Syann van Niftrik

Born to Dutch parents in South Africa (1947), I trained as a ceramic designer at Johannesburg College of Art from 1965-68.

I followed this up with a post designing lamps and ceramic wall cladding for a company designing and producing architectural interiors. Through my contact with architects, opportunities arose for freelance mural making which gave me the freedom to experiment with technical and stylistic elements as well as the challenge of exciting architectural settings from architraves to atriums. At first I used only ceramics in the form of carved tiles, scraffito, and panels built up of extruded and wheel-thrown shapes but I gradually introduced metal with the ceramics until eventually, metal became the focal point. As conditions in South Africa developed, I found my life there no longer viable and I began to explore jewellery making as nomadic way to earn a living. I left south Africa for Amsterdam in 1971where I found work as an assistant to designer jeweller, Geertje Pijper. I did a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between SA, France and the Netherlands, and my interest in metal grew, my skills developed and I eventually set up on my own. At first I worked out of a box where ever I could find a level surface. In 1979, together with my woodworker husband Nick Barberton and our two small children I came to Britain where, I have established a place for myself as a studio-jeweller.

The work I make has also been on this journey. It emanates from my mind and my hands and because I didn’t go through an official training to be a metal worker, I have learned through my hands; through the materials I have handled and the processes with which I have experimented. My hands have also learned through the things I have seen and the conversations I have had. It has been an ongoing development.

In this way, I feel a kinship with people in the Bronze age; discovering materials and struggling to learn how to use them and adapting what they have discovered to make the things they need. I believe that ‘craft’, the verb is the heritage that creates the cultures we occupy and it is through archaeology and the objects created in the past that we can find a way to understand the cultures we occupy.