Wendy Ramshaw CBE, RDI (1939 - 2018)

24 Jan 2019
Wendy Ramshaw CBE, RDI (1939 - 2018)

Image: Wendy Ramshaw in her studio, 1982, photograph: David Watkins

We celebrate the life and work of Wendy Ramshaw

We are sad to announce that Wendy Ramshaw died on 9th December 2018 after a long period of illness. She was one of the United Kingdom’s greatest modern masters of contemporary jewellery and sculpture. The Scottish Gallery is proud and honoured to have represented her work since the late 1980s and in 2018 we created a special publication Wendy Ramshaw: The Scottish Gallery Collection to accompany the Wendy Ramshaw Goldsmiths’ Fair exhibition at Goldsmiths’ Company, London, September/October 2018. The primary aim of this publication is to allow access to the special collection we hold, which includes significant examples from her remarkable career spanning over six decades.

Several obituaries have been written celebrating the life and work of Wendy Ramshaw: The Guardian, The Goldsmiths' Company and the Crafts Council.

The Gallery exhibited some of Wendy's most ambitious ideas through exhibitions such as Picasso’s Ladies (1989), Rooms of Dreams (2002), Prospero’s Table (2004) and a Journey Through Glass (2007). Rooms of Dreams was designed and created as a theatrical stage set for the jewellery and became a significant moment in Ramshaw’s stellar career. In the last ten years, The Gallery has produced a portfolio of new images of her work which has led to a new awareness of her talent and innovation. The Gallery has supported two UK touring exhibitions: A Life’s Partnership (2009, Wendy Ramshaw and David Watkins) and The Inventor (2013) which accompanied the magnificent Rooms of Dreams (2013-15).

I have run my studio since 1970 and have used all kinds of techniques and materials, some of which will not be found in a conventional jeweller’s studio. I believe this variety has contributed significantly to my art. Without assistants and apprentices, my work could not have developed as far as it has. I work with them in an intensely close relationship, often instructing in terms of a point of a millimetre, but their help has also enabled me to consider new ways of doing things, and to expand my horizons. To all of them, my sincere thanks for achievements which would have been impossible without them.

Wendy Ramshaw

In 2017, The Gallery celebrated its 175th anniversary and presented A Life’s Partnership Wendy Ramshaw : David Watkins at Collect, London, before closing the year with Wendy Ramshaw : A Celebration. Wendy Ramshaw was one of the most significant contemporary jewellers and her art continues to amaze and delight; beautiful, enigmatic and technically brilliant. Her work is held in over 70 public collections worldwide. Prospero’s Table (2004) now sits on public display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas. In 2018, National Museums Northern Ireland acquired the Purple Dream Ringset for their permanent collection (see below).

Wendy Ramshaw CBE, RDI (1939 - 2018)

Image: Purple Dream Ringset, c.2006, Acquired by National Museums, Northern Ireland, 2018

Born in Sunderland in 1939, Wendy Ramshaw initially studied illustration and fabric design before embarking on a career in jewellery; her early work was created from paper and plastic – the wearer integral in the process, making paper jewellery designs from a flat cut out pattern. After completing a post-graduate qualification in Jewellery from Central School of Art and Design and establishing her studio in London in 1970 she began working predominately in silver and gold, creating a distinctive minimalist style which earned her the Council of Industrial Design Award in 1972.

Wendy Ramshaw’s work also encompassed designs for textiles, screens, gateways and sculpture but it is her signature ringsets which have become synonymous with her work. Developed from the mid 1960s, her early ringsets or ‘pillar rings’ with spire-shaped bezels were inspired by the Space Age and urban developments of the late sixties in Britain. The gemstones and their compositions reflect elements of Constructivism and the Pre-Raphaelites’ taste for semi-precious stones with natural inclusions and flaws. The ringsets are wearable sculptures, often simple geometric shapes or much larger complex works with multiple, individual rings made with both precious and non-precious elements. When unworn, the rings are stacked on a single stand, transformed into a ‘portable’ sculpture. Over the years, work has been inspired by: her family, literature, music, film and the wider world of fine and applied arts.

Wendy Ramshaw CBE, RDI (1939 - 2018)

Image: Yellow Buzz Ringset (10 part), 2006, 18ct yellow gold, citrine, white Delrin stand with yellow bands

The idea of taking part of a dream or fairytale as an inspiration... I worked on my exhibition Picasso’s Ladies for a ten-year period and saw that Picasso chose to do what he wished on any given day, changing his ways of working both technically and aesthetically throughout his life. He was free. When I conceived the idea of the Room of Dreams I was free. I had no idea what the response of others might be. I simply went ahead for myself alone, and for The Scottish Gallery of course.

Wendy Ramshaw in conversation with Beatriz Chadour Sampson, p131, Rooms of Dreams, published 2012, The Harley Gallery & Ruthin Craft Centre
Wendy Ramshaw CBE, RDI (1939 - 2018)

Image: Chain of Stones for Woman Ironing, Necklace, 1991, Picasso’s Ladies Series (1989-1999), silver gilt, cubic zirconium

You may know that the lines of imaginary maps are often evident in my pieces. They are some kind of homage to my Father’s profession. Constructed from fine gold wires, they may be symbolic of travel and potential discovery. I am often working on a subconscious level.

Wendy Ramshaw, p134, Rooms of Dreams, published 2012, The Harley Gallery & Ruthin Craft Centre
Wendy Ramshaw CBE, RDI (1939 - 2018)

Image: Plan in a Gold Circle, brooch, 1988, 18ct yellow gold

I work in both the fields of Jewellery and of Public Art. Working at a small and a large scale – from millimetres to meters. I regard these activities as site specific. Both kinds of design relate to the human form but in different ways. My large-scale work is all situated in the UK; my jewellery has been exhibited and acquired throughout the world. Some pieces are included in museum and public collections; others are worn privately on an every day basis. Most of my jewellery is made in parts or sections, so that the owner can share in the way the piece is worn. Some pieces of my jewellery are easy and simple and some more complex. Because the work in the studio is always evolving and I am curious to see the way new developments will resolve themselves, I never tire of searching for new directions within which to progress.

Wendy Ramshaw

Selected Public Collections:

Wendy Ramhsaw has work represented in over 70 public collections worldwide including:

Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; Australian National Gallery, Canberra; British Museum, London; Broadfield House Glass Museum, Stourbridge; Gallery of English Costume, Platt Hall, Manchester; Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York; Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York; Crafts Council, London; Liverpool Museum & Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA); Museum of Fine Arts Houston; Kundstindustrimuseet Oslo; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Art and Design, New York; Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum Fur Kunst Und Gewerbe, Hamburg; Museum of London, London; Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; National Museums Northern Ireland, Belfast; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; National Museum of Wales, Cardiff; Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum, Trondheim; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Museum het Princessehof, Leeuwarden; Newark Museum, New Jersey; Powerhouse, Sydney, New South Wales; Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh; Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim; Science Museum, London; Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead; Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery, Sunderland; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; West Midlands Arts, Birmingham; Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, London

Available Publications:

Picasso’s Ladies, 1999: 160 pages. Hardback publication in full colour presenting a collection of works by Wendy Ramshaw inspired by Picasso’s paintings of his wives, mistresses and friends.Arnoldsche Art Publishers. ISBN 9783925369803

The Paper Jewelry Collection, 2000: 40 pages. A cut out and self-assembly collection of over 20 wearables in paper. Wendy Ramshaw and David Watkins; Thames & Hudson, London ISBN 0-500-51019-9

The Big Works, 2004,163 pages. Paper back in full colour illustrating site specific large scale installations. ISBN 84-607-9944-1

A Life’s Partnership, 2009, 280 pages. Hardback publication in full colour. A survey of the life and work of David Watkins and Wendy Ramshaw. ISBN 978-0-9526653-4-2. Available to purchase here from The Scottish Gallery, £25

Rooms of Dreams, 2012, 208 pages. This hardback, case bound publication provides a unique insight into the fifty year career of this leading British designer. In-depth interviews, expert essays and sumptuous photography in this publication beautifully accompany the exhibition Wendy Ramshaw: Rooms of Dreams, a Harley Gallery touring exhibition in partnership with Ruthin Craft Centre. Available to purchase here from The Scottish Gallery, £25

Wendy Ramshaw: The Scottish Gallery Collection, 2018, 96 pages. This paperback publication offers access to the special collection of available works that The Scottish Gallery holds, which includes significant examples from her remarkable career spanning over six decades.ISBN 978-1-910267-88-2. Available to purchase here from The Scottish Gallery, £20

Wendy Ramshaw CBE, RDI (1939 - 2018)
Wendy Ramshaw CBE, RDI (1939 - 2018)

Wendy Ramshaw was a true international champion of modern jewellery and will be greatly missed.

View The Scottish Gallery Collection, including Wendy Ramshaw's signature ringsets here.

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