Around the Jewellery Quarter: major new art exhibition uncovers historic district

A major exhibition featuring the life and history of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter is coming to the RBSA this autumn.

Around the Jewellery Quarter will offer a fascinating glimpse into the people, workplaces and historic locations of the district upon which much of the city’s industry was built.

ART BLOG caught up with the three artists involved, and they shared their thoughts on preparations…

Ed Isaacs

A lot of my work is based on mini journeys I make through the urban landscape and I’ll be including a number of such artworks in the exhibition; here are half a dozen frames taken from a 24-frame journey to and from St Paul’s Square via Constitution Hill.


Ed Isaacs, ‘Walk 1’


Ed Isaacs, ‘Walk 2’

The Jewellery Quarter is going to be particularly fascinating because of its industrial heritage and range of architectural styles.

I rather like the shabbier parts around its edges and I’m looking forward to exploring the Warstone Lane and Key Hill cemeteries.

I’ll also be producing a work based on a walk along the canal, where the light and shade and changes in level are intriguing. I’m especially drawn to the cavernous space beneath the Snow Hill Bridge.

Invariably, people will come up to me and have a chat while I am sketching. Recently, I met an elderly couple who were returning to visit the Jewellery Quarter after many years absence.

They used to work there – he was a musician and she worked in one of the jewellery workshops. They talked about the changes they had noticed, although many things were still familiar.

Wayne Attwood

Walter R Sickert wrote that ‘the most fruitful course of study’ for the painter ‘lies in a persistent effort to render the magic and poetry which they daily see around them.’

When looking for inspiration, this quote always seems to come to mind.

The primary aim of my painting is to capture the atmosphere and culture of the everyday environments we inhabit, as I perceive or experience them, including how we all connect through a mutual experience of these shared spaces.

This is why I’m continually drawn to urban, social, and cultural subjects as a motif.

I was born and have spent most of my life in Birmingham, so my home city has a particular fascination. The Jewellery Quarter is of importance both historically and culturally, and I hope to celebrate this in my work for the exhibition.

John Shakespeare

There is usually a story in my work, and I find I am most interested in the people found in the Jewellery Quarter: jewellers, silversmiths, repairers, business executives, merchants, shoppers, security guards, cleaners, musicians, traffic wardens, drinkers, diners, waiters, couples…

Some of these populate my work, inviting you to imagine their stories.

As a student at Birmingham College of Art in the early 60s, I took a short course at the School of Jewellery and Silversmithing, Vittoria Street.

Until then, though born and bred in the city, I had never heard of the Jewellery Quarter. I found the area fascinating, especially the catacombs in Warstone Lane cemetery.

That fascination has remained with me, and I have used the area in several paintings.

I will paint anything with visual interest, though I think of myself mainly as a painter of portraits and narrative works.

John Shakespeare: Traditional jewellers in Victorian workshops, Warstone Lane: Alice Gow

Michele comp

Michele White

I am also increasingly interested in the architectural heritage of Birmingham, as exemplified in many fine Victorian and Edwardian buildings in the area. Some of these will figure in my work for Around the Jewellery Quarter.

John Shakespeare, ‘The Queen’s Arms’

Around the Jewellery Quarter runs from 2 – 14 October at the RBSA, just off St Paul’s Square.

We want to hear all about your experiences of JQ Life. Tweet your stories about the area, using #JQLife and @rbsagallery.

#designers #history #birmingham #jewelleryquarter #industry #gallery #arts #exhibition #jewellery

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