It’s shortly after 1 PM in central Bristol and, as we are approaching Josephine’s home on Coronation Road, the things around us start to become recognisable, almost familiar: St Paul’s Church on the left, Gaol Ferry Bridge on the right, the phone booth by the street light... And there we were, back on the same terrace where our very first story with German sculptor Joachim Seitfudem was born back in 2015. As our thoughts journey like rings on the water, we pull in the drive feeling a bit nostalgic and in tune with the place and we see Josephine striding purposefully along the pavement.
As our eyes met and we said our hellos, Josephine welcomed us with a beaming smile and, initiating us into the world of visitors’ parking permits, we struck up a haphazard chat about their lottery ticket like design and their impact on our urbanised social behaviours. Just as we were about to venture into a post-structuralist and counter-cultural interpretation, we enter the calm space of Josephine’s home, forgetting about parking permits and leaving behind the city’s hustle and bustle.
Savouring Josephine’s warming and soothing herbal tea, we sit down and immerse ourselves in a tranquil conversation about her journey into jewellery making, her love for words, her travels around the world and her yoga teacher training experience in India. Listening to her story and seeing her beautifully crafted jewellery pieces, we quickly realised that Soulsmith is all about lighting fires in people’s hearts and showing that there exists, for everyone, a word or a sentence that has the power to reveal a rich spectrum of emotions. Later on, we went for a walk around the Harbour and, before saying our heartfelt goodbyes, we stopped at Little Victories for coffee and a delicious lemon polenta cake.
For those who do not know you, who is Josephine Gillingham ‒ the silversmith behind Soulsmith Silver? Tell us a bit about your background.
I’m a 28-year-old word-lover-cum-silver-twiddler. But the silver part is only a recent thing. I grew up in a little village in Wiltshire, where my parents still live, and I escape back to sometimes when the bright lights of Bristol get too much! I studied English Literature at University in London and have always been a bit obsessed with words and the way they can make us feel such a massive spectrum of emotions. I tend to scribble down things that make me feel something into a book, or on my phone. I must have hundreds of little snippets all over the place! My other obsession was collecting little trinkets from my travels. Most of these were silver (or at least that’s what the salesman would tell me!), and I always thought it would be amazing to be able to make my own. But as is usually the case, that whimsical thought got shoved to the deep, dark recesses of my mind for a few years while I did the sensible thing and started a career in marketing.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
I was a bit of a ragamuffin of a child; always looking a bit dishevelled and wearing clothes that had already been passed down through my five other siblings. I didn’t help myself though. When I was about four, I vividly remember finding myself some Crayola scissors (remember those?) and sitting in my parents’ hallway, hacking away at my hair. My mum spotted me from the landing, stared at me and just burst out laughing because I looked utterly ridiculous. I think I probably cried - I was trying to give myself a bob like the babysitter’s.
What or who sparked your passion for jewellery making?
So I said I liked collecting trinket... One particular trinket I leant to my sister to wear to a party. It slipped off her finger in a field and we never found it ‒ I even went back to the same market in Northern Thailand to try to find the silversmith to make me another… to no avail! Five years later I decided I was going to damn well make that ring that’d been lost, so I signed up to Alice Goldsack’s evening silversmithing course. I suppose the rest is history. I should thank my sister for losing it… cheers Charly!
What are your major sources of inspiration?
My designs are really simple. I didn’t study jewellery design or anything like that, so I can’t bang on about particular jewellery movements that have inspired me. I suppose the inspiration comes more from the words. That’s where it all starts. Then I try to make something that reflects that idea. I’m experimenting with more gemstones at the moment and their properties and meanings. Whether you believe in the healing powers of crystals/gems or not, you can’t deny that they are amazing things.
What are the greatest rewards of being a jewellery maker?
I love making people cry. That sounds terrible doesn’t it?! But if I haven’t made someone cry (and/or laugh) with the words I’ve stamped into a piece of jewellery, or the meaning of it, then I don’t feel I’ve done my job! That’s what it’s all about ‒ making people FEEL something.
What was the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
This is inextricably linked with the ‘important life lesson’ question but it would be (sounds cheesy, I know), to believe that whatever is happening to you in life, is meant to happen. There’s some sort of lesson you need to learn or change you need to make as a result of every twist and turn. It gives dealing with difficult times a positive spin, while at the same time reminding you to be grounded when things are going your way.
What does Bristol offer you as a designer maker?
Breathing space. There are enough people to inspire you and keep your business moving, but not so many that you feel stressed and in awful competition with everyone. And that works for the landscape of the city too ‒ all the water and the green spaces, and the fact that you can get out into the countryside so easily. I need that for my sanity.
What other disciplines are you interested in or involved with?
I'm a writer working mainly in marketing for brands and businesses and also qualified as a yoga teacher in September 2017 ‒ yet to teach a class in Bristol but watch this space (and follow @soulflow.yoga).
What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?
Yoga is a godsend when it comes to clearing the noggin. It’s amazing how much clarity you can achieve in a 60 minute class, or 15 minute meditation, or just reading a bit of literature. When I’m not doing it I suffer from a sort of mental constipation and have to kick myself into action. Where? Ideally it would be yoga in a beachside shala in India or Mexico… but you can’t have it all.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
Wherever my friends and family are. I’ll do long stints abroad but I have to settle near the people I love. That said, if all my friends and family want to move to warmer climes, I’m down.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Urgh. This is going to sound awfully cheesy (again), but I really believe that things happen for a reason. Or at least it’s a good philosophy when things aren’t going the way you planned. I often make up elaborate stories of bullets I have dodged (literally and metaphorically) by things not going to plan.
What does a regular day look like for you?
A regular good day would be: wake at 7, snooze till 7.15, yoga till 8, shower and cycle to my studio for 9/9.30, work on orders till 2ish with plenty of tea breaks, reward myself with something delicious for lunch (leftovers or Friska/St Nicks if I’m feeling frivolous), back to the studio till 6 to work on admin/website, then off to meet friends for meals, gigs or the pub, or home for wine and whatever guilty pleasure TV series I’m into that month.
What are you currently working on?
Up until now, I’ve made whatever I’ve fancied making. And although that’s fun, it’s not the best plan for business. So at the moment I’m working on creating more of a core range of products that can be personalised. I’m not naturally a very organised person, so I’m teaching myself to be so.
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?
Just to make a happy living out of the things I love doing. I want to make sure I keep enjoying what I do, so minimal stress and maximum freedom. A shop for my wares one day would be lovely. Maybe somewhere I could have a yoga studio upstairs for evening classes and get inspiring people in to speak or sing or read poetry. First things first though.
And now a Max Frisch question: What do you need in order to be happy?
Self belief. If you ain’t got that, you ain’t got nuthin.
Can you recommend us:
A book: Staying Alive ‒ Amazing poetry anthology you can dip in and out of.
A song: Too many! But… Ritual Union, Little Dragon ‒ listened to it a million times but still dance every time I hear it. So summery!
A film: I’m shamelessly addicted to RomComs so it’s gotta be the ultimate RomCom ‒ Annie Hall.
Josephine answers Éric Poindron’s Weird Questionnaire:
1 – Write the first sentence of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written. 👹 🚀 🌝
2 – Without looking at your watch: what time is it? Winetime
3 – Look at your watch. What time is it? 17:54
4 – How do you explain this—or these—discrepancy(ies) in time? No discrepancy - bang on.
5 – Do you believe in meteorological predictions? I just went to google meteorological predictions so I’m guessing that means ‘No’.
6 – Do you believe in astrological predictions? Only when they tell me what I want to hear.
7 – Do you gaze at the sky and stars by night? Often
8 – What do you think of the sky and stars by night? All the darkness, all the light
9 – What were you looking at before starting this questionnaire? Embarrassingly dull – public liability insurance.
10 – What do cathedrals, churches, mosques, shrines, synagogues, and other religious monuments inspire in you? Calmness
11 – What would you have “seen” had you been blind? Dark things
12 – What would you want to see if you were blind? Tom Hardy in speedos
13 – Are you afraid? A little bit most days
14 – What of? Missing public transport, falling down escalators
15 – What is the last weird film you’ve seen? No weird films but I find Match of the Day quite weird and sometimes my boyfriend makes me watch it
16 – Whom are you afraid of? My parents, still
17 – Have you ever been lost? Yes lots of times in supermarkets when I was younger & at festivals now I’m older
18 – Do you believe in ghosts? Yes
19 – What is a ghost? Someone who doesn’t want to go just yet
20 – At this very moment, what sound(s) can you hear, apart from the computer? Bristol’s buzzing traffic
21 – What is the most terrifying sound you’ve ever heard – for example, “the night was like the cry of a wolf”? My faulty fire alarm at 5am
22 – Have you done something weird today or in the last few days? I had tortilla wraps with peanut butter & marmalade for breakfast this morning because I didn’t have any bread in the house.
23 – Have you ever been to confession? No
24 – You’re at confession, so confess the unspeakable. I had tortilla wraps with peanut butter & marmalade for breakfast this morning because I didn’t have any bread in the house.
25 – Without cheating: what is a “cabinet of curiosities”? Most of the cabinets in my house
26 – Do you believe in redemption? Hmmm vague, but people/things are redeemed, so yes
27 – Have you dreamed tonight? I dream every night, it’s exhausting
28 – Do you remember your dreams? Yes
29 – What was your last dream? Being really slow, clumsy and forgetful as I tried to pack my bag for a flight I was already late for (Most of my dreams are along those lines!)
30 – What does fog make you think of? Stories
31 – Do you believe in animals that don’t exist? Hahaha no, but sometimes I get confused. Who knew a wolverine was a real animal, or flying squirrels?
32 – What do you see on the walls of the room where you are? Posters, paintings & prints.
33 – If you became a magician, what would be the first thing you’d do? I’d rather be a wizard
34 – What is a madman? All of us are madmen
35 – Are you mad? As above
36 – Do you believe in the existence of secret societies? Yes
37 – What was the last weird book you read? Someone was reading the Worst-Case Scenario Handbook to me a few days ago. That was weird and hilarious. Should go above in my recommended reads.
38 – Would you like to live in a castle? As long as there was good heating and a cleaner
39 – Have you seen something weird today? Not especially
40 – What is the weirdest film you’ve ever seen? Labyrinth
41 – Would you like to live in an abandoned train station? I’d prefer the castle
42 – Can you see the future? If only
43 – Have you considered living abroad? Yes
44 – Where? South East Asia
45 – Why? Climate, way of life, coconuts
46 – What is the weirdest film you’ve ever owned? I taped Naked Gun off the TV when I was about 7 - weird thing for a 7-year-old girl to want to watch
47 – Would you liked to have lived in a vicarage? Why not
48 – What is the weirdest book you’ve ever read? The Song of Songs is pretty unusual
49 – Which do you like better, globes or hourglasses? Globes
50 – Which do you like better, antique magnifying glasses or bladed weapons? Magnifying glasses
51 – What, in all likelihood, lies in the depths of Loch Ness? If wolverines are a thing then Nessy could be too
52 – Do you like taxidermied animals? As long as they died of natural causes
53 – Do you like walking in the rain? If it’s warm rain
54 – What goes on in tunnels? Rabbit life
55 – What do you look at when you look away from this questionnaire? A fireplace
56 – What does this famous line inspire in you: “And when he had crossed the bridge, the phantoms came to meet him.”? Fear
57 – Without cheating: where is that famous line from? I already looked it up before I got to this question! Dracula, Bram Stoker
58 – Do you like walking in graveyards or the woods by night? Absolutely not
59 – Write the last line of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written. 🌎 ☄️ 👹
60 – Without looking at your watch: what time is it? 8.15pm
61 – Look at your watch. What time is it? 19.39
Thank you, Josephine for the insight into your personal and creative realm.