Jane Adam is a successful jewellery designer with an international reputation. Polly Harknett discusses her career and studio at Cockpit Arts and her wider role in the craft community.
Jane Adam is an established artist who has spent her twenty-five-year career experimenting with aluminium and its possibilities for jewellery. She is highly regarded and frequently seen as a representative and ambassador for craft.
She is successful because she has maintained and developed her career, successfully carving out a unique position for herself within the jewellery medium by producing innovative work that pushes the medium forward, but also by being highly proficient in fulfilling her other roles as advisor, chair and trustee.
For the last fifteen years of her practice, Adam has rented a studio at Cockpit Arts in Holborn. Cockpit Arts is a creative business-incubator that supports 165 artists and designer-makers in two subsidised studio complexes in Holborn and Deptford. The organisation supports its members, holding successful open studio events and providing a wide range of subsidised professional development opportunities and one-to-one business mentoring.
Adam had worked previously in London in less suitable spaces, which she describes as leaky, cold workshops on the South Bank. Cockpit was offering permanent spaces for established artists for the first time. Adam took her own space in the newly opened west wing of the Holborn complex. The studio was attractive because of its very central position and proximity to Hatton Garden, and its security and amenities such as central heating.
Under the directorship of Vanessa Swan, Cockpit has widened its priorities. The decision to rent permanent studio spaces to established artists such as Jane Adam, together with Cockpits support of exhibition opportunities such as their participation in the Craft Councils Collect event at the V&A, (which featured Jane Adam), are beneficial to her career. She also enjoys sharing a working environment with a steady turnover of early career artists, who bring fresh ideas and attitudes into play.
Adam has always found the relationship between the wearer and jewellery piece fundamental to her work. Cockpits annual open studio events at Christmas and late spring support this aspect of Adams work. The experience is mutually beneficial. For Adam it is important to have these opportunities to discuss and receive feedback about her work, to see her work being worn, and to develop relationships that may have begun elsewhere. Adam has a considerable following and brings serious international collectors to the studios during these events, potentially exposing new talent to established collectors. Adam frequently exhibits at Origin, the London craft fair organised by the Crafts Council every October. There she talks to visitors about Cockpit and can invite interested people to the open studios event, giving them the opportunity to meet her in a more intimate and meaningful environment.
Adam is rightly proud of her international reputation and contacts. In 2005, through a contact at the British Council in New Delhi, she was able to provide the opportunity for Cockpit Arts to work with the Dilli Haat organisation from India. Twenty traditional Indian craftspeople came to Cockpit and worked with members in their education space, sharing skills and interacting with each others practices. The use of an education space, a willing artist base working in a range of disciplines, plus the benefits of administration provided by Cockpit Arts, ensured a rich cultural experience for all participants.
Balancing working practice
Adam has lived and worked in London throughout her career. I am a Londoner and feel that I gain something creatively from being in London. My jewellery is urban and things I am inspired by, such as nature, are filtered by urban experience. It is also important that she does not feel isolated from community experiences because she feels inspired and motivated by people to produce work and prefers to have easy access to other sources of inspiration such as museums and galleries.
Working at Cockpit Arts, despite the outlay on rent over the years and the time spent commuting compared with the cost of working at home, does however make Adam feel grounded, because she exists in a community with other makers at varying stages of their careers. Although she does not act as a spokesperson for Cockpit Arts as an organisation, she can talk about her work through her own experiences of being there, which has its own value.
The wider role
Adam believes it is important not to spend all her time making. She understands that her medium is interactive and communicative and so it is important for her to have this interactive and communicative role in a wider context. She has done this by participation on panels, steering and focus groups as well as helping to found the Association for Contemporary Jewellery, establishing herself as an important figure in shaping British Craft.
She graduated as a mature student with an MA in Metalwork and Jewellery from the RCA in the mid-eighties, along with previous experience in retail management. She was quickly noticed and a few years after graduation was asked to sit on the panel selecting for the setting up grant award given by the Crafts Council. She confesses that once you have a reputation for this kind of contribution (and as these roles are usually unpaid), more offers come your way; she found the offers flattering, interesting, nice to have a part in setting things up.
Association For Contemporary Jewellery
In 1996 Adam spoke about jewellery at a conference in Newcastle, and found that it moved my head somewhere else in terms of what I thought I was worth. This sudden boost of confidence in Adam inspired a wave of creativity that resulted in the formation of the Association for Contemporary Jewellery. She was a co-founder and the vice chairman of the ACJ from 1997 to 2000 then the chair from 2000-2.
The ACJ, Adam feels, went against the established ideas of how jewellers worked. It actively encouraged contemporary jewellers to work together and share their knowledge and experience because there was a pre-conceived idea that a community of jewellers didnt and couldnt really exist. Thus it mirrors her own career and work with anodised aluminium as a challenge against established ideas. Importantly, it shows that she approaches her professional duties with the same attitude as her work, a rigorous questioning of conformity and boundaries of art and practice.
Crafts Council trusteeship
In 2002 she accepted the offer to be a trustee of the Crafts Council, and is currently halfway through her second and final term of four years. Her trusteeship coincided with major change for the Crafts Council, resulting from a far-reaching strategic review of its aims and activities. Adam as trustee became entangled in the difficult decisions faced by the Crafts Council about their mission and how this could be funded. Her involvement escalated and for a short time she was meeting weekly at the Crafts Council, instead of the usual three to four meetings per year. This affected her time in the studio and thereby her income.
Whilst it remains an honour to be a trustee, Adam felt the enormous weight of responsibility that the position burdened her with. She feels that the decisions made at that time had to be made for the benefit of the craft community. She knows she has learnt much about the broader picture and taking a strategic view, and how far away this is from what she calls the bench peg mentality of the maker.
Development of work
Adam wants her work to be recognised and relevant within society, and understands that this can derive from either making or consultancy. She is driven in both roles because she cares passionately about what she does.
I have to admit to being established but actually I have always been a rebel, but in an unconventional way.
Having such wide ranging professional roles can distance Adam from making. However, the latest developments in her work are testament to her desire to seek more recognition as an artist. Over the last eighteen months, Adam has focused her time on making again, working through the Future in the Making project funded by the JSIP (Jewellery Sector Investment Plan). The aim of this project is to support mid-career makers to develop their business. This new focus has pushed her work forward, resulting in more creativity through experimentation. She is challenging preconceptions again, subjecting gold and silver to the same techniques she developed for aluminium, and creating a new and exciting body of work. This move parallels her recent work with the Crafts Council. She is looking at her work with a wider perspective, and by addressing the conventions of gold and silver, the wider conventions of jewellery making too.
Polly Harknett is the curator of contemporary craft at Hove Museum & Art Gallery.
First published: a-n.co.uk June 2008
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