Domestic Gospels to Essex Crystals; looking back

I’ve put together some images and text to give a sense of my work and how it’s developed since 2006 when I graduated. I started with Domestic Gospels and Corner of My Eye – both presented for my Degree Show and at Batch, an exhibition that was part of the International Festival of Glass that same year.

Domestic Gospels

Domestic Gospels reimagined women’s work and women’s place in the home, inspired by Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who stated that her heart’s desires could be found in her own back yard. I wasn’t so certain. Some might be found in the back yard to be sure, but women have fought for a long time to seek their heart’s desires elsewhere. One of the dustpan pieces was selected for the British Glass Biennale in 2006.

Corner of My Eye

Corner of My Eye drew on Alice in Wonderland (a favourite source for artists at the time). Alice’s musings didn’t just fill a dull afternoon; they opened up a portal to another world. I can see my interest in the imaginative potential of tiny but constrained worlds opening up here. And also the use of imagery, in this case little domestic scenes.


Swathe came next. Laborious processes shape these mixed media sculptures that use fine glass stringer in various ways; cutting, arranging and constructing. But there are elements that stray from the predicted path – reflections throw green fire back up out of the bucket in which cut elements sit in swirls like a crop disturbed and then flattened by the wind. This work was selected for the British Glass Biennale in 2008.


I found these polished reflective buckets very compelling and stuck with them for my next project, imaginatively titled Untitled . Selected for the British Glass Biennale in 2012, and for the International Glass Prize exhibition, Glasmuseet Lommel in 2015, light bends and flows around shining stainless steel buckets that contain a mysterious black substance that could be oil or tar. Only on exploration do you find the substance is glass (the pieces are a nightmare for curators; they always have greasy fingerprints all over them. Although I like the fact that people feel the urge to work them out with their fingertips) . There’s a sense of infinity contained in these illusory art works – an infinity that you could dive right into, and slip away slowly into another reality.

Day Trip to Utopia

Ice Cream in Utopia was part of a few pieces exploring Utopias: how they are patched together pictures of what we want and what we have; how strange they look when taken to their bizarre conclusions. The piece was designed to be a postcard from the impossible to the present day as part of the Contemporary Glass Society’s Postcards show at the International Festival of Glass in 2015. Made for fun, the use of imagery resurfaces. The images are created from staged scenes with dolls, drawings, domestic objects and photographed, before being converted into ceramic enamel transfers that are fused onto glass in the kiln.

Spoken / UnSpoken

Spoken / Unspoken was a contribution to Monika Auch’s  participatory Stitch Your Brain project – all about stitch, mindfulness and wellbeing.  Spoken / Unspoken was shown with a selection of Stitched Brains at Gawthorpe Textiles Collection in Lancashire in 2015. I’ve represented just a few of my family using glass gems set into goldwork embroidery mounts and floating on a sea of grey ruffles. It’s clear to see that all sort of elements emerge that I’ve continued to develop; the gem-like object, the strangeness, tiny little optical worlds…..

Spoken / Unspoken is an exploration of the spoken and unspoken relationships and connnections that make up who we are and references rather weird 19th Century ‘Lovers Eye’ jewellery. I was hugely taken with the textile element of this project, which happened simply because Monica is a textile artist, and her project was about textiles. I felt that the pieces should be gem like, and as I’m a keen amateur sewer, the most practical way to do this in harmony with Monica’s project was to use the embroidery technique of goldwork to stitch them.

Essex Crystals – the early stages

My Essex Crystal Project presents a sort of personal mythology. It combines fragments of family snaps, strange creatures and classical references into strange little jewelled mini worlds. They are both sweet and affectionate with a hint of underlying psychological suspence that slightly shifts the viewers’ frame of reference. The work shown above is the first iteration, presented as massive brooches set in goldwork embroidery to give a sumptious, blingy feel. This work in development was displayed in the conversational space Discuss at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair in October 2019.

This project revives and adapts a historic art form – the painted reverse intaglio crystal, sometimes known as ‘Essex Crystals’ after William Essex (1784-1889), into these cast and engraved gems, handpainted and fired with glass enamels and then gilded. As as aside – the ‘Essex’ bit is a misnomer, William Essex produced hugely popular miniature paintings after the grand masters of his day onto the back of rock crystal gems, but he didn’t carve into the back of them. However, the name has stuck. I also really like it as a project name with it’s ‘Only Way Is Essex’ connotations. It reflects the cultural mash up that my crystals are.

My Essex Crystal Project started a few years ago when I stumbled upon a tiny antique crystal jewel with an equally tiny lap dog engraved and painted on the reverse. Here it is….

From Annina Vogel Jewellery – the original crystal gem that inspired my current project

Entirely captivated by this peculiar object, I discovered that these were very much the thing two hundred years ago. They often depicted pets and animals, plants and flowers that were hand-carved and painted onto the back of highly polished rock crystal gems, creating a startling animated and three-dimensional effect. Full of symbolism and extremely weird, it felt to me that they had a visual language that I could use to say something today. What have emerged so far are gloriously coloured optical mini-worlds with a feeling of personal myth, and more than a little strangeness.

Essex Crystals – 2020 onwards

In 2020 I was awarded a Developing Your Creative Practice Grant from Arts Council England to refine the skills involved. I was able to learn from engraver Nancy Sutcliffe and Miniature enamel portrait painter Gillie Hoyte Byrom, both experts in their field. I adapted what they taught me, taking the size ever smaller. The work shown here represents some of the outcomes of this transformational year. Some are finished ‘gems’ and some are work in progress. The original Essex Crystals were jewels and personal objects and that is where I aim to head with these pieces. I’m working with an amazing jeweller, Isabelle Capitain to realise some initial ideas (I’ll post about this separately), and I hope to apply for an Arts Council Grant to learn more about jewellers and what this work could become in their hands! More to follow on this soon…

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