There is nothing big, fat or Gypsy about the Irish Traveller women who took part in a jewellery-making project revealed at the Irish Embassy this week. The young women involved instead proved there is far more to the Traveller community than meets the eye — or the television screen. And they even inspired a new collection by Dublin-born jewellry design artist Laura Bradshaw- Heap,who led the initiative.
Last summer the women worked side by side using only salvaged materials to produce festive adornments that fitted their style, which resulted in an impressive collection of bangles, head-pieces and brooches in a range of flamboyant colours. Now Cambridge-based 30-yearold jewellery maker Laura has embarked on her six-week project with a group of Traveller women in North London with the help of the Brent Irish Advisory Service.
“I wanted to see if artists were able to work with community groups in a way that would be beneficial to the groups and the artist themselves,” she said. “BIAS was very keen to set up a coffee morning for Irish Traveller women to share experiences and gain independence. When I approached them with my project idea they liked it and the women themselves, when they heard about the project, were keen to show a wider audience that Irish Traveller life was not like Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. They wanted to show they were educated, trying to improve their lives and not ignorant.” She added: “They did that and more, but what struck me the most was how the women that turned up were so willing to help with the project. They were so loyal to it and determined to make me feel at home and make sure the project was a success. They truly proved what they set out to prove, that everyone is an individual and you can’t judge a person by the group they are in.”
The project formed the final thesis for the artist’s MA in Jewellry Design at the London Metropolitan University last September. This week the culmination of her course and the unique Travellers project is revealed in an exquisitely detailed book entitled This is Me, launched at the Irish Embassy in London on Tuesday.
“The book explains how I went about this as an artist and where I stepped back to let the women decide what things they would do within it,” Laura explained. “A lot of community projects are focused on end results but this was about each person learning from the other and having new experiences and that was achieved on all levels. I learnt as much from the group and BIAS as they all learnt from each other and all of this fuelled the work and fed into it.” She added: “It even inspired a new collection of my work based on my experiences in the project.