“I was in the middle of the wilderness,
I had independence. Freedom.
I was without a care in the world”.
As a young adult, the world opened up to Sally, and opportunities to travel were in abundance. This time in her life became an inspired adventure, a mosaic of experiences which stimulated the development of a unique personal style.
A generous birthday present of a trip to Kenya opened up the vast landscapes of Africa, from which came a six month anthropological thesis; living with the Maasai, researching the symbolism of their beadwork. A friendship with renowned photographer and writer Mirella Ricciardi and her adventurer husband Lorenzo took her on a journey into the wilds of the Selous game reserve in Tanzania. They crossed Africa from East to West by way of its rivers and lakes, documented in the book “African Rainbow’. “I was fresh out of university”, she says, “I was in the middle of the wilderness, I had independence. Freedom. I was without a care in the world”.
This 3 month adventure engendered a thirst for further African exploration and took Sally and best friend Emma McCune deep into the heart of Dinka and Nuer culture (now in South Sudan) where she was delighted by the exotic use of animal bones and brass, melted from bullets, in their jewellery and by their elaborate beaded corsets.
Crosses from Ethiopia, Hands of Fatima from North Africa and travels further afield into the plains of Mongolia where on a riding safari, she noticed the Mongolians’ love of horses, displayed in elaborate silverwork embedded in their bridles and saddles. She began to collect these together with traditional amulets decorated with striking thunderbolts ‘the nomads carried their temples around their necks. The best jewellery comes from nomadic peoples. They carry their wealth with them and are lavishly adorned”.
Medieval jewellery was also a surprise influence when a dear friend allowed her to access his collection of medieval rings which took her once again into the depths of the British Museum to look at the romans and etruscans. “I loved their simple unfussy lines. I prefer jewellery in a rough organic form and these suited me perfectly”.
As entering Yemen became increasingly difficult and the old pieces harder to find, Sally decided she needed new challenges. A study of gemology in Kenya, where Sally began to use precious stones in her designs, inevitably lead to an extended trip to India, where she met a gem dealer with whom she still works twenty five years later. Jaipur remains one of the great nerve centres of gemology and design, a hangover from the days of the Maharajahs who displayed their wealth using gems to decorate their camels, their palaces and their wives. Sally was stunned by the visual extremities of India, the intense poverty juxtaposed with huge wealth. She found herself intrigued by the gracefulness of indian women, elegantly dressed in vivid fluorescent colours and dazzling sequins, whilst engaged in heavy physical work. She spent many hours huddled over huge pans of gems sorting through diamonds, emeralds and rubies and it was from this exhausting process of selection she found her own spontaneous way of working. Rather than a pre-conceived idea, she found the stones that attracted her and then worked out what she might do with them. The accomplished craftsmanship of the continent, finally gave her the creative freedom she had yearned for. “ I could take the images of moon and stars from the helm of an African dhow and make the amulets and pendants I had dreamed of. The Navratna with its nine different stones symbolizing the planets; brass seals from Iran could be forged into the setting of a roman ring. Everything was possible. I felt as if I could bring it all together. Make new things inspired by the old, crescent moons, suns, fish everything all mixed up.”
Sally visited India and its neighbouring countries many times in the years that followed : where the borders of China, Pakistan and India converge is Ladakh and for Sally this mountainous district was a revelation. She fell in love with their talent for combining jewellery into their clothing. Cloaks heavy with turquoise and coral, textiles embedded with pearls and silver, all of this she would examine and discuss with the local people taking many careful weeks to observe their customs and rituals. Her enjoyment of being steeped in another culture has never diminished and she says determinedly of Bhutan “the next time I make that journey I am doing it on foot. It’s the only way to do it”.