Wendy Ramshaw obituary
Source:The Guardian Author:Matthew Drutt Date: 2019-01-11 Size:
The artist Wendy Ramshaw, who has died aged 79, was best known for the ……

Wendy Ramshaw at work in her studio in 1982. Photograph: David Watkins

The artist Wendy Ramshaw, who has died aged 79, was best known for the jewellery she designed, and first gained widespread acclaim for in 1970 with a solo exhibition at the Pace Gallery in London. She presented sets of several complementary gold rings, some with semi-precious stones, establishing a signature vocabulary that she continued to develop in different directions for many years.

When the rings were displayed on a support, they constituted a unified sculptural object. When the wearer detached the rings, they could be deployed on the hand in a variety of configurations. As Ramshaw put it: “Most of my jewellery is made in parts or sections, so that the owner can share in the way the piece is worn.”

She pushed the boundaries of jewellery, sculpture, installation and design, working in materials that ranged from precious stones and metals to paper, plastic, porcelain and glass. While a critical, deconstructive approach to the making of jewellery and other aesthetic objects became common after the second world war, Ramshaw was a particular pioneer in this field. In 1972 she was given a Design Council award, and the Electrum Gallery, London, mounted a further solo exhibition.

Neck Wire with Blue Feathers and Ornament, including pendants of dyed Emu feathers, cornelian, sapphire, and enamel with turned and carved fine-grained stoneware, by Wendy Ramshaw.

At various points in her career she collaborated with her husband, David Watkins, an artist as well as a musician, whom she had married in 1962. They were invited to show their jewellery in Philadelphia in 1973, under the auspices of the Philadelphia Council of Professional Craftsmen, directed by my mother, Helen Drutt, and that was when I first met them. Along with her work as a curator, Drutt became a gallerist, and a close working relationship and friendship with both artists ensued.

The impetus for the exhibition had come from Goldsmiths’ Hall, London, where it was shown after returning from the US. It gave Ramshaw and Watkins much greater access to the world of institutions and collectors.

Ramshaw had more than 30 solo exhibitions around the globe from 1977, including three more major joint exhibitions with Watkins. A retrospective organised by Roy Strong at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in 1982 celebrated Ramshaw’s collaboration with Wedgwood, facilitated by the museum, and featured ceramics produced according to Ramshaw’s designs.

It subsequently travelled to other venues in the UK and the Netherlands. While every detail of her work was carefully planned and scrutinised, in the catalogue for the show Ramshaw again emphasised the freedom that users of her work should have: “How or when my work is worn is not particularly important to me. The way in which others may organise it is an open-ended extension of its use. Such a possibility for varying personal choice is interesting precisely because it is out of my control.”

In the mid-1980s, she embarked on Picasso’s Ladies, a series of earrings, necklaces, rings and headpieces juxtaposed with images of 66 portraits of the artist’s wives, lovers and female friends that he painted between 1904 and 1962. This bold venture was first displayed complete at the V&A in 1998, followed by the American Craft Museum, New York, in 1999, and demonstrated Ramshaw’s agility in maintaining her own voice, while refraining from copying or illustrating Picasso’s formal evolution. It was also shown in a stunning installation at the Museum Künstlerkolonie in Darmstadt, Germany, (2001).

The New Edinburgh Gate, Hyde Park, central London, designed by Wendy Ramshaw.

Born in Sunderland, now in Tyne and Wear, Wendy was the daughter of Angus Ramshaw and his wife, Flora (nee Hollingshead). A grandfather had been the master of a ship under sail, her father had been a ship’s navigator in his younger years, and as a child Wendy was inspired by “the beauty of ships, the sea and the sky above”.

From Sunderland girls’ high school and St Mary’s Convent, Berwick-upon-Tweed, she went to the College of Art and Industrial Design, Newcastle upon Tyne, to study illustration and fabric design (1956-60). While at Reading University for a teaching diploma (1960-61), she met David.

They discussed design ideas, and in the 60s her brightly coloured paper jewellery proved popular after the model Twiggy was photographed wearing Ramshaw earrings. Then she undertook postgraduate studies in jewellery at the Central School of Art and Design (1969-70).

Later in her career she accepted notable architectural commissions. The New Edinburgh Gate provides a very public and substantial example of her geometric style in central London, at the Knightsbridge entrance to Hyde Park. Other examples include her gate for the fellows’ garden at St John’s College, Oxford (1993); a double screen for the entrance to the staff restaurant at the V&A (1996); a screen for Columbus Garden at Canary Wharf, London (2000), and again at St John’s College, Oxford, with her gates for the Kendrew Quadrangle.

She also ventured into the realm of installation work, notably with her Room of Dreams project, originally conceived for presentation at the Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh, in 2002. A space containing many objects, from small jewels in frames to pieces of freestanding furniture, it was later shown in part at Somerset House, London, and in 2015 was taken into the permanent collection of the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery. When Graham Hughes was director of Goldsmiths’ Hall in the 60s he began acquiring her objects for their collection, and her work now appears in many other leading museums around the world.

In 2000 she was appointed a Royal Designer for Industry, and in 2003 CBE.

She is survived by David, her children, Miranda and Richard, and grandson, Jackson.

• Wendy Anne Jopling Ramshaw, artist and designer, born 26 May 1939; died 9 December 2018

[Editor] 张艳

    Artintern