Michele White started out as a jeweller in the Jewellery Quarter in the mid eighties, when there was barely an apartment in sight and the area was still alive to the sound of factory machinery.
She’s witnessed the transformation of the district firsthand, and is now based at Artisan Alchemy, her designer furniture and jewellery gallery, from where she is watching developments with interest.
‘I worked from a tiny workshop on Warstone Lane for thirty years, so you could say I’ve seen the area change… now banks are moving their headquarters to Birmingham and many of the old empty factories and buildings are being developed as apartments.
‘When I was first here there were factories making jewellery. You still have businesses dealing with jewellery trade, in terms of suppliers and casting and setting, and each of these crafts is a lifetime’s experience.’
Michele White at work, painting by John Shakespeare
Michele is influenced by Lalique and Art Nouveau and this shines through in her pieces. She has generously donated a work to our Charity Auction which aims to raise much-needed funds for the RBSA and Autistica on November 2.
‘Early on in my career I went to an exhibition of Rene Lalique. He would use any material or gemstone to enhance the beauty of his art – the innate value was immaterial.
‘This truly inspired me and a subtle Art Nouveau style can be found in my work.
‘I also love to use gemstones that stand out from the ordinary; those with an unusual inclusion or cut; and these are often the creative impetus for the way a piece develops.’
As a young woman, Michele reached a crossroads. She was singing on the folk circuit in North London and had trained as a teacher when she met her husband. They raised a family in Birmingham, where he was originally from.
‘When I was ready to work again I looked around for something else. I fell upon making jewellery by complete chance, ending up on a class at the School of Jewellery.
‘I progressed to a class in gemmology and later taught the Gemmological Association practical course as an evening class for 20 years.
‘In 1986 I took the plunge, rented a studio and bought the tools.’
Michele believes vocational courses are of great value, particularly if you are learning a time-honoured trade.
‘I’d like to see more jewellery courses focus on the skills involved. It costs a lot to set up as a jeweller these days, but the rewards can be great if you apply yourself.’
Coming from an artistic family, it was through her father that she first made contact with the RBSA.
‘My father was a lithographic artist and when he retired he took up painting and started exhibiting at the RBSA. I started exhibiting too.
‘My mother was a dressmaker who made uniforms for the Lyons Corner House ‘nippy’ waitresses. I equate my ability to see things in 3D with her ability to lie in bed at night and work out a pattern.’
Michele progressed through the ranks of the RBSA to eventually become President. She remains Vice President today, and adds: ‘I’d like more jewellers to join the RBSA, because we have to preserve the skills.
‘I’m very much on the side of hand making your work, and the RBSA is absolutely about skill and craft.’
Michele has had many pieces exhibited over the years, and won many prizes including the annual RBSA Prize in 2000 with a triptych.
Michele with Prince Charles
The Friends of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery bought the piece.
She also made a piece presented to HRH Prince Charles when he opened the new RBSA Gallery in the Jewellery Quarter.
‘It took a lot of guts for the Society to go through that move,’ Michele recalls.
‘Our President at the time, Marylane Barfield, worked very hard to get everything in place.
‘Our colourful history is what makes us such an exciting organisation. There is no one else like us. We are a gallery run by our members, and we strive to promote art in everything we do.’
You can bid on Michele White’s Arbutus Tree, below, at our forthcoming Charity Auction on 2 November, 6.30pm, Deutsche Bank, Brindleyplace.
Michele White, ‘Arbutus Tree’
Hosted by Bonhams and with ticket sales going to Deutsche Bank’s Charity of the Year Autistica, and auction proceeds to the RBSA, it is going to be an action-packed evening!
A fully illustrated catalogue is available online as a downloadable pdf
Bidders are invited to browse the catalogue and shortlist works of interest
All donated works can be viewed on arrival at the venue
After registering, guests will be given a numbered paddle to hold up when bidding
The event starts with welcome drinks at 6.30pm
The auction itself runs from 7.30pm to approximately 8.30pm
Bidding will take place at the auction and is open to ticket holders only
Payment can be taken at the end of the evening
A 50% deposit can be placed if works are to be collected from the RBSA Gallery
Tickets are £10. Why not book now?