December Artist of the Month: Liam Hughes

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Every month here on Wandering Educators, we share the coolest artists and photographers. This fall I found the VERY coolest artist, Liam Hughes, of Lamplighter Studio. Liam creates amazing jewelry. I've already seen many, many pieces that I would just love to wear! His unique artistry showcases the best of many different patterns and designs - truly, there is something for everyone.  I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with Liam about his art, and the process of creating it. Here's what he had to say...

 

Liam Hughes Shard jewelry

Edwin Knowles Co Shard Pendant

Recovered from a 1920s vegetable dish by Edwin Knowles Co. USA, the pattern is known as "CAMEO" 

 

 

WE: Please tell us about your art...

LH: I craft jewelry from found or discarded antique and contemporary dishes. The art form is known as Pique Assiette which loosely translates to 'stolen from the plate' and is often simply called shard jewelry. The tradition has its origins in Africa where designs on a water or grain vessel were often unique to a family and used to mark graves. Other cultures have repurposed or reused pottery and china, such as women during the Victorian era who pressed broken china into putty on a vinegar jar to make Memory Jugs. My pins and pendants are made from shards encased in silver alloy.   

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

1860s Flow Blue Shard Jewelry

This shard from an 8" 1860s Flow Blue dinner plate by CrownSemi Porcelain/W. Adams & Co, England, was recovered in Ireland. 

 

Liam Hughes Shard jewelry

1860s Transferware Shard Necklace

This shard from an 10" 1860s transferware dinner plate by RS & Co, England, is in the Windsor pattern and was recovered in Ireland. 

 

WE: How did you start creating shard jewelry?

LH: I was introduced the folk art when a friend purchased some pieces while on holiday on the East coast. Having some experience in metal and glasswork, I announced, "Oh, I can do that." I eked out a 'passable' shard, but the quality was nowhere near what I wanted it to be. My first challenge was to achieve a high level of craftsmanship. Once I had the technique down, I was able to refine my art and develop new methods to arrive at varied effects.

I often manipulate the silver alloy to embellish the edge, but many of my favorite pieces are made of layers. Sometimes I place an antique shard over a boldly colored contemporary shard or add a layer of hand-designed metal.

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

Shard Necklace

This shard comes from the handle of a 4” fine bone china tea mug with the pattern “Egypt” by Past Times, England. It was recovered in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

KAFUH Japanese Shard Necklace


This piece comes from a brilliant red 10" dinner plate by KAFUH, Japan 

 

 

WE: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

LH: The inspiration often comes from the plate, bowl or vase when I see it; there have been many times I've recovered a piece and can?t wait to get home to work on it. As many artists know, inspiration has an ebb and flow quality. Sometimes, creating one really great piece manifests into more pieces using a similar technique or style.

Many customers ask for china from a specific time period. For example, I had a costume designer for a professional theater company ask me to produce pieces specifically from 1940's china. I am now inspired to search out 1940's era shards. Answering this question makes me realize that my work is often inspired by my regular customers.

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

Haviland Limoges Plate from France

 

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

Liam recovers shards of broken china to turn into jewelry along the Coppercoast near Annestown, County Waterford, Ireland.

 

 

WE:  Where do you find the materials for your jewelry?    

LH: Everywhere! Although I have never crawled into a dumpster to recover materials yet, if I were to spot a shard that inspired me, I would dive in. I salvaged a gorgeous broken plate from a trash bin in front of a big, antebellum mansion in Charleston, NC. There is beach in Ireland I visit about five times a summer, and for some reason, I always find bits of broken dishes that wash up with the tide. I have also crawled around a dried-up river bed and found some very interesting pieces. My mother and aunts also provide a steady supply from rummage and estate sales.

One of the most interesting and inspired pieces I ever worked with was a plate recovered from Katharine Hepburn's estate. It was Majolicaware plate that was sold when Sotheby's was auctioning off many of her possessions in 2004. The dinner set was featured in the catalog and the plate had the Sotheby's ticket still attached. The set was extremely valuable, but I managed to get my hands on the one piece that was chipped (note: I don't make jewelry out of antique china unless it is damaged beyond collectibility). I used every single shard from that plate, and without a doubt, it was a very hot seller.

I made an elaborate necklace from that plate and gave it to my mother. It is a very large and bold piece...not exactly my mother's style, but she indulges me by wearing it on Christmas and loves telling everyone that it was once owned by Katharine Hepburn. Of course she does not always reveal that KH never wore it...however, she probably did eat off of it.

 

Lamplighter Studio Katherine Hepburn

Katherine Hepburn Majolicaware Shard Necklace

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

Wedgewood Shard

This piece comes from a contemporary Wedgewood nativity plate has been transformed into a beautiful pin/pendant. The cherub is in perfect condition and contrasts against the trademark Wedgewood blue background. Made by Wedgewood in England. 2' x 1.25"

 

WE: What do you enjoy creating most?

LH: I would have to say it would be my commission pieces. I really enjoy taking a shard of china from a customer and creating very intimate piece of jewelry. I often have customers present a broken plate that belonged to their mother or grandmother that they could not part with. It is such a thrill to create such heirloom pieces and even more exciting to revive the usefulness of something that has so much emotional value.

One woman even had me make jewelry from a plate she threw at her husband when he revealed he had found someone else and that he was leaving her. I could not help but ask her why she wanted a piece with such a terrible memory associated with it. She told me that the china was a wedding gift from her mother-in-law, and although her husband was 'scum,' she loved her mother-in-law dearly. She said this piece of jewelry marked a very symbolic and important time in her life. She went on to say that "Life is hard...and as life goes on it is not only important to remember just the good times, but also remember some bad...so you hopefully don't make the same mistakes."

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

This piece comes from an eggshell jewelry dish and features delicate porcelain roses.

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

This piece comes from a contemporary 10" dinner plate known as red on red. 

 

WE: What is the process that you use for turning shards into such gorgeous pieces of wearable art?

LH: After the plate is selected, I research it and try to find out about the pattern, the maker, the country of origin, the time period and note any other details I may uncover. Then I employ a method developed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. I score the plate with a glass cutter. This does not cut the plate, but creates a scratch on the surface. I then use a special pliers that pinches on both sides of the score, and if I'm lucky, the crack follows the line of the score and breaks exactly where I want it to. That is rarely the case; there are so many factors that influence how it will break. China can be pasty, brittle, hard as a rock, glassy and varied in thickness. I have to adjust for each type.

Once the piece is cut, I use a touch grinder to smooth the edges. After this, I apply copper foil around the edge and then start working with a molten, lead-free silver alloy. Over the last six years, I've almost perfected my technique, but I'm always learning new tricks. Although many people don't consider folk art jewelry 'fine jewelry,' I am still very concerned with quality and don't use that as an excuse for poor lines and uneven coverage.

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

Spring Shards

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

Pieces of Liam's shard jewelry and beadwork on display at his New Collection Show

 

WE: How can reader find and purchase your jewelry?

LH: I participate in several art/craft fairs in the Midwest, but my website www.lamplighterstudio.com has been the easiest way to connect with customers around the world. I don't have my entire collection online, but there is a good sampling of work. Customers interested in specific types of china or commission pieces are invited to contact me at 414-333-3693 or HughesL1999 [at] gmail.com.

 

 

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

This piece comes from contemporary 20" vase called "Women of Africa." It features a dual back allowing it to be worn as a pin or pendant. Measures 3" x 2.5"

 

 

WE: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

LH: I suppose in closing, making jewelry from broken, discarded or contemporary china satisfies me on several different levels. It feels great to take something that many people would consider trash and to create something beautiful out of it. One of my majors in school was history, so researching the origin or story behind the china fascinates me. I include it with every piece of jewelry.

I have several passions in life, and I have always been a believer in following your dreams. My parents always encouraged my siblings and me to touch, feel and experience life. As a kid, if I showed an interest in something whether it be music, art, ski jumping, sports, travel etc., my parents were always there to encourage us.

My father said to me once, "When it comes to work, follow your passions. If you want to deliver pizza for a living and you have a passion for delivering pizza....then do It. Now, I really hope you want to do more than deliver pizza for a living, but if that is what you want to do....then you must do it and be the best doggone pizza deliverer out there." I will never forget these words, and they have guided me to lead an untraditional, yet self-sufficient life. It is because of his words that I have a successful jewelry business, own a guest house in Ireland, travel on a regular basis and have just finished recording my first vocal jazz CD. I'm the guy who hopes to come crashing into my tombstone at about 100 miles an hour...and with my final breath say, "What a ride!!!!!!!"

P.S.  I was a lousy pizza delivery guy...

 

Liam Hughes

 

WE: Thanks so much, Liam! What an inspiring interview - your pursuit of quality, history, and beauty in art is incredible.

For more information, and to see even MORE of Liam's gorgeous jewelry, please see  www.lamplighterstudio.com

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

This contemporary pin comes from a 6" Apple Blossom Coffee/Tea Mug by Sonoma Lifestyle from China. Measures 1.75" x 1.75" (from corner to corner)

 

Liam Hughes Shard Jewelry

Liam with two customers at his New Collection Show 

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright of Liam Hughes.

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Comments (4)

  • nonameharbor

    8 years 5 months ago

        

     

     Liam, you have my heart in this most wonderful of enterprises.  I can't think of a more ideal work.  Next time I don boots to search small tributaries here in the mountains for treasure, I will think of you and these gorgeous works of art.

    __________________________________________________

     "Take the adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes!"

           ...The Wind In The Willows, Kenneth Grahame

  • nonameharbor

    8 years 5 months ago

        

     

     If I win I think I would wear your fab necklace while making elf cakes for travelers' pockets.

     "Take the adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes!"

           ...The Wind In The Willows, Kenneth Grahame

  • dreamvision

    8 years 5 months ago

    What gorgeous pieces! And by repurposing the broken shards this way, it's like carrying around a small piece of history with you always, preserving it. It allows the piece to be cherished and seen, instead of discarded and forgotten. How wonderful!

  • Malva Wilkes

    8 years 5 months ago

    Your art is just beautiful.  Your unique approach to creating jewelry is fascinating.

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