Pieces of silver

Need a door-knob? No? An engraved bowl? That's more like it. Claire Gervat talks to a master silversmith
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The Independent Online
Malcolm Appleby works magic with metal. Engraving, jewellery-making, carving - it would be inappropriate to call him simply a silversmith. And life is becoming increasingly hectic. Not only is he "going non-stop", as he puts it, with extra commissions because of the millennium, he has also become a father. Even now, he's busily designing a gold bangle for little May, which naturally he's decorating with may flowers.

On his CV Malcolm describes his field of work as "decorative and functional ironwork; jewellery; medals; prints; engraving on guns". This last area was in fact his first; he studied engraving at art college, and was apprenticed to a London gun-smith, John Wilkes. Then curiosity prompted him to broaden his scope. "My eyes were all around looking at everything, so I gradually became involved in jewellery and silverware, and now I use a lot of iron and gold. I like to think of myself as an engraver rather than a silversmith, but there's nothing I like doing better than designing something with absolutely no engraving on it at all."

What that means, in effect, is that Malcolm's clients have commissioned him for a wide range of projects. For example, one woman who had bought his silver and gold pieces in the past approached him to make her a magnificent door-knocker. "It's blacksmithed out of iron, then I've carved it and fired gold over the surface, which is what gives it all that rich colouring." It's also what makes it not a little expensive, and Malcolm admits that something similar would set you back around pounds 10,000.

Yet he's quick to point out that not everything he makes is so expensive; prices start at pounds 8 for silver buttons. Not that the cost deters people from starting, and then enlarging, their collections of Applebyware. "I've made a lot of large silver bowls for the table. One client has a whole series of large silver leaves - and when I say large I mean massive - that go down the centre of the table."

Some customers have strong ideas about what they want, but this is not essential. Many of his commissioned works are based on something he has done before; a small geranium-leaf plate inspired the series of leaves, for instance. "And I make up pieces for the fun of it and that often stimulates clients to follow that direction, or think in a similar way and adapt my ideas." Or you could just adapt your way of living to his ideas, like the couple who moved to a smarter house because they thought their fine new silver bowls made the old place look shabby.

Malcolm's customer base is as varied as his work, including monied landowners, people in camper vans and old school friends who just happen to be passing his house in Scotland. Other clients include the board of trustees at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, for whom he made a seal which Sir Roy Strong, then the director, called "probably one of the most vulgar pieces we have in the museum, and I mean that as a compliment".

Currently he's doing a series of production pieces for a London-based company, and he also has an important exhibition coming up later in the year at Aberdeen Art Gallery. He classes himself, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, as a "multi-media post-post-post-modern maximalist with minimalist overtones".

"You must get that in," he says, trying to hold back a chuckle, "with three 'post's, because I noticed in some trendy crafts magazine that someone had two, in all seriousness."

And then he went off to finish that all-important bangle.

Malcolm Appleby can be contacted at Aultbeag, Grandtully, By Aberfeldy, Perthshire (01330 844642). His one-man exhibition, '30 Years', will be at the Aberdeen Art Gallery from 10 October to 21 November. For more information, call Christine Rew on 01224 646333.