The work of a County Down silversmith will enter the corridors of power when it is given pride of place on the Prime Minister’s desk at Downing Street.
Artist Cara Murphy was commissioned by The Silver Trust to provide the first piece from Northern Ireland in its Downing Street Collection.
The desk set, titled Contour, has been three years in the making and has already crossed the Irish Sea eight times to undergo various processes including hallmarking, polishing and engraving.
“I am very honoured and excited at the thought of having a piece that will be used daily by the Prime Minister,” said Cara who is Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.
She presented her creation to Rupert Hambro, chairman of trustees of The Silver Trust, at a reception at Hillsborough Castle on the 23rd of May.
This exquisite work of art uses a combination of sterling silver, Wenge wood and enamel to bring a little bit of the beauty of Northern Ireland to the PM’s desk.
“I’m inspired by nature and the landscape. By using enamel, I’ve introduced colour and I experimented extensively with shades of green to get the perfect combination. We literally had 40 shades of green in the workshop before making the final choice,” Cara explained.
Cara, who is an Associate Lecturer at the University of Ulster, grew up in an artistic household. Her father Michael McCrory is also a silversmith while mum Deirdre is a printmaker and enamel artist.
“I think always living in a house surrounded by art and making and creativity has been a very big inspiration in my life. I share a workshop with my father and it’s an interesting process in that we have very different styles and can bounce ideas off each other,” she said.
Her family was instrumental in the making of The Silver Trust piece, with Michael providing his experience and Deirdre working hand in hand with Cara to create the perfect colours for the enamel work.
This is something that she will now use in future. “The Silver Trust liked that I used wood with my work and were keen that the piece also included some of my mother’s enamelling. The enamelling is a very exciting addition to my work and something that I plan to incorporate in other projects,” she added.
Cara, who studied at Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, first received this prestigious commission in 2008 when the Silver Trust exhibited its collection at Hillsborough Castle during August Craft Month. She then received a Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which provided £15,000 funding, some of which was used to purchase materials needed for the commission.
The Silver Trust is a registered charity that promotes the art of British silversmiths. It was formed in the 1980s with the aim of putting together a collection of the best silver created by local artists, which would be loaned to government houses such as 10 Downing Street. In 1993, the Trust had put together a collection which was presented to the then Prime Minister, John Major.
“The Trust chose Cara because her work is so different. We liked that she uses silver with wood and enamel and this is such a new way to present a piece. We asked her to produce a desk set for the Prime Minister because we felt it would remind him of the work of UK silversmiths on a daily basis,” explained Christopher English OBE, secretary to the Trustees of The Silver Trust.
The Trust specified that the piece needed four elements – a blotter, a space to hold note paper, a pen holder and an area for a clock and little trays to hold paper clips and other small items.
“When I first got the commission, I had to envision what the desk looked like and how the Prime Minister would use the set. After many drawings, models and sleepless nights I came up with the final design. It is striking but not overpowering and has the ability to be manipulated and changed by the Prime Minister,” she said.
The set features a classic rectangular silver tray with four beautiful pieces of Wenge wood from Hillsborough furniture maker Jeremy Suffern. Each of these blocks of wood can be moved so the Prime Minister can change the structure to suit individual tastes.
Each of the four elements was inspired by nature and the landscape. “I got the idea for the pen holder as I was driving around the countryside and saw all the furrows in the fields covered in plastic sheets. I thought the plastic sheets glistening in the sunshine looked like silver strips and this was the perfect shape for the pen holder,” she said.
The clock features an enamel face with gold plated hands and the little bowls that will be used for paper clips are in different shades of green. The outside of the bowls has been hammered and the inside dented with a special tool so that when the enamel was applied it catches and reflects the light beautifully.
The blotter represents growth featuring seeds springing forth and is an elegant item incorporating silver and enamel seed heads that are functional and easy to hold.
Cara’s work was praised by Joe Kelly, Director of Craft Northern Ireland, at the event at Hillsborough Castle. “Cara is an excellent ambassador for craftspeople across Northern Ireland. For this wonderful piece to be displayed in such an important and prominent location recognises the excellence of Cara’s work and the reputation of craft makers in Northern Ireland.”
Speaking at the event, Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented: “Cara’s desk set is the first piece by a Northern Ireland artist to enter the Silver Trust’s prestigious Downing Street Silver Collection. This important commission reinforces Cara’s position as one of the UK’s leading contemporary silversmiths and raises her profile at a national and international level.”
And University of Ulster Vice Chancellor, Professor Richard Barnett added:“This is a great honour not only for Cara but also for the university. We have a long and proud tradition of excellence in art and design and silversmithing is a highly valued element of our heritage.
“The quality of Cara’s work is a fine, contemporary expression of that tradition and I offer her my warmest congratulations in this fantastic achievement.”