Remembering Ann O'Donnell

08 April 2019

Ann O’Donnell (1933-2019), acclaimed jewellery artist-maker of international significance, has sadly passed away on the 28th March 2019. Ann studied at Leeds College of Art, now Leeds Arts University, from 1950 to 1954 and later taught from 1960 until 1986.

Born on 27th July 1933 in the North of England, Ann was educated at Leeds College of Art in the early 1950s where she studied textiles and jewellery making as part of her National Diploma in Design.  She successfully went onto postgraduate study at the Royal College of Art (1954-1957) specialising in goldsmithing, silversmithing, metalwork and jewellery. Ann’s work exemplifies the flourishing of post-war British design when many women designers were making innovative designs informed by European and Scandinavian Modernism.

Image: Ann O’Donnell wearing some of her pieces at Ann O'Donnell: Modernist Jeweller, Blenheim Gallery, Leeds College of Art, 12 May - 27 July 2017. Photograph by Ian Hinchcliffe.

One of the many significant moments in O’Donnell’s career was in 1966 when her oriental style gold necklace with square cut diamonds was chosen for the De Beers Diamonds International Awards. The judging panel included Pierre Cardin and Mary Kruming, fashion editor of American Vogue.

In 1977 O’Donnell with her business partner, Mae-Fun Chen, opened up Anno Domini in Leeds. Anno Domini operated as a commercial gallery where Ann held exhibitions of international contemporary jewellery. The gallery gave other important artist-makers a platform to show their work in the North of England and introduced the people of Leeds to exciting avant-garde jewellery design.

The University was fortunate to be able to host a retrospective of Ann’s work in 2017 where her beautifully crafted jewellery could be enjoyed as pieces of sculptural art. This event highlighted her knowledge, skill and artistry with materials, form and gemmology.

Ann’s work, her sketchbooks, her archive materials and her teaching practice have provided the world with a fantastic legacy that will inspire many future artist-makers. She will also be fondly remembered as a Leeds-based pioneer of post-war design.

Image: Ann O’Donnell at work in her studio, she is wearing one of her signature fibula brooches.