A Ruff by Jane Pomiankowski

Hands On

17th November 2017

The latest selection of artist-makers have delivered their work to the Heath Robinson Museum, Pinner, where it will be on show – and on sale – for six months. The Maker’s Art project is designed to create a distinctive decorative art marketplace in the museum shop and to offer a trio of local artisans the benefits of extended exposure.

Jill Glenn went to meet the 2017/2018 participants: printmaker Ann Burnham, ceramicist Manjula Muir, and jeweller Jane Pomiankowski.

The idea is that the contemporary pieces in The Maker’s Art should be loosely inspired by the ‘imagination and enchantment of Heath Robinson’s work’. It’s about generating a creative dialogue between the present and the past, about encouraging a practitioner to explore new and varied outputs where appropriate.
Pinner-based printmaker Ann Burnham (www.annburnham.co.uk) took up the challenge enthusiastically, producing a Heath Robinson-influenced range that she calls the ‘Viewpoint’ collection.

Ann has art and design stamped through her like a stick of rock. From childhood, it was all that interested her. “I never wanted to do anything else,” she recalls, although when it came to choosing a career she put her commercial head on and opted for graphic design. “I thought it offered more opportunities than fine art.” For years she worked in publishing, illustrating lavish coffee table books for the likes of Dorling Kindersley, until a chance evening class in drypoint printing turned her life in a different direction. “I just loved it… I was hooked on the process straight away. It was so good to get hands on, to get my hands dirty.” Immediately she wanted to extend her knowledge, and signed up for a one-day-a-week printmakers’ course at Amersham College. By then, fortunately, she was working freelance, which gave her the opportunity to pursue this new interest and, however heavy the workload, Fridays at college became sacrosanct.

Ann had her first exhibition around ten years ago, at Headstone Manor, and her output has been prolific ever since. She has a well-equipped studio in her garden, where she teaches both one-day and continuing courses, enabling students (predominantly retired) to fall in love with the process just as she herself did. She produces collagraphs, linocuts and monoprints – and refuses to declare a preference for one over the other. “Different processes lead to different images,” she explains. “It depends what I’m trying to achieve.” Currently she’s enjoying monoprint, which, as the name implies, is one of a kind – unlike other methods which lead to multiple prints. She’s used the monoprint technique for some bright fairy-inspired prints, in homage to HR’s fantasy paintings. Alongside, she has translated his stark black and white pen and ink drawings into linocut prints which retain much of the striking quality of the original, but which have their own indisputable identity: more muted, softer and rather beguiling.

Showcasing the work of three quite different artists alongside each other in the museum shop is very successful, allowing for a really interesting interchange of creative energy. Ann Burnham and Jane Pomiankowski often exhibit together – at Harrow Open Studios, for example – so it’s particularly pleasing to continue that connection here.

Jane, who lives in Northwood, has been silversmithing for over 50 years, having begun as a teenager at an evening class, in search of something creative to offset the demands of her secretarial job. Initially it was a hobby – but when she lived in Zambia during the 1980s the opportunity to work in a silver outlet came her way, and she spent her time designing and making bangles and other pieces – “melting down bricks of silver” – and her love affair with jewellery-making was thoroughly kindled. Back in the UK, she enrolled on a three year part-time course at Harrow Art College. As a single parent, in need of a secure income, it wasn’t possible to devote herself to it full time, but the trajectory of her life was set. She still attends courses, revelling in the chance to learn and evolve.

Jane’s always favoured silver: “I can texture it, roll it with lace, crochet with it…”. Crochet with it? Oh, yes. she shows me a ruff, crocheted with the finest of hooks in thin silver thread and coated wire. It’s a thing of beauty – and Heath Robinson himself, a man with an eye for doing things differently, would undoubtedly admire its intricate workmanship and quirky vision.

Generally, Jane takes her inspiration from nature and from architecture. She particularly enjoys interpreting the lines and angles and reflections of some of London’s new and more eccentric buildings. I expect to see Shard-form earrings soon…

Out of a studio at her Chorleywood home, Manjula Muir (www.manjulapottery.wix.com/ceramics) produces work that blends eastern mysticism and western design. In Raku, Earthenware, Porcelain and Stoneware she creates jugs, bowls and lanterns that have both function and pleasingly tactile form.

Time, she tells me, stands still when she has the raw materials in her hands. “Fifteen hours pass like two,” she says. “This doesn’t feel like a job.… I am so lucky to have found this.”
Like Ann and Jane, Manjula originally followed a more commercial career path. Born in the UK to Sinhalese parents, she knew herself to be an artist in a family of scientists. In fact, she was predicted in her birth chart to become a dental surgeon like her father. It transpired, however, that she didn’t have the stomach for it. After she’d fainted at the sight of blood during work experience, it was decided that she’d follow her uncle into accountancy instead. She was perfectly successful at it, but she knew it wasn’t her ‘thing’.

The chance discovery of pottery wheels at the Chorleywood Art Centre some 14 or 15 years ago changed her working life entirely. She’s now a full time ceramicist, with both creative and teaching elements to her practice. Her eyes light up as she tells me how much she enjoys running workshops for children in Great Ormond Street Hospital. She exhibits regularly, and her work is in private collections in the UK, France, Japan, Sri Lanka, Spain, Switzerland and the USA.

Manjula believes that the pleasure she takes in creating her work imbues positive energy into the clay memory – which is communicated to those who see and use her pieces. In this way, she can connect with people, transcending culture, language and backgrounds. It seems a good ethos for The Maker’s Art project as a whole – that the care and imagination that’s applied to the raw materials is transformed into something greater than the sum of its parts, and much more universal.

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