E l s e   B e r n t s e n   H u g h e s

i n   m e m o r i a m

by B. Lennart Persson and Svein G. Josefsen

 

Earlier this year, the Norwegian jewelry artist Else Berntsen Hughes died at the age of 64. This article is written in her memory.  We wish to celebrate the life of this pioneer of Norwegian Jewelry, and present to a broader audience a few of her works.

 


 Pendant, bronze


When we first came across a couple of cast sterling brooches marked 'S Else & Paul' or simply 'H', with their characteristically amazing and intense expression, we were not able to find out much about them. We had to go back to articles on the Design Triennale exhibitions in Milan of the 1960's to get to know the artists behind these brooches.

Bracelet,
bronze  
   

            


They were Else Berntsen Hughes, born 1938 in Oslo, Norway, and Paul C. Hughes, born 1934 in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England. They met in the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, and in 1959 they established their workshop 'Studio Else & Paul' in Hadeland, near Oslo, thereby becoming early pioneers of the Studio Silver Movement in Norway.

The 1960 Triennale in Milan was to be their international break through. Of all the designers in the Norwegian entry, the Hughes and the young Tone Vigeland, received the most attention. They exhibited over 20 pieces  that included bracelets and brooches in combinations of sterling silver and gold.


Brooch/Pendant
 sterling silver, patinated/oxidized


Brooch/pendant
 sterling silver,
patinated/oxidized

Pendant
 sterling silver, patinated/oxidized


Studio Else & Paul brought a new look to Scandinavian jewelry. While artists such as Tone Vigeland worked in the stricter tradition of Modern Scandinavian design, and the David-Andersen companies looked to Old Norse traditions, Else & Paul took their inspiration from the jewelry of other cultures and merged it with the Scandinavian design trends of the time.

The driving force of their creativity was the bold richness of their imagination, unconventionally inspired by handicraft and abstract art from (so called) primitive cultures. Their creations perform a fine balance between free sculpture and worn jewelry. In their own words: 'The uniqueness of a piece of jewelry ought to be in the shaping of it, every object should be a composition with a character of it's own, also where the amount of precious metal used is at a minimum.'

Tie, sterling silver

Made for the 1970 competition;
 'Men's jewelry' - the Norwegian Association of Goldsmiths

With the Studio Silver movement, the trend in jewelry making became more ascetic, and the expression in a way more simplistic. The value of a piece was not equivalent to the value of the materials used, but  instead it was the artistic expression which gave the jewelry it's value as had been the case for a long time in the world of paintings and other fields of art.


Brooch, gold



Pendant, bronze with Eilat stone 


Pendant,
 sterling silver with Eilat
stone
e


The Hughes were among the first to reject the use of precious stones, emphasizing instead the use of non- or semi-precious stones. The trend at the time was to use stones found in the artists' surroundings and native environment. Again, Else & Paul worked in another direction, using stones found in other cultures, mainly Malachite and Rhodite found in Africa and Eilat stones from Israel. In their more costly pieces, they would sometimes make use of more classic stones such as Tourmaline and Amethyst.


Ring
bronze with Eilat stone


Not only was the look new, but also the technique used to produce the jewelry was new to Norwegian jewelry manufacturers. Else & Paul worked almost entirely in a technique called ' cire perdue', also known as the 'lost-wax-method': They had become familiar with this technique in England and this same technique, used with an entirely different visual expression, was later adapted at the studio of Uni David-Andersen. 

The piece of jewelry is first modeled in wax. Around this model is cast a mould of plaster. The mould is then heated so that the wax melts and comes out. Liquid silver is poured into the mould while it is rotating. When   the jewelry is taken from the mould, it is given a manual after-treatment for the final finish. A great number of their pieces were patinated/oxidized however, on many of their sterling pieces (.925), the opposite treatment was given in that a finishing layer of pure silver (.999) was added ensuring that the jewelry would not tarnish, but rather retain a whiter, brighter surface of shining silver.

Brooch
 sterling silver, patinated/oxidized

Cufflinks
 sterling silver

Pendant
 sterling silver


The jewelry of Studio Else and Paul seemed too avant garde for most people in Scandinavia at the time it was being made, but it was sold in European and American Scandinavian design stores. Once in a while you can be fortunate enough to find one of their characteristic brooches, pendants or rings on the second hand market or in antique shops. Often they will not be identified, which in our opinion makes the find even more exciting.

Pendant, bronze

 

When Paul Hughes died in 1981 Else continued to create jewelry in their workshop for a short while. She later concentrated much more on larger scale pieces of sculpture and ran a privately owned art gallery with her second husband. 


Else was active in her gallery making important contributions to the contemporary art scene in Norway until she became too weak from illness to work.  She passed away in February of 2002.

_____________________________________________

B. Lennart Persson and Svein G. Josefsen are collectors specializing in Scandinavian Modern Jewelry and Design, and proprietors of the website effie-graa.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Brooch/pendant, sterling silver


______________________________

article by  B. Lennart Persson and Svein G. Josefsen
photographs courtesy of  B. Lennart Persson and Svein G. Josefsen
Web design by Marbeth Schon
 Copyright 2002 Modern Silver Magazine

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