A shorter version of this article was originally commissioned by and published on The Design Files. PhotoS: mindi cooke StylIST: Bianca PottingeR WorDS: Jo Hoban
MEET BARBARA HEATH & MALCOLM ENRIGHT
Barbara Heath and Malcolm Enright are renowned in Brisbane’s art and design sector. An inspired partnership, they have run their business, Jeweller to the Lost, for many years. Barbara is a designer and jeweller who has had a successful career fashioning meaningful, wearable objects and conceptual sculptures for varied clients. Predominantly, these clients commission Barb to create custom jewellery pieces either from scratch, or to rework existing pieces and interesting objects that they already own, into something fresh and relevant – symbols of their personal narrative. In 2005, Barbara was honoured by the Queensland Art Gallery with a retrospective exhibition of her unique work. Malcolm is an energetic communication designer, an art enthusiast and a collector of ephemera and clocks. He’s also a Horologist, and a general wealth of cultural information! Between them, Malcolm and Barbara have worked on 21 high-profile public art sculptures. They have also sat on the boards of a range of art institutions.
Originally from Melbourne, Barbara’s family was based in England from when she was aged six to 13, and they took whatever opportunities they could to travel. Barbara recalls seeing exceptional jewellery and objects in Scandinavia and Mexico which awakened her to the possibilities of handicraft and symbolism. After school Barbara did an apprenticeship with Laslo Puzsar, a Hungarian diamond jeweller in Melbourne’s CBD. He sent his apprentices part-time to the RMIT Gold and Silversmithing degree course providing Barbara with a fantastic opportunity to experience a foot in each camp – a commercial workshop with other manufacturing jewellers, combined with the design learnings from RMIT where they urged you to create original, conceptual work. Somewhat of a restless hippy, Barbara did this for a couple of years and then went travelling, ending up in Sydney, where she and her first partner, an artist from Berlin, sold jewellery at the Oxford Street Markets and opened up a shop called Craft on Bondi Road. They embarked on a seven year project of building a boat together, and in 1983, once it was completed, they sailed for 12 months before anchoring in Brisbane. The relationship disbanded but Barbara stayed on in Brisbane, where she took a studio space in the Metro Arts building and started to build a viable business as an independent jeweller.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Enright had grown up in Brisbane. An outgoing young man, he scored his first job working with Max Fulcher in Myer's advertising department in Fortitude Valley's McWhirters Building (at the time it was like Brisbane’s equivalent of Madison Avenue!). He carved a rewarding career in advertising and communications, involving frequent trips to Sydney and New York, and always with an eye to the rest of the globe. Come the ‘80s he was an engaging creative director, art and local ephemera collector, a bold fashion enthusiast and a curator with an infectious passion for left-of-centre culture. 1985 saw Malcolm make the leap into his own freelance career pursuing a holistic approach to life, where business could be more easily merged with a healthy lifestyle. As a communications designer and strategist this vivacious man worked with numerous clients consulting on a range of aspects from corporate image to niche campaign strategies. In 1986 Mal brought an exhibition of graffiti art over from New York called ‘Outside Art’ and he showed it at Brisbane’s That contemporary art space. It was at the opening of this show that Mal and Barb met, marking the beginning of their creatively fruitful partnership!
After a couple of years in the Metro Arts building where she first set up, Barbara moved her atelier to the 2nd floor of the upmarket Brisbane Arcade where her commissions and the interest in her work continued to grow. The 80s was a deeply exploratory period for Barbara and she travelled to New York for an extended visit at Parsons School of Design to seek fresh inspiration under the tutelage of leading jewellers from around the world. Soon after she returned she relocated her studio to LaTrobe Terrace in Paddington. With her unique and personal approach to jewellery design, Paddington’s vibrant hub of charming retail was a good fit. Barbara continually pushed the boundaries of what jewellery could embody or symbolise, and how it could manifest. She worked hard and despite inevitable challenges, her practice flourished throughout the 90s.
Barbara and Malcolm’s creative partnership also slowly blossomed. In 1995 they moved into Malcolm’s partially renovated Queenslander together and got busy building a studio underneath the house for their custom jewellery business, in which Mal was gradually, and rather organically, assuming a communications and co-ordinating role. The large studio area features a wall of west-facing glass that looks toward a lush rainforest garden. Half of the studio space is dedicated to client displays and inspirational resources, while the other half is the workshop area.
The day Mindi, Bianca (our stylist pal) and I visit is a warm Spring day and we’re greeted warmly by Mal and Barb, and rather excitedly by Ronnie the dog! We spend a long time exploring the unique space to get a wonderful insight into how it operates. “As far as workshops go, this is the longest I’ve been in any one space, and it’s definitely the nicest workshop I’ve had,” says Barb. “The fact that it’s at home is a great thing for me – I really do like that blurring of boundaries between home and work…I also like being able to look out into the garden, seeing the weather and enjoying the changing light.”
"I really do like that blurring of boundaries between home and work."
The studio space is usually also occupied by Juan-Luis, a skilled manual jeweller who Barb discusses warmly: “Juan-Luis was originally my 16-year-old trainee, and he stayed. We work together very closely and have a wonderful, almost wordless understanding of how each other works. He’s a great problem solver, a great technician and an easy person to be around. It’s been a very successful working relationship. So, the three of us are a bit like a three-pronged stool, with Malcolm’s marketing and creative eye, his personality, documentation and Juan's technical precision. We’re all very different but we have complementary skill sets.”
Over the years, there have also been many interns who have ventured into the studio for extended periods, bringing their fresh energy to the space and eagerly soaking up the artisanal skills and knowledge – “…what they get here is an opportunity to really see a productive, commercial workshop that’s producing different things, but it all has to be charged for, and we all have to survive from it. So we are working within constraints,” Barb explains. Mal is busying himself at the studio desk but pipes up about custom jewellery design being a service rather than your own art practice. “Yes” Barb agrees. “You are making something for someone, and it has a purpose, and a story that you’re invariably going to be told, and that the piece is about. The commission process is a real adventure,” Barb explains. “With commissioned or custom objects, you don’t really know what the outcome is going to be when you start out. Hopefully you’re going to find that, together, through a series of ideas and processes, and sketches, and looking at other things, and bringing each other’s input into it.”
"The commission process is a real adventure ... With commissioned or custom objects, you don't really know what it's going to be when you start out. Hopefully you're going to find that, together."
While Barb’s terrain is predominantly the workshop floor, Mal rules the roost in the display area, which is dotted with different cabinets containing various curiosities, precious stones, and other components. The studio display area feeds into the couple's collection archives where they have stored numerous categorised collections of objects and ephemera from bygone times in various antique chests of drawers and a cave-like nook that sits to the right of the studio’s back wall. In Mal’s nook, the ephemera is stored in airtight plastic boxes and piled high. The situation is somewhat overwhelming to the untrained eye, though well-organised to the veteran collector who knows where to pinpoint most categories and even particular items when called to action. The man is a walking library! Over the years many have called on him to source ephemera from his collection that reflects a certain cultural phenomena or trend, either for exhibition or design purposes. Malcolm is always at the ready and eager to share – his enthusiasm for the cultural peculiarities of certain times is palpable.
People approach Barbara to work with them to acknowledge all sorts of milestones – getting married, births, birthdays, remembering someone who has died, acquiring hard-earned qualifications, and the list goes on. “Often it’s that people want to go through a process, and the process of commissioning a piece of jewellery is this really nice opportunity for expressing where you’re at in your life and what you want to mark and celebrate, and why.” In this way, Barb develops a certain intimacy with long-term clients who have returned over the years, relaying their significant stories and offering Barb a licence to interpret these narratives through the making of jewellery. “Even though we aren’t necessarily friends, there is a great trust and a great pleasure taken in other people’s lives, you know.”
“Often it’s that people want to go through a process, and the process of commissioning a piece of jewellery is this really nice opportunity for expressing where you’re at in your life and what you want to mark and celebrate, and why.”
“Clients inspire me,” says Barb. “They take me out of my rut… They might put concepts or colours together that I wouldn’t have dreamt of, and that’s really exciting. Or they come along at a time when I might have just tried something really exploratory, and they get it. And they want to make something with that process, or technique, or look. And that’s very exciting! That really validates what you’ve been doing…It’s like you’ve got a partner in arms on that project.”
Another source of inspiration for Barb are the trays that normally live within the ‘GOMA cabinet’. The cabinet is so-called as the only boutique design markets that Mal and Barb attend are the bi-annual Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) markets and they have this particular antique cabinet that always accompanies them – it has become somewhat infamous amid those familiar with the twosome! When the cabinet is at the markets it houses a display collection of ready-made pieces for potential customers to admire. Though in it's usual position back in the studio, it houses removable trays of components, found objects and little curiosities that help inspire ideas with clients who visit. What’s interesting about the items in these trays is their diversity. You'll find anything from a lavastone cameo, to a vintage plastic brooch, to a little beaded flower, to a pauau shell bird. As Barb picks out a few pieces to show us, she explains: “There’s no hierarchy of materials here – that might be the one thing that connects everything. It’s not about a material value. It’s more about the aesthetic intrigue, or maybe it’s a technique that I’d like to try one day.” She pauses, her eyes searching for a certain piece before landing on an unusual opal-eyed dog. “I love this kooky dog!”
“There’s no hierarchy of materials here – that might be the one thing that connects everything. It’s not about a material value. It’s more about the aesthetic intrigue.”
The day we visit, Barb is working on a client’s ring with a number of diamonds and a tanzanite, in a technique which she particularly loves that involves bedding all of the disparate sized and shaped diamonds down into the surface of the metal in a very chunky and raw kind of way. “The ring ends up looking a bit like a meteorite or something glistening – there’s not a particular structure to it – it’s kind of an amorphous shape with all the stones crushed into the surface. So that’s what is on the bench right now… But in my mind I’m thinking of some new work that I’d like to do when we’re away in Tassie,” says Barb (the couple are slowly renovating an old colonial shop in the southern isle). “This year I’m going to take a little kit of stuff that I can play with to make three dimensional things. I love textures and surfaces – disrupting surfaces and making organic and fabulous textures. Combining different gems and colours is endlessly fascinating and always evolving. I don’t think I have a naturally strong colour sense. I’ve always been stronger with form and texture. But I’m really interested in incorporating colour in a way that is stylish and successful, not just garish. I think that’s an interesting challenge for me.”
Barb goes back to the workbench and I get chatting with Mal more about the couple's collections. Mal has collected many things over the years including a large art collection (he moved this on for various reasons; some of it is now with The University of Queensland Art Museum) and his printed design ephemera which remains in archives within their home and studio. I am somewhat uncertain about what collecting ephemera really means, so Mal clarifies for me: “Ephemera is something that’s produced and then used and later discarded. But designers generally like packaging, printed train tickets, concert tickets, badges or an old postcard, and will keep them. So the interesting thing about ephemera is that it might be here today and lost tomorrow, but designers will keep these things alive. I got into collecting ephemera as a designer’s resource – any designer that’s interested in the printed, graphic world will bring it to themselves, won’t they!? I’m just a visual hound!”
"I got into collecting ephemera as a designer's resource ... I'm just a visual hound!"
He tells me that his collection was mostly all acquired in the 60s, 70s, 80s and some of the 90s, before digital really took off! He digs around before locating a certain box in the nook off the studio. It’s full of cards. “So I’ll go and collect ‘Women’ postcards. Or I’ll collect ‘Men’. Or I’ll collect ‘Two women’. Or ‘Two Men’.” It all gets amazingly specific – one can’t help but be intrigued! Mal finds a box containing his collection of Vintage Australian stereoscopic cards. We take the box upstairs to locate the stereoscope to view them through. He tells me that Stereoview was popular between the 1850s to the 1930s as a mode of home entertainment – two photographs of the same scene were taken at slightly different angles from the same device, then mounted side-by-side on a card and viewed through a stereoscope as a three dimensional image.
Back downstairs in the studio, housed in drawers in an antique chest along the back wall, Mal’s smaller collections could largely be generalised as historical, cultural objects and knick knacks. He pulls out different drawers and guides us through some of the eclectic contents. Of course, he has categorised them all! There’s the dental drawer, the bone drawer, the drawer full of old snuff boxes, the spoon drawer, and many more.
And frankly, they’re incredible. We could have poked through them for days admiring the exotic, vintage items; perhaps many of these items were mundane in their day, but they are wonderfully unique when viewed untethered from their intended contemporary and cultural contexts. Luckily for us, Mal is able to fill in most of the gaping holes in our knowledge: "So, this is the thigh bone of a deer. And this is a Georgian Apple corer. They're from the bone drawer. It's pretty diverse."
“So, this is the thigh bone of a deer. And this is a Georgian Apple Corer ... It’s pretty diverse.”
Mal generously allows us to explore the drawers, and for your viewing pleasure, our stylist Bianca tidily arranged some of the categories to highlight the treasures.
Infused with design skill, history and craftsmanship, the Jeweller to the Lost studio is an exciting creative space, and with their complementary skill sets Barb, Mal, and Juan make a truly unique team.
Perhaps you are interested in a commission adventure with Barb, or some strategic communication, collections or design advice with Malcolm? In Brisbane, you can see a selection of ready-made Jeweller to the Lost pieces at the Artisan shop, as well as at the QAGOMA Store. In Hobart, you can see a selection of pieces at Handmark.