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Pippa Small

A jeweller who lets her travels inspire her work

Samantha Weinberg | March/April 2015

WORK OF ART Rock art, dampier archipelago, Western Australia
If you walk in the Rift Valley and keep your eyes down, especially around an ancient lake bed, you may see teardrops of stone. These are ancient hand axes, the Swiss army knives of homo erectus. There are fields of them in Kenya, and they’re not made from the local stone, so they must have been brought in from a distance. They are works of art. I’ve picked up many; each one fits perfectly in the palm; it’s just the right shape and weight. The idea that an upright primate held it is amazing; nothing else I know of connects us with our ancestors so concretely.

VIEW Over the Okavango Delta
I had just started out making jewellery when I spent two summers working on a project in Botswana. The first year was difficult: lots of funerals, lots of children with AIDS. But I came back the next year and started an arts project, using ostrich shells and beads to make jewellery and leatherwork. And I went to the Okavango. I was alone in the back of a small plane when I saw it the first time; I wept. It was heart-soaringly beautiful, like the Garden of Eden. Great herds moving across this extraordinary landscape. Now that I have children, I can’t comprehend living in a world without wild animals.

CITY La Paz, Bolivia
You fly into El Alto at the highest point of La Paz, then drop down, down. The city tumbles down the mountain like a landslide. It’s so beautiful, teeming with people and vibrant with colour: there are women in bright ponchos and bowler hats with plaited wool in their hair. I’ve been working with a free-trade gold mine nearby for eight years and with Javier, a Quechua Indian goldsmith. The journey to the mine is exciting in itself: one minute you’re in the bustle, the next you’re in countryside where llamas graze. You pass a glacial lake, stop to run up the mountain and make offerings to La Pachamama, the Earth Mother, then drop down to a narrow track into the Amazon basin. Unfortunately, as a woman, I’m not allowed in the mine for fear of angering the spirit, El Tijo.

JOURNEY Into the Sarawak forest, Borneo
After my MA in medical anthropology, I went to Sarawak to do research into mental health. I spent time with a tribal group who lived amid the trees and used blowpipes for hunting. They asked me to come with them deeper into the forest, to show me illegal logging. We walked for up to six hours a day and slept in temporary camps. Spending time with people who had a totally different experience was life-changing. I’ll never forget coming over the hill and seeing their settlement; it was quiet, save for the sound of children laughing. I learnt so much: about their engagement with the environment, and how fragile that life is, on the edge of encroaching oil-palm plantations. That time has influenced everything I’ve done and I’m now an ambassador for Survival International, working on a campaign on uncontacted peoples.

HOTEL Dundlod Fort, Rajasthan
I first went to India when I was 17, and have spent much of the last 30 years working in Jaipur. My mother first discovered Dundlod: it’s an old fort with turrets, courtyards and, best of all, beautiful Mawari horses. The owner, Bonnie Singh, has worked hard to restore a pure bloodline. They have the spirit of an Arab, with beautiful paces. I love galloping across the desert. The hotel is a sanctuary – it hasn’t been boutiquified, there’s rarely anyone else there, and never any boring people.

BUILDING Turquoise mountain art college, Murad Khani, Kabul
This amazing complex is in an area that, until recently, was a slum, home to fighters. It’s one of the few remaining examples of earth architecture. In just eight years Turquoise Mountain, a charity, has removed rubbish, put in plumbing and electricity, hired 400 people, restored buildings and opened a school. You enter the art school through an earth arch to find yourself in a series of courtyards, dotted with pomegranate trees. The classrooms have clay walls and hand-carved latticed windows. I was invited seven years ago to design a collection that they would make and sell locally. I’ve been back a couple of times a year; the school, in this ravaged city, is like a dream.

SHORE SAINTE-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec
I was born in Montreal and grew up on the shore of Lac des Sables. A childhood like that gives you a love of mountains, rivers and lakes. It’s a year-round relationship: in winter, you skate and ski; in spring, you swim and gaze at the water, waiting for something to happen. We lived at the water’s edge, and life centred around a wooden dock, from where we would swim and canoe. In the evening we would hang out there, dangling our feet into cold water so dark we couldn’t see our toes. On one side of the lake it was wild; woods, hills, vines clambering everywhere, and wonderful rocks between the trees. I’d paddle off in my canoe to the far corners and hide in the bulrushes; as a child, it was my shot at independence. We moved to England when I was seven and I haven’t been back for a long time.

 

Pippa Small was talking to Samantha Weinberg. She has just launched her Malika collection of fine jewellery, made by craftsmen from Turquoise Mountain

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