Gather: Material Matters

Last week some of us from team Grin attended Gather by Birmingham Design Festival. The event’s theme was about celebrating how ‘Material Matters’, exploring the ways that creatives harness the powers of different materials to express their creative voice…

This edition of Gather consisted of four amazing speakers, who were an eclectic mix of material masters, working hands-on across varied mediums and methods.

The line-up included Harriet Vine MBE (London-based founder of Tatty Devine), Williard Wigan MBE (master of miniature creations), Tamar (Nikki) Palmer (innovative glasswork artist) and Rob Ryan (paper-cutting artist). In addition to all the amazing talks, the Grin team also got the chance to try working with some materials themselves by getting stuck into a quick metal pressing demonstration with STEAMhouse.

Aside with coming away with lots of BDF merch and our own metal pressed bookmark hot off the press, here’s what we took from the event…

Harriet Vine MBE

Kicking off this month’s Gather was Harriet Vine MBE who, along with her lifelong friend Rosie Wolfenden, is the co-founder and creator of Tatty Devine, a laser cut acrylic-based jewellery company based in East London. The feminist duo are creatively renowned for producing fun and quirky statement jewellery, often pushing the physical boundaries in jewellery design.

Throughout her talk, Harriet addressed how learning to work with materials is a life-long lesson, learning how to understand the structure and properties of different materials and how their forms can be sculpted, moulded, or even completely changed to create new cutting-edge products.

Harriet further explained not only about the versatility of laser cutting but about how the inspiration for these acrylic statement pieces is centred around the idea of highlighting women’s stories, ultimately giving her materials meaning by becoming touchpoints where women can find out about other women.

Check out Tatty Devine’s website and their amazing acrylic statement pieces here.

Willard Wigan MBE

Next up, we heard from Willard Wigan. This world-renowned micro sculptor has overcome significant challenges on his path to success. As a young boy, he struggled with reading and writing, facing differences that went unrecognised at the time, including autism and dyslexia. His school teachers had little faith in his potential and used him as an example of academic failure. Disheartened and lacking in social confidence, Willard ran away from school and found himself embarking on a unique adventure.

After discovering his pet dog had dug up an ants’ nest in his back garden, Willard got to work and began crafting little houses out of sticks and cotton to re-home the homeless ants. This is where Wigan’s micro journey began, determined to prove that something could arise from nothing. He honed his craft, creating increasingly smaller works of art in pursuit of his mother’s approval, her words to him being, ‘make them smaller and your name gets bigger’.

Willard went on to create the smallest hand-made micro art in the world and was honoured by the Queen with an MBE for his services to art in 2007. Willard’s incredible story of perseverance and his proof that ‘just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there’, reminds us that even in the face of adversity, we have the power to transform nothing into something extraordinary.

Click here to see some close ups of Williard’s microscopic masterpieces.

Tamar (Nikki) Palmer

Another great talk from the night was Tamar (Nikki) Palmer, a unique glass maker who combines interesting glass aesthetics with raw materials such as metals and ceramics to create works that are inspired by socioeconomic inequalities faced by different ethnic groups.

Throughout her engaging and thought-provoking talk, she explained how she aimed to push the boundaries using forms of glass to create unique and thought-provoking glass installations and sculptures that informed the audience of historical hidden truths rooted in American society.

This can be seen in her recent works ‘Bad Blood: Tuskegee Experiment’, a sculptural piece that aimed to expose the numerous unethical biomedical experiments that were conducted on Black Americans in the 1930s.

To find out more about her works you can visit her website here.

Rob Ryan

To wrap up the evening, Rob Ryan shared his personal journey with us, beginning with his fondness for paper during his childhood and continuing through his education at Trent Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art in London. It was there that he discovered his passion for printmaking and honed his exceptional paper cutting skills, which have since become his trademark.

Rob candidly spoke about the challenges he faced in an art industry primarily focused on galleries and catering to the wealthy. He shared insights into how he eventually managed to carve out his niche by combining his love for illustration, writing, and intricate paper cutting. This fusion ultimately resulted in the creation of several acclaimed books, captivating portraits, eye-catching ceramics, and even a stunning papercut dress featured in Vogue magazine!

Following his presentation, Rob generously shared a collection of his prints with the audience, so we snagged one for display in our office!

Find out more about rob and his paper-cutting creations here.

That just about wraps up this edition of our Gather roundup. Thank you Gather for having us, we’re already looking forward to the next one!