Hannah Davis-Gray is an artist and maker here in Tāmaki Makaurau creating wearable art that we are lucky to have in our shop. Hannah has been making her jewellery under the name ‘Dangerous Goods’ since she graduated from Elam in 2018. Her work is organic and unique, every piece a one off made in sustainable materials. We wanted to learn more about the artist behind the jewellery, and her practice.
Photograph by Lucia Jane Taylor
How did your Jewellery practice start?
I started making the type of jewellery that I make now halfway through my degree at Elam. I had been making stuff out of clay and my sculpture tutor suggested I try casting it in bronze and that very quickly transformed into sterling silver. Because I was working with small objects it slowly developed into more wearable objects and more traditional jewellery. Then I was on an exchange in Melbourne where I did a six-week course, one night a week learning how to make a ring. I didn’t really learn much in terms of technique but I learnt a lot about what a studio looks like, where to go to get materials, what tools I would need and what they were called. That was really valuable because up to that point the thing I found really limiting was not knowing where to go, I knew what I wanted to make but I didn’t know how to get there. It was nice to have some context, after that I just started pottering away, I bought some tools, I found a casting company that I liked and then when I moved back to New Zealand to finish my degree at Elam I focused my practice in on jewellery making. Through practice, the Internet and trial and error, I have made my way here.
When did you begin selling Jewellery under the name ‘Dangerous Goods’?
Friends and Family started buying it straight away, I made a couple of rings and people were asking to purchase them. I did my first market at Kirsten Dryburgh’s pottery studio in my last year of Elam, it was about a year after that I started to get stocked in shops. Kirsten was a big support, her markets are a great day for young makers and local craftspeople and she is pretty good at spreading the word about artists she likes.
Photograph by Lucia Jane Taylor
Can you talk about your sustainable jewellery making practice?
Right from the beginning I wanted to be sure what I was making was made ethically and sustainably and in a way that had as little effect on the environment as possible. I have always felt guilty about making new stuff to add to all of the other stuff, but the way I try to justify it is I am providing an alternative to what else is on the market that people can feel more comfortable purchasing and wearing. I work with recycled silver, which I’m really lucky my casters already do. Economically it’s cheaper for them as they can buy it at a lower rate than minted silver and environmentally it works well for me. Silver and other precious metals can be melted down and made into something new really easily, I like working with raw materials that are turned into something that gets worn and then one day it could be returned to raw materials again and then turned into something else, it’s a cyclical medium.
With metals and gemstones, they are all mined so it has an environmental impact. There is often forest or land clearance and water pollution or erosion and depending on where you are in the world there is some pretty horrific labour conditions. Diamonds are infamous for this, they are one of the most common stones in the world but because there is only one provider they have this competitive price. I started working with lab-grown stones, they have the same chemical makeup as the natural stones but the conditions of the earth where they are created are recreated in a lab, so you don’t have the negative effects of mining. They are also a cheaper alternative because they are easy to make and less time goes into them. Maybe it’s not so romantic as something that has come from the earth, maybe they have a different history to them but the history of a mined stone isn’t particularly romantic either.
What is the process of making a piece of Jewellery?
The process of making starts with an idea, either it will be mine or someone will come to me with a concept. I suck at drawing so I don’t often draw I just go straight into making them up in wax. I make everything out of a wax and that creates exactly what you will end up with in metal but in a malleable material. Once I’m happy with that I will take it to my casters, they cast them in these plaster-like shells, the wax gets melted out and the hollow gets filled with a precious metal it’s called the lost wax casting method. I get that back and I have to cut the sprue off and polish things off, set stones, if its earrings or a necklace I solder the studs or solder the chain to make the finished piece. I’m not interested in making the same thing over and over again because it’s boring for me but also it makes it a little less special for the person wearing it. Even if a piece I make is not custom made it’s still unique, they are still the only person with that exact piece. I definitely approach it more as an art practice rather than a manufacturing, design practice.
Photograph by Hannah Davis Grey
Where do you do your creating?
I have a studio at Samoa House Library on Karangahape Road. Samoa House Library is a public arts library and artist run initiative in response to the library closures at the University of Auckland. They closed their fine arts libraries in 2018 so a group of ex-Elam students, including me, opened the Samoa House Library in late 2018. It has evolved since then to include a small gallery space and a studio so I have my studio there, I rent the space. That’s my other interest, community or public art initiatives. This is different from jewellery but also goes hand in hand because jewellery is about connections and about people, in a way it is quite relational and quite public compared to other arts. I like that relationship between the organising and my jewellery practice. The idea behind the Samoa House Library is recognising a crisis in arts education and resources and trying to create alternative library resources, and a public programming that supports education in the arts.