changing journey to Alaska, to remember a lost pet or a loved person. We made lockets which represent a place in which someone has left their heart but can’t be at the moment and lockets to symbolise love between a mother and daughter who have to live in separate countries. Each one has its own story and each one is so so special to design and make.

 

A bespoke locket by ‘A Wolf and I’

 

JC – What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever been asked to make?

JM – ha ha – I think many people would say all of our jewellery is unusual !!!! I think the most extraordinary thing we’ve been asked make was a commission by Historic Royal Palaces and was a collection of pieces to exhibit at the ‘Enchanted Palace’ exhibition at Kensington palace. The exhibition was based on the idea of dark fairytales escaping from the walls of the palace as they re-furbished it. We created a collection of pieces which were based on twisted thorns and ravens and dark fairy castles which were shown at the exhibition alongside incredible designers such as Vivian Westwood and Stephen Jones.

AM – Definitely the most unusual thing I have ben asked to make was a series of black steel crowns for an international fashion photographer to use in a Cartier shoot for Italian Vogue magazine. The crowns were then whisked off to Paris fashion week to be put to work on the cat walks. I was given rough sketches and an eight day deadline for the pieces to be completed. It was incredibly manic but huge fun and so awesome to see the crowns in the finished magazine.

JC – Jewellery is probably always going to be the number one romantic gift, so it’s probably fair to assume that you’ve made a few engagement and wedding rings in your time. What’s it like to play a part in someone else’s romantic story?

 

Another gorgeous bespoke locket

 

JM – It’s such an honour when someone entrusts us with making their engagement or wedding rings. I love meeting the couple and discussing ideas, they always tell me their story and I get so excited on their behalf !! I think its quite an intimate process as the rings are the one thing, apart from each other obviously, that will stay with them forever. Its crucial that we as designers listen and get to know the bride and groom a little so that we can design exactly the right rings for them.

AM – Almost every time we hand a pair of wedding rings over to the wedding couple or an engagement ring to a hopeful boyfriend we say to each other that we have made something that they will wear (hopefully) for their entire married life…something that could even be an heirloom and be passed down to their children and grandchildren. It blows us away every time ! It’s amazing and we always feel so privileged.

JC – If you could pick a dream client who would it be and why? What would you make for them?

JM – I have always wanted to make jewellery for the film industry. I would have killed to have been the jeweller for the Lord of the Rings trilogy or for Snow White and the Huntsman !!!! ha ha !!!

AM – Well….I can honestly say, there is no-one I would rather make jewellery for than Jesa. 🙂

JC – As well as your ‘A Wolf and I’ brand you also run a jewellery school, ‘Flux ‘n’ Flame’. You must be incredibly busy. How do you split your time between the two?

JM – Yes, it is quite a juggle sometimes. We have to work out our time very carefully. We are very lucky that we work so well together and enjoy spending so much time together – it makes the teamwork of running two businesses really easy. We each do some of the teaching and when we are not teaching we are working on our collections or commissions.

AM – Yes, I would say we manage it because we can work as a team. We both work on the commissions, I do some parts then I hand it to Jesa and she does some and she might hand it back to me. And we share the teaching and organising of Flux ’n’ Flame in the same way. We are also very lucky to have a little team of invaluable helpers who help us teach and help with the admin. We also make sure we have a good life balance. It’s all too easy to be so busy with work that you forget that your relaxation time is just as important. So we make sure we do lots of cool fun stuff when we’re out of the workshops.

JC – The next question is aimed at advising those readers who’ve yet to make a piece of jewellery. Perhaps they’re nervous about joining a class and think people need existing artistic or technical skills. What would you say to that?

JM – Almost all beginners start at Flux ’n’ Flame by apologising for their lack of creativity and you only have to take a look at our Facebook page to see that this ‘lack of creativity’ is just a lack of confidence.

AM – You really don’t need existing artistic skills, being a jeweller is as much about being practical and having an eye for detail as it is about design skills. So often designs evolve as you are making them and that’s totally fine.

JC – As a designer-maker what changes have you seen in the handmade / craft jewellery industry over the last decade or so?

JM – We have definitely seen an increase in an interest in making things. People love to make their own unique pieces and learn a new skill.

AM – Yes, and I think we have also seen an increase in people wanting more bespoke pieces made for them too. It’s almost as if people are getting weary of everything looking the same on the high street. They want something unique and individual that really says something about them.

 

Students getting creative at Flux ‘n’ Flame – Jesa and Al’s jewellery school

 

JC – Where can we view and buy your jewellery? Where do you teach? How can we find out more about your workshops and classes?

Have a look at the websites: www.awolfandi.com   www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AWolfandI   www.fluxnflame.co.uk

 

(photos courtesy of Jesa and Al Marshall, A Wolf and I)

Silver Screen – “I’ve danced between the two worlds of silver and animation.” 

Jewel Citizen speaks to silversmith Shannon O’Neill

 

When Shannon O’Neill was growing up she wanted to follow in her big sister’s footsteps and become a professional dancer, however fate led her to tread a very different path. She took off to India at the tender age of 18 and studied sculpture at the University of New Delhi, later returning to the UK, where she graduated from MMU with a first class degree in 3D design. Although Shannon worked mainly with wood and ceramics in Manchester, it was in her third year that she started to experiment with silver.

 

Jewel Citizen – Shannon, what first drew you to working with silver? Was silversmithing actually part of your degree course?

Shannon O’Neill – The course covered wood, metal, ceramics and glass in the first year, before I chose to specialise in wood and ceramics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JC – While still at university you won the prestigious title of ‘The Goldsmiths’ Young Designer of the Year’ award. How did you come to enter the competition?

SO – Coming up to Christmas in my final year, I was in need of extra portfolio work. Thanks to the encouragement of my tutor David Frost, I entered a design competition (The Young Designer Silversmith Award) and much to my surprise and delight, I won.

JC – What happened as a result of winning the competition?

SO – Part of the prize was to go to Nayler Brothers, The Crown Jewellers, to make the piece. Fortunately, it was made in two halves and because of their guidance and patience, I was able to work closely with the master silversmiths. By watching what, how and with what hammer, for the first half, I was able to copy immediately afterwards for the second half. Tony Bedford and his team were so inspiring – it was one of the best and most intense learning experiences of my life. It’s such a great material to work with and in the end I realised that I preferred my designs in silver!

Shannon’s career took off after graduating from MMU and she went on to work for a couple of weeks with silversmiths such as Michael Lloyd, Richard Fox, Angus McFadyen and Brian Clarke. She worked to commissions and also produced her own designs.

JC – A lot of your work has a sculptural quality about it. Has the time you spent in India been a strong influence?

SO – No doubt that played a part, but I think that all my experiences have helped inform what I make. It began with the dancing, then discovering clay and Rodin and Brancusi at art college, together with a general love of creating.

JC – Can you talk us through the stages of a commission?

SO – In most cases there’s a brief, which may be specific or not. I like to research the topic and then just let it all percolate, until something pops out onto the page. Occasionally it just comes, but often there’s a lot of tweaking and old-school photocopying, before I submit my design. I like to approach it by purely focusing on the design, before I figure out how I might make it. It’s not the most sensible way to go about it and can get you into trouble, but I find it works for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Examples of Shannon’s work

 

JC – Although you’re back in the UK these days, you lived in America for a number of years and worked in stop-motion animation. Wasn’t it quite a leap from silversmithing to working in the film industry? Were any of your silversmithing skills useful in such a diverse career?

SO – I’d just left college and was in need of some cash, when I got my first job in animation, working on Tim Burton’s, ‘Mars Attacks’. I think being able to solder was the main reason for being taken on, but my degree had taught such a broad range of skills, that it made it a perfect step into the world of puppet-making.

JC – And so you returned to the UK and are now working in conservation at Burghley House near Stamford, Lincolnshire, the grand Elizabethan home of the Cecil family. It must be amazing to work in a place and be surrounded by so many works of art.

SO – Yes, it’s a magical place to work. In addition to all the incredible works of art in the house, the beautiful gardens provide an abundant supply of nature – which is good for the soul and informs my work. I just have to remember to keep looking and trying to see it with fresh eyes.

 

The ‘Heaven Room’ contains the largest solid silver wine cooler in England – it’s tricky to get a sense of scale, but it’s seriously large enough to bath in.

 

JC – What’s the most unusual restoration request you’ve had while working at Burghley?

SO – One of the most challenging (not unusual) things was the conservation and repair of a Roman marble statue. It’s such an honour to be able to work so closely with such beautiful, historical pieces – to try and find the spirit of the original maker and leave it without making your mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Busy conserving one of the historical sculptures at Burghley House

 

JC – Although you’re busy at Burghley you still have time for silver. Tell us about a very special commission that was unveiled at The Victoria and Albert Museum in February 2017…

SO – Following an initial selection process last summer, I was lucky enough to be chosen, to design and make the 2017 ‘Randox Health Grand National Trophy.’ With just 12 weeks to make the 45cm tall trophy and three replica goblets, I needed to enlist some of the best silversmithing expertise available. Thanks to The Goldsmiths’ Company and Andy and Carl at Padgham and Putland, I’ve been able to work alongside and be mentored by some of the very best and most experienced silversmiths in the country. This piece would not exist without their immense input and for that I’m hugely grateful.

 

The 2017 Randox Health Grand National Trophy

 

JC – Do you receive many commissions to make jewellery? Is it something you enjoy or do you prefer larger-scale silversmith work?

SO – Yes, I often make jewellery, either by commissioning or making the work that often just wants to be made. It’s great to play with scale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

left: Piercing out a bracelet / cuff; right: the finished piece

 

JC – What would you say to anyone thinking about silversmithing as a career?

SO – I’m not sure I should be giving career advice to anyone! Sometimes I think that you don’t choose your path, rather it chooses you. Life is too short to wonder ‘what if?’ If it’s something you think you might want to do, just have a go and enjoy the process. At some point you do have to decide how much you want it – if things are starting to work out and if it still excites you, then do it. Finding a great tutor is a help too!

JC – Shannon, it was a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to speak to Jewel Citizen.

SO – The pleasure was mine.

To read more about Shannon’s work visit her website www.shannon-oneill.co.uk