Ruth Claydon combs the banks of the River Thames for intriguing finds, bits and bobs, metal, something shiny, tiny fragments lost centuries ago, origin and use unknown.
She takes them back to her home in York and transforms them into some quite extraordinary jewellery – the quirky, rustic, beautiful and completely original pieces she exhibits and sells under her brand name of Moth & Magpie.
“On the foreshore, I hunt for whatever catches my eye,” she says. “But ideally, eroded metal, old coins, natural garnets and ancient ceramics such as clay pipe stems. I have always loved the mystery of ancient things, and had an instinct to gather them.”
Ruth loves the sense of freedom that comes with making only what she wants to make. “I enjoy my work so much, it often seems self-indulgent, but if you make what you love, that’s the surest way to find your tribe,” she says.
By her tribe, she means her customers. “Women who like the unusual,” she says. “Free thinkers, designers, intellectuals. Many are highly educated women who buy for themselves.”
Ruth, 39, has lived in the heart of York for 12 years. She grew up in Suffolk, the eldest of four children in a creative family (her father is an architect).
“We called my mum’s uncle ‘Uncle Mudlark’, because he was most often found on the banks of a river, painting birds in the Devonshire landscape.”
Ruth studied Fine Art at the University of Newcastle, graduating with first class honours. “Looking back, I think the magpie attraction to jewellery was always there,” she says. “As an art student, I crafted a long skirt out of a pair of denim trousers that I obsessively patched and encrusted in pearls. I couldn’t walk properly in it, but it was worth it.”
She started making bracelets for family and friends, and gradually built it into a business. “In a sense, we’ve grown up together,” she says of Moth & Magpie, “and it has evolved as I’ve found my voice, my style, my niche.”
Using as much reclaimed material as possible is at the very heart of what Ruth does, from recycled sterling silver (called Ecosilver) to preloved jewellery and special heirloom finds from antique shops.
“I like to explore concepts of value – memories, the fingerprints and patina created by time. These things mark a person’s life, so why shouldn’t they be prized in the objects we wear?”
Each of Ruth’s designs is a one-off and comes with a certificate detailing its origins, typed on her vintage Adler typewriter.
She says: “I have no interest in mass production, it’s about keeping my curiosity sacred. Each new creation is a new adventure. To me, luxury isn’t new and pristine, it’s something once loved, given the chance to shine again.”
Ruth designs and makes in different styles to suit the galleries and boutiques she supplies. “My Free Spirit collection for Conscious Apparel is bead-based, bohemian, dainty jewellery for the eternal traveller. It has a much more vintage feel,” she says.
“I design a specific collection on request. Our dining room table is often covered in beads. I can’t promise they’ve not made their way into our food.”
Ruth works alone, although she says her husband, David, is quite handy when it comes to any fire-based crafting (he took the London images featured here). She showcases and sells her jewellery at Pyramid Gallery in York, at the Blue Gryphon of Uppingham, at Conscious Apparel online and via her own Etsy shop. She also works privately on commissions. “People are more confident buying online,” she says. “Now I do Zoom consultations, which widens my customer base. I think there will be a return to nostalgia and glamour, but also more freedom to dress for comfort and one’s own style, now that we are less chained to our desks and rigid office culture.
“As the world seems more and more broken, mending and repurposing our clothing and jewellery makes more sense emotionally. Sustainable style is becoming more mainstream.”
Now Ruth is planning to team up with other creatives. “I’m brewing up a little collaboration with Samantha Somers, a talented artist based in the Lake District,” she says. “I’m looking forward to more mudlarking, and when I’m down on the foreshore with that magnificent skyline, it really does feel like anything is possible.”
Visit www.mothandmagpie.com, consciousapparel.co.uk, pyramidgallery.com and Ruth’s Etsy shop, Moth & Magpie.