Laura Johnson: My Research and Ideas

Chetham’s library was the initial research gathering point. From this activity I read about Koringa the snake and crocodile hypnotist which intrigued me. There wasn’t a lot of information on the clipping about her so I did further research, finding YouTube clips of her act and information about her life and act from websites. From this point onwards I wanted to focus on the characters/sideshows of Belle Vue and represent their stories through the medium of jewellery.


This newspaper clip also evidences the lack of animal welfare and knowledge on exotic animals at the time, which led to the animals at Belle Vue to die before their time.



During visits to the Belle Vue exhibition (see for more details) and a talk from one of the performers of Belle Vue I found information on the sideshows such as ‘The Great Omi’, the Globe of Death/flying trapeze artist Pat Pearson, and the events before and during their time in the spotlight. The Special collection handling session was important because we had a look at the children’s pop-up books on zoos and the slot-in-place animals. This led me onto the idea of creating a 3D scene from flat images, so I had a look at Victorian model theatres for inspiration.


The Great Omi (wax work), formerly known as Horace Ridler, served as a major in WW1.


The framed pop-up book reminded me of the toy theatres.


Magical Menagerie by Junzo Terada. The interactive element of constructing your own object appealed to me, and I want to translate this into jewellery.










I started drawing out ideas of creating a ring, using elements of a model theatre such as the stage curtain. For this ring I would have interchangeable characters and stages for the acts of Belle Vue, and the focus would be on the layers that you look through, as in the pop-up books. The initial designs would have been complicated to translate into 3D metal pieces, so after advice I went into the workshop and started experimenting with how I could make the base and stage out of one strip of aluminium in a simple design.


I think I will have to keep the images of the acts and sets quite simple and cartoon-like because i’m not the best illustrator.


For my actual jewellery pieces I will have less separate pieces than the original Victorian toy theatres.


Variations using just one strip of aluminium, echoing John Jennison’s (founder of Belle Vue) profit orientated business.

SAM_1554SAM_1542 SAM_1544


Experimenting in alluminium, trying to find the easiest way to create my design. I prefer the one on the left because the paper was more stable and is better executed.


This was a quick model trying out the idea, in metal or glass I may have to adjust the design to work with the material better.


Allison Wells’ work has a similar theme to some of my initial ideas for Belle Vue, featuring cages for the animals (see However, she has developed not only interchangeable wearables, but having different sets link in with each other, for example the brooches that are an extension of the narrative in the necklace. She also works predominantly in metal, but has a less material-driven, experimental approach than me. I think her focus is more on creating narrative pieces that are cast so she can make a batch quickly, which is the most logical and time saving method for a small business. I would like to explore further the different approaches to making, and look forward to the Shelter workshop with interactive art students.

circus cage brooch pieces

Brooches on the green are the freed animals, the ones on the white are figurines for the cage. Even the packaging continues the caged/free theme.

bird cage pendant with flock of birds pins

She has kept the design simple, which makes it easier for other pieces to relate to each other.








I also looked at Liisa Hashimoto’s jewellery and loved the cute, but rough narrative objects she makes. The stories of the Belle Vue characters could be made into a visual story, using found material, possibly found from the old site of Belle Vue. This also made me want to stick to the boxier designs, as they seemed more 3D and like a miniture world.


Maybe I should have tried more wire-work so that I can create jewellery like my drawings.


Having a go at perspective drawing again, planning how the layers would slot on, keeping the boxy design.


Additional ideas in glass and designs for patinas on the side of the ring.

Our group consists of craft people, but within that we have people who explore interests in either ceramics, glass, metal or mixed media. As we are all responding to the idea of souvenirs for Belle Vue all our final outcome are going to be relatively small scale (also due to having most members interested in jewellery), however we have all pursued different elements of Belle Vue’s past. At group meetings we all generally share ideas and people to research with each other, but maybe we could look at some outside our chosen media and look at textiles, fashion or interactive art students to gain a wider knowledge of practitioners and methods of working. To further my research into other materials/practises I could also look at some journals on topics outside the metal/glass/jewellery I have been focusing on to broaden my spectrum of media and approaches. I was also advised to look into the  MIKRO-Man series created by Sam Buxton:




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