The Holburne Museum in Bath is a treasure trove of historical artefacts and rarities from the vast collections of Sir William Holburne (1793–1874). As part of the museum's 'On the Table' series, sculptor and jeweller Linda Brothwell contributes to this electric array, with a special commission of wearable art, displayed in the museum's glass-encased ballroom table and entitled 'The Missing'.
Brothwell, who has work featured at the V&A and the Design Museum among other renowned collections, is perhaps best known for initiating a repair movement in the arts. This year, her 'Acts of Care' series (highlighting the importance of British crafts, skills and tools) sees partnerships with museums and galleries nationwide. It is her commitment to restoration that led to this unique collaboration with one of Britain's most personal, if under-appreciated, historical collections.
Brothwell shares Holburne's love and respect of materials; the more tactile and embellished the better. In a dramatic exploration of what caught Holburne's eye, Brothwell’s new sculptures will be on view among the elaborate carved wooden, gilt bronze and hardstone plinths on which he displayed his coveted porcelain.
Ever the restorer, Brothwell was drawn to plinths that tell the tale of time, despite having access to the musuem's vast stores. The designer favoured the plinths with 'dust marks, scratches, shadows and scuffs'. 'On certain plinths, you can see the traces and impressions that the original items they displayed,' she explains. 'Imagining what could have been there helped to inspire my new works.'
Brothwell's pendant necklaces, globe earrings and ornaments follow a spherical motif, symoblising eternity and echoing the long-lasting nature of the materials that inspired them. Each novelty tells a story with elegant, contemporary ease – as well as being a masterclass in material manipulation. She used ebony, veneers, sterling silver and heavy gold, along with two forms of extinct marble (the beautiful 'Grande Antique' black and white example is particularly sumptuous). Working with such quality, Brothwell felt she had a responsibility to showcase the materials, as well as her own designs. She also had the added pressure of being sensitive to Holburne's original finds. She says, 'I hope this exhibition will allow people to see Holburne's collection in a new light.'
After a few months of back and forth with the Museum, the creation of the extensive range of objects took just seven months. 'It's a very intensive way of working, with a lot of late nights. I hope to take a few weeks off after it's all over.' Before she does, the artist will be in intimate conversation with curator Catrin Jones at a special, ticketed evening event among the artefacts on 22 September.