General Gallery Reviews

Yorkshire Post, 9 July 1999

Yorkshire Post, 9 July 1999

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About Us

6 JULY 1999

Kath rings the changes from health to jewels
As a psychologist, Kath Libbert's day was spent working through problems with her clients. Now in charge of her own jewellery shop she finds satisfaction in matching the customer to the right designer. As KAREN JOYNER discovers, the two worlds are closer then they seem.

With her corkscrew curly hair and wild enthusiasm, meeting Kath Libbert for the fIrst time makes you think she is either a mad professor or an artist. In fact she is a bit of both. A psychologist employed by the Community Mental Health Services Trust in Leeds, and the owner of the eclectic jewellery section on the third floor of Salts Mill in Saltaire. For now the balance is tipped towards the jewellery, as she has just begun a sabbatical from her post to concentrate on the precious metals and shiny gems. Her office is a peaceful corner in the upper reaches of Titus Salt's mill, the looms and Spinning Jennys replaced by glass cases filled with wacky and wonderful rings and necklaces. Through the window there is a beautiful view of the mill and surrounding countryside and there is a pitter-patter stream of visitors who meander among the cases in this relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.

It seems a world away from the stresses and strains of mental health services, facing abuse, pain and suffering on a daily basis. Based with a team in Belle Isle, Middleton and Hunslet, Kath dealt with GP referrals, patients in and out of hospital and some desperately sad tales which touch her even now.
"There were an awful lot of women who had been abused, and with others you could scratch the surface and find reasons for the problems," she says. "I've come from an analytical background and want to find out what has happened to make life so hard for that person. You cannot solve it, but try and make it easier or more understandable. Make that life more fulfilling."
But woven among the caseload and sessions, Kath retained a love of jewellery and design ever since she took a silversmithing course in the ''70s while studying for her psychology degree.
A few years ago she started up a weekend stall in the Corn Exchange, Leeds, getting a few jewellers to let her sell their work and building up a mailing list of more tban 3,000 customers.
"I sold the jewellery at work places too, like a jewellery Tupperware party, and found it was an antidote to the mental health work I was doing," she says.
So much so that when a spot came up at Salts Mill, Kath leapt at the chance to set up her business there. Working on a sale or return basis she has built up her list of jewellers and designers to around 65, with new ones always being added on.
But the business practices employed by this enterprise are weighted on the side of personal interaction rather than cutting edge tactics. Each of the four staff Kath employs to look after the shop have a background in the arts, enabling them to discuss with the customer exactly what they are after. "What I suggest to customers is a bit startling at first, but I want them to look at what we have in the cabinet and take that as a starting point," says Kath.
"We will help customers to develop their own ideas, and if possible encourage them to visit the studio of the jeweller who is doing the work. I want to find out what the person wants exactly and match them to the right jeweller, and get them to be creative."
Since all the items for sale are individually hand made anyway, the price will not leap up because another slightly diffferent piece is commissioned.
And the shop itself is designed to welcome people in to enjoy the pieces on show. "There is something about the whole ethos of Salts Mill that appeals to me," explains Kath. "The reason I've never made any entry or exit to the shop is that I don't want people to feel inhibited or excluded. I want people to feel free to just wander through and say 'that's nice' and carry on if they want to.
"I want the people who wouldn't normally enter a jewellery or craft shop to not feel their background stops them from enjoying it. With lots of places you have to make a conscious decision to go in before you do, here you just find yourself in the middle of it.
"I suppose it is linked with my work in the NHS in that I feel that everybody should have access to the good things in life, be it good treatment or whatever."
This ethos works in relation to the work Kath includes on her shelves. She chooses the jewellery because it strikes a chord in her. It's not aimed at the wealthy, nor is the style or craftsmanship lacking.
"I spend a lot of time with the jeweller discussing how they are going to develop the range, and the sorts of things that the customers coming in here would like.
"If someone really wanted a piece that was expensive, then of course we would produce it for them, but if I saw a piece that was £5 and was beautifully crafted and designed, then I would take it on." she says.
In May Kath's skills were put to the test when Salts Mill director Robin Silver commissioned a brooch frame for David Hockney's Millennium stamp of the mill. With just 48 hours to spare Kath and silversmith Fiona Mackay worked to create the gift which was presented to Hockney in person.
The work attracted a great deal of interest with murmurs of a similar design being reproduced, but the creative process has whetted Kath's appetite to be involved in more pieces.
"I loved doing the piece for Hockney and I'd ideally like my own collection of pieces, as I enjoy the designing side, " she admits. "I'd also like to get in more jewellery from Europe, as there's some really fantastic work around."
The very heart of the business means it will always be a personal concern, with individual attention paid to customers and jewellers to give more diverse and original pieces.
"This is a way of finding expression for a different aspect of me, and as a Gemini one of my characteristics is that I have lots of ideas and am happy following different paths," says Kath. "Before I felt like a bird that had its wings clipped and was being kept in a cage. This has been a healthy move for me and I'm doing it really because it's my passion."
Kath Libbert's summer show Some Like It Hot is launched on July 15 from 5pm-9.3Opm introducing work by eight new jewellers. There will be 15 per cent off all items bought on the night, and it runs until mid September.

Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery, Salts Mill, Saltaire, Bradford BD18 3LA. Tel/Fax 01274 599790. For directions see About Us
Open Monday - Friday 10am - 5.30pm. Weekends 10am - 6pm.