Victoria wears the Darling Jane Detachable Peter Pan Collar.
The Aviary is the brainchild of two fine art graduates, Victoria Foster and Ben Fletcher. In late 2009 the project began life as a way of upcycling the ever-growing array of clutter that surrounded these inveterate magpies, by re-appropriating curios as jewellery, charms and stationary. The couple have a commitment to living mindfully in all they do: read on to discover more about their inspiring outlook on life, where to hang out in Kent, and how their latest illustration collaboration came about.
Autumn Breeze vintage pendant.
Hello! firstly, I didn’t realise you live in Kent. What took you to Kent and whereabouts are you? What do you recommend that visitors to your part of the world should do?
Hello! Well, we came to university in Canterbury and haven’t been able to tear ourselves away from Kent since! Recently many of our friends and contemporaries have made their way to the bright lights of East London, and although we’re often there, we made a conscious decision to reject the trend and have now set up our home and studio on the stunning North Downs, between rolling fields and a forest! Perhaps growing up on the outskirts of the Big Smoke spoiled the magic a bit.
Ben in the woods.
If you’re heading away from London for a day or two, these are some of our fail-safe favourites! Maybe we should get sponsorship from the Kent tourist board?! Stour Valley Arts is based in Kings Wood on our doorstep, and most loved works have to include Jem Finer’s Score for a Hole in the Ground and London Field Works Super Kingdom.
The second Folkestone Triennial took place last summer and the town now houses an array of permanent artworks by artists such as Cornelia Parker and Mark Wallinger that allow you to encounter a faded seaside town with fresh eyes. There’s also some interesting creative collectives like Diver School who provide good nights out and a great burgeoning underground music scene thanks to Box Social Records who put on great gigs. Very excited about Tall Ships on Wednesday 1st February!
Turner Contemporary in Margate has a brilliant programme of exhibitions, and the Old Town is now full of gorgeous vintage stores like Showtime Retro, cafes and independent, ethical shops like Blackbird that champion designer-makers as well as running great workshops. And of course, there’s the cobbled streets of Canterbury where coffee at Boho is a must, then seasonal food, cocktails and bad dancing into the early hours at The Farmhouse.
Summer is the best time to be here for impromtu beach gatherings, sea swimming and woodland walks. It really comes to life with the yearly arrival of Lounge on the Farm music festival. Sondry Folk’s inaugural jamboree was pretty special last year too.
The Aviary grew out your love of hoarding charity shop finds, something that I suffer from myself, any tips on how to make the most of such finds within the home?
Ha! Well, our studio is in a state of perpetual chaos, and is in serious danger of looking like a room from Grey Gardens. However, since relocating to the sticks we have been a lot stricter with what vintage and thrifted finds are allowed across the threshold from our workshop and into our home. We’re in no way stylists but do both love domestic interiors. As a rule of thumb we favour decorative yet genuinely functional objects. Either they must be of use at home, or work well as props to display our work against. Obviously there have been a few special exceptions! Small grouped collections are always better than cluttered surfaces, and mixing up the old with new and handmade stops our house looking like a local history museum, or worse still, a care home! One of the best things about living in Kent is that bargains can still be found in local charity shops, boot sales and flea markets. We picked up our antique organ for a fiver, a beautiful 1920s portable typewriter for £3.50 and an ornate gold mirror out of a skip!
Your products are exquisitely made, can you tell us something of the process? Do you ever find it hard to dismantle or cut up old things?
Thank you! We place a lot of importance on craftsmanship. We’re both pretty fastidious about the finish of our products so it’s lovely to know it shows. A clear desk, a box of favourite finds, a sketchbook and pen, scalpel, pliers, piercing saw and files, blowtorch and solder, along with patience, tea and 6music are the bare essentials at the start of our design process! All of our jewellery and accessories are, wherever possible, made from reclaimed, recycled or preloved items. Gathering these disparate fragments of vintage ephemera, taking them apart and then making temporary collages from them is always the first process in translating them into new, one-of-a-kind pieces. Sometimes the decision to dismantle a particularly old, or rare item can be difficult, but usually the items that we are using have already come to the end of their previous useful lives either through decay or neglect so we feel that we’re rescuing them from being lost to landfill, or simply forgotten about. It’s as much about uncovering aspects of lost stories as it is about upcycling existing materials.
pocket watch case collage pendant.
Why is it so important to you to be sustainable in your business practice?
Without wanting to sound trite, we really see The Aviary as an extension of the way we’re trying to live. For us, being in an incredibly rural community is about learning to slow down a bit, adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. We feel it’s impossible to justify cheap mass produced items and a ‘throwaway’ attitude when the impact of climate change and the strain on resources is already so evident. Therefore the only option left to us as contemporary designer-makers is to create sensitively and responsibly. As makers, it is also wonderful to see a design through from start to finish. Thankfully, we also adore the aesthetic of low impact materials!
How did you get from fine art to handmade limited edition products? Were there any bumpy moments along the way and how does your partnership work?
Our practices always seemed to mix fine art concepts with craft-based techniques so the transition has mostly felt like a natural progression. We still employ many of the same skills too, such as illustration, collage, assemblage and small sculpture. After our degrees we were both still making work, exhibiting and interning for artists and arts organizations, but working within the confines of limited studio access and equipment meant we started to reassess things. The final ‘change’ came after taking part in the 2009 Art Car Bootfair with our collective, Club Shepway. Selling our first, unofficial range of miniature fine art works and curios went down a storm. We haven’t looked back since! As a partnership we work alongside one another to create overlapping bodies of work that then form our collections comprising of individual pieces. It’s so helpful to have someone to share ideas with and perhaps enables us to be more ambitious yet playful. The only thing that is less fun is bickering over who does the greater share of the admin! There are still bumpy moments, mostly involving money and time, but on the whole it’s been brilliant. It has taken a couple of years to shake off the art school guilt and officially ‘come out’ as designer-makers, but we’re getting more confidence in the integrity and worth of our products.
Harriet Gray illustration collaboration.
You have recently collaborated with some illustrators, including Gemma Milly who appears in ACOFI, how did you hook up with them and what were you looking for in a potential collaborator?
To be honest, the collaborative projects stemmed from frustration! Surrounded by a sea of half-made collections, half drunk cups of tea, scrawled lists, collages and quick sketches we felt in desperate need of some fresh perspectives – something that we probably took for granted whilst at art school. We put a call out via Twitter asking for young illustrators who would consider working with us to communicate the nostalgia and uniqueness of our trinkets and treasures and reflect back the kind of girl they thought would wear our jewellery. We were completely taken aback by the number of creatives at similar points in their careers who also wanted to join forces but quickly settled on three incredible illustrators – Harriet Gray, Gemma Milly and Scarlett Rebecca, not only because of their amazing technical skills, but because we felt that they, and their work shared a similarity in spirit to ours.
Gemma Milly illustration collaboration.
What have you produced with these illustrators?
The girls each created a range of beautiful illustrations using a selection of samples we sent them as their starting points. They took our trinkets and treasures and translated them into something more than the objects themselves. In return, we are now in the process of making a small collection of pendants and brooches based on their illustrations. This collection won’t be for sale but will be documented and shown online alongside the original drawings. The project has opened up new and exciting dialogues about our work and has really helped push fledgling ideas forward, as well as being really fun!
Scarlett Rebecca illustration collaboration.
You are featured on Not On the High Street, a great website for independent designers. How did you get together?
Well, we’d heard a little about NOTHS.com through friends and fellow designer-makers. After making some tentative enquiries we were really pleased to be invited to become a ‘partner’. It seems to be a brand that lends another layer of credibility and professionalism to our little venture, which has helped with making other retail and press contacts. We’ve been impressed with the functionality of the site and the control we’ve been given over the content of our ‘shop front’ with them. They’re very supportive of young businesses and allow us real flexibility.
Deer one pendant.
Where else can you buy Aviary products?
We’re so lucky to stock with some fantastic independent shops across the UK! We currently have collections on sale with Of Cabbages & Kings in London, Pretty Scruffy in Chichester, Chapter Arts gallery shop in Cardiff, Made in the Shade in Glasgow and in the very near future we’ll also have ranges available at Moonko in Sheffield and Lionstreet Store in Rye.
double sided pendant.
If you want to come and see us in person we’ll be at Love Handmade? Valentine’s Fair in London on Saturday 11th February as well as the Designers/Makers market at Old Spitalfields throughout the year.
What are you most excited about working on at the moment?
So many things! In some ways, this is the best time of the year for us because it’s the recovery time following the Christmas rush. We’re currently developing new collections looking at charms and amulets because of having this time to be playful. And we’re having a bit of breathing space to concentrate on other side projects, such as Ben’s Tatterattles EP release on Holy Ghost Records. We’re also really excited about other future collaborations, putting together a ‘proper’ look book with a great photographer, and having chats with potential summer interns!
- Introducing the Lucky Dip Club: curated by Leona Baker for Folksy
- Frock Me! vintage fashion fair and tea room
- Christmas Gift Ideas 2012: 13 Top Jewellery Designs
- ROKIT Recycled
- Hokolo: Designs for the Home – an interview with Jen Taylor