Cara Murphy Designs for the PM

The silversmith produces a desk set for the Prime Minister, commissioned by The Silver Trust

The work of County Down silversmith, Cara Murphy, will enter the corridors of power this month when it is given pride of place on the Prime Minister's desk at Downing Street.

Murphy was commissioned by The Silver Trust in 2008 to provide the first piece from Northern Ireland in its Downing Street Collection. Her desk set, entitled Contour, has been three years in the making and has already crossed the Irish Sea eight times to undergo various processes including hallmarking, polishing and engraving.

'I am very honoured and excited at the thought of having a piece that will be used daily by the Prime Minister,' said Murphy, who is Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. She presented her creation to Rupert Hambro, chairman of trustees of The Silver Trust, at a reception at Hillsborough Castle on Monday, May 23.

The piece uses sterling silver, Wenge wood and enamel, and was inspired by elements of the Northern Irish countryside. 'I’m inspired by nature and the landscape,' said Murphy. 'By using enamel, I’ve introduced colour and experimented extensively with shades of green to get the perfect combination.

'After many drawings, models and sleepless nights I came up with the final design. It is striking but not overpowering and has the ability to be manipulated and changed.'

Murphy, who is an Associate Lecturer at the University of Ulster, grew up in an artistic household. Her father, Michael McCrory is also a silversmith, while mum Deirdre is a printmaker and enamel artist. Cara went on to study at Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London.

'I think living in a house surrounded by art and creativity has been a very big inspiration in my life,' she admits. 'I share a workshop with my father and it’s an interesting process, in that we have very different styles and can bounce ideas off each other.'

Murphy received the prestigious commission when The Silver Trust exhibited its collection at Hillsborough Castle during the 2008 August Craft Month. She then received a Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which provided £15,000 funding, some of which was used to purchase materials needed for the commission.

The Silver Trust is a registered charity that promotes the art of British silversmiths. It was formed in the 1980s with the aim of compiling a collection of the best silver created by British artists, which would be loaned to government houses such as 10 Downing Street.

'The Trust chose Cara because her work is so different,' explained Christopher English, Secretary of the Trustees of the The Silver Trust. 'We liked that she uses silver with wood and enamel and this is such a new way to present a piece.'

The Trust specified that the piece needed four elements – a blotter, a space to hold note paper, a pen holder and an area for a clock, as well as trays to hold paper clips and other small items.

The set features a classic rectangular silver tray with four pieces of Wenge wood from Hillsborough furniture maker, Jeremy Suffern. Each of these blocks of wood can be moved so that the Prime Minister can change the structure to suit his taste.

The piece was praised by Joe Kelly, Director of Craft Northern Ireland, at the event at Hillsborough Castle. 'Cara is an excellent ambassador for craftspeople across Northern Ireland,' said Kelly. 'For this wonderful piece to be displayed in such an important and prominent location recognises the excellence of Cara’s work and the reputation of craft makers in Northern Ireland.'

And University of Ulster Vice Chancellor, Professor Richard Barnett added: 'This is a great honour not only for Cara but also for the university. We have a long and proud tradition of excellence in art and design and silversmithing is a highly valued element of our heritage.

'The quality of Cara’s work is a fine, contemporary expression of that tradition and I offer her my warmest congratulations in this fantastic achievement.'