Janelle De Souza
After 25 years in the business, jeweller Janice Derrick still has a passion for metalworking.
She is sharing that love with her third solo exhibition in TT, Looking Back to Move Forward, at The Y Art Gallery, Woodbrook until November 19.
Not only does the exhibition mark her 25 years in business, but also her 50th year of life.
Derrick said those milestones made her think about her past and how happy she was about her work over the years. And she thought it would be a great idea to revisit or re-interpret those designs.
“I thought it would be a really nice exercise for me to look back at everything, because I do believe a lot of what influenced me then is still influencing me now. It’s just how I interpret it that changes.”
Derrick said her more recent pieces were small so it was nice to see the larger, bolder pieces she made in the past. It has reignited her interest in them and the exhibition, which contains pieces from 12 different collections, would probably inform what was next for her.
She described Looking Back to Move Forward as a throwback to her 2017 exhibition with woodworker Richard Hubbard, for which they made bowls, platters and other serveware.
So in addition to wearable jewellery, there were pieces such a “wall necklace” of a fine silver bowl and heavy brass rings: the bowl alone took over 70 hours to make.
There were also a few pieces from her 1999 collaboration with ceramic designer Bodo Sperlein in San Francisco, for which they designed bone china homeware.
“He wanted to see jewellery utilising his work, so among other things, we did a ring and a necklace using his cups. There is also a handbag that was featured in British Vogue in 2000. These are just a few of the pieces we made.”
All Derrick’s jewellery is handmade, mostly from fine and sterling silver, and 18- and 22-carat gold.
“It’s expensive work and it’s very labour-intensive. It’s looked at almost like a painting or sculpture. It’s just another form of art.”
She said she would like to see more forms of art – other than painting, drawing and sculpture – being taught in secondary schools. But she was aware few schools had the resources or facilities to explore other disciplines.
When Derrick was 16, her mother got a job in the UK, so after finishing Form 5 at Bishop Anstey High School, she went to complete her studies in England.
Since she always wanted to do something creative with her life, she did a one-year foundation course which involved ceramics, textiles, photography, glass, 3D design, graphic design and many other topics.
At one point, she visited the British Museum, where old Egyptian, Etruscan and Greek jewellery caught her eye.
“To me, jewellery was something you bought in a shop. This jewellery was gritty and ancient, it was heavy gold metal, and it told a story. “I thought, ‘I like this! I don’t know how I’m getting from where I am now to that, but I have to.’”
She asked her 3D tutor if she could incorporate metal into her classes since there was no metal teacher, and was told he was a jeweller. So during their lunch hours, he would take her to a forge in a junk room and showed her tools and techniques.
“On the first day he took a piece of scrap metal out of the bin and hammered it. All of a sudden, I saw this thing come alive out of a flat sheet. He was holding this sharp piece of scrap metal and he sliced his hand and there was blood. But that didn’t stop him. He just kept on going.
“I was like, ‘Damn! This is hot. I like that! This is what I’m doing!’”
He welded a nose onto it and made a rough Italian carnival mask. She felt it was a sign that he chose a carnival mask to show her about metal, not knowing she was from the home of Carnival.
She went on to train as a silversmith and, in 1996, graduated with a BA in silversmithing, jewellery and allied crafts from the Sir John Cass faculty at London Guildhall University.
There, she was entranced by the architectural drawings of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, noting the beauty, delicacy, lines and intersections.
She recalled that she used to do a lot of figure drawing and still enjoyed line drawing. And some of her jewellery was interpretations of those drawings.
In 1997, she started her business, Janice Derrick Jewellery, in London, and even taught silver jewellery-making at Lambeth College for three years, from 2002-2004, which she thoroughly enjoyed.
In 2005, she moved back to TT and, two years later, was introduced to her husband, fine artist and teacher Horacio Hospedales. Two and three years after that, the couple had their first and second sons.
With that whirlwind of personal activity, Derrick took a break from work for three years.
“You get to the end of that and wonder if you want to come back to this, or should you change direction. But without question, jewellery is it for me. I needed the break, because I was starting to get tired of the (financial) struggle, but that love and that passion was still there.”’
She recalled over the last 25 years she has exhibited and sold her work in Germany, France, Ireland, the US, TT, Japan and across the UK. Her pieces have been featured in Vogue (UK), Harpers and Queen, World of Interiors, the Sunday Times (UK), the Guardian (UK), Retail Jeweller magazine (UK), Instyle magazine (UK), the Evening Standard(UK), Time Out London, The Rings Book (UK, 2002), 1000 Rings (US, 2004) and the Contemporary Jewelry Exchange (Denmark, 2015), as well as local newspapers and magazines.
Since the start of the covid19 pandemic, she no longer sells her work abroad. She is content with her work here, since she can no longer produce large quantities of jewellery while actively caring for her family.
Instead, she has her online business and the annual Christmas Open Studio, when she and several other artists showcase their wares and processes at her home studio in Cascade.
However, there may not be an Open Studio this year owing to family responsibilities, so she is grateful for this exhibition, where she can display some of the early work her local customers have never seen.
“I’m hoping to continue making pieces that people love to wear – individual, unique, handmade pieces that are very much my style. Because I love what I do, I’m hoping people are happy for me to keep doing it and will support me and buy my jewellery. I’m actually quite excited to see what my next collection is going to be.”
Asked about her work as compared to some other local jewellers, she said although her work was influenced by nature, architecture, and geometric structures, it was not literal.
“You can see patterns sometimes, but you can’t see images in my jewellery. I love Trinidad and am very aware of my culture, but I’m not into making the steelpans and coconut trees and the like. That type of work is being done, and it’s being done very well.
“I’m just a different market, so my jewellery has an aspect of Caribbeanness while not being literal.”