We were so excited to meet jeweller Alice Clarke that we took the wrong turn and ended up on a random farm in the middle of Nidderdale! However, once we found her studio we were greeted with a cup of coffee as she welcomed us into her creative hub. An incredibly talented designer and maker, Alice is inspirational; instead of taking her business to the city like so many others, Alice has stuck to her roots and settled her blossoming business amongst the rolling hills of the Yorkshire dales, and she is thriving in her environment!
When did you start making jewellery?
From the age of 14 I used to hand make beaded jewellery and sell at craft fairs etc, I never felt satisfied with buying pieces online and putting them together; I always wanted to make everything myself. I decided to make jewellery as part of my Product Design A level and outsourced help from Moxon and Simm in Pateley Bridge. I loved it and it opened up a door for me that I didn’t know existed. I went to Leeds College of Art and Design and found I was just naturally good with my hands and decided to complete a degree in Jewellery and Silversmithing at The School of Jewellery in Birmingham back in 2010.
Tell us about some of your university projects.
First year was about getting to know our practice. Second year, we got the chance to make commercial jewellery that was still very contemporary. Naturally I took inspiration from my home in the Dales and from Brimham Rocks. I was intrigued by the Likens and mosses that grow on the tree bark and rocks. I began to take photographs and draw the Lichens; from these I had initial designs, then prototypes, then my first collection ‘from the shed’ was born.
This first collection was quite successful so I registered with the Birmingham Assay office for my hallmark and I’ve been selling it ever since. However, I didn’t want to carry the same collection into my third year because I wanted to explore other ideas. I did miss home and found myself constantly bringing new things back to use in my jewellery. Collecting sheep’s wool from the fencing, rope and loads of natural materials filled my desk at university to recreate my own little Yorkshire space.
Which is your favourite graduate piece?
A piece called Sunday Best. I wanted to embrace my Yorkshireness, so I used Masham sheep wool and a found dolly peg from a bucket on the farm that I shortened and sanded. The little silver stopper is made from the cast of a tiny bit of Yorkshire Tea bag. I used plaster casts of tea cup bases that are sandwiched together with a slice of a stained Yorkshire Tea bag between. The piece is about capturing a Sunday afternoon over a cup of tea with the family. For the life of a farming family, work never stops but the piece is about how they still have time to come together as a family to share stories and have a bit of cake!
Tell us about the beginning of your brand.
I began working in my little blue shed, and I was in there for 3 years! I had a few basic benches. In winter, I had to get used to the idea that the shed would flood because Springhill Farm where I’m based has natural springs. In winter depending on how much it rained water would find its way into the shed, so every night I lifted everything off the floor.
What did you start making after you graduated?
I had continuous commissions to work on alongside making more of my graduate work for exhibitions and galleries I had been asked to exhibit in. After the rush of 2013 I decided I wanted to start a new body of work. We had a bag of Norfolk goose feathers left over from Christmas dinner (we have our own geese) and I realised that these were heading for the bin. Instantly inspiration sprung into my mind and I began working out my own process to wash and dry the feathers. My new goose feather collection was in full swing when I applied and got into One Year On at New Designers 2014. Here I showcased my new collection consisting of goose feathers, suede, silver and wool. I called it ‘Jemima’.
Have you exhibited with any of your graduate pieces?
At the School of Jewellery we learnt all about different shows, galleries and exhibitions all over the world. One that really sparked my interest was SIERAAD in Amsterdam. I decided I wanted to have a shot at it so I applied and was accepted for SIERAAD 2015. I exhibited Sunday Best and Jemima; The Dutch ladies loved the colour palette and loved the story, especially about where the goose feathers had come from!
By far the biggest exhibition was LOOT in New York. I was approached to show there with Jemima. They loved the story and wanted to know more about my upbringing and background. I flew out April 10th 2016 and I took a few other pieces with me including the chunky rope necklaces. I sold out of those on the first night, it was an incredible show and I’ve never had that response to my work before!
What made you decide to really go for it?
Last year I took the plunge into being self-employed. I loved working for the National Trust; I learnt a lot about retail and the team were very lovely and made me feel very at home. It helped to get my head into retail on a large scale; how to display things, how to talk to customers. It also helped to have a little bit of money coming in to pay for my silver, but I knew I had to break away. If you want to follow your dreams, you should put goals in place and give it 100%.
When did you decide to move out of your little blue shed into this beautiful creative space?
With more and more commissions coming in I couldn’t stay in my little garden shed. I needed a bigger space. This lead to my beautiful new studio being built. It was a dream come true.
This guy is from the Scottish borders *pointing to the elegant hanging log burner* I call him Bob, and the lights from Copenhagen. When the build was in progress and I was in my little shed working on my jewellery I would look up out of the window from time to time and watch the builders working hard outside in all weather conditions. I often thought about how amazing us humans are with our hands and the endless possibilities of what we can create. Watching the building come to life from the earth over weeks and months made me more determined to make this work. I wanted to be a jewellery designer full time.
For more information and sales visit | www.aliceclarke.co.uk | @aliceclarkejewellery
Photography for ‘Jemima’ and ‘Sunday best’ | Callum Jelley @tokenenglishman