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Fine, Bright and Shining: Two silversmiths selected for the Little Gems 2013 Commissions

21 Feb 2013

The annual Little Gems commission by the Sheffield Assay Office was given a special twist this year. Instead of being offered the usual £1000 fee and £500 towards materials to create a new precious metal artwork, selected silversmiths Sarah Pasley and Colette Bishop were given the fee and a 1kg bar of fine silver, stamped with the Sheffield Assay Office logo and the fine silver’s 999 hallmark.  Both makers were asked to incorporate all or some of the fine silver into the new artworks they proposed to create.

Ashley Carson from the Assay Office explained: “We have sponsored Little Gems for the last 10 years and it has helped us to develop a fantastic contemporary collection both for the Sheffield Assay Office and Museums Sheffield’s Metalwork Collection.  This year we asked the two silversmiths to respond to the theme of 100 years of stainless steel and also look at ways to see how the pieces could celebrate 240 years of Sheffield Assay Office.  However, we were keen to bring in an additional sponsor and we are grateful to Kevin Bloor of Capella Manufacturing, a bullion dealer based in Buxton which added an additional challenge”.

The price of precious metals has been increasing significantly over the last 5 years and both sponsors believed it would test the artists if they were offered a bar of pure silver - a material that is both beautiful in colour but also quite soft and possibly tricky to work with – and ask them to use some or all of it in the new pieces they were proposing to create.“It is worth much more than the usual £500 we offer towards materials”, explained Ashley Carson, “and being new to business, it forces them to think differently about earning money, attracting media attention and responding to commission opportunities.”

Sarah Pasley graduated from Sheffield Hallam University in 2012 with a 1st class Honours degree in metalwork.  She was offered a place on the Starter Studio Programme for early-career silversmiths and jewellers at Persistence Works Studios, Yorkshire Artspace’s flagship city-centre studio complex. 

This is a both hugely exciting commission and a huge bar of silver to work with! I am looking forward to this unique opportunity for me to really put my making and forging skills to the test. In response to the design brief, whilst researching  Sheffield’s silversmithing industry, I was interested to learn that historically silversmiths refined and produced all of their silver stock themselves. Therefore, I decided to combine both the traditional skill of forging and the modern method of laser cutting stainless steel into the fabrication of my final design to commemorate the 240th anniversary of Sheffield Assay Office and 100 years of stainless steel production.

Colette Bishop who graduated in 2011 from Liverpool Hope University who also started her two-year Starter Studio Programme proposed to make a silver and stainless steel decanter that bears her signature ‘fractured’ style.  Colette said:

I am very fortunate to have been given this opportunity to produce a piece of work combining two materials: stainless steel and silver.  It is something I have never done before but I enjoy a challenge and cannot wait to see the end result. I would like to thank the Sheffield Assay Office for giving us this unique opportunity”. 

Clare Starkie, curator of the Metalwork Gallery at Museums Sheffield was excited about the prospect of having the two new artworks for display in the foyer of Millennium Galleries during Galvanize Sheffield festival (2nd May to 28th May 2013).  Her response to this year’s commissions: 

This is a great story.  We have been keen supporters of the Little Gems commission from the beginning and we are always so impressed with what young designer-makers produce.  Having to incorporate this very lovely and soft precious metal into the new pieces will definitely be demanding for these makers but we are looking forward to see how they respond to this challenge”.

Little Gems 2013 will go on display from 22nd April in the entrance foyer at Millennium Galleries for a period of 6 months.   Both pieces  will complement the exhibition: “Little Gems – 10 years on” that is on display in the Metalwork Gallery from 2nd May and  part of Galvanize Sheffield – the festival of contemporary metalwork that runs from 2nd to 31st May 2013.

For further details, contact: Mir Jansen, Programme Manager at Yorkshire Artspace.  0114 2130111 / 0985919872 or email:

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