FK talks to Queensland based jewellery designer and maker, Carolyn Barker
Tell us about your self titled label, Carolyn Barker Jewellery?
The work you’ll see at Finders Keepers are objects from my personal practice; the pieces I make for fun. Usually reflecting my surroundings, they are personal mementos, souvenirs, curios of places and objects that captured my attention. They are moments to be shared.
I have recently had nearly 3 years off doing the things some of us have to do pre and post small child. Starting work again, my head was filled with lovely pictures from our adventures during hiatus, so it seemed a good opportunity to share some of these by turning them into little wearable objects for winter.
I do a lot of bespoke work too, which I also love. It is always fun to work with people, collaboratively sculpting their thoughts and feelings into little treasures. I love the moment when people see their finished piece for the first time. Watching their eyes as they read the meanings in the object which are only visible to them.
What is your background, and how did you get started?
I grew up in Brisbane with my four greatly creative sisters. Went to school and studied science at uni but that was all fairly uneventful. Since then I have worked on fantastic digital education projects, with a focus on Australia’s indigenous languages, in the Kimberley, Thailand, Alice Springs and Queensland, with a decent stint of great Native Title work in the middle.
And in the midst of this is my metalsmithing. About 10 years ago my partner and I lived with his sister, Sarah, for a while. Their dad, John Foley, trained as a jeweller at RMIT in the 70s and makes fabulous work. Sarah had a bench and tools, all of which were entirely foreign to me but I made great use of.
After a couple of years I did some classes with the incredibly generous Matt Dwyer, and under the cover of night stole away with most of John’s tools, many of which I am still learning the use of.
I have been most fortunate in that I have been supported by some amazing metalsmiths, in particular John Foley and Matt Dwyer (FIO contemporary) and more recently Rita Williams (Sunstate) and Jim Kelso.
What draws you to working with jewellery?
I love working with precious metals. I delight in their textures, flexibility and their generosity. They are one of those things that you can’t really go wrong with. If worst comes to worst you melt it down and start again. They seem hard but are readily manipulated (my family might say that is a bit like me).
Many of the works in my collections are pictures or small objects before I learn how they can be worn. I enjoy making non-wearable metal objects too, vessels, and objects that can have lives as small sculptures when they are not being worn. However, making jewellery has specific constraints that are nice to have sometimes, and designing things that are lovely to look at but also practical and wonderfully comfortable for everyday wear is always a treat.
What is your style of working and your creative process?
Quite often the production of my collections will be a personal research project. For instance many of the pieces in this winter’s work are the result of my explorations into irogane, a Japanese metal work technique with gives a palette of browns and greys.
In contrast, commission work is generally a very collaborative process. It involves getting wonderfully deep into the essence of what the owner wants to say/feel/think when they give/wear/see the finished object. The more information that a client can give you about themselves the better. I find bespoke projects the most fun when people have a special something they want incorporated in the piece – an object, feeling or story which will be apparent only to them in the finished work.
As far as possible I work with Australian and/or recycled materials: metals re-refined rather than newly mined, and Australian stone. My work includes both precious and non-precious materials such as: sterling silver, yellow, white and pink golds, shibuichi (silver and copper), shakudo (gold and copper), gems, rocks and perspex.
What do you love about being a creative in Queensland?
At the moment I live within 5 minutes walk of 3 amazing beaches. Another 5 minutes away I have access to workspace I share with great people and I swim at lunch time. What more can I say!
What aspirations do you have for your work in the future?
Oh my secret… I have had in mind for some years a small series of pots and continue to look forward to realizing an opportune time to dedicate myself to them.