Since 2010, The Portal Trust has helped the Hand Engravers Association to support apprenticeships in the heritage craft skill of hand engraving.
Megan Rigby is the current young person receiving funding from the Trust and has been training as an apprentice with Rebus since September 2019.
We caught up with Megan to find out how she got into hand engraving, how her apprenticeship has been going so far and what her ambitions are for the future.
Read below to learn about the Hand Engravers Association and to read Megan’s story.
The Hand Engravers Association was founded in 2007 to preserve the skills of hand engraving and establish a body to represent hand engravers in Britain.
The Association came around when the founder, Chris Rowley, was searching for someone to take over his grandfather’s business. He discovered that hand engravers were typically in their sixties, working alone, and that there were no apprenticeships for people to learn the skills anymore – despite the continued demand for hand engraving.
The Association has since trained over 10 apprentices, four of whom the Trust has proudly helped to support. Every one of these apprentices is still engraving, with one previous Trust beneficiary even helping to train the current apprentice, Megan.
Association Director, Sally Dodson, explained that ‘these relatively small wins have major impact in helping hand engraving to move forwards. The support from the Portal Trust is invaluable and we wouldn’t be able to do the apprenticeships without it.’
For Megan, training as an apprentice was always desirable, having been ‘very passionate about having a creative career’. After completing GCSE and A-Level art, she started an 18-month Level 3 Apprenticeship in jewellery manufacture and design at the British Academy of Jewellery to boost her skills and gain experience.
Megan then began engraving in her spare time, but didn’t know much about the industry or process. She found out about the hand engravers apprenticeship scheme when Master Engraver Emmet Smith came into her college one day and she showed him the pieces she had been working on. Emmet offered Megan an interview and she has now been training under him at Rebus Signet Rings since September 2019.
‘I fell in love with engraving from there really. I love the workshop and learn much better when I am thrown into the situation than put in a sit-down education setting.’
‘I fell in love with engraving from there really. I love the workshop and learn much better when I am thrown into the situation than put in a sit-down education setting.’Megan Rigby
Apprentice Hand Engraver
The hands-on style of training means Megan now undertakes work for customers, while continuing to develop and hone her skills under expert guidance. ‘I can now do jobs which are within my comfort zone completely on my own, or jobs that are a bit harder with some more guidance. I get to do something different every day and am broadening my skill level’.
However, being an apprentice during the Covid-19 pandemic also meant that Megan had to work from home, without her tutor’s in-person guidance or access to the workshop. We asked Megan what kind of impact this had upon her apprenticeship and how she overcame these unexpected challenges.
‘I would send pictures to my tutor of what I was doing, but it is not the same as being there in person and having a quick conversation. It could be quite frustrating at times.’
However, Megan focused on improving her drawing skills and engraving speed. ‘Before the lockdown, I was very slow and everything took me a very long time. So when I was working from home, I was able to work on getting more speed behind me, so that I could focus on technique more when I was back in the workshop.’
We asked Megan what impact the Trust’s funding has had for her. ‘When I was working from home I didn’t have access to the tools I needed, so I was able to use my funding to get these so I could keep progressing. I’ve also been able to have a much wider base of opportunity, seeing different types of engraving and going to events such as a copper plate printing course in Manchester. I’m very grateful.’
Megan recently won a Silver Award at the Goldsmiths Craft and Design Council Awards for a copper plate surface engraving called ‘Daphne’ – a piece inspired by the copper plate printing course Megan attended in Manchester.
‘I was really inspired by a Greek myth about a nymph who turns herself into a tree to avoid a man’s advances. It was a surface engraving on copper and I was very pleased to get the award because I mostly do seal engraving at work and was quite nervous to enter it. I was really proud that it won.’
Megan also won a Gold Award in the Junior Engravers Category in 2020 for an engraving called ‘Whale in Space’ and a Bronze Award in 2019.
Looking forwards, Megan told us that her ambitions for the future are to pursue copper printing and improve her seal engraving, while she also hopes to create her ‘own book of surface engraved copper plates’. She plans to carry on working for Rebus after her apprenticeship and wants to ‘learn as much as possible and continue experimenting with different styles of engraving.’
We’re immensely proud of Megan and her fantastic achievements and we’re very proud to support both her and the Hand Engravers Association.
If you would like to learn more about the Hand Engravers Association, make sure to check out their website.