What do a professional jeweller and an amateur boatbuilder have in common?
If you answered craft, you’re almost there. But the correct answer is glue.
The most popular method of amateur boatbuilding is called ‘stitch and glue’, which entails following templates to cut the plywood profiles, stitching them in place and using epoxy to glue the seams. You do not need to be a master craftsman to use glue. Maybe for this reason, in the jewellery world glue is the Anti-Christ.
Lisa Walker is an acclaimed contemporary jeweller. But her practice has been linked to amateur’s work for its apparent spontaneous nature and her choice of materials and processes. It exemplifies what can be described as a visible shift to a notion of ‘deskilling’ in the applied arts, a voluntary abandonment of one of its cornerstones – craftsmanship. This is reflected both in the increasing use of found objects and in ‘botching’ things a bit. But we have to understand that this distance from the technically ‘well made’ and polished object is often done by artists who have had the training to make things ‘well’ – and here I want to stress that this idea of the ‘well made’ is usually applied to the level of craftsmanship employed, that is, a traditional understanding of skill.
As the brooch below shows, she may have abandoned some traditional skills but is still referencing the history of jewellery, with a great sense of colour and composition.
A New Zealander with a traditional training in jewellery, Walker moved to Germany in the mid-nineties to study at the Jewellery Department of the Munich Arts Academy. Instead of carrying on with metal, she started making jewellery using found objects; assemblages whose raw materials she often bought in haberdashers, hobby and model maker shops. Her pieces may be populated by fake plants, plastic ice-cream cones, bits of wood, thread, plastic, shell and pearls. Or even rubbish from the workshop floor.
Lisa Walker was not the first among contemporary jewellers to use ‘poor’ materials. Jewellers like Bernhard Schobinger and Ramon Puig Cuyas have used detritus and found objects, albeit in a more aestheticized way.
Joining materials is one the preoccupations of jewellers. But whereas Schobinger and Puig Cuyas more or less stuck to jewellery processes to construct their pieces – soldering, riveting, stringing etc. – Walker decided to assemble her pieces using glue, an idiosyncratic process that made her stand out in the field. Being considered the Anti-Christ of the jewellery world, glue is used ‘secretly’ in both traditional and contemporary jewellery. For Lisa Walker, glue was the catalyst of a new direction, as the critic Damian Skinner has asserted. In 1996 she stated:
…I had to ‘unlearn’ everything I’d learnt in my jewellery training… I made lots of stuff just out of glue, bashing and squeezing it just before it dried, scraping the drips off my table, things like that.
Used by amateurs aspiring to make things well, glue fixes the incongruous assemblages of disparate objects, the collages in scrapbooks, the shells that encrust boxes and frames like domestic barnacles. Lisa Walker does not aspire to make things well in the sense of the ‘well made’ discussed previously. She does not use glue in a ‘polite’ way, like an amateur who aims to make it invisible. She lets glue overflow, using it both as adhesive and as a material, even sometimes combining it with gold leaf to create a new material.
What else differentiates Walker’s work from that of the amateur? Let’s start with a similarity between the hobbyist and the professional maker: in the initial period of learning a skill, it is common to copy examples and models, a certain template, in order to understand and practice a process. The difference seems to be that the amateur, even after becoming competent in a process, usually carries on following the template. He or she may not stray from the template, both aesthetically and in terms of adapting the process to more creatively ambitious projects (although, of course, amateurs can also be creative). Amateurs seem to stick to patterns and conventions. This in turn points to the issue of autonomy and the intention of the artist, of a creative impulse that is not constrained by externally imposed parameters of knowledge of execution, but which is reflective and self-critical.
If we understand ‘amateur’ as someone who engages with a craft or art form out of pure personal pleasure in a world where copying is common and critique is absent, we may glimpse another basic difference: speculation. Artists like Lisa Walker deal with questions for which there is no template to follow, just as there is no glue for the seams of the world.
All images reproduced with kind permission of Lisa Walker.
Dionea Rocha Watt is a first year MPhil student in the Critical & Historical Studies Department at the Royal College of Art, London
 Skinner has written extensively on the work of Lisa Walker, see http://pauadreams.co.nz
 Quoted in Schmuck/Jewelleries, (Förderpreis der Stadt München), Munich: Kulturrreferat der Landeshauptstadt München, 2007