Pamela Ritchie

Pamela Ritchie: Behind the Scenes 
- and Extremely Close Up Indeed

15 February 2017

For the 5th consecutive year, the Canada Council has collaborated with independent film directors, in partnership with the Independent Media Arts Alliance, to produce video portraits of the winners of the Governor General’s Visual and Media Arts Awards.

Once again, the results are insightful, often inspiring, always creative. We invited some of the directors to write about the experience.

There’s a shorthand that cinematographers at the BBC use for the kind of shot so tight that you can almost count the subject’s hairs: “ECUI” — Extremely Close Up Indeed. Which is precisely the perspective that jewellery artist Pamela Ritchie has adopted for almost three decades, in a career glittering with multiple traditions, styles and materials.

But while that has meant hovering over her bench for hours and days at a time, poring over the tiniest bit of silver — or high-tech polymer — her focus hasn’t been just physical. She gives equal, if not greater, weight to implications, meanings, resonances. These little pieces hold big ideas.

Jewellery, she says, has a strong relationship with the body. “It begs to be held, touched and worn. But … it can have an even stronger relationship with the mind.” Pamela’s pieces, as variedly inspired as by traditional Norwegian filigree and the mad spin of atoms in a Hadron collider, ask questions like: “where does matter come from?” and “what makes a thing precious?”

Pamela Ritchie:   Behind the Scenes - and Extremely Close Up Indeed

She quotes from the work of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard: “Thoughts as expansive as dreams can be encapsulated in something tiny and intricate.” I tell her that I, too, have been gravitating to the “miniature” in film: the poetic, universe-in-a-grain-of-sand strategy of going narrow and deep, perhaps even with a single object. “I turn my candle down and down... until it explodes,” wrote Hemingway.

And then, as if instantly to oblige, Pamela’s welding torch lets out a cosmic crack! and bursts into rainbow flame. The sound is marvelous and startling. Her husband, Steven Naylor, a distinguished composer and sound designer who kindly agreed to do the music for the video, goes to town with it. He delights in the minuscule scratches of her soldering tool, the clicks of her Bluetooth mouse.

I, meanwhile, am zooming in on the universe of her workbench: a couple of pairs of fine-gauge tweezers, a jar of seriously aggressive pliers, and, nearby, an alien-looking “Optivisor” — goggles made of magnifying glass.

But we have a problem. There are next to no actual pieces of Pamela’s work on hand to shoot for this video. They’re all off at a gallery in Montreal for a big show this spring. We shall have to rely on digital copies, simulacra, Veronica’s Veils of the actual works.

In the end, with the stillness of mere photos, things turn out just fine. We make the backgrounds black or white, drop shadows on a whim. Virtuality, it seems, is actually no big deal. And I learn that Pamela has long since been completely at home with computer-assisted design (CAD/CAM) and 3-D printing of her work.

Still, it comes as a nicely human, incarnate surprise when, looking extremely close-up at one of her more recent pieces, I discover, astray and tangled in the filigree, a single, gleaming, silver hair.

Note: Pamela Ritchie is a winner of the 2017 Saidye Bronfman Award for excellence in fine crafts. Visit the website to discover past award winners.


Tim Wilson


Tim Wilson is an award-winning writer, producer, host and director in radio, television, film and new media, Based in Bear River, N.S., he makes documentaries for broadcast, web and theatrical release, and as private commissions.

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