Alternative Wedding Show 2011
6th Feb - 2nd May

Leeds Guide 'Where there's a Mill'

The Leeds Guide 19th Jan - 3rd Feb 2011
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About Us

The Leeds Guide
Wed19 Jan - Thu 3 Feb 2011
Where There's a Mill

Ali Schofield talks starting out, Salt's Mill and designing jewellery for jugglers with Kath Libbert

I am sitting intently, head down, going through the contents of a grey filing cabinet. While most would fail to have me so rapt, this one belongs to jewellery gallery owner Kath Libbert and hides hundreds of gems - in some cases, literally - by some of the most exciting names in contemporary jewellery design.

I finished my interview with Libbert at her gallery in Saltaire's Salt's Mill some 20 minutes ago, but the offer to gawp at incredible finger-knitted necklaces by Blanka Šperková, Heidi Butler's plexiglass carved bracelets professing 'love is enough' around the wearer's wrist and all manner of other refreshing manipulations of plastic, wire, precious metals and even glue, is irresistible. All the more since these are the bits not currently on show to the public, as the gallery's graduate showcase Cool Constructs continues till the end of the month, before making way for Libbert's Alternative Wedding Show in February.

"With unusual pieces I think you have to be able to predict when the right time to put that work in is. I don't know exactly how I do that, but that's what's made it successful; a combination really of keeping things fresh, exciting and engaging to the public and then how you choose, what you choose and when you choose it."

The success Libbert speaks of is the 15 years and counting her gallery has been based in Salt's Mill. It's not always been plain sailing. Working full time as a counselling psychologist in the NHS some 20 years ago, Libbert - newly single with weekends freed up and already a keen jewellery collector herself - took a Saturday stall at Leeds Corn Exchange.

"I just had a table top selling five northern designers, "Libbert says. "I spent £ 1,000 and that's all I've spent on the business effectively - £200 on each jeweller."

At that time, Salt's Mill was a huge gallery for a few David Hockney paintings, which the London-born psychologist and part-time jewellery seller was already fond of.
'There wasn’t really much here besides the downstairs and lilies, nothing for sale! None of the commercial side, there was no diner.

"There was this deserted mill and then you'd open a big door and there would be this wonderful opera music coming from behind, the scent of lilies, it was just very magical and it developed and developed and developed."

The lilies stayed; the heady fragrance envelops you as you enter the mill through the ground floor book shop, and the retail outlets opened.
Owner Jonathan Silver's brother Robin and wife Patricia opened The Home in 1994 on the second floor, alongside the diner. Libbert remembers meeting Robin Silver after countless letters suggesting
she show some of her jewellers'
designs in the shop.

"Robin met me in the diner and I
had all this work - people even started coming round and looking at it - but he said 'no, we source our own stuff and I thought 'well ok, fair enough'. I went away feeling dejected."

She remained an avid Salt's Mill visitor and by 1996 Libbert was finally invited to pitch for a permanent shop which, happily for me and my magpie tendencies today, has gone from strength to strength with acclaim from national magazines, most recently The Times' Luxx magazine. Despite such success, she only gave up the psychology work some five 'exhausting' years after opening the Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery.

Since then she has taken on international artists and regularly travels to fairs across the world to find new talent for her Salt's Mill customers.Despite being approached by designers all the time at the gallery, she prefers to choose new artists based on a particular theme - floral jewellery, textile pieces and solely wooden works have been showcased in the past - which she comes up with a few months before inception to ensure the exhibition looks fresh and trend-influenced.

Next in the diary for Libbert though is her annual Alternative Wedding Show.
This year's theme is Rock Revival, employing a bespoke design service to work heirloom jewels into engagement and wedding bands.

It is a service which she believes holds some parallels with the counselling she gave. "I get quite emotional here because if they're designing a ring with us you see them for quite a long period... you have that intimate connection with people."

One example she cites is a couple who came to the gallery looking for wedding bands. "We like to know what these people do, what do they do with their hands. And this guy was a juggler and wanted to wear his ring all the time. So that immediately points us towards particular things and not towards others, it needs to be something quite robust," she explains. "He actually went for a ring that's really textured, hard-hammered, so that it fits with his lifestyle."

Despite her obvious creative flair and completing an evening class in jewellery-making as a student, Libbert assures me the pieces she came up with would not fit her criteria for the 'wearable art' she has become known for. In short, 'I'm no good at it'.

For now though, Libbert is happy to curate others' artworks for her customers. She'll even let you look in her filing cabinet if you ask nicely.

The Alternative Wedding Show
runs till 3rd May with an opening
event and chance to meet jewellery makers on 6th February at I - 4pm,
Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery,
Salts Mill, Saltaire, Bradford BDI3 3 LA, 01274599790,

Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery, Salts Mill, Saltaire, Bradford BD18 3LA. Tel/Fax 01274 599790. For directions see About Us
Open Monday - Friday 10am - 5.30pm. Weekends 10am - 6pm.