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Artists of Motley: An interview with sustainability activist, jeweller and designer Sian Evans

by Notes Motley on

By Flora Beagley

Surrounded by tools, some over 100 years old, Sian Evans spoke to Co-Founder Cecily Motley at her exhibition for London Craft Week. An award-winning British jeweller and former senior lecturer at Central St Martins, Sian’s designs are inspired by a love for art, design and technology. Sustainable manufacturing has also become a part of Sian’s creative process, leading her to reuse precious materials and craft them using ancient techniques. 

Motley Blog | Artists of Motley: An Interview with Sian Evans | Photo 1

I started college in 1982 and finished in 1986, so I’ve been making jewellery for over 35 years. But I started making things when I was a kid. I can’t even remember starting to make things - maybe I was four?!

I was brought up by creative and inquisitive parents on the jurassic coast. 

From a really young age I liked digging things up. Just digging things up. That could be the garden, digging up fossils on the coast and a little later on it became archaeology. So all kinds of digging! 

I stopped teaching in 2014 at Central St Martin’s. I wanted to put into practice what I’d been teaching my students about sustainability. From 2014, I tried to create more and more of what we call a closed loop system. I realised that old-fashioned goldsmithing was actually something I could create a closed loop with. It meant I could do every aspect of the creative process in my studio. 

When Sebastiao Salgado’s images flashed around the world in the early 1980s of gold miners looking like they were digging out gold from the Amazon Basin in the 1880s, not the 1980s, it was utterly shocking. 

By that time I was already interested in designing and making jewellery. I had to know more about it. Now I look at ethics in every aspect of my work. That only started when I was teaching my students at Central St Martins because I had to begin learning about where materials really came from. 

Lots of my tools are over 100 years old. I inherited lots of them from my grandfather. He lived in a little town in South Wales and was an engineer - he managed the local electric sub station. He ran this buzzing, fuming thing! But at home he just liked to tinker in his shed. As a little girl I was introduced to his shed and metal working - he showed me how to first use a hammer.

Motley Blog | Artists of Motley: An Interview with Sian Evans | Photo 2

Some of the techniques I use are urners’ techniques so they have been used for thousands of years. 

In my studio, I re-use, re-cut and remodel the stones. I can also do casting, fabricating - the whole manufacturing process. I’m completely in control of the sustainable and ethical processes. Now, I want old stones and gold to make new designs. Or, sometimes I sit down with people and their old stones and materials to come up with new designs. Everything can be done in my studio. This means that if you have a piece of jewellery made by me everything is traceable. 

Tinkering in my studio is very important. It’s a chance to be experimental and play about. I can find new ways of doing things and give my mind enough space to be innovative. It’s a time to develop the expertise to apply to techniques. Tinkering is absolutely essential. 

The project is an experiment. Can a contemporary jeweller work like a medieval jeweller now? 

At the beginning it was difficult but now people have started to listen, and actually I received commissions for the most wonderful work during lockdown. 

I’m most proud of the next piece I’m making. It’s always going to be the next one! Each time I start a new collection of work it’s that that’s the driver. The next collection of works will be starting later this year and I’ll be carving stones - I’m so excited. I’ve spent years collecting the tools. It’s been on the back burner for ages. 

The jewellery industry is worth something like $380 billion per annum. Most of that is mass produced work using untraceable materials. Like the fashion industry, it’s really had to step up in the past few years. 

There’s been lots of talk about sustainability. However, most of it is still greenwashing. We have to get our act together and do something about it. It’s one of the reasons I started this project - I see it as a project that spreads the word about what sustainability means. It means us being much more careful about where things come from and who we buy that from. We really have to take that seriously. It can’t just be tokenism now - it’s too late for that. 

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