Hannah Smith and Laura Connor talk to the charitable jewellery designer.
Pippa Small’s jewellery characteristically combines an element of the anthropological with African influences, which inevitably helps to fulfill both her artistic aims and charitable vision, which she defines as the “role of being an instigator and collaborator between two worlds”. A Medical Anthropological Masters graduate from SOAS, Small has worked with NGOs on issues of Indigenous Human Rights for years; an experience which inspired her design work: “It was a fascinating and exciting time and there was a growing network of indigenous activists working in these areas doing such inspirational work. I then got more involved in design work and inspired by the communities.”
But where does Small’s true allegiance lie? She dismisses the potential for disparity in her loyalties and sees the two elements of her career as “completely intertwined now… The one side feeds the other aesthetically, emotionally, and the money from one supports the other.”
Small makes achieving this seem simple. She describes how her encounter with the Bushman in Botswana led to the development of her aesthetic vision and emotional conscience: “There seemed some sense with my experience by then working with Gucci, Chloe and other designers that I felt I had some knowledge in putting together collections, designing, marketing… and maybe these could be beneficial in generating an income in areas that are badly in need as well as hoping to raise a sense of pride and self confidence in the work people were producing by drawing on traditional skills, knowledge and design.”
She adds that the highlight of her career was “being made an Ambassador to Survival International, an organisation that works to help tribal people defend their land.”
Small doesn’t attempt to wholly immerse herself in the everyday fluctuations of the fashion industry: “I am inspired by everything, I think creativity is a muscle in a sense like any other … you need to exercise it and learn to see the world in terms of shapes, colours and ideas that will feed into your work. I am inspired by classical, ancient, tribal design, by modernist sculpture, plants … nature… religion, myths …”
Although she doesn’t really feel “part of the fashion industry,” claiming “jewellery is not so much about trend and fashion but more about something permanent and timeless,” it’s clear that the industry is something she is still very much involved: “It is a fascinating world, a creative world full of innovation and imagination and like any creative business there is the grim reality of commerce behind it. If you cannot sell it you cannot make it and so there is also a need for a clear head as well as one of dreams and imaginings.
“I feel jewellery has a relationship to the body not to the clothes… that is why broaches don’t interest me or cuff links – they are about sitting on clothing not the skin. There is no real impact [in jewellery] from fashion trends.”
Small has been involved with jewellery design for about 15 years, saying modestly that “I started making jewellery because I was fascinated by it.” As Small begins to elaborate, you can see where her anthropological affinity emerges: “I have always loved stones, been drawn to pebbles on the beach, rocks in landscape, gems, there is something in their permanence and silence and beauty that draws me to them, they make me feel safe and happy. [I was fascinated] by the lore and sentiment around jewellery, the belief systems the universality and historical elements …some of the first prehistoric artifacts are jewellery.”
She describes her typical working day as centered on the organic process of design inspiration, doused in spontaneity and free ideas: “In India I get up early… do yoga and then head to work. I work with stone cutters in the morning, discussing and hunting out new rocks, discussing shapes and designs, then to the goldsmiths workshop to talk about settings and often we go out and hunt seeds and leaf shapes, the wives bring in spices and lentil shapes form the kitchen they think I may like… we have lots of fun.”
Surprisingly, her alternate career paths are more measured: “I would love to write, make documentaries, be a journalist perhaps…” The charitable aspect of her career seems to create a creative and controlled equilibrium of artistry and development. She is hoping to work with a project called UNESCO based in the slums of Cairo on “recycled materials setting up a work shop with girls to teach them to make jewellery from recycled metals and glass… UNESCO will provide literacy and a medical drop in center for the project.”