Interview with jewellery maker Bronwen Gwillim
Bronwen creates unique, colourful jewellery designs using upcycled plastic. Read about her journey that led her to a practice that both brings awareness to plastic pollution and produces fun jewellery pieces that are full of character.
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How did you get into jewellery-making with upcycled plastic?
I’ve always made things. As a teenager in the 70s I picked up bits of scrap wood from my dad’s workshop (he built boats), painted them in groovy colours and strung them on leather cord. There weren’t many outlets in our village so I persuaded the baker's shop to display them amongst the bread! Remarkably, they sold.
In the 80s, after going to art college, I worked in a community arts project helping people make things from recycled waste via the Hackney Scrap Project. Back then they were absolute pioneers in seeing the creative potential of upcycling industrial waste and are still going strong as part of a national network of children’s scrap stores.
In the 90s I went back to college and trained as a silversmith and ran a business making and selling jewellery for many years and loved it. I had a stall on Greenwich craft market and sold via galleries and shops around the country.
After a gap in my making life and a spell of illness I realised that I needed to be creative again and it was whilst studying for an MA that I started adding plastic and resin to my materials palette. All the strands came together in a really exciting way.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process behind your practice?
I collect plastic washed up on the beach where I now live in Pembrokeshire. I cut, shape and form it using hand tools and I mix it with other materials such as silver and resin to make bold statement pieces inspired by the other things I find on the beach such as pebbles, seaweed, fossils and shells. I have had to learn about how to identify different types of plastic and to work safely with each type. This involves lots of different techniques developed through trial and error and some are unique to me.
What are some of your inspirations?
As well as being inspired by nature and the things I find, I love the bold colour and simple marks of abstract expressionist paintings and mid-century modern textiles. I think of my pieces as wearable art for people who want to make a positive statement.
How does your jewellery making centre on sustainability?
I live in a beautiful part of Wales and I’m lucky enough to have the sea at the bottom of my garden. It’s a site of special scientific interest because of the extraordinary diversity of bird, marine and plant life. But when I look across the bay there’s an oil refinery! It’s a constant reminder of the bad decisions we have made and spurs me on to live a more sustainable life. My work plays on the edge between nature and industry and I hope in a little way it helps raise awareness of our need to address climate change and plastic pollution.
What do you do in your spare time?
The nearest shop is 10 miles away and I try not to drive too often so spare time is spent making bread, foraging for food (particularly keen on seaweed) and I’m planning to learn about preserving and fermenting so I can enjoy the fruit and veg from the garden year round.