Barbara Gasch

jewellery by Barbara Gasch

Barbara Gasch, jewellery (opal and silver) 

Art Forms: jewellery

Lives: White Cliffs


Dugout 142, Smith's Hill

White Cliffs, NSW 2836

White Cliffs Master Jeweller and opal miner Barbara Gasch originates from Darmstadt, Germany. She trained under master goldsmiths Horst Seifert and Rudolf Deutler, and studied at the College of Fine Arts in Berlin, Art Academy in Prague, completing her master's certificate in Frankfurt.

In 1969 Barbara opened her own shop in Watzeviertel, which she describes as 'a wonderful, creative and rebellious time,' where 'I developed my political consciousness, made jewellery and had wild success.' 

In the 1980s she moved to Australia and, after some travelling, moved to White Cliffs and opened up her own shop, Outback Treasures, which featured jewellery made by dipping insects, leaves and seed cases in silver.  More recently Barbara has retired from jewellery making to become an opal miner.

What inspired you to settle in the remote town of White Cliffs?

Twenty one years ago I wanted to search the world for a place where I could grow old with dignity. I started with Australia - because I had no idea about Australia - and a friend and I hitchhiked to White Cliffs in the first month and I just fell in love with the place and spontaneously bought my dugout. 

I just couldn't believe how beautiful it was and I loved the remoteness.  I still think White Cliffs is the most wonderful place in the world.

What do you think makes it unique?

I love the climate, the animals and especially the insects - these huge spiders and beautiful creatures - the dragons and the frogs (which we have at the moment). I love the flowers and I love everything which is a survivor.

How does living in White Cliffs inspire your creativity?

White Cliffs is a place where I can live as an artist in harsh, brutal and beautiful nature and develop something new.

Barbara Gasch

Also, I think because it's a place where you don't have any culture at all - it is free of culture but in a positive way - which lets you do whatever you want without being restricted. That's why I am so creative here.

White Cliffs is like a magnet that attracts special people. The Outback has a purifying effect and somehow it cleans you. In the city you have to always be the best, the most beautiful, the most 'blah, blah, blah' - you don't have that here. There are no rules or expectations. You just are what you are. 

What materials and techniques you use in your artistic practice?

I always love to integrate something weird in my jewellery [snake skeletons, opalised shells and worms, mice tails and paws, lizard skins, scorpions and grapevines] to create one-of-a-kind pieces. 

When I moved here I started working with electroforming. It's really magic. In an electroplating bath I can place insects, plant parts, skins, objects in a precious metal 'wrap', so to speak, and to build a self-supporting layer. It is very tricky and a lot can go wrong. For me it's always a surprise what works really well and what doesn't want to work at all.

Describe the piece of jewellery featured here.

Electroforming really suits opal because you build the materials up around the opal rather than squeezing it in to a setting. For this piece I coated kangaroo poo with silver, and also put a fly on it. Finding a good fly is not easy! Every fly is hand carved and you have to have it intact - all the feet have to be on it when you're electroforming so it's plenty tricky.

After I finished that piece I said to my partner that I should actually stop doing jewellery now because I can't better it. I think it's beautiful.

Image: Barbara Gasch showing her private collection in her dugout home, 2010.  Photo: Lisa Andersen

Edited from an interview by Lisa Andersen, October 2010.