Karen Duncan is a Burray lass and her jewellery designs strongly reflect her local roots in the linked south isles. She was recently accepted into the Guild of Master Craftsmen, the first Orkney Jeweller to gain this accolade, in recognition of the artisan skills she has honed over the last 30 years.
From an early age Karen showed an interest in working with her hands, and as a teenager she was fortunate enough to work with renowned silversmith David Hodge at his workshop in Burray during the school holidays. He taught Orkney jeweller Ola Gorie among others, and opened Karen’s eyes to the possibilities of silversmithing. “I loved seeing the transformation from raw material to finished objects”, Karen says, and it whetted her appetite for more.
She became a trainee with Ola Gorie after leaving school, and went on to develop the diverse skills involved in both making jewellery and running a business.
In 2007 Karen took a leap of faith and set up on her own, establishing a workshop in the house she was building in Burray. With stunning views overlooking Water Sound and Churchill Barrier No. 4, this is where Karen is happiest, creating new designs, experimenting with different textures and colours, perfecting each piece before it is packaged up ready for sale.
Karen comes from a long line of craftspeople. Her father designed and made wooden boats with his father and brother in the Burray boatyard operated by at least five generations of the Duncan family. They worked by eye and fine judgement, using an intimate knowledge of their materials and their craft to fashion boats which travelled all over the world.
Karen has adapted these inherited skills and her natural problem-solving abilities to the world of jewellery making. She can turn her hand to anything: one-off commissioned pieces for special occasions, remodelling or repairing existing pieces, as well as making her own designs.
From bubbles on the sea shore to the distinctive concrete blocks of the Churchill Barriers, Karen draws on the historic and landscape features around her to create her beautifully finished pieces. Constantly playing with ideas, she regularly brings out new designs.
Her Lamb Holm and Shield collections use the motifs from the intricate metalwork wrought from scrap metal by the Italian prisoners who built the famous Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm. The Glimps Holm and Blocks ranges interpret in diverse ways the strong geometry of the Churchill Barriers, while her Solar design captures the magic of a solar eclipse, when the sun casts an aura around the moon. If you would like to know more about the inspiration for her collections click here.