Interviews / Jewellery

Interview: Hannah Felicity Dunne, silversmith


As is always the case with Meet the Maker interviews, I am proud to introduce you to the undeniably talented Hannah Felicity Dunne, a designer/maker creating wonderfully unique silverware and jewellery entirely by hand. These are the kind of pieces which I will have in my home when I am a grown-up (*cough*) and will greatly enjoy telling guests all about the how and the who of the item. Whilst hammering away at a piece of silver sounds like loads of fun to me, my attempt would definitely not be something people would want to display in their homes, which is why it’s best left to professionals like Hannah. For anyone interested in learning a new craft, she has truly inspiring advice about her career path so far as well as the unusual places she looks for inspiration.

Bulbous dish // POA

Please can you tell me about yourself and your work?

I studied an HND in ‘Jewellery and Applied Arts’ in Manchester and then went on to complete a degree in ‘Metalwork and Jewellery’ at Sheffield Hallam University. I graduated in 2009 and set up a workshop up North where I began to develop my style and create the beginnings of my collection. I have now relocated my workshop down South to where I grew up in Yatton, North Somerset. I show my work through high-end craft fairs and events throughout the UK and exhibit in contemporary craft galleries.

My work is a range of sculptural and bold silverware and jewellery. I use a sketchbook to plan my pieces but truly they come to life through the making process, I am very hand’s on experimental with my material. Most pieces are hammered from flat silver sheet. With silverware I use the techniques of hollowing and hand raising to hammer the sheet into a three dimensional form. Planishing is used to create a smooth hammered finish and chasing or textured hammers are used to apply different surface finishes to the object. Jewellery pieces usually begin with piercing a shape from a flat silver sheet using a saw or cutting a length of silver wire, then forming the piece into shape using mandrels and mallets. I use many of the same tools and textured hammers to create both the large and smaller scale work.

Have you always wanted to be a silversmith? How did you get to this point?

When I was younger I wanted to be a fashion designer or graphic artist. However whilst I was at school I started working part-time in a hair salon. I enjoyed work and found myself leaving school early to pursue a career in hairdressing. After a number of years working my way up through a big hairdressing company I realised this was not what I truly wanted to do. I had an urge to make jewellery and started looking for suitable courses. At my course in Manchester I was introduced to a range of applied art and craft skills, it was there that I first found hammers and steel stakes, the essential tools for the traditional silversmith. I continued my study at university and set up as self-employed around a year after graduation. There is so much to learn though it is a continually ongoing process, which is what makes it so interesting and exciting.

Sterling silver ring // £140

What is a ‘typical’ day for you?

Everyday can vary so much. It often depends on the time of year and whether it’s the run up to an exhibition or fair. Usually in the run up to an event the focus is on the making and it starts at breakfast and ends in the early hours of the morning. When things quieten down again it is a good time for reflection. Often for me this is the beginning of the year. I think about the work I have created and where I want to take it next. Time is spent planning new pieces, experimenting in metal, photographing and recording the work that I have. Addressing my website and making plans for exhibitions for the upcoming year.

Where do you look for inspiration? With your ‘bulbous and boulders’ collection, did you come up with the name first or after creating the pieces? I love how the jewellery ties in with the silverware collection.

I am very visual my work is about form and texture as well as function. It is important to me to get out and see new places to refresh my head. Much of my visual diary has come from the highlands of Scotland where I visit regularly. Beginning with the Bulbous, I had looked a lot at the idea of a foreign object attaching itself to another or taking over it completely, in this case barnacles on rocks, sometimes there are just a few and other times they smother the rock face. My first Bulbous pieces had areas of smooth planished silver contrasted with the bobbly forms. Later I started making pieces where the bobbly forms consumed the whole surface of the object. The Boulders pieces really followed on from this but for me they show more of the strength of character of the highlands.

There is still much to come from the influence of the highlands in my work but it is certainly not the only place I look to for inspiration. I also love old buildings and ruins, crumbling walls and castles. I suppose my interests lie with the ancient and old, things with a visual history. I like the idea of the rugged and earthy, something simply dug up from the ground.

The collection and title names for my work vary usually they come during the end of the making but sometimes they can relate to a feeling or action that occurs during the making process.

What’s your favourite piece and why?

I do not have a favourite piece, I see it more as a body of work that is always growing and developing. Often the new pieces couldn’t have come about without having done the previous. I look at work differently all the time. I recently chose a silver cup to use for myself, which I use pretty much daily. At first this one was chosen because I particularly liked it. Then I began to scrutinise it! A week later I realised that what I had been unsure of in its design and finish was in actual fact part of the charm of this particular piece! It’s given me another level of understanding of my work and how the owner may relate to the object.

Who would be your ‘dream’ customer?

My dream customer is the person who values the work for the craft and the aesthetic, the person who wants to use it and love it.

Tealight holder // POA

How long does it take on average to make (for example) one of your rings?

Each piece will take a different timescale. If it’s a new technique it will take me longer. On average I can make two drinking cups in a week or a medium size bowl.

It looks like you sell mainly through your website and at craft fairs. Is this primarily where your customers come from? Do you have plans for a shop one day?

Most of my sales are currently through craft events but also from showing at contemporary craft galleries. I am looking to get involved with more online stockists to widen my audience. There is a lot to consider when opening a shop, it is not something I would like in the near future but it is a possibility for my later career.

What other ‘makers’ do you admire or would you recommend?

William Lee

Zoe Watts

Colette Bishop

Janice Zethraeus

Nan Nan Liu

Stella Corrall (to name a few there are lots)

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a silversmith?

Persistence, patience, practice.

If you are have a special occasion coming up this year that you need to buy for (Wedding, anniversary etc), a custom-made silverware piece would go down a treat don’t you think? Contact Hannah via her website, facebook and twitter.

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