Enduring Splendor of India Volume 39.5

BANGLE (kada) of gold, diamonds, cat’s eye, turquoise, enamel, 9.9 centimeters diameter, Jaipur, Rajasthan, circa 1900. All jewelry from the Ronald and Maxine Linde Collection, except where noted. Promised Gift of Ronald and Maxine Linde. Jewelry photographs by Don Cole, courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

‘Enduring Splendor: Jewelry of India’s Thar Desert’ provided a tantalizing window into the five-thousand-year history of jewelrymaking across the Indian Subcontinent. Shown at the Fowler Museum at UCLA (February 19—June 18, 2017), it was the setting for a stunning array of magnificent jeweled objects, part of a promised gift to UCLA from the Ronald and Maxine Linde Collection of Jewelry and Ritual Arts of India. An important aspect, curated by Thomas K. Seligman, was the work of four living metalsmiths (sonis) from the fortress city of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Exhibition co-curator Usha R. Balakrishnan authored two of the essays in the accompanying publication.

The jewelry featured in “Enduring Splendor” derives primarily from Rajasthan and Gujarat, on the westernmost periphery of India. The region in question once encompassed the silver-rich Aravalli Mountains, the Thar Desert (also known as the Great Indian Desert), and areas of the Sind region of modern Pakistan. It extended into Gujarat in the south and central India in the east, and it stretched to the foothills of the Himalayas in the north.

      For many centuries Rajasthan was the gateway to India and came into contact with the great ancient monarchies of Asia. Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and Babur, Alexander the Great and the Greeks, and countless early European visitors, all brought their influence to bear on the region. Communities of pastoral nomads bartered camels and traded gold, silver and gemstones along these routes. Goldsmiths and silversmiths (known as sonis or sonars) who accompanied the caravans exchanged styles, designs and techniques and were subject to myriad influences with the result that jewelry forms often came to traverse great distances.

NECKLACE (nagapada tali) of gold, diamonds, rubies, 32.0 centimeters long, Kerala, nineteenth century. THE ANDROGYNOUS FORM OF SHIVA AND PARVATI (Ardhanarishvara) of black schist, 62.9 x 29.2 x 9.5 centimeters, Rajasthan, eleventh century. Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Ancient Art Council and the Indian Art Special Purpose Fund. Photograph courtesy of LACMA. EARRINGS (bhungri) of gold, 3.5 centimeters diameter, Gujarat, early twentieth century. ARMBAND (nagothu) of gold, rubies, white sapphires, 7.0 centimeters diameter, Tamil Nadu, nineteenth century.

IDEALIZED PORTRAIT OF THE MUGHAL EMPRESS NUR JAHAN of opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 29.5 x 21.6 centimeters, Kishnagarh, Rajasthan, circa 1725–1750. Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Gift of Diandra and Michael Douglas.

      The necklace, earrings and armband adorning an eleventh-century androgynous image of Shiva and Parvati, for example, are mirrored in a necklace from Kerala, a pair of earrings from Gujarat, and an armband from Tamil Nadu. This despite the fact that more than eight hundred years and one thousand miles separate the sculpture and the jewelry. Continuity in jewelry designs can also be seen in a stylized eighteenth-century portrait of the bejeweled Mughal empress Nur Jahan. Her earrings, armband and bangle are remarkably similar to pieces in the Linde Collection.

From birth to death, jewels form an essential part of samskaras, or rite-of-passage rituals in India. Marriage, pregnancy, the birth of a child—each significant life event is commemorated with special jewelry. A young child is adorned with black bead ornaments for protection from the evil eye. In ancient India sixteen rituals of beautification or adornment were prescribed for a bride in preparation for her wedding. Once ritually bathed, she was adorned from head to toe with jewels. These included ornaments for the braid, a forehead jewel, earrings, a nose jewel, necklaces, armbands, bangles, rings, a girdle, and anklets. Thus attired, she became the personification of a goddess and was elevated from human to divine.

EARRINGS (karanphul jhikka) of gold, rubies, pearls, 2.5 × 3.6 centimeters, Orissa, late nineteenth century.

      Names often provide clues to the tribal affiliation of ornaments, their purpose and their design inspiration. The borli derives its form and name from bor, or the Indian plum, a fruit endowed with powerful medicinal properties; hasli is from hansuli meaning “collar bone;” and champakali are the buds of the Michelia champaca flower. Flowers, leaves, fruits, and berries have been incarnated as ornaments and reflect the importance of agriculture. The pahunchi bracelet with its spikes simulates large thorns that grow in the desert and was worn to keep animals at bay. While it is highly unlikely that these spikes could actually function as an effective weapon, they symbolically provided protection to the wearer.

Ornaments have long been thought to enhance fertility; to protect against unsettling effects of the planets; and to serve as talismans against danger. The mere act of adornment—placing a pendant around the neck or encasing a wrist with bangles—does not, however, make a jewel work its metaphorical magic. The form of the jewel, its construction and the motifs or gems that decorate the surface, combine to unleash the requisite powers. Emeralds, for example, were carved with floral motifs and holy verses, and worn as an armband. Pendants were decorated with images of gods, goddesses and symbols to heighten their potency. A necklace, a pendant, a ring or an armband set with the nine planetary gems, navaratna, might be visually attractive, but the nine gems alone do not work any magic. When they are arranged with a ruby symbolizing the sun in the center, and surrounded by the other gems, however, they become able to harness the energies of the cosmos and draw those energies into the individual.

BRACELET (pahunchi) by Dharmendra Soni, of silver, 22.5 centimeters long, 2014. Fowler Museum at UCLA museum purchase.

HEAD ORNAMENT (borla) of gold, pearls, diamond, enamel, 4.2 centimeters diameter, Udaijpur, Rajasthan, circa 1920.

      Wearing jewelry is also believed to have physiological benefits. A branch of traditional Indian medicine known as Marma Shastra maintains that there are vital points, marma, located along energy pathways that run through the body. Gentle pressure and stimulation of these points enhances fertility and releases energies contributing to physical and emotional well-being.

PENDANT (navaratna padak) (reverse and obverse) of gold, emerald, rubies, white sapphire, citrine, amethyst, tourmaline, turquoise, coral, rock crystals, pearl, enamel, 7.0 x 4.2 centimeters, Deccan, circa eighteenth century.

RABARI WOMAN wearing a silver vadlo torque, Kutch, Gujarat, 2010. Photograph by Thomas K. Seligman.

      Men and women have long pierced their ears and suspending ornaments from them as this is believed to open the mind to learning, broaden the intellect and enhance fertility. Amulets are usually worn around the neck or are tied around the arm—both locations of vital marma points. The weight of an ornament gently stimulates the point while the power of its motifs (verses and symbols) and the potency of the material (gold, silver, jade, and so on) works the magic. Heavy torque necklaces, such as hanslis rest on the collarbone releasing energies that provided relief from muscular and joint pains, improved digestion and aid in the elimination of toxins. Cuff bracelets serve a similar purpose functioning almost like a brace and support for the arm, while an amulet with the coiled body of a snake not only promotes fertility but also activates energy points enhancing sexuality. The head is the seat of all consciousness and the spiritual fulcrum of the body, mind and intellect; thus head jewels metaphorically regulated spiritual energy. Jewelry ensured that the rhythm of the body was always in equilibrium.

Jewelry and gems feature in classical Indian literature through the ages with Rama’s signet ring and Sita’s head jewel, for example, playing significant roles in the Ramayana. In the Buddhist Jatakas, the jingling of bracelets by themselves is considered among the thirty-two good omens that appeared when the Buddha became incarnate. In the Kama Sutra, women were required to have knowledge of gold, silver, jewels, and gems, as well as of housekeeping and the arts of singing, dancing and composing poetry. They had to be well versed specifically in stringing necklaces and designing beautiful jewelry. The sound of tinkling bells on anklets, the sparkle of a diamond in the nose, and flower blossom earrings all worked to enhance sensuality.

A FARMER FROM THE GUJJAR COMMUNITY wears a pair of gokhru earrings, Pushkar, 2009. Photograph by Thomas K. Seligman. 

      Ornaments also serve to dispel anonymity, proclaim caste, religion and ethnic identity, and even unequivocally communicate an individual’s region of origin. This is particularly the case among tribal and pastoral communities. Massive silver vadlo and hansli torques are worn by Rabari and Fakirani Jat women in Gujarat and Rajasthan, while male members can be recognized by the single horse-shoe shaped bawaria earring and the thorny gokhru. Strikingly abstract thandatti and pambadam are unique to Vellalar women in rural Tamil Nadu, and large rings joined with faceted beads known as mekkamotiram are worn on the helix of the ears by Syrian Christian women in Kerala. The fabulous kali thiru marriage necklace is a trademark of the Natukottai Chettiar community in Chettinad. Devotees of Shri Nathji wear pendants bearing an image of the god. In fact, for women of the Bonda tribes of Orissa—as well as for Nair women in nineteenth-century Kerala—ornaments and costumes merge and become one with the body. Jewelry functions almost like clothing—row upon row of elaborate necklaces covering the entire chest.

Sonis in most parts of India, especially South India and Bengal, consider themselves to be descended from Vishwakarma and along with the four other communities (blacksmiths, carpenters, metal casters, and stonemasons) occupy an ambivalent position in the Hindu caste order, neither at the topmost nor at the bottommost rung. While Brahmanical texts refer to them as silpis and assign them the rank of sudra (lowest of the four traditional castes), they credit themselves with the primordial act of creation and trace their origins to the “pre-brahminic and pre-caste period.” By virtue of the fact that they “built temples, sculpted the deities, made their ornaments and these were pure and sacred acts,” they claim a social prestige equal to the Brahmins (the uppermost caste).

EARRINGS (durgla ihumar) of silver, 8.3 - 8.4 centimeters long, Rajasthan, early twentieth century. ANKLETS (kalla) of silver, 13.3 centimeters diameter, Rajasthan, nineteenth century.

      The process of transforming a lump of shapeless metal into a beautiful object of adornment was not only a manual task but also a spiritual ritual. For, as Ananda Coomaraswamy, the renowned philosopher-historian of Indian art, explains, “The craftsman is not an individual expressing individual whims, but a part of the universe, giving expression to ideals of eternal beauty and unchanging laws, even as do the trees and flowers whose natural and less ordered beauty is not less God given.” Though a piece of jewelry is not signed or stamped with a hallmark, it bears the fingerprints of its maker. No two jewelry items are identical and no two pieces within a pair are exactly the same. An extra granule, a wire that did not get perfectly twisted, a slightly off-center flower—each piece is unique.

BRACELETS (chood or kadla) of silver, 10 centimeters tall, Gujarat, nineteenth century. ANKLETS (sankhla) of silver, 12.5 centimeters diameter, Gujarat, late nineteenth century.

      There are no metalsmithing schools, and no technical manuals. In accordance with the guru-shishya parampara—the tradition of the father assuming the role of guru, or teacher, and transmitting his knowledge to his son, the shishya, or student—sonis were all formerly apprenticed to their fathers or to an uncle. Their learning consisted of watching, listening, practicing, performing small tasks, and eventually executing assigned pieces of work to the satisfaction of their teacher. The soni designs the piece of jewelry; casts, beats and twists metal into forms; sets gems; decorates surfaces with patterns and enamel; and finally polishes the finished piece. The vocation of a soni is strictly the domain of men, and women are neither trained nor allowed to work in the profession. Shyama Devi, however, the patua, or stringer, who threaded the individual spike elements made by Dharmendra Soni into a beautiful, flexible silver bracelet (pahunchi), is a woman from the Lakhera caste, a community traditionally associated with making shellac bangles. Throughout Rajasthan, women of the Lakhera caste string pendants and individual components into necklaces and bracelets.

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      An item of jewelry begins life as raw materials in the workshop of the soni. Silver pieces are handcrafted one at a time, mostly on commission, and the weight of the ornament is carefully calibrated to individual specifications depending on the budget. Soni workshops today are small and family run, and they are usually located in the front room of the home, overlooking the street, while the family resides in the back. Specialization in the various stages of manufacture, such as casting, repoussé work, gem setting, enameling, and so on, are all nurtured within the family. While one solid silver necklace in the Linde collection, for example, was made using the sand-casting process, another elegant torque was created by hammering silver into a thick sheet, cutting out the form, and then engraving peacocks and flowers on the surface with sharp tools; in other pieces, a nose ring is intricately decorated with minute gold granules; and extremely sophisticated repoussé work is conspicuous in the fine detail on an amulet.

HANUMAN SONI is cutting silver with a chisel. Note his working on the floor, with anvils mounted low, and the use of the foot to hold the workpiece.
Photograph by Thomas K. Seligman.  BRACELET (katria) by Hanuman Soni of silver, 10.5 centimeters high, 2014. Fowler Museum at UCLA museum purchase. JEETU, Hanuman’s son, is making a design in silver strip by striking a chisel with a hammer. Photograph by Thomas K. Seligman.

      An unknown smith made a pair of anklets known as sankhla using cire perdue, or lost-wax casting, to fashion an amazingly flexible set. In an exquisite armband (bazuband), the gem setter embedded precious and semiprecious stones within ribbons of pure gold, and the enameler formed cavities and filled them with vibrant colors in an astonishing pair of bracelets (gajre, see Cover). While the preferred metal for setting precious gemstones was gold, silver was usually set with synthetic stones and foil-backed glass to simulate real gems.

Transformations taking place in the artisan community straddle the rural and the urban, the traditional and the modern as they reinvent themselves to adapt to the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Departing from tradition, another soni in “Enduring Splendor,” Bhagwan Das, no longer manufactures jewelry himself but has stayed true to his caste occupation by becoming a retailer of jewelry. He has seized the opportunity afforded by arrivals of large tourist groups in Jaisalmer to offer his expertise and knowledge to an international clientele, which he has assiduously cultivated.

Hanuman is perhaps the only one of the four sonis in “Enduring Splendor” who continues to conform to tradition, replicating traditional forms with the same decorative details, perhaps bound by the sanctity of meaning enshrined in them. While the price of the metal may be too high to allow for the liberty of experimenting with new forms and designs, Hanuman, like most sonis, follows a structured, coordinated and synchronous division of tasks in the workshop that is efficient and time saving and that he is reluctant to change to try something new.

He has trained his sons in jewelry manufacture, and they continue to be apprenticed to him, learning the many technical aspects of the art and executing assigned tasks. Hanuman’s son Jeetu has expressed a desire to forsake the family trade and pursue a career in computers in the city. As a Medh soni, however, Hanuman insisted that his son uphold the pride of his “warrior” lineage and learn the trade into which he was born. It is this hereditary transmission that results in the continuity of skills and the perfection of accumulated generations of artistry and finesse. The lure of the city and a nine-to-five, white-collar job, however, still tempts Jeetu.

Coomaraswamy reminds us “the best things are always well rooted in the soil.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the beautiful organic and geometric forms and decorative motifs inspired by nature that figure so prominently in Indian jewelry. The feathers of a heron, shells, jasmine buds, chrysanthemum flowers, and all manner of flora and fauna, including marine forms such as shells are stylized in objects of adornment and decorative motifs. Over time, the manifold original meanings and connotations of abstract motifs have become blurred, lost in transmission and set aside as a consequence of changed lifestyles. Even the craftsmen are no longer cognizant of these symbolic codes, merely adhering to long-established designs and motifs and replicating them with mechanical precision. While the abstract form of a silver torque made by Hanuman Soni with its solid cuboid centerpiece might look contemporary, minimalist and unusual, the genesis of its long-standing design is lost forever. The striking design of pieces like his allows them to transcend time.

In India, the relationships that exist between jewelry and society, artist and jewelry, and artist and society are profound. Inextricably intertwined are the historical and cultural contexts of ornamental forms, materials and techniques. Among the manifold varieties of human creation, it is instructive and exhilarating to understand that the art of personal adornment goes far beyond merely appending beautiful pieces crafted from gold and silver to the body.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Ornament thanks the Fowler Museum at UCLA, the assistance of Erin Connors, and with special recognition to Ronald and Maxine Linde. The Ronald and Maxine Linde Collection of Jewelry and Ritual Arts of India has been assembled over three decades, and guided by the Lindes’ belief that their collection will help to shape a continuing study of Indian jewelry—design, craftsmanship, spiritual interpretation, and cultural content.

SUGGESTED READING
Seligman, Thomas K. and Usha R Balakrishnan. Enduring Splendor: Jewelry of India’s Thar Desert. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum at UCLA, 2017.
Balakrishnan, Usha R. and Meera Kumar. Dance of the Peacock: Jewellery Traditions of India. New Delhi: India Book House, 1999.
Borel, France. The Splendour of Ethnic Jewelry: From the Colette and Jean-Pierre Ghysels Collection. London: Thames and Hudson, 1994.
Hendley, Thomas H. Indian Jewellery. Repr. Ed. Delhi: Low Price, 1896.
Neubauer, Jutta. Chandrika, Silver Ornaments of India. New Delhi: Shisha, Manchester, in Association with Timeless, 2001.
Untracht, Oppi. Traditional Jewelry of India. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997.

Click Photos to Enlarge

ANKLETS (kadla) of silver, 11.5 centimeters diameter, Gujarat, early nineteenth century. TORQUE NECKLACE (hasli) by Hanuman Soni of silver, 15 centimeters diameter, 2014. Fowler Museum at UCLA museum purchase. ARMBAND (bazuband, obverse and reverse), of gold, diamonds, emeralds, enamel, 3.7 x 10.5 centimeters, Jaipur, Rajasthan, nineteenth century. NOSE RING (nathad) of gold, topaz, showing miniature granulation, 5.1 x 4.4 centimeters, Gujarat, late eighteenth to early nineteenth century.

 

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Usha R. Balakrishnan is a freelance scholar based in Mumbai, India. After obtaining a post-doctorate degree in Museum Studies at New York University, she worked as a research associate at the Brooklyn Museum. Her publication Dance of the Peacock: Jewelry Traditions of India (1999) reflects her research on the five-thousand-year history of Indian jewelry. In 2001 the government of India invited her to study the fabulous collection of gems and jewelry that formerly belonged to the Nizams of Hyderabad, where she published her book Jewels of the Nizams. She has also curated “Alamkara: The Beauty of Ornament,” an exhibition of the permanent collection of Indian jewelry at the National Museum, New Delhi, and been a guest curator for “India: Jewels that Enchanted the World” at the Kremlin Museum, Moscow, while contributing essays to or authoring the catalog.

Julie Powell Volume 39.5

JULIE POWELL. Photograph by Dog Daze Studio. PATTERNED WRAP CUFF of glass seed beads, woven off loom in peyote stitch with a needle and fishing line. This woven fabric is created and then stretched over a sterling silver wire frame, and laced with fine sterling silver wire. The flexible cuff wraps around the wrist one and a half times, 25.0 centimeters long x 3.6 centimeters high, 2015. Jewelry photographs by Larry Sanders.

JULIE POWELL. Photograph by Dog Daze Studio. PATTERNED WRAP CUFF of glass seed beads, woven off loom in peyote stitch with a needle and fishing line. This woven fabric is created and then stretched over a sterling silver wire frame, and laced with fine sterling silver wire. The flexible cuff wraps around the wrist one and a half times, 25.0 centimeters long x 3.6 centimeters high, 2015. Jewelry photographs by Larry Sanders.

"A lot of beadwork is too precious,” says bead jewelry designer Julie Powell. A tall, lithe brunette, wearing a pair of kick-ass cowboy boots, the Boulder, Colorado-based artist is in Santa Fe for a trunk show at the prominent Casa Nova Gallery. People are crowding around, asking about her work. “What I’ve seen in beadwork, for the most part, is an ornate and intricate and somewhat overly fussy design sensibility. That doesn’t feel right to me. That really isn’t where I wanted to go.” Powell, who describes herself as a self-taught bead artist, speaks from decades of experience as a successful textile artist and designer. When she began to focus on beadwork, about 2007, she had already left behind a thriving garment business with half-a-million-dollars in annual sales, and was working as a high-level executive travelling the world for another company. It seems daunting that anyone would want to leave behind a jet-fueled life in mid-career for the solitude and meditative slowness of working with a needle and a fishing line. But she craved working again as an independent artist. Beadwork, while familiar, also beckoned her with other possibilities.

      “When I’m interested in something, I research it,” Powell says. “I look online, I look in books and magazines, I go to the library, I go to galleries, I go to stores. In order to do something new, I need to see what else is out there. I process what I see, from ancient beadwork and Native American and African traditions all the way up to the contemporary artists I see in Ornament—all kinds of beadwork, over hundreds of years. One book that was very valuable for me in terms of seeing the history of beadwork and the progressions and the changes and the tweaking was The Art of Beadwork: Historic Inspiration, Contemporary Design, by Valerie Hector.”

Powell schooled herself in beadwork techniques, building what she calls her “muscle memory. My general process is learning about how to use your hands and doing it so you understand it, whether it’s dyeing, weaving, quilting, knitting with multiple colors; whatever it is, learn how to do it, do it again and again, repeat it and learn. Then you have a certain kind of confidence.” She settled on peyote stitch and herringbone stitch for her basic bead language. Herringbone, a weaving technique using two beads at a time, makes a fluid, sinuous tube or rope that drapes well. Peyote stitch she likes better for bracelets because it preserves a firmer, more stable surface that tolerates a lot of stress from moving wrists. Just as often she combines the two stitches; “I’m not really conscious of when I switch from one to the other.”

When she transitioned to jewelry, Powell ransacked her background in textiles, re-interpreting florals from Hungarian folk art or designing with William Morris tapestries in mind. She experimented with merging techniques that she has used in the past with beadwork. A recent example, Mixed Media Cuff, is made of abstract bead embroidery extended on either side with panels of peyote-stitch beadweaving, interspersed with hand embroidery in cotton DNC floss sewn into a felt backing. Powell manipulated tension and spacing to lift the beadwork up off the surface, creating a rising and falling topography in black, red and turquoise. “All of that’s going on in one piece, and for me that was mind-blowing,” she says. “The embroidery comes from a place of just having worked with artisans in Nepal. That’s a completely different context. The Nepalese women were using satin stitch to embroider flowers on woolen mittens, but I’m applying it in a cuff. That’s very exciting for me.”

PLAITED NECKLACE of glass seed beads, woven off loom in herringbone stitch with a needle and fishing line. Strands are woven separately and then braided together and attached; with Czech fire-polished glass, handwoven toggle closure, 44.0 centimeters long x 7.5 centimeters high, 2016.

      Colors are her whole world. “Color moves every part of me,” Powell says. “I feel like that’s what makes me tick. I’ve always been that way.” Her mother told her she could name colors before she could walk (“It took me a long time to walk, let’s put it that way.”) Now she runs marathons, and her color sense is well-nigh unassailable. “I don’t have any real formula, except that I like to create a dynamic feeling of the colors playing off of each other,” Powell says. “I love old Czech, French and Venetian beads, and some Japanese, because they have amazing colors and transparencies; there’s no mistaking that they’re glass.” Her only caveat: she refuses to use delica beads. “They’re too perfect and refined. That’s not me.” She explains her aesthetic as a balance of “warm with cool tones. And while I like to combine unexpected hues, I have to consider the ‘wearability’ of my work. I often make sure each piece has some kind of gray/silver, black, bronze or gold in it to harmonize with other jewelry.” Though she avoids primaries, she will select very bright colors for cuffs or bracelets, and prefers softer, more sophisticated colors for necklaces.

Customers invariably comment on Powell’s color compositions, and she has thousands of followers on Pinterest, where she posts color boards. “Certain palettes appeal to me, and I catalogue them on Pinterest. I store inspiration there. I’ll pin everything from a bouquet of flowers to a painting to a landscape photograph. It’s about how the colors work together; I don’t care about individual colors as much as how they’re combined: light and dark, hue, value, tone—all the things that go into mixing colors are what’s interesting to me.”

SHANGHAI BAG of glass seed beads embroidered with a needle and fishing line, embellished with coral, labradorite and fire-polished glass; lined in silk, and backed with Italian wool, 13 centimeters x 15 centimeters with 112 centimeters hand-beaded strap, 2016. 

      Lining the white walls of her studio in Boulder are tall shelves stacked with glass baby-food jars of beads, bright with harlequin colors. Storage bins of cut stones—jade, labradorite, turquoise—stand rowed up beneath the shelves. A hanging abstract quilt, hand-dyed and sewn by Powell in blue-violet and rust, is the room’s only decoration. Two work desks stand close to tall sash windows, rising like portals to let the clear mountain light fill the room. The smaller desk is for metalwork. “I’ve developed quite a few pieces with beadwork stretched on sterling silver wire, like a trampoline or a corset. I’m wrapping and pounding the wire to move the beadwork from the flat plane into a three-dimensional frame.” A vintage oak library-card catalogue houses glass tubes of more beads. When she is constructing a new piece, Powell will get tubes out and think about “How do I want this to flow? How can I get it to move through and around? It’s like Asian dancing.

“It’s the idea of moving planes, of what’s traditionally thought of as a flat surface but it’s come to life by moving in unexpected ways,” Powell says. She calls the regimentation of putting down bead after bead “claustrophobic. With beadwork, you’re making decisions about every placement; everything is controlled.” But uniformity goes against her nature. “That’s partly because of my choice to use color and size over consistency. It’s engineering; solving spatial math problems, getting different shapes to lie down next to each other.”

Her surfaces seem to mimic a panorama of hills and valleys, and at the same time evoke the irregular, tactile quality of handwoven fabric. “When you touch my beadwork it’s very granular; it’s textural and organic. If I want it to go down into a gully I’ll use little beads, or I’ll pull it tighter or put in a stone that gives it a bump, to pop it out of being smooth.

“I want to make a mini-Bilbao in a cuff,” Powell says. She points to two people from different worlds as huge influences: renowned Ghanaian artist El Anatsui and architect Frank Gehry. “Gehry does it with titanium and steel; El Anatsui does it with metal bottle caps and copper wire ties.” She got to know Gehry’s architecture in Chicago; she discovered El Anatsui while on a business trip to Paris, when she walked into the Louvre and saw an enormous, suspended cloth-like assemblage. “Very often he’s present to help, but it’s up to the museum or gallery how they want to hang it, so it’s never the same. Each time it becomes another piece; it’s alive.” Powell’s Flux Panel Cuff, a tribute to El Anatsui, spreads expansively in free-form peyote-stitch panels randomly interspersed with open spaces. Like the gleaming metallics in El Anatsui’s hangings, the corrugated beadwork glitters. Up close, the reflected light suggests an ever-changing visual energy, like water coruscating over rocks in the bottom of a stream.

 
In my head I have a sense of a sine curve or a wave. I see a motion in it; I want the piece to have a life of its own. As I’m making it I’m thinking: how do I want the whole piece to be? Not the half-inch I’m working on, but the whole macrocosm.”
 

FIVE-STRAND PLAITED CUFF of glass seed beads, woven off loom in herringbone stitch with a needle and fishing line. Strands are woven separately and then braided together and attached; handwoven toggle closure, 17 centimeters long x 5 centimeters high, 2016. FLUX PANEL CUFF of glass seed beads and fire-polished glass, woven with a needle and fishing line in a sculptural manner, into an undulating fabric. Pieces are created separately and then linked together with sterling silver beads; handwoven toggle closure, 18 centimeters long x 6 centimeters high, 2012. MIXY CUFF of glass beads, woven with a needle and fishing line in peyote stitch. Various sized beads are used to create texture; embellished with fire-polished glass and stones, 17 centimeters long x 4 centimeters high, 2017.

      Capturing a sense of integral movement gives her work a distinctive edge. “In my head I have a sense of a sine curve or a wave. I see a motion in it; I want the piece to have a life of its own. As I’m making it I’m thinking: how do I want the whole piece to be? Not the half-inch I’m working on, but the whole macrocosm. Then I’ll reach for the materials that I’ll know in my technical brain will work.” She became enthralled with adapting the idea of braiding, of ‘ribbons’ that move, into beadwork: it emerged as the Plaited Necklace. “That one made me so happy. First of all I could use color. I had a palette of black, amber, bone, and red that I loved. I have always baked bread, and the beaded ribbons intertwined like braiding challah. But instead of multiple twisted ribbons all the way around the neck, I beaded continuous ribbons in different lengths that could cascade. They are each independent; you can adjust the ribbons so they fall in different combinations.” The geometric, lozenge-like pattern suggests mobility heightened by an indefinable air of whimsy and elegance, all characteristic of Powell’s art.

WISTERIA AND LEAF SQUARE KNOT NECKLACE of glass beads, woven in a spiral herringbone stitch with a needle and fishing line. The hollow tube is filled with small glass beads and then knotted into a square knot form; with recycled glass, stone beads and handwoven toggle closure, 45 centimeters
long x 5 centimeters high, 2014. 

      Sometimes, if she gets a vision for a piece, she draws it out. “Drawing comes naturally to me. I’ll do a few of them, especially for a new design or a version of a previous one. I always have a piece of paper or a sketchbook around, so if something’s brewing in my head and I wake up in the night I can interpret it. It’s like a riff: what if I change that from herringbone to another stitch; what if I did that in shades of gray instead? It’s the overall structure, form and shape. That’s where the techniques that I’ve nailed come in. I’ll look at how I want it to come out, and then decide on the execution.” She likes to share her creative process on Facebook, posting photos of pen-and-watercolor sketches partly for feedback from other artists. She may do a piece a few times before it comes right, or she may throw it all out.

Raised near New York, Powell grew up immersed in the arts. “I was surrounded by gorgeous books on crafts. We made visits to museums dozens of times a year going into the city.” Her mother was an artist and art teacher; her father, a musician and record producer, always had music playing in the house. As an undergraduate at Bowdoin College, in Maine, Powell began making handwoven jackets and handknit sweaters, spinning and dyeing all the yarns herself. For her junior year she studied textiles with Sherri Smith at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In 1981, while still a student and with the wearable art movement coming into full swing, she founded her company, Periwinkle. Relocated to San Francisco, Periwinkle grew into a company with ten employees. Powell sold wholesale and at shows with other Bay Area designers. She remembers inventing her own mission control, a system of “giant white boards with colored post-its to track hundreds of orders,” and hired a production manager and a sales rep. “It was an amazing time. I learned how to get a bank loan; what you do with a purchase order; how to think about price points.”

She told herself she was a businesswoman, not an artist any more. By then Powell and her husband, an attorney, had bought their first home and had two young sons. But after twenty years, she felt depleted. Her jam-packed life had “taken away my love of creativity. You have to have the constitution to handle the stress of constant juggling, marketing and having to be accountable. Like Homer Price and the doughnut machine, eventually it felt out of control. So I decided to stop.”

POWELL stringing beaded ribbon in her studio.

      She took a break before going to work for Icelandic Designs, a multi-million-dollar knitwear corporation based in Colorado. The family moved to Boulder in 2002. For the next ten years Powell was Icelandic’s director of design and merchandising. She mastered CAD programs and Photoshop, and now freelances as a designer. One of her jobs, for a fair-trade handmade knitwear company, takes her to Nepal every year for three weeks to work with women’s cooperatives around the Kathmandu valley. Powell compares the diversity of her work to cross-training; it recharges her design mojo.

The idea of going in a new direction with her own bead embroidery struck the way inspiration tends to: she was watching her son tie a fishing fly. At first she was “doing little paintings in beads, in the style of Robin Atkins, but not to wear.” As soon as she made her first jewelry she began working fine arts fairs. “I love setting up a tent and seeing what happens; I like the outdoors, and the chance to get together with other artists. I love people trying on a piece so I can see how it looks. But for me, it’s gambling for a living. I can’t count on the shows. You drive twenty hours to get there, then there’s a rainstorm and nobody comes.”

 

BLUEBELLS AND POPPIES FIORI NECKLACE of glass beads, woven in various off-loom stitches with a needle and fishing line in a free-form style. Petals and leaves are woven and then embroidered to each other and a fabric base. Embellished with stones and fire-polished glass, the necklace is backed with Ultra-suede; back of necklace is created with a filled herringbone spiral tube, 43 centimeters long x 9 centimeters high, 2014.

 

      Powell, convinced that the internet increasingly is making everything accessible, launched her beadwork jewelry and simultaneously put up her own website, started posting on social media, and soon was selling on Artful Home to promote name recognition. Artful Home has become the premier online marketplace connecting independent artisans with consumers (they also have a print catalogue). It now accounts for nearly one-third of Powell’s business. “It helps keep me current, as an artist, and it informs me about trends.” She offers special editions of jewelry on Artful Home; and on her own site will take custom orders, say for one of her necklaces made in different colors. In February 2017, for the second year, Powell was an exhibitor at the American Craft Council show in Baltimore, which she says is “my best show ever.” These days, her work is featured in galleries, boutiques and museum shops all over the country.

One lesson she learned as an entrepreneur is the vital necessity to stay ahead. She recalls how, during a recent conversation, a knitter in Nepal pulled out a hat made from a design on Pinterest. “You have to stay innovative,” Powell says. “You have to figure out what you can make that’s going to continue appealing to people, that can meet consumer need for something that’s different.” Powell pauses, then smiles with anticipation. “I’ve got hundreds of ideas.”

 

Click on Photos for Captions

 

      Get Inspired!


Leslie Clark still quails at the memory of attempting to learn Native American loom beading. Especially she remembers the torments of trying to spear a row of beads with her needle. “Beads like to jump,” she claims, and for months found beads scattered far, far away. Left with great admiration for the prowess of bead artists, Clark was delighted to speak with bead jewelry designer Julie Powell. “Julie has an extraordinary color sense, and is breaking out in a new direction with the craft. Plus she was articulate and stimulating to talk to about her work,” Clark says. “I bet her beads behave, too.” Clark lives and writes in Santa Fe, a city where all kinds of glorious beadwork flourishes.

Comment

Leslie Clark

Leslie Clark is a freelanced writer and editor in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Clark, who claims red is her favorite color, was flabbergasted by her visit to the “The Red That Colored the World” exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art up on Museum Hill. “I had no idea how exhaustively people worked, for centuries, to produce a red color. No wonder kings and prelates hogged it for themselves. Cochineal changed everything. Even now, with synthetic dyes around, its amazing properties are still the best. It makes you grateful to Mother Nature and those little bugs.”

The Tsosie-Gaussoin Family Volume 39.5

 
The idea of creativity as a shared resource rather than the jealously guarded capital of individual genius comes naturally to the Gaussoins through Native American heritage and family tradition, but it has also been cultivated by an emphasis on the responsibility to community. ‘That’s something that my mom has always taught us,’ David asserts. ‘It’s not right to just be taking. You have to give back. We teach, we volunteer, we give back to our community.’
 

CORN MAIDEN NECKLACE by Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin of sterling silver, bezel set Royston turquoise, tufa cast, dragonfly design on necklace, corn maiden pendant with feather design, and partial patina, collar 2009, pendant 2015. Photograph by Carolyn Wright.

Descended from Navajo silversmiths and weavers and Picuris Pueblo potters, Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin and her sons Jerry Jr., David and Wayne Nez, and daughter Tazbah share a creative heritage that has profoundly shaped their experiences and perspectives. Like the progeny of the early American painter Charles Wilson Peale or the Duchamp-Villon siblings who played a prominent role in modernism, Connie’s sons and daughter took to art collectively as a consequence of their upbringing but as adults have demonstrated that the creative spirit can be both a unifier, connecting them in communal understanding, and a means toward individualization and personal expression. There is no doubt that their careers as artists have been mutually sustained through familial bonds, but each can be distinguished by a unique personality that gives direction to the style and content of his or her work.

      Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin, the current matriarch in the artistic lineage, was raised on stories about jewelry related by her father, who worked on a line stamping, doming and soldering with other Native American artists at the famous Maisel Store in Albuquerque. Another key influence was her uncle, Tom Tsosie. “He used to make jewelry the old way,” she recalls. “He would sit on sheepskins on the floor of a large, round hogan. We’d watch him every summer when my parents took us on the Navajo reservation. There was a tufa mine out behind the hogan, and he would go and gather huge stones off the cliff. It was a very hard process. He would cut the tufa into molds and use a bellows to melt down Mexican coin silver to make a cast. So, I saw the very old process.”

In the late 1960s, after traveling extensively, Connie returned to her native New Mexico and married Jerry Gaussoin Sr., who encouraged her studies of metalsmithing with jeweler Nino Padilla at the College of Santa Fe. From Padilla she learned stamping skills, making her own dies from nails and other found objects, then decided to teach herself the traditional tufa-casting techniques she had observed as a child. Honing her abilities through trial and error, she learned to cut the stone, smooth two slabs by abrading them against one another, carve the tufa, and pour molten silver into the resulting mold. She explored traditional forms like the bow guards worn by men for dances on the Navajo reservation, making rapid progress in both technique and aesthetics despite working conditions that were less than ideal. “When I started out, we were living in a trailer,” she recalls. “I used to work on a little table in the kitchen. I’d take everything off to make dinner and then put my tools back and start working again in the evening. It was back and forth every day. My buffing machine was under the trailer, and I’d be out there both summer and winter.”

 
THE TSOSIE-GAUSSOIN FAMILY. (left to right) Wayne Nez Gaussoin, Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin, Jerry E. Gaussoin Jr., David Gaussoin, Tazbah Gaussoin, showing at the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market, March 2017. Photograph by Margie Zebell-Parrish.

THE TSOSIE-GAUSSOIN FAMILY. (left to right) Wayne Nez Gaussoin, Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin, Jerry E. Gaussoin Jr., David Gaussoin, Tazbah Gaussoin, showing at the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market, March 2017. Photograph by Margie Zebell-Parrish.

 

      While her makeshift workshop left much to be desired, Connie’s greatest challenge in establishing a career in the tradition of Navajo silversmithing arose from the conventions of that tradition itself. Like most Native American peoples, the Navajo historically observed gender division in the arts, with women weaving and men, after the introduction of silversmithing techniques in the 1860s, working in metal. In the 1970s, when Connie began winning awards for her jewelry at the Santa Fe Indian Market show, few Native American women had ventured into metalsmithing. As a consequence, some male jewelers expressed skepticism that she was producing her own work. To quell the rumors, she took a metals course at the Institute of American Indian Arts with Millard “Skip” Holbrook III, who, recognizing her skills and appreciating her talent, assigned her a position monitoring the lab. This was a vindication of sorts, but breaking longstanding gender barriers remained a struggle for years. “She had to force the door open,” her son David asserts. “She took criticism but she persevered, and now women have her generation to thank for it.”

CASINO LOOT BAG by Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin of sterling silver, bezel set Royston turquoise, Italian coral in gold bezel, tufa cast feather design with fabricated silver sheet, 2012. Photograph by Carolyn Wright.

CASINO LOOT BAG by Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin of sterling silver, bezel set Royston turquoise, Italian coral in gold bezel, tufa cast feather design with fabricated silver sheet, 2012. Photograph by Carolyn Wright.

      The ostensible paradox of deeply respecting a tradition while simultaneously subverting it has been common enough in modern crafts practice to rarely breed controversy, but Navajo metalsmithing embraces more than aesthetic conventions and historical symbolism. It is deeply ensconced in a cultural identity. While Connie has embraced that identity and has cultivated it in her children, she is at the same time driven in her work by a conception of creativity in which exploration of new possibilities of form, materials and expression is a matter of course. “She’s always encouraged us to learn the traditional ways, because our cultural heritage is important,” David relates. “We know how to make concho belts and squash blossoms, but she didn’t ask us to do that for the rest of our lives. She said, ‘I’m passing this on to you so that you know how to make things in the old way, but then go do what you want.’ ”

Following this advice, Connie’s sons and daughter have felt free to explore diverse artistic avenues without fear of how the resulting work might be received and to show their work in mainstream exhibitions of Native American jewelry despite occasional criticism from traditionalists (whom they facetiously dismiss as the “art police”). As David points out, the idea that Native American identity is a fixed quality that can be adequately represented through a finite number of materials and forms discounts one of the most valuable facets of that identity: its innovative spirit. “Whenever we talk with museum curators and collectors,” he says, “we remind them that traditional Southwest jewelry was once new and progressive. Native jewelers were using materials that they had never used before. That’s the tradition that we’re carrying on. We have to celebrate it and use the abundant materials that are available to us today to create the best things that we can. That’s our tradition as native people.”

For the Gaussoins, the inclination to venture individually beyond the confines of formal and aesthetic conventions in art was no doubt encouraged by a structure of mutual support that existed from the beginning. As children, each had a place in Connie’s workshop, where they naturally developed the ability to work together without conflict and to serve as each other’s sounding boards in the frank and honest manner of their mother. The confidence that reliable critique has imparted to each has been an undeniable boon, and the habit of conversing about one another’s work has bolstered the ties that came naturally through familial connection. As a result, even as they have oriented their lives in different directions and developed unique perspectives as artists, the Gaussoins prefer to present their jewelry collectively at shows. “We all go,” David says. “It’s a family thing. Sometimes it’s so crowded in the booth that you can’t even move, but that’s OK. Our Pueblo and Navajo heritage instilled in us the importance of family, the importance of unity.”

JEWELRY BY JERRY E. GAUSSOIN JR. (left to right, top to bottom): Navajo Mother Earth bracelet, 2017; Navajo Four Cardinal Directions concho style buckle, 2017; Ranger belt buckle, 2015; Simplicity cuff, 2017; Navajo Spider brooch, 2014; Pueblo Protector ring, 2017; Pueblo Maiden pendant, 2017; Byzantine Chain bracelet, 2017; and Half Persian chain bracelet, 2017. All jewelry is fabricated, some hand-stamped, formed and/or textured, set with turquoise or lapis. Photograph by Jerry E. Gaussoin Jr.

JEWELRY BY JERRY E. GAUSSOIN JR. (left to right, top to bottom): Navajo Mother Earth bracelet, 2017; Navajo Four Cardinal Directions concho style buckle, 2017; Ranger belt buckle, 2015; Simplicity cuff, 2017; Navajo Spider brooch, 2014; Pueblo Protector ring, 2017; Pueblo Maiden pendant, 2017; Byzantine Chain bracelet, 2017; and Half Persian chain bracelet, 2017. All jewelry is fabricated, some hand-stamped, formed and/or textured, set with turquoise or lapis. Photograph by Jerry E. Gaussoin Jr.

      As one might expect, occasional collaboration has been a natural offshoot of the many conversations, mutual critiques and communal exhibitions. Sometimes collaborative work has united the creativity of two siblings, as in the case of the looping, head-encircling Postmodern Boa of enameled stainless-steel tubing, silver and feathers that David and Wayne Nez created for the “Native Fashion Now” exhibition organized by the Peabody Essex Museum and on display at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York until September 4, 2017. In other instances, to support institutions such as the Heard Museum in Phoenix and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, collaboration has produced donated works to which the entire family has contributed. The procedure for collaboration is generally fluid. “Someone will start it off,” Connie explains, “and others will add to it. If we do a seed bowl someone might add dragonflies to it, and someone else might add a pin. Each piece is different. It’s like neighbors meeting at the fence. We don’t know how it will turn out, but we all bring our own ideas.”

505 SERIES CUFF by Wayne Nez Gaussoin of found object, dyed handcut leather, 8.9 x 8.9 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Robert K. Liu.

      Jerry Jr., the eldest of the siblings, sold his first bead-wrapped necklace at a Fayetteville, Arkansas, art show while still in the sixth grade. Now a Lt. Colonel in the United States Army, he remains closely influenced by traditional Navajo and Pueblo silversmithing designs, though his experiences in Germany and during tours of duty in Kosovo and Iraq, have worked their way subtly into his art. After a hiatus during his years abroad, he has returned to jewelrymaking in part as a means of mulling over his life. “What I’ve seen and experienced,” he says, “is definitely reflected in my thought process.” An affinity for the patriotic color combination of coral, pearls and lapis lazuli occasionally reveals itself, but the more profound content of his work is less literal, manifesting itself in the formal choices of an artist given to personal reflection and expression through making.

GET BACK IN YOUR BOX BRACELET by David Gaussoin of found object, sterling silver, copper, chalk (low grade) turquoise, 10.5 x 8.0 x 11.0 centimeters, 2015. “This is a statement piece about not submitting to standards placed upon us to use certain materials just because they are considered ‘traditional’.” Photograph by Mark Herndon.

 

Wayne Nez, whom middle brother David describes as “the iconic artist in the family,” earned an MFA at the University of New Mexico. Working in a variety of media, including monumental sculpture, he approaches jewelry and fashion design with a penchant for non-conventional materials. “I’ve been playing a lot with non-precious metals like aluminum and found objects,” he relates, “particularly steel mechanical parts with an interesting character to them. I play around with them until I find something that speaks to me, that reveals what it wants to be, whether that’s a ring or a wearable collar.” Currently some of his most distinctive work incorporates vibrant, leather-backed fragments of license plates in flared cuff bracelets and drop earrings.

David is clearly an artist from sheer love of the creative process. “Even though I went to college and pursued other interests,” he says, “it’s always been my life. When I make a piece I don’t think about selling it—just the art, the beauty and the expression of it. As a child I used to watch my mom and ask if I could play too. To me it’s still play. It’s a way of going into my own world and designing what I want.” While he enjoys stretching the boundaries of jewelry through innovative materials and techniques, he has come to favor more extensive expression through fashion encompassing the entire body. Among his latest designs is a “head-to-toe statement of sustainability” for an exhibition at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) that consists of an elaborate collar of aluminum and clothesline, a halter-top created from a repurposed leather purse and a skirt fashioned from old prom dresses.

Tazbah, who earned a degree in museum studies and plans to pursue a career “preserving the arts for the long term,” is a weaver and has also collaborated with David on some fashion designs, frequently modeling the resulting apparel for publicity photographs. Fashion first caught her attention when she was still in high school. “I was modeling quite a lot for designers,” she recalls, “and thinking that the clothes were beautiful and that I’d like to know how to make them. I took a course in pattern, but it was David who taught me how to sew.” Despite never having caught the jewelry bug, she made a point of taking courses in metalsmithing, not only because of her conviction that “to preserve things you should know how they were made” but also, no doubt, because of a deep sense of the place of jewelrymaking in family tradition.

SMALL COTTONWOOD CHIEF’S BLANKET, shown in progress on loom, by Tazbah Gaussoin of natural dyes, Navajo Churro Sheep wool, 2017. Photograph by Tazbah Gaussoin.

      The idea of creativity as a shared resource rather than the jealously guarded capital of individual genius comes naturally to the Gaussoins through Native American heritage and family tradition, but it has also been cultivated by an emphasis on the responsibility to community. “That’s something that my mom has always taught us,” David asserts. “It’s not right to just be taking. You have to give back. We teach, we volunteer, we give back to our community.” This commitment is not simply altruistic. It concerns the nature of creativity itself as a kind of vital energy. “People think I’m crazy because I talk to my pieces and they start coming alive,” Connie explains. “They say, ‘OK, I’ll work with you,’ then they start playing and dancing on their own. Artists are the ones in the world who keep the whole universe alive. Things are moving well because of us, not just this family, but all creative people. To be an artist is to create but also to share.”

 

POSTMODERN BOA, collaboration by David Gaussoin and Wayne Nez Gaussoin of stainless steel, sterling silver, enamel, paint, and feathers, 2009. TEARDROP EARRINGS by David Gaussoin of sterling silver, 8.0 centimeters long, 2009. EFFUSION BRACELET by Wayne Nez Gaussoin of sterling silver, 30.5 centimeters long, 2009. GLISSADE BRACELET by Wayne Nez Gaussoin of sterling silver, stainless steel, 15.2 centimeters diameter, 2009. DRESS by David Gaussoin and Tazbah Gaussoin of metallic blended material and silk, 2009. Photograph by Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. Model: Tazbah Gaussoin.

 
 

      Get Inspired!


Glen R. Brown, Professor of Art History at Kansas State University, was struck by conceptual similarities between some designs in the Denver Art Museum’s “Shock Wave: Japanese Fashion Design, 1980s-1990s” exhibition and a recent piece by David and Wayne Nez Gaussoin, who freely explore possibilities beyond mainstream Native American art. “Innovations are by definition always different,” he observes, “but innovation in the abstract is a consistent force. Why wouldn’t free experimentation beyond mainstream Native American jewelry and fashion and Japanese designers’ radical rethinking of haute couture in the 1980s and 1990s feel kindred in a general creative sense?” Brown is currently working on another article for Ornament, a feature on jeweler Robin Waynee.

Barbara Mann Volume 39.5

 
While works like Life on Mars and Meteorite take a vast perspective of nature, Mann also delves into the other extreme, examining cellular structure—she ponders life’s puzzles both large and small.
A SLICE OF LIFE PENDANT of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, coral, pearls, diamonds, 5.7 x 5.7 x 1.3 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Walker Montgomery.

A SLICE OF LIFE PENDANT of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, coral, pearls, diamonds,
5.7 x 5.7 x 1.3 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Walker Montgomery.

Barbara Ingerski Mann’s home sits off a small road on land that is deeply terraced from its time as a cotton farm. Her extensive basement studio looks out into the woods. She and her husband, a retired professor of landscape architecture, live not far from the University of Georgia and enjoy being part of its vibrant research community. She has resided in Athens for more than forty years, but—with a father in the military—she was born in Japan, and lived in Washington state; Washington, D.C.; and Naples, Italy, while growing up. She is an avid nonfiction reader, and her current pile of favorite books includes Cotton: The Biography of a Revolutionary Fiber by Stephen Yafa; Rust: The Longest War by Jonathan Waldman; The Cell: A Visual Tour of the Building Block of Life by Jack Challoner; Sacred Architecture by A. T. Mann; and Cosmigraphics by Michael Benson. She channels her interests in art, science and nature into creating work in metal, her longtime passion.

      Mann moved to the deep South to attend the University of Georgia [UGA] in 1969 to study art. The school fit her family’s budget (she is one of five children) and she had seen and liked the paintings of Lamar Dodd, the art department’s director for many years, at an exhibition in D.C. She quickly discovered that art meant more than just painting and drawing, and found her home in the University’s strong craft areas, first in ceramics. She began visiting friends in the metals area while Robert Ebendorf was teaching, and started taking metals classes when Gary Noffke joined the faculty in 1971. She received her B.F.A. in 1973 and her M.F.A. in 1975, focusing on jewelry and metals.

BARBARA MANN in her studio. Photograph by Bill Mann.

BARBARA MANN in her studio. Photograph by Bill Mann.

      She married William A. Mann, a young professor at UGA, in 1974 and they had their first child, Anthony, in 1982 and second, James, in 1986. She wanted a family and though she took time to focus on raising her boys, she also maintained a steady schedule of part-time teaching and studio work. She offered after-school art classes at St. Joseph Catholic Parish School while her sons attended, taught in the University’s continuing education program, still teaches at local community art centers, and has served intermittently since the mid-1970s as a part-time instructor in jewelry and metals at the University. One of her most personally influential teaching assignments is through the University’s study abroad program in Cortona, Italy, where she has taught nine times. Those travels remind her of the childhood awe she experienced while visiting Italian churches, which were always “full of mystery and smoke.” She is drawn to the rich cultural emphasis in Italy—and in Catholicism—on tradition and on the cycle of life and death, a key theme in her work.

METEORITE NECKLACE of sterling silver, fourteen, eighteen and twenty-two karat gold, meteorites, diamonds, cubic zirconias, garnets, rubies, 40.6 x 2.5 x 1.3 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Dede Giddens.

LIFE ON MARS BROOCH/PENDANT of sterling silver, eighteen and twenty-two karat gold, glass, slate trilobite fossil, meteorite, 7.0 x 5.1 x 1.3 centimeters, 2000. Photograph by Walker Montgomery.

      One of Mann’s favorite pieces of jewelry is a brooch titled Life on Mars from 2000. She wonders, within the vast expanse of time and the vast expanse of space, could there ever have been life on Mars? This work is composed of three rounded forms: the top section features a trilobite fossil bezel set in gold; the middle a hemisphere of deep red Italian glass bezel set in gold; and the bottom a meteorite cast in place with three gold dots that suggest stars, planets or space dust. Through bringing these objects together, she documents parts of her thought process: one rock records life on Earth from over two-hundred-and-fifty-million years ago, while the other could have carried trace elements of many, potentially living, materials across vast expanses of space; the extreme magnitudes of time and distance embodied by these carefully selected objects—combined with the chance of interstellar contamination—presents many possibilities for speculation upon the red planet’s history.

Mann sets the elements in Life on Mars against sterling silver cuttlefish bone castings. She learned this ancient technique as a student in the early 1970s from artist Nancy Shapiro. Cuttlefish are sea creatures similar to squid with an internal shell that is rich in calcium and pumice-like in consistency. Collected when they wash ashore, cuttlefish bones are popular with pet owners, who place them in birdcages, and jewelers who slice them in half and press forms between them to create molds. The resulting casts have wavy, laminated textures. Many artists smooth these away, but Mann likes the natural ridges, and in her work they suggest growth and emphasize connections to nature.

A recent work, Meteorite Necklace, also features meteorites, each one in a comet-like setting speeding towards a central disk with a ruby slice. Instead of recalling science fiction or space-age-modern qualities, the rough rocks combined with the organic forms and cuttlefish bone texture convey a sense of raw nature. The silver middle element evokes a swirling and churning energy, and numerous faceted stones suggest, as Mann explains, “light rays, explosion, dispersal.” She is fascinated by depictions of the cosmos in art and maps, and with this necklace has added her own wearable representation of a powerful universe.

 

CREATION, STEM CELLS BROOCH/PENDANT of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, diamonds, rubies, 5.1 x 5.1 x 1.3 centimeters, 2014. SINGLE CELL BROOCH of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, amethyst, emeralds, labradorites, 5.1 x 5.1 x 1.3 centimeters, 2000. Photographs by Walker Montgomery.

 

      While works like Life on Mars and Meteorite take a vast perspective of nature, Mann also delves into the other extreme, examining cellular structure—she ponders life’s puzzles both large and small. Single Cell, a round silver brooch, is a luxurious scientific diagram of a eukaryotic cell in sterling and gold with a variety of gemstones representing the nucleus, lysosomes, ribosomes, and mitochondrion, while a similar pendant, A Slice of Life, suggests a cell more generally and is rendered in silver with coral, pearls and diamonds. In her Creation, Stem Cells, a round pendant or brooch that illustrates a stem cell becoming a neuron or nerve cell, Mann chose rubies to represent health and life and diamonds to represent energy or sparks. One reviewer, Dorothy Joiner, describes irregularities in the forms as hinting at deterioration, but likens the work to a “petri dish incubating stem cells, their branchlike extensions stretching toward each other in the miracle of growth.”

THE CLONING OF DOLLY BROOCH of sterling silver, fine silver, fourteen and eighteen karat gold, druzy uvarovite garnet, pearls, 6.4 x 5.1 x 1.3 centimeters, 1998. Photograph by Dede Giddens.

      When Mann sought knowledge about stem cells she contacted Dr. Steven Stice, a professor at the University of Georgia and a leading stem cell and cloning scholar, who generously invited her to his lab, showed her stem cells, and talked with her about their use in research. He shared images of stem cells that she uses as inspiration. Mann made a brooch in 1998 honoring Stice’s work with the first cloned mammal, The Cloning of Dolly, that features a pair of cast sheep atop a grassy green druzy uvarovite with a gold double helix between them, and Cloning Calves Sistrum (2011), a rattle reflecting her belief that research such as Stice’s keeps the world “agitated” in a positive and necessary way.

The importance of science in understanding the cycle of life and death is deeply personal for Mann. When her son Anthony was diagnosed in 2001 with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), which took his life in 2009, she read a lot, “read out of necessity,” in order to understand his illness and to learn about treatment opportunities. In addition to translating cellular structure into metal and stones, she conveyed her appreciation for the efforts of scientists and study animals in a necklace titled Research Mice as Saints from 2010. The necklace is a series of brass washers each stamped with “SOD1” representing a specific gene being studied for its possible connection to ALS, as well as a series of numbers denoting individual mice used for testing. Sections of Pyrex stirring rods, a laboratory essential, hang from some of the washers. The most haunting element are three silver mouse skulls with brass halos, honoring the mice who died. She reverently states, “The mice gave up their lives; they are saints.” Even amidst the great loss that forced her attention toward stem cells and ALS research, she has created works that convey beauty, compassion and hope.

Mann’s Memento Mori Pendant also features insects. In this work a large moth with matched agate wings and a curled proboscis prepares to suck what liquid remains in a decaying lemon, while a larva crawls along another part eating holes in the slice. The two-sided pendant is gently washed with blue and purple enamel, giving it an impressionistic hint of mold, while a few faceted stones flash and twinkle to indicate that the lemon is not completely dry. She reinforces the idea of moisture through the rutilated quartz “droplet” hanging from the bottom. Memento Mori at first glance appears to be conventional jewelry with gemstones, but through the details Mann twists the narrative and makes it a true “reminder of death,” as the name denotes, drawing upon sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Dutch vanitas paintings, beautiful still lifes with added elements like skulls or insects.

 

MEMENTO MORI PENDANT (obverse/reverse) of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, bronze, copper, agate, opal, diamonds, rutilated quartz, 7.0 x 7.0 x 1.3 centimeters, 2014. Photograph by Walker Montgomery.

 

      Food has emerged as a recurring subject in Mann’s work, and she creates necklaces and bracelets from materials including cast peanut shells, garlic, okra slices, and peach pits. She explains, “I love to cook, and eat, and I see so much beauty in the patterns and forms of many common foods. Preparing and chopping fruits and vegetables can side track me easily and I have to stop and go make a mold of that perfect slice of okra, or top end of a pepper, before it dries.” Her Okra Necklace comprises a series of individual slices, of assorted widths and seed densities, while her works with peanut shells investigate their endless variety of netting patterns. Much of her work is broadly situated—science, the cosmos—but the food pieces are more rooted in her adopted region. She even keeps a bucket for peach pits in her studio and is casting okra pods as vases.

PEACH PIT BRACELET of sterling silver, eighteen and twenty-four karat gold, spinel, citrine, topaz, 6.4 x 2.5 x 7.0 centimeters, 2013. Photograph by Neil Rosenbaum.

      In a recent exhibition of her work she included the following text: “Festina Lente is an Italian phrase which means ‘Make Haste Slowly.’ ” For her, this “is a reminder to slow down, take time, and take a long look at the beauty and complexity of what surrounds us.” And, she enjoys connecting her experiences with nature to the scientific texts she reads. Once she found an unusual sea creature fragment on the beach, and it reminded her of “reading about the amazing discoveries in the ocean depths and hydrothermal vents.” She considered the form, contemplated the “unknown in nature and life,” and used her sparkling vocabulary of gemstones and precious metals to express her wonder at nature and science, and the “mystery of the sea,” through the pendant Proliferation.

Mann avidly amasses materials for her work and for inspiration and especially relishes starting projects. She has drawers and drawers—filled with tidy little trays—of projects (at least a hundred) she has begun and intends to complete. Her studio is lovingly cluttered with skulls, postcards, toys, boxes, pistachio shells, dried flowers, books, and tools, and has at least eight places for her to sit and work, plus a casting studio in a former horse barn and a separate drawing room. Each day she walks in the woods, always returning home with a treasure—rough bark, a special stick, a beautiful feather or leaf, or maybe a glittery rock. She believes, “Observation gives us a more intimate relationship with nature and miracles,” and in that spirit recently completed the brooch and pendant Sunlight in the Trees. For this work she cast found twigs and added shimmering baguettes to replicate the dappled light she enjoys seeing filter through the limbs and leaves as she walks. This simple observation of nature translated through metal and stones reflects Mann’s optimism and the pleasure she finds in looking, learning and making.

 

PROLIFERATION PENDANT of argentium sterling silver, fourteen, eighteen and twenty-two karat gold, spinel, 6.4 x 5.1 x 1.3 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Dede Giddens.

SUNLIGHT IN THE TREES BROOCH/PENDANT of sterling silver, fourteen and eighteen karat gold, cubic zirconia, peridot, aquamarine, garnet spessartite, 6.4 x 5.7 x 1.3 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Dede Giddens.

SUNLIGHT IN THE TREES BROOCH/PENDANT of sterling silver, fourteen and eighteen karat gold, cubic zirconia, peridot, aquamarine, garnet spessartite, 6.4 x 5.7 x 1.3 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Dede Giddens.

 

SUGGESTED READING
Joiner, Dorothy. “Barbara Mann: Form and Response.” Metalsmith 33: June 2011.
“Barbara Mann at Wiregrass Museum,” World Sculpture News 21, No. 3: Summer 2015.
Roberts, Holly. “& Artist Spotlight: Barbara Mann,” Ampersand (magazine of the Red and Black, University of Georgia student newspaper), April 4, 2016.

 

      Get Inspired!


Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. As part of her research for an upcoming exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, “Crafting History: Textiles, Metals, and Ceramics at the University of Georgia,” for which she was a co-curator, she interviewed Barbara Mann, who has been involved with the school’s craft areas since the early 1970s. Mann, a local leader in metals who helped found the Athens Metal Arts Guild in 2013, graciously shared her knowledge of the history of craft in Athens. Callahan was pleased to have the opportunity to expand her discussions with Mann to include details of Mann’s own career and artistic perspective. Next up will be Callahan’s contribution to Ornament on jeweler Kat Cole.

Photography on the Run Volume 39.5

As a photographer, I try to continually improve my skills and adapt to different types of shooting, as well as attempting to utilize more fully the capabilities of modern digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLR), especially outside of the Ornament studio. Also, I minimize the amount of equipment I travel with, both to reduce weight and avoid problems with airport security, with the realization that the added weight of a laptop is now a must for functioning outside of the office. Instead of multiple camera bodies and lenses, I restrict myself to one body, perhaps a zoom and a macro lens, and if necessary, an external flash. Often, I just carry a DSLR, preferably with my image stabilized 17-55mm lens. If traveling by car, then a full complement of photography equipment may be carried, including a sturdy tripod and ballhead.

      In this brief article, I show images shot from late 2016 to recently, mainly photographed with makeshift setups, at museum exhibitions or shows and a few studio photos for comparison. With time always a premium, I still try to shoot images that are good enough to use for articles, news, blogs, and documentation, although it is hard to always match the quality produced by studio strobes in our office. When I am photographing outside of the studio, I consider it shooting on the run and often have to improvise without the proper equipment. But, by using external flashes, high ISO, image stabilized lenses and good camera holding techniques, one can get pretty close to studio quality. The images of the Bedouin necklace shows how a studio softbox and its diffused light can produce subtle qualities that enhance an image, like how the cloves and corralles glass beads are so well delineated, versus that shot with external flash in an improvised photo setup. In the latter situation, the more direct, less diffused light does not separate nor model as well the individual components of the necklace.

When I wrote the Photography of Personal Adornment (2014), I had already used almost all of the above techniques, although I had not used as much high ISO. Sometimes increasing the ISO, which is the equivalent of using higher speed film or ASA, produces too much electronic noise. The image of the Loloma bracelet, if examined at a higher magnification, shows noise or grain. Other times, by using high ISO and closing down the aperture of the lens, I can get very good imagery, even though the image on the viewfinder might be too dark to judge. After downloading to a computer and applying a few Photoshop moves, the image vastly improves, as seen in the minute glass facial mosaic of the Corning Museum of Glass (Liu 2014: 135).

Photography can be a difficult pursuit for both the professional and the hobbyist, but these photographs should give you an idea of what is possible with limited equipment.  Experiment and enjoy the process while searching for that satisfying result.


Click Photos to Enlarge

 

“AFRICAN-PRINT FASHION NOW!,” an exhibition at the Fowler Museum at UCLA, a large, well-installed show of vibrant clothing and accessories. Both shot with handheld Canon 7D, 17-55mm image stabilized lens (IS) on P or programmed mode, ISO 2500, 1/80. Left at f4.5, right at f4.0. For exhibitions, the 17-55mm is ideal, although because it was used with a sub sized and not full sensor, there is a magnifying effect, lessening the effectiveness of the 17mm wide angle lens. But the weight of the 7D and the IS lens make such a combination excellent for handheld photography, even though we did have a tripod with us, which requires much more time for each shot and reduces spontaneity. Courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

 
 

DRAGON BROOCH WITH KINGFISHER FEATHER MOSAICS, 7.5 centimeters wide, from my sister Margaret’s childhood; shot as part of an inventory of her jewelry collection, on a piece of black Tufflock. On the left, M mode, with Canon 7D, 60mm macro and 580EZ external flash with diffuser, at f32, 1/100, ISO 100, handheld, with flash aimed at brooch. On the right is the same brooch shot in the Ornament studio, same settings but with strobe in overhead softbox, and Mylar reflector in front of jewelry to bounce light against vertically oriented brooch. Note differences in amount of reflections and that color of studio images is more purple, as colors of bird feathers change due to the angle of light striking them. Shooting with external flash and macro can yield reproduction quality images.

 
 

BEDOUIN NECKLACE purchased in the 1970s, with the upper portion re-strung by author, given to my sister Margaret as a gift. It is an excellent example of use of cloves for smell as a component, as well as Chinese glass beads, evidence of trade. Right, shot on site with M mode, 7D, 60mm, external flash, f32, 1/100, ISO 100. Left, shot with studio strobe, equipment and settings exactly same.

 
 

CHARLES LOLOMA GOLD BRACELET, in his signature style of inlay, at the Heard Museum exhibition “Beauty Speaks for Us.” Shot with 7D, 17-55mm, manual mode, f14, 1/60, ISO 6400; at higher magnification, one can detect appreciable noise. HOPI DANCER, HALL OF DANCE, MUSEUM OF AMERICAN INDIAN, shot handheld, with 7D, 17-55mm: Left image f2.8, 1/6, ISO 2000, program mode; Right image f6.3, 1/80, ISO 2000, manual mode. While the latter is much darker exposure, the colors are better. The lighting for the installation was very low, to protect the colors of the costume materials. With more trials, a decent exposure would be possible.

 
 

BALEORA NECKLACE, of gold, rock crystals, rubies, nineteenth century, 35.3 centimeters, Rajasthan, as seen in exhibition installation at the Fowler Museum. Shot with tripod mounted Canon 6D, 100mm macro, manual mode, f8.0, 1/80, ISO 2500. Slightly underexposed, details are sharp; note how the curved parts of the necklace catch more light, whereas the more vertical lower portion and pendant are somewhat darker. When an external flash on an extended sync cord was used, the necklace cast too strong a shadow, so only ambient light from the overhead spots was utilized. Ideally, one would use an overhead softbox, with light bounced onto the lower portions of the necklace. Courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA. PATRICK BENESH-LIU is shown using the above equipment to take these shots. A good, steady tripod like the three decades old Tilt-All is mandatory for this type of photography. The light is being projected into the Plex case from overhead spots that are slightly to the side of Patrick.

 
 

ROBERT K. LIU shooting with tripod mounted 6D, 100mm macro, manual mode, f4.0, 1/80, ISO 2500. Because of the shallow depth-of-field at f4.0, one focuses at the midpoint of the image, about where the brass rod of the armature bends. Much of the background blurs, but one can still see reflections off the silver of other jewelry. The 100mm macro is perfect, where one cannot get too close to object. VADLO SILVER TORQUE, early twentieth century, 21.5 centimeters diameter, Rajasthan. Courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

 
 

      Get Inspired!


Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty-plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. A frequent lecturer, some of his topics include precolumbian jewelry, prehistoric Southwest jewelry and ancient Egyptian jewelry. Recently he has been giving one-on-one photography lessons at our office, as well as teaching workshops on bamboo and matrix jewelry. In this issue Liu writes about photographing in improvised situations while producing near studio quality images, by using accessories like external flash and increasing the ISO of digital cameras.

Bhagwan Das Soni Volume 39.5

AMULET NECKLACE (haar) of silver, glass, paper, and paint worn by Hindus. WRIST BRACELET of silver worn by Rabari tribes of Gujarat. AMULET (sikka) of silver, pearls, turquoise, coins, and carnelian. Photographs by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

We live on a planet where the global neighborhood has broadened, with once great distances being traversed daily. The land and sea between continents are not the barriers they once were, even for those who live in small towns and villages. Worlds that were once far apart may meet, as is the case with Rajasthani goldsmith, Bhagwan Das Soni, or B.D. as he is more well known, who graced the Fowler Museum at the University of Los Angeles with his presence and wares one mildly overcast afternoon this past May. At a one-day trunk show featuring his work, exactly eight thousand, one hundred and seventy six miles away from the city in which he resides, people who might never have met had a chance to share in their passion for jewelry, culture and the handmade, face to face.

      Coinciding with the Fowler Museum’s exhibition on East Indian jewelry, “Enduring Splendor: Jewelry of India’s Thar Desert,” this event brought to the West Coast one of the four Rajasthani jewelers whose work, and livelihood, was researched for the exhibit. In 2002, Bhagwan Das was one of two Indian goldsmiths invited to the Smithsonian Silk Road Festival in Washington, D.C., a show he has since used to make engagements and pursue connections in the United States. On the second floor of the museum, in a small room perhaps used for meetings, a literal treasure trove spilled out over several tables. Jewelry from all over India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Afghanistan mingled with more contemporary work made by B.D.’s family. A stream of visitors, both ardent collectors and those simply looking to add a little flash to their wardrobe, wandered from display to display, occasionally asking a question regarding material, origin or technique that he unhesitatingly fielded. It was as if the contents of a jeweler’s store in India had been transported to a foreign land and set out as a sumptuous repast.

The history of B.D.’s family in goldsmithing goes back nine generations, an unbroken line of tradition tying past to present. His father, Govindlal, worked for the Maharajah of Jaisalmer, as did his father, Inderchand. The Inderchand family originally heralded from Sind, a migration that dates back roughly eight generations. Govindlal himself had seven daughters and four sons, all of whom are either married to, or are, sonis; both the family name, caste and tradition, sonis are jewelers who work in gold, although they can also make objects from silver, brass, bronze, and copper. Part of the Soni caste of jewelers in the Thar desert region, Soni is a popular surname for goldsmiths in Rajasthan—thus Bhagwan Das Soni’s name is both occupation and title.

BHAGWAN DAS SONI AND KATHY DIGENOVA, Museum Store Manager at the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

      B.D’s beginning as a goldsmith can be traced to childhood, when at the age of twelve he would carry his father’s tools to the workshop and sit with him, watching the master at work. It was through careful observation that B.D. learned his father’s craft. Once he felt his son had absorbed enough lessons, his father let him play with the least expensive of materials, copper, with which he fabricated simple rings and earrings. Slowly but surely, more valuable materials were supplied, silver, and then gold. A brief interlude took place as his father pushed him to work for the government. “When I was seventeen years old, my father encouraged me to become a civil servant because he thought my financial future would be more secure,” B.D. remembers. “I tried it for nearly one year before resigning. I didn’t like the work and wanted to return to making jewelry.” By the age of twenty, he had become an expert in granulation, and at that point began to work independently. He established his own shop, and has now built up their operation to the point where his sons are largely responsible for producing the jewelry. 

The making and selling of jewelry is a family affair. “Every adult member of my family is involved one way or another in the family jewelrymaking enterprise,” B.D. explains. “Each of my brothers makes jewelry and sells it through his own shop. I especially enjoy designing jewelry. Two of my sons make jewelry and sell it through my haveli.” Somewhat like a cross between a mansion and a Spanish hacienda, havelis have a similar sense of gravity, and in Bhagwan Das’s case, is used as a gallery and storefront. His third son Yogesh, who traveled to Ahmadabad to apprentice, also studied business administration, a valuable skill for managing the extended network of family shops. He is involved in the sale of their jewelry. “We all learn from, and support, each other,” B.D. says. “Everyone in my family is proud of being part of a multi-generational goldsmithing tradition.” 

 

This tradition is something shared between the contemporary American art jeweler and a soni, a love for the care invested in making an object, and of the knowledge needed to do so. “Creative people everywhere take great pride and pleasure in making something of beauty with their own hands,” he remarks. “In my opinion, there is no comparison between a one-of-a-kind, handmade object and something mass produced by machine. If goldsmith families don’t continue to make jewelry by hand, the techniques and skills required to make it will be lost.”

In a city steeped in tradition as Jaisalmer those techniques and skills are well alive. Bhagwan Das Soni’s presence in an American museum was a reminder of the different worlds of creativity that inhabit our planet, separated by distance yet sharing that same appreciation for a life lived with care and a respect for the beautiful.

Click on Photos for Captions

 
 
 

      Get Inspired!


PBL_Contributor.jpg

Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. This year saw him visiting New York for the veritable deluge of fashion shows on display during this past spring, such as “Black Fashion Designers” in the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After observing the parade of garments and ensembles made over several decades, he comments, “You learn that some of the seminal styles of the twentieth century were pioneered by African-Americans. The slinky, silky jumpsuit that filled the discotheques of the 1970s? That is called the sizzler, and it was made by James Daugherty.” Back on the West Coast, it was his pleasure to meet Bhagwan Das Soni and cover the trunk show of his jewelry at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft.

Shockwave: Japanese Fashion Volume 39.5

 

DECONSTRUCTION/RECONSTRUCTION INSTALLATION. REI KAWAKUBO. Photograph by Jean-Luce Huré ©Jean-Luce Huré. JACKET AND SKIRT by Comme des Garçons of nylon/polyurethane stretch gingham with padding, Spring/Summer 1997 collection: Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body. ISSEY MIYAKE. Photograph by Jean-Luce Huré ©Jean-Luce Huré. JACKET WITH TRANSFORMABLE BUSTLE AND ASYMMETRIC SKIRT by Issey Miyake of Japanese ikat-printed cotton, Autumn/Winter 1986 collection. KANSAI YAMAMOTO. Photograph by Jean-Luce Huré ©Jean-Luce Huré. T-SHIRT DRESS by Kansai Yamamoto of printed cotton jersey, about 1980. Photographs courtesy of Denver Art Museum: Neusteter Textile Collection.

 

Characterizing as a shock wave the impact of six Japanese fashion designers on the haute-couture ethos of Paris, London and New York in the 1980s and 1990s, Denver Art Museum curator Florence Müller assembled seventy garments to relate a story of confrontation and cultural synergy centered largely on the question of where primacy lay in the relationship between body and clothing.

       The gallery space, divided into four thematic sections devoted to designs by Issey Miyake, Kenzo Takada, Kansai Yamamoto, Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, and Junya Watanabe interspersed with Western counter-examples, was not particularly suggestive of revolt or even agitation. On the contrary, the contemplative environment of subdued illumination and black-plinthed unobtrusiveness created hushed atmospheric interstices that drew together in quiet connection a group of garments that might otherwise have been fractious. Intentional or not, the effect was a reminder that revolutions are recognized as such because their consequences have been significant enough to have overturned one order of things and established in its stead another that becomes equally pervasive, unified and familiar.

JUMPSUIT by Thierry Mugler of knit velvet; “Hiver Futuriste,” Autumn/Winter 1979 collection. 

      After passing through a vestibule—beyond which a projected video of fashion in motion emphasized that garments on museum display do not fully engage their potential as wearable art—the viewer encountered the first section of the exhibition: East Meets West. Here, against a backdrop of panels inspired by Japanese folding screens, three vibrant pictorial shirts by Kansai Yamamoto asserted the designer’s interest in aesthetic similarities between the Ukiyo-e tradition of woodblock prints and the graphic inspiration of such Pop artists as Andy Warhol. More important for the exhibition as a whole, they emphasized through their display—not on mannequins but rather as planes spread flat with sleeves extended—a fundamental difference between the custom-tailored designs of haute couture and traditional Japanese clothing, above all the rectangular, flat-stitched kimono. As Issey Miyake states in an exhibition-catalog quote: “Western clothes are cut and shaped with the body as the starting point; Japanese clothes start with the fabric.”

That this simple difference could become the seismic epicenter of an upheaval in Western high fashion was stressed by the next part of the exhibition. Titled Deconstruction/Reconstruction, this section provided examples of an haute-couture status quo, including a body-contoured velvet jersey jumpsuit from French designer Thierry Mugler’s Autumn/Winter 1979-1980 collection. In the Western context this epitome of tailoring to the female body, particularly the lower torso and legs, could be said to mark the culmination of a revolt against the prudish female attire of a century earlier. Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe responded to this close-cut aesthetic with designs that, as Müller relates, “seemed to eschew any notion of overt seduction or femininity.” Under the name Comme des Garçons (Like Boys), Kawakubo designed baggy coats and tunic dresses that disregarded the structure of the body. Her 1997 gingham jacket and skirt, derisively nicknamed “Quasimodo” and the “bump dress” for the pillows sewn into its lining, was iconic. Nearby, a tweed send-up of Coco Chanel from his Autumn/Winter 2003-2004 collection, Ensemble: Trench Coat and Skirt, seemed to deliberately revive an Edwardian decorum of the female form.

While haute-couture sensibilities may have been irked by this lumpy, loose-sack aesthetic, the greatest affront from the Japanese designers came not in design but rather in material. In some cases fabrics were intentionally distressed to the point that critics, in reference to an atomic blast, dubbed Kawakubo’s creations “Hiroshima chic” and described her practice, in a postmodern vulgarization of the term, as deconstruction. Ostensibly moth-eaten sweaters, frayed and faded pseudo-military-surplus jackets, and linen apparel, such as Ensemble: Tunic and Skirt from the early 1980s, that seemed salvaged from ascetic monasteries, the garments were composed of fabric soaked in diverse shades of dye then washed repeatedly or exposed to weeks of sunlight.

When clothing becomes more about effect, particularly conceptual impact, than utility, the term wearable art begins to seem appropriate, even essential. The third section of “Shock Wave,” titled Art and Fashion in Dialogue, explored the forays of Kawakubo and Miyake into the postmodern art world of New York in the 1980s and early 1990s. Untitled #299 from 1994, a Cindy Sherman self-portrait chromogenic print in which the artist slouches in Comme-des-Garçons attire holding a phallically positioned cigarette in a gingham-gloved hand; a 1982 ArtForum cover on which a model appears wearing Miyake’s rattan and bamboo woven bodice (also on display); and a red Miyake molded-plastic bustier, simultaneously suggestive of futuristic female-superhero garb and traditional negoro lacquerware, that appeared in a 1982 Robert Mapplethorpe photograph of bodybuilder Lisa Lyon, attested to the consonance of Japanese experimental fashion design with the eclectic irreverence of late twentieth century art.

 

Click on Photos for Captions

      The shock value of Japanese high-fashion design in the 1980s and 1990s was evidenced in the final section of the exhibition, West Meets East, both through the influence evident in the work of such young European designers of the time as Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang and in the tamed and diluted feeling of that influence.  A shock, after all, is localized and momentary though its effects can spread and linger—even revolutionize an entire field of practice. 

“Shock Wave: Japanese Fashion Design 1980s-1990s” showed at the Denver Art Museum from September 11, 2016 through May 28, 2017.

 

      Get Inspired!


Glen R. Brown, Professor of Art History at Kansas State University, was struck by conceptual similarities between some designs in the Denver Art Museum’s “Shock Wave: Japanese Fashion Design, 1980s-1990s” exhibition and a recent piece by David and Wayne Nez Gaussoin, who freely explore possibilities beyond mainstream Native American art. “Innovations are by definition always different,” he observes, “but innovation in the abstract is a consistent force. Why wouldn’t free experimentation beyond mainstream Native American jewelry and fashion and Japanese designers’ radical rethinking of haute couture in the 1980s and 1990s feel kindred in a general creative sense?” Brown is currently working on another article for Ornament, a feature on jeweler Robin Waynee.

Black Fashion Designers Volume 39.5

COAT by Harbison, Spring 2015, United States. All photographs © The Museum at FIT, New York.

COAT by Harbison, Spring 2015, United States. All photographs © The Museum at FIT, New York.

It has always been a struggle for the African American, whether the battlefield has been civil rights, politics, entertainment, culture, or art. Underlying all of these, and much more, has been a wrestling with identity, of coming up with a sense of self that was true, historically rooted, and as an avenue for self expression within the predominant Caucasian culture. While fashion might seem an unlikely realm in which to resolve the contradictions and tensions inherent to black identity, in many ways it is a timeline, deep with symbolism and broad in inspiration, with which that journey can be measured. Thus it was amply shown with “Black Fashion Designers,” recently closed at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (December 6, 2016 – May 16, 2017).

      What makes black fashion? It is perhaps best likened to a quilt or tapestry; filled with individual parts that up close seem unrelated or separate, but from afar come together to create something wild, diverse, unusual, meditative, and beautiful. Each African-American designer, whether recognized for her or his talents or sitting in the shadows, out of the limelight, had to swim against the inertia of prevailing institutions that were built by a largely white demographic. The central triumph of FIT’s exhibition was in raising awareness of these makers and trendsetters, and by selecting representative pieces demonstrating how wide-ranging the contributions of black fashion designers truly has been. In isolation, it can be difficult to envision the breadth of the field.

 

WEDDING DRESS (front, back and detail) by Ann Lowe, made for Judith Tabler, 1968.

      The exhibition exploded that limited vision with seventy-five ensembles from sixty different designers. In the darkened corridor of the Fashion & Textile History Gallery, rows of illuminated mannikins told a nuanced tale of African-American expression, from past to present, starting with Anne Lowe’s wedding dresses. Five divisions made up the exhibition and provided it with structure; Eveningwear, Menswear, Street Influence, African Influence, Breaking Into The Industry, Experimentation, Black Models, and Rise of the Black Fashion Designer. One striking example from 1968 featured a sweeping train and a figure-hugging bodice, plain and nearly unembellished but for a garland of appliquéd flowers trailing near the hem. These blooms scatter themselves across the train, as if the bridesmaids were tossing flowers in the bride’s wake. A collar of flowers along the neckline complete the natural simplicity of Lowe’s dress.

What this elegant article neglects to publicize is Lowe’s prominence as the fashion designer for the rich and famous. She learned her craft from her grandmother, Georgia Cole, a former slave from Alabama. Cole’s own story is one of those old school romances, having been liberated by her husband, a free black man by the name of General Cole. That her granddaughter would one day be couturier to Jacqueline Kennedy (whose wedding dress is also in the exhibition) is proof that African Americans have and continue to flourish in spite of adversity.

DRESS by Balmain (Olivier Rousteing) of raffia, silk, rhinestones, Spring 2013, France. JUMPSUIT by James Daugherty of polyester matte jersey, circa 1974, United States. DRESS by Jon Haggins of silk, 1980-1985, United States. LEGGINGS AND HAT by Patrick Kelly of spandex, straw, cotton, Spring 1988, France.

      However, the beauty of the exhibit was putting into context the sheer range of aesthetic contributions made by black fashion designers, from the simple and the demure to the loud, fun and exuberant. A checkered dress from Balmain, the French fashion house which recently designed costumes for the Paris opera, is a nearly Wonderlandian ensemble combining the glitz of Mardi Gras with a surreal twist on medieval pageantry. Olivier Rousteing, the man behind this chic, starchly embroidered outfit, became the creative director of Balmain when he was just twenty-five. Despite being seen as a black sheep in the fashion world, for reasons beyond just his race, Rousteing made significant changes in the Balmain brand, increasing its percentage of sales for menswear to forty percent, and opening up a boutique in London. He also has helped evolve its aesthetic, hybridizing Western designs with Asian influences. Perhaps of most notoriety in this digital age, Rousteing tipped Balmain over the one million follower mark on Instagram, thanks to his dedication to taking selfies with a variety of celebrities, among them Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Chris Brown, and Rihanna.

The understated elegance of James Daugherty and Jon Haggins was a look at the other end of the spectrum, and their simplicity on first glance may conceal their fundamental contributions to fashion. Daugherty’s sleek polyester beauty, in glowing sea foam green, is a form of jumpsuit evocatively dubbed a “sizzler” by Ebony magazine. Born during the 1970s, his slinky design was emblematic of the era. Daugherty himself got his career underway working for the celebrated American costume designer Edith Head, and would end up teaching at the FIT.

Haggins’s royal blue silk number features a plunging back-cowl and a geometric staircase surface pattern that shimmies its way down around the waist and hips. A graduate of FIT, he founded his own fashion label in 1966. His decision to move away from stiff, structural dresses towards loose and elegant fabrics that draped languidly upon the body laid the groundwork for the decade to come.

 

ENSEMBLE by Christie Brown of cotton, synthetic, Spring 2016, Ghana.

 

      The section named African Influence spoke to the challenge of deriving inspiration from Mother Africa without falling into imitation. Some pieces, such as a pair of trousers and a clever hat made to mimic the practice of African women balancing a basket on their heads to carry food and goods, by famed black designer Patrick Kelly, were playful homages. Others, like a diaphanous dress adorned with flowers, cut out patterns and paisley edging by the fashion brand Christie Brown, are actually from Africa. Christie Brown originates in Ghana, and was established by Aisha Ayensu in March 2008. Named eponymously after Ayensu’s grandmother, the relatively young brand won Emerging Designer of the Year Award in 2009 at Arise Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg, South Africa, and also earned the right to represent Ghana in the Parisian Arise L’Afrique-a-Porter in 2010. Both bright and floral, with a screen-printed scene of the savannah decorating the back of the coat that rests on the wearer’s shoulders like a mantle, the piece is most unique for the open-work appliqué panel covering the chest, which mimics the paisley patterns adorning the waist.

 

JACKET (back detail) by Pyer Moss, Spring 2016, United States. 

 

      The exhibition was unafraid of tackling the unpleasant social issues that are part and parcel of the lives of these designers, and the political angle of black fashion was explored in both t-shirts, which featured loud, demonstrative statements on injustice and the environment, and fully realized garments. Such was aptly, and soundly, displayed by the duality of a t-shirt and a men’s jacket by Pyer Moss, an American fashion label founded by Kerby Jean-Ramond, a Haitian-American whose parents came to the States in 1980.
Along the hem of the jacket in raw paint reminiscent of graffiti is scrawled the words “We Already Have a Black Designer.” The white shirt is a reliquary of names of those black men who have died in confrontations with the police, and was worn by Jean-Ramond to his spring 2016 fashion show.

Throughout the exhibit, the unveiling of this history is a potent reminder of the vitality and contribution of these artisans to the contemporary fashion movement.

 

Click on Photos for Captions

 

      Get Inspired!


Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. This year saw him visiting New York for the veritable deluge of fashion shows on display during this past spring, such as “Black Fashion Designers” in the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After observing the parade of garments and ensembles made over several decades, he comments, “You learn that some of the seminal styles of the twentieth century were pioneered by African-Americans. The slinky, silky jumpsuit that filled the discotheques of the 1970s? That is called the sizzler, and it was made by James Daugherty.” Back on the West Coast, it was his pleasure to meet Bhagwan Das Soni and cover the trunk show of his jewelry at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft.

Counter-Couture Volume 39.5

 

CHRISTOPHER CROOKEDSTITCH DRESS of hand-dyed cotton with beads and found embellishments, 1978. KASIK WONG RED RAY DRESS of gauze, net and metallic brocade, 1974. BIRGITTA BJERKE DRESS of crocheted yarn, circa 1970. YVONNE PORCELLA PATCHWORK DRESSES of cotton fabric, ribbons and molas, 1972. Installation photographs by Rex Rystedt; courtesy of Museum of Arts and Design.

 

It was bound to come around; fifty years later is about the right time for museums to gather their curatorial muscle for reviewing, gathering, documenting, and committing to an exhibition that has now achieved some distance, to allow for some semblance of an objective, informed presentation. Sometimes they are wonderfully subjective thematically, which can make for engaging, fascinating exhibitions. That time has come for America’s personal counterculture, ranging from the 1960s to 1970s. Initially organized by Washington state’s Bellevue Arts Museum, “Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture” is now showing through August 20, 2017, at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City. Another exhibition is cementing that time in current consciousness with “The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll,” at San Francisco’s De Young Museum through August 29, 2017. The hippie meme continues spreading its message of love and peace and there are sure to be more exhibitions exploring this iconic cultural framework.

 

EMBROIDERED PATCH, a Levi Contest submission, 1974, artist unknown. Courtesy of American Craft Council. ALEX AND LEE shown in Native Funk and Flash, 1974. Photograph by Jerry Wainwright. SCRUMBLY KOLDEWYN OUTFIT of sewn cloth doilies and other materials, 1972.

 

      Displayed at the museum is a full representation of the handmade through the techniques favored during this innovative era, yet based on traditional methods put to service in unique ways: crocheting, knitting, weaving, featherwork, leatherwork, dyeing, beading, appliqué, painting, stitching, felting, quilting. Particularly engaging, and so characteristic of the garments, is that the street and ceremonial fashion of the times was an inclusively-based American style, drawing on global sources, consciously, not subliminally, arrived at. They were adapted, personalized and individuated, a new formula for “mixing and matching.” And they were fresh and exciting, especially after the 1950s when post-wartime clothing constraints were set aside and younger people began to use clothes to sartorially express themselves.

 

FAYETTE HAUSER wearing her Cosmic Gypsy ensemble of grass skirt and found objects, 1970. BILLY SHIRE JACKET of Levi denim, adorned with rivets, rim sets, furniture studs, and desk bell, 1975.

 

LESLIE CORRELL DANCEPIECE #1 of brass, Turkish “evil eye” beads, other trade beads, mounted on Indonesian batik, 1971.

      Those expecting the works contained in Julie Schafler Dale’s exceptional Art to Wear (1986) will be denied that pleasure. Her extraordinary volume listed works of genius, like that of Jean Williams Cacicedo, but not shown to similar advantage in “Counter-Couture” with a crocheted, quilted wool and velvet vest from 1972. Very few rise to the pinnacles that Dale’s refined selections portrayed. Certainly, there are highpoints with garments by Kasik Wong who influenced others but never received proper acclaim until after his death. There is the much celebrated Welfare jacket by Billy Shire in Levi denim, brass studs, rivets, furniture studs, and desk bell. Shire was the winner of Levi’s Denim Art Competition. An over-the-top tour-de-force of the period’s embrace of an insatiable appetite for surface design, Shire’s jacket glows from the metal and rhinestone studs crossing the denim surface in a carefully designed yet ambling, druggy symmetry.

Before fashion changed a few decades later, this clothing and jewelry still had wearability as its locus, and consciously expressed a basic romanticism for both feminine and masculine genders with its timely tendency for individualistic liberalism and radicalism as its cultural inspiration. Adornment appealed to the age’s sense of theatrics, from the artistic point of origin to wearer to viewer. The effect could be bold and graphic or subtle and suggestive. It strongly identified with aspects of ethnography and primitivism; was emotional in context, to provoke or invoke a response, be it hot or cool; and it celebrated and exposed the body as a form of kinetic sculpture, as living, sensuous flesh. If the idea was to cover the fabric or whatever material was used, maybe improve upon it, possibly deliberatively or spontaneously, leaving nothing untouched; the results often worked, sometimes hilariously so, striking one dumb with appreciation for their incongruous, kaleidoscopic visions.

ALEX AND LEE NECKLACE of clay scarab, brass, moss agate, abalone buttons, hand-dyed, knotted and woven cord, 1973.

      Clothing was not the only objective for personal adornment. Giving rise to a singularly American lexicon for jewelry construction, Alex and Lee’s works assembled diverse materials like lobster claws, feathers, rabbit fur, monkey hair, leather, clay, glass, in a feast of perfectly arranged assemblage. Deserving of popular culture’s new coinage for one of a kind, their jewelry not only astonished the eye, but was beautiful and elegant, and influenced designers for decades to come.

For all the euphoria, joy and whimsy, a darkness clouded the American atmosphere and showed up prominently in bodily accoutrements, in patches, buttons, body painting, t-shirts, and peace pendants. Riots, wars, marches, rebellions, and violent deaths with the gunning down of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, John and Robert Kennedy, marked irrevocably the complicated ways in which we acted and viewed ourselves. All of this was at odds with a deep sense of the necessity to create a better society than born into, even with its overwhelming challenges, such as the one in which we now belong. The idealism of the age may have been splintered by the realities of its time and place, and its clothing and jewelry no longer worn, becoming archival material, but it reflected an Earth-based spirit that was tolerant, kindly and welcoming. Its better nature expressed a sort of mantra deeply woven into the American origin narrative. We the people are here to form an ever more perfect union, rising above and fixing our flaws, and that noble work is constant and never ends. It was a vibrant, passionate search fifty years ago that continues to this day.

 

      Get Inspired!


Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and the magazine’s in-house expert on contemporary wearable art. As Ornament’s resident itinerant, she moves to and fro across the United States in search of inspiring craft, great experiences and, of course, excellent food. In the wake of her trip to the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., always a pleasurable encounter, she continued by bus to the Big Apple, to review “Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture” at the Museum of Arts and Design (March 2 – August 20, 2017). Having been in her youth through that hallowed period, Benesh took great enjoyment (and tried not to wallow in nostalgia) in seeing the experimental work pioneered by artists who were her contemporaries.

Barbara Heinrich Volume 39.4

 
I always say we’re part of the ‘slow movement.’ You need to earn your place in the slow movement, because you have to have something that stands out where people are willing to pay for all those hours, and that is called design and innovation.
— Barbara Heinrich
 

ZINNIA RING of eighteen karat yellow gold and silver blister pearl, 2011. Photograph by Tim Callahan. 

The American visionary painter Alex Grey has described art as “a point of contact between the spiritual and material realms.” This conception of the creative process sees it as a constant negotiation between these inner and outer realms, requiring equal attention to both. The artist is the “medium” through which one flows into the other.

      This dynamic is evident in the work of Barbara Heinrich, where an intuitive, meditative approach to design is solidly grounded in an advanced mastery of materials and techniques. “The design process is more a receiving than a doing,” says the Rochester-based jewelry artist. “It’s almost like meditation. You kind of calm the mental activity and turn on the other side of the brain.” Once the initial inspiration has been allowed to emerge, then the analytical side can be brought back in. “But it needs to be shut down, so the creative part can be active,” says Heinrich. “A lot of pieces, I have the general idea, but I need silence in order to be able to hear what the piece says.”

BARBARA HEINRICH AT HER STUDIO BENCH. Photograph courtesy of Barbara Heinrich Studio.

BARBARA HEINRICH AT HER STUDIO BENCH. Photograph courtesy of Barbara Heinrich Studio.

      Interestingly, the arc of Heinrich’s training as a metalsmith has, in a sense, followed the same trajectory as the design process she describes. In three very different educational settings, she first focused on intuitive creation, then immersed herself in an intensive study of aesthetics and technique, and, finally, found the balance between the two that has allowed her to express herself in a unique and ever-evolving line of jewelry that spans three decades.

Heinrich’s journey began at an early age. Her parents were winemakers, and she would collect objects around her family’s vineyard in Heilbronn, Germany—seedpods, shells, pieces of glass—which she turned into jewelry. In her early teens, she made pieces from silver wire and glass beads, “selling it in the streets like all the other hippies in the sixties. I wasn’t a hippie, but I was fascinated by how they had their piece of velvet cloth in the street, and I would walk by and check out their jewelry. I made things and sold them to my parents’ friends and gave them as gifts and so on.”

Recognizing her gift and passion for jewelrymaking, Heinrich’s parents helped her enroll in a four-year apprenticeship at the Pestalozzi Kinderdorf Wahlwies, a Rudolf Steiner–inspired community on Lake Constance in southern Germany. Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher, architect, and all-around polymath who, in addition to founding the Anthroposophical Society and pioneering Waldorf education and biodynamic agriculture (an esoteric form of organic farming), also himself designed jewelry in the early decades of the twentieth century.

LEAF COLLAR NECKLACE of eighteen karat gold with diamonds, 2009. Photograph by Hap Sakwa.

     In this almost monastic setting, Heinrich and five other apprentices sat together in absolute silence and “made jewelry the Rudolf Steiner way. We were supposed to listen to the jewelry and the tools, tune in and be one with the piece we were making. That has actually stayed with me. I don’t like talking when I work. I enjoy the process of the work and really observing what’s happening. I have an emotional response.”

Following her apprenticeship, she enrolled at the Hochschule Pforzheim, a design academy in southwestern Germany and home to one of the oldest and most prestigious jewelrymaking programs in the world. In many ways, Pforzheim was the exact opposite of the Kinderdorf community. “It was all mind, mind, mind,” she recalls. “We had to give reasons for absolutely everything. Why are the diamonds only on one side? And why are some higher and some lower? Why are they different sizes? And why, why, why, why. Everything had to be rationalized and defended.”

MEDITERRANEAN DECAY NECKLACE of coral and eighteen karat yellow gold oval bead, 2009. Photograph by Hap Sakwa. RIBBON MULTIWRAPPED CUFF of eighteen karat white gold with diamonds, 2014. Photograph by Tim Callahan. GOLD LEAF CUFF with diamonds, 2008. Photograph by Hap Sakwa.

      This more analytical approach deepened her awareness of the aesthetics and semantics of design, and also extended her range of technical skills, but it left less room for bursts of creative inspiration. “What’s not asked for is things that are more from your gut, like something more emotional, or more putting yourself into the piece,” says Heinrich. “When you look at the German jewelry magazines, it’s very homogenous. The work is very clean, geometric usually, very well proportioned, well thought out, well designed, but it doesn’t have that ‘Ah! This is really exciting!’ because that was never valued.”

After graduating with honors from Pforzheim, Heinrich set her sights on furthering her education overseas. She applied for several scholarships and ended up receiving one from the Rotary Club. “I wanted to live abroad and I needed the support. My family had already supported me for all of these years to go to school, and they said, ‘You’re on your own now.’ The director of our design academy in Pforzheim, he was a Rotarian, and he said, ‘Why don’t you apply to that? I think you have a good chance.’ ’’ In exchange for giving presentations at Rotary Clubs “about my country and my culture,” she received a sponsorship to continue her studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts in upstate New York. “I would have gone to Australia, England, the U.S.,” she says. “I was happy that I ended up in the U.S.”

BROOCH of free form Biwa pearl, diamonds and eighteen karat gold, 2010. Photograph by Ralph Gabriner.

      Upon her arrival in Rochester in 1983, Heinrich found herself adjusting, not just to a new culture, but also—once again—to a very different approach to making art. “When I came to RIT, my professors said, ‘Well, let’s do a self-portrait. Let’s do a piece that says who you are.’ Or, ‘Let’s do an homage to an artist.’ So I did one to Joseph Beuys.” The response she received was very different from what she had come to expect from her professors at Pforzheim. “OK, this is nice work,” they told her, “but it looks like all the other German work. Where are you? You’re not in the piece. We need you here! It didn’t have to be justified.”

The looser, more individualistic approach to jewelrymaking at RIT freed Heinrich to pursue a more expressive direction in her pieces. At the same time, however, she acknowledges that the rigorous training she received in her native country nurtured skills, techniques and critical faculties that gave her an advantage over some of her peers as she set out to create a body of work that was truly her own.

TRIPLE SHELL RING of eighteen karat gold, 2008. Photograph by Hap Sakwa.

      After completing her MFA at Rochester in 1985, Heinrich’s primary ambition was to find work at one of New York City’s high-end design houses. “My very clear idea was to become a designer for Tiffany’s, or Cartier, or a top name,” she recalls. “The second person who interviewed me said, ‘If you design for us, it’s going to take you years before you’re actually allowed to design. You need to work your way up. Why don’t you just do your work? You’ve got it all together. Just do it.’ So I came back and set up my studio, and honestly, it worked from the beginning. I did my first craft show in 1986, the ACC show in Baltimore, and I sold out—I had maybe twenty pieces.”

The Barbara Heinrich Studio was born that same year. And while her network of galleries, museums and other customers continues to evolve and expand, some of the connections she made at that very first American Craft Council show remain relevant thirty years later. When I met her in early November, she was in town to do the annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show—a regular venue for her—but had come down a few days early to mount a trunk show at the Gravers Lane Gallery in Chestnut Hill run by Bruce Hoffman, an early champion of her work whom she first met in Baltimore. “Through that ACC venue I built my whole business. I met the galleries there, they bought some work and gave me shows, and it slowly grew from there to the size where I felt I didn’t want to grow anymore,” says Heinrich.

Her first “coherent body of work,” launched at around this time, was the Milky Way series. True to their name, these pieces feature celestial shapes—stars, planets, comets, galaxies—that are pierced and embossed into gold with handcut brass templates to create elegant cuffs, bracelets and earrings. To this array of icons she added constellations of tiny diamonds, each one a bright, shimmering star against a background of matte-finished gold, often set off with burnished edges for contrast. For her, this astral imagery “was also the personal theme connecting me with my home country—we all see the same night sky.”

Heinrich decided to remain in Rochester and set up shop there. She had met and married Gregory Krapf, a chiropractor, in 1986, and from the beginning the studio has been extension of the couple’s home, an arrangement that has made it easier to balance work and family life. She has found herself in good company in this city of roughly two hundred thousand, as Rochester has a long association with arts and crafts. In addition to RIT and the Eastman School of Music, the city is also home to such renowned figures as metalsmith and sculptor Albert Paley and furniture-maker Wendell Castle.

OPEN FRAME POD CUFF of eighteen karat gold, 2009. Photograph by Hap Sakwa.

      “There are a good number of studios like mine of RIT graduates,” says Heinrich. And while she appreciates having access to a larger artistic community, she also safeguards her privacy and the space it affords her to pursue her craft. “To me it’s like there’s this invisibility cloak over my studio; it’s an island of creativity,” she says. This does not mean that her work is a solitary pursuit. She has been more than happy to share this island with others. In addition to employing two full-time and three part-time studio assistants, over the years she has hosted some fifteen to twenty international students—from Germany, Korea, Taiwan, India, Canada, and other countries—who have come to further develop their metalsmithing skills, as well to learn essential things that are not taught in art schools, such as how a busy jewelry studio operates in the real world.

“I had this opportunity to live and work in a foreign country, and I wanted to extend that to others, because I thought it was tremendous,” she says. “I say to the people who come through, there are no strings attached. You learn what you can during that time. You can see how we pull an exhibition together, how we price things, how we make things. You’ll learn a lot. In my studio, whoever works there does a piece from beginning to end. It doesn’t get passed on, like in normal jewelry manufacturing.”

While this method of manufacture ends up being slower than a more specialized assembly-line approach might be, it is an extension of her early education in the field. “It’s my Rudolf Steiner training,” she explains. “I always thought that you did the whole thing.” In fact, Heinrich has strived to keep production in her studio at a scale and pace that allow her to maintain the creative conditions in which her work initially flourished.

LAPIS EARRINGS AND BROOCH of eighteen karat yellow gold and diamonds, 2014. Photograph by Tim Callahan.

      Right now, says Heinrich, “the size is really perfect. It’s six or seven people on any given day, and that’s about as much as I want to manage. I have kids, I have a husband. I want to enjoy life, too.” She smiles and adds, “I’m at my sweet spot.” Heinrich uses this phrase several times during the course of our conversation to describe the balance she has very consciously struck to keep inspiration and satisfaction alive amid the many competing demands of running a successful studio.

In addition to limiting the size of the studio itself, Heinrich also schedules exhibitions in a way that opens up quiet periods at regular intervals. “I do a cluster of shows and then nothing for a month or two, and then a cluster and then nothing. I never do any shows or galleries between June and September,” she says. “If things are a little slow, I always say ‘Time for creativity! We don’t have orders. It’s wonderful! Let’s say it’s two months. We’re going to use two months and reinvent ourselves and redesign. This is our best time at the studio. Often I lay things out on the center table and say, ‘What do you guys see? What can we do with this? If we were to make a cuff, how would that look? If we do a necklace, what does that look like? Let’s do a series. How are we evolving?’ ”

BLACK TOURMALINE NECKLACE of eighteen karat gold and diamonds, 2011. Photograph by Hap Sakwa.

      Sometimes changes in the market can also be a catalyst for creativity. When the price of gold spiked in 2008, for example, she and her team explored ways of opening up their designs to make beautifully ethereal pieces that used less of the precious metal. The result has been two of her most popular series, Blades of Grass and Ribbons, both of which utilize super-light, super-thin fabricated strands of gold that are coiled, wrapped, swirled, or knotted to create cuffs, rings and necklaces. The delicate beauty of these works is enhanced by the interplay between burnished and matte finishes—a defining feature of much of Heinrich’s jewelry—as well as the artful addition of stones.

A spectacular offshoot of this series is a 2011 Zinnia Ring, in which slender gold ribbons are wrapped and twisted into a profusion of flower petals, anchored at the center by a lustrous gray pearl. Another, more recent example at the Philadelphia gallery was a large pair of Lotus Leaf earrings with a scattering of dewdrop diamonds across their delicate, veined surfaces. These pieces are so light that it is quite easy to imagine them floating atop a body of water, glinting in the sun. In fact, this is exactly where her inspiration came from: “I was looking at some lotus leaves floating in a pond at a garden that I visited, and I noticed that there were waterdrops on the leaves, and I thought it would be really fun to hang these little diamonds in there.”

LOTUS LEAF EARRINGS of eighteen karat gold, diamond briolette drops, and diamonds, 2008. Photograph by Tim Callahan.

      Such pieces are more labor-intensive, but for Heinrich it makes sense both aesthetically and economically to take the extra time in making them. “When gold is at two thousand dollars an ounce, say, it’s cheaper to spend two or three extra hours and use less gold to achieve the same result. And it keeps us all busy, which is what we want.

“I always say we’re part of the ‘slow movement.’ You need to earn your place in the slow movement, because you have to have something that stands out where people are willing to pay for all those hours, and that is called design and innovation. I see everything as a design opportunity. And we need to use our opportunities, not give them away. If we give them away and do something ordinary, it’s done.”

SUGGESTED READING
Barry, Sue. “Masters and Apprentices: The European Tradition and Contemporary Jewelry in an American Context.” Exhibition text for SOFA 2010, available online at http://www.sofaexpo.com/chicago/essays/2010/masters-and-apprentices-the-european-tradition-and-contemporary-jewelry-in-an-american-context
Cummins, Susan. “Barbara Heinrich: Ribbons of Gold.” Art Jewelry Forum: April 19, 2013, available online at https://artjewelryforum.org/barbara-heinrich-ribbons-of-gold-0
Graci, Nina. “Classical Proportions: The Jewelry of Barbara Heinrich.” Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist: August 2003, available online at https://www.ganoksin.com/article/jewelry-barbara-heinrich.

      Get Inspired!

 
 

David Updike is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. His recent editorial projects have included exhibition catalogues on Mexican modernism, Indian court drawings, American cinema, and the Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera. A regular contributor to Ornament since 2010, he most recently previewed the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show and reviewed the exhibition “Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage.” For this issue, he profiles the Rochester-based jewelry artist Barbara Heinrich, whom he caught up with at Philadelphia’s Gravers Lane Gallery, where she was doing a trunk show on her way to exhibit at the Philadelphia Craft Show in November. 

Smithsonian Craft Show 2017 Volume 39.4

 
When we all arrived on these shores, we brought with us the knowledge and skills to make domestic goods by hand, and the folkways of the countries we came from: If you needed a basket to carry produce, somebody had to make one. We treasure these heirlooms as a way of belonging, to family and community and the past. Though utilitarian, they were never really humble: fine workmanship has always been prized.
 

The Smithsonian Craft Show, now in its thirty-fifth year, is in a league by itself. With stringent standards for artistry, creativity and technical expertise, the four-day event presents one hundred and twenty artists from thirty-four states at the handsome National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian’s show celebrates a far-reaching vision of craft as art that unites heritage, continuity and change, looking back to the cultural wellsprings of our oldest and most cherished traditions in America. When our immigrant ancestors arrived on these shores, they brought the skills of their hands, and the folkways of the countries they came from. Craft created a country: if you needed a basket to carry produce, somebody had to make one. These handmade, utilitarian things became our heirlooms, a way of belonging to family and community and the past. But they were never really humble: fine workmanship has always been prized. The Smithsonian Craft Show takes pride in that history and its inheritors, the artisans today who find new inspiration in wood, leather, glass, grasses, cloth, ceramics, and metal. Some of them studied in classrooms or trained as apprentices in workshops; some learned from their father or grandmother; some are self-taught. All of them use their hands.

      If you see pewter, you are liable to think colonial America. Her favorite comment that pewtersmith Rebecca Hungerford hears is “I always thought pewter was gray and clunky. You’ve really changed my mind.” Hungerford, from Michigan, is a shining example of an artist who bridges old and new in craft. After earning a fine-arts degree from Miami University, she studied pewtersmithing in New Brunswick, Canada, with a teacher who trained in England and taught her how to make her own molds. She has handmade classic pewter bowls, mugs, plates, and candlesticks ever since.

She still sounds amazed at the “huge leap” she took, around 1995, to contemporary design. She hankered after using her fine-arts training: “There’s great joy in creating something new that’s original and personal.” Hungerford describes how her contemporary work “reflects a feminine hand; it’s more fluid and sensual. Sometimes I acid-etch or color with Prismacolor pencils, paints and foil, then burnish for a translucent surface. I love pewter’s warm color, its softness and great tactile quality, and its affordability.” A whimsical appeal makes her pewter look lighthearted: tinted goblets seem to sway on their stems to a private samba rhythm.

Ceramics breathe of house and home, of the life-affirming communion of eating together. First-time exhibitor Adam Paulek’s spare, engaging ceramics are functional art: plates, mugs, teapots, serving pieces. He describes his ceramics as a canvas, on which he assembles enigmatic narratives from photographic images. During a recent artist-in-residency, in Denmark, he switched to porcelain clays, creating pools of limpid white, blue celadon and a pale yellow for more background clarity. 

ADAM PAULEK

The Iowa-born studio artist trained as an apprentice potter in Asheville, North Carolina, and earned an M.F.A. at the University of Tennessee in 2003. He lives in Virginia, where he teaches ceramics and design at Longwood University. Wherever he goes, he takes his digital camera to record anything that catches his attention. Later he revisits his photographs, looking at forms. He strips out everything surrounding an object—for example, a bare twig—or may zero in on part of it. Once he makes the images “through the process of laser transfer decals, in either sepia tones or color, I move them around and apply them, like a collage.” Paulek lets things unfold; he tells his students that “It’s not the ideas that differentiate you; it’s your curiosity, your engagement. It’s how you pay attention.” His photo-realist images arrest your eye; their juxtaposition draws you in. Maybe they tell a story, maybe not; it depends on your interpretation. But tossing those possibilities around is entrancing.

REBECCA HUNGERFORD

      Of all the hand tools in human history, nothing has come laden with more status than the knife. Across cultures, across centuries, it is one of humanity’s most prized possessions. Zachary Jonas, a member of the respected American Bladesmith Society, is an eloquent and knowledgeable spokesman for the art and practice of his craft. His knives are beautiful to behold, handforged from high-carbon steel, and relentlessly fabricated to fit like a dream in your hand. Essential to a state-of-the-art knife, Jonas says, is “its balance. A handforged knife actually has a thicker blade than a factory-made one, but it feels lighter because it’s balanced, which means you’re not fighting it while you’re trying to use it.”

A native of Massachusetts, Jonas graduated from Connecticut College in 2005. He found his calling in an evening class in bladesmithing at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. An apprenticeship takes years. “The heat and forging are only about ten to twenty percent of making a blade,” Jonas explains. “Most of it is grinding, filing, shaping, and polishing, polishing, polishing.” Unique to Jonas’s knives is his revival of Damascus steel. An ancient art originating in Middle Eastern metallurgy, Damascus is an intricately patterned, forged steel, in which each blade’s pattern is distinctive to both the skill and techniques of the individual artist.

Jonas is equally passionate about his handcrafted wooden handles, selecting the colors and orienting the wood grain to complement the blade. This is where function defines beauty; there cannot exist anything more satisfying, for anyone who uses their hands, than to wield a perfect knife.

ZACHARY JONAS

      Colorado-born Ben Strear, making his debut at the Smithsonian Craft Show, handcarves shallow-relief wood vessels and sculptures that feel almost alive in the play of light and shadow across their patterned surfaces. It took him some time to follow his passion for carving. Strear graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2006 with a degree in furniture design, and then spent close to a decade in New York, working in high-end commercial millwork, art fabrication and complex 3D modeling. A move to North Carolina let him set up a home workshop as a studio artist. He is attracted to organic, repetitive forms: the whorls of a mollusk shell, or the feathers carved in a bird’s wing from an Assyrian stone bas-relief.

BEN STREAR

      Strear turns his pieces on a lathe to create contours suggesting vegetal growth; almost, he says, they resemble “petrified fruits.” He employs domestic hardwoods and traditional handtools, then lightly wire-brushes a piece at the end to bring out the fine grain. “If the wood characteristics are not so pretty, I’ll cover them with milk paint for a matte surface,” Strear says. “The main theme is that everything is monochromatic, in shades of white, gray or black, to show the layers of pattern.” Before he touches a tool, Strear rigorously draws out every detail on paper, “to see the aesthetic I want.” His carving reflects a boundless appreciation for the warmth and innate beauty of wood.

Go back three hundred years—a long time ago, in America—when the ancestors of MacArthur Foundation award-winning artist Mary Jackson arrived on slave ships. Their descendants made their home in the marshes of coastal South Carolina, where Jackson grew up and learned as a child to make her legendary sweetgrass baskets, weaving them with virtually the identical techniques found today in West Africa. “There’s a similarity in the coiling and the stitching pattern,” Jackson explained in the PBS documentary Craft in America. For Jackson, respecting an unbroken tradition is as important as the craft itself: “For my ancestors, it was evidence of where they came from,” she explains. In more than forty years of basketmaking, she has always been conscious of “how proud they would feel to see it’s been passed down.”

MARY JACKSON

      During a ten-year interlude working in New York, Jackson became deeply interested in contemporary art and ideas. When she returned to basketry, she emerged as an innovator, with breakthrough ideas like “sweeping handles and flat shapes with [a spray of unbound] grasses flowing from it,” that caused a sensation. She adapted old forms, like extending in the edges of a rice-winnowing “fanner” basket to make a more enclosed, shallow shape displaying intricate designs woven from bulrushes and long-leaf pine needles. A basket can look deceptively simple. “You need strong hands,” Jackson says, to keep the tension while lacing together the pliable sweetgrass with strips of tough palmetto leaves native to South Carolina. Her impeccable construction and finely woven detail reveal an unsurpassed mastery of her medium, and her inventive forms, no matter how sculptural, still remember they are baskets.

LINDA KINDLER PRIEST

      What you are really seeing, when you look at a piece of Linda Kindler Priest’s jewelry, is a storyscape. The minutely sculpted wildlife and flowers, in fourteen karat gold repoussé, are caught in motion: the bullfinch, its tail tilted to fly away; the polar bear, in mid-stride; the swaying lily. Each small animal, bird, insect, fish, or bloom finds its natural home in the gemstone or mineral framed below it, inferring a context and meaning: ice, air, water, the green earth. A delicate pearl, tucked at an angle by a pelican, represents a small egg; the scatter of green sapphires cresting the aquamarine crystal beneath the pelican evokes the sea, sparkling in daylight. “I wanted a contrast to the gold metal,” Priest says. “The gemstones add more emotion; they allow more color and expression.” The poetic economy of her compositions lets you gaze into the depths of each stone, suggesting more to the story: a veining of pink agate becomes plant roots. Her brooches are made in pairs, as a top and bottom that can be worn together or separately.

A meditation on inner strength runs through her work, in the materials she uses, in her demanding techniques, and in the life force of the world around us. Priest, from Massachusetts, trained as an artist at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, where she also teaches. Maybe it is Yankee self-reliance that led her to take up the arduous process of repoussé, which dates back thousands of years and takes almost as long to do; at its best its finesse and execution makes you intensely aware of the artist’s hand. Priest reworks the metal “so many times that there’s a softness to it. And I must anneal it at least twenty to fifty times. There’s only me, my tools—an extension of my hand—and the metal. You’re apt to get a bit more of me than you would with other processes.” In essence, Priest has revitalized a formal, old-world technique with superb results.

JUDITH KAUFMAN

“I don’t like gold that’s too shiny,” says jewelry artist Judith Kaufman. “I like it to look organic and ancient.” Kaufman, enticed by gold into a mutual seduction over twenty years ago, works with a palette of fourteen karat rose gold, eighteen karat green gold, and a twenty two karat gold that she uses interchangeably to create luminous, painterly effects. “You can pour your creative energy into something when you love and respect the material,” she explains. Over decades of handmaking jewelry, the artist has come to trust the same visceral affinity when choosing gems or stones; “They speak to me,” she says. Aesthetically, there is an intangible consciousness of imperfection. “I like to see the hand in a piece,” she says, referring to her techniques; almost invisible irregularities “give a piece soul.”

      Kaufman took jewelrymaking lessons as a teenager and has lived and worked in her Connecticut hometown all her life. Her jewelry has evolved over her career, but still harbors an unpredictable quality; there are no traces of any school or style except what she gleans, subliminally, from nature. On her daily walks she may see a detail that percolates in that mysterious place where inspiration dwells, like the sight of some cognac-colored pine needles drifted together at the edge of a pond. Once at her studio bench, she gathers components, waiting for colors and forms to converge. “You have to show up for yourself,” Kaufman says, “I’m particular, and it may take all day.” Her jewelry evokes the random beauty and logic of nature. Asymmetry is her visual keystone: a balance between too much and just enough, like the gusts of bubbles skidding across a broad cuff. Kaufman explores the idea of something “trapped by nature;” for instance, in a new brooch, two halves of rutilated quartz enclose wind-tossed gold leaves and diamond berries. “It’s leaves and needles,” she says, “their X-shapes talk to each other.” Kaufman’s jewelry is both lyrical and majestic; Hillary Clinton owns one of her necklaces, which seems appropriate for someone who has moved on the world stage.

Marian “Mau” Schoettle’s instantly compelling wearable art references the twentieth century on multiple levels: urban streets; work uniforms; the space age; abstract art; shipping and advertising; the mobility of modern life. She calls her coats and jackets “post industrial folk wear. I’m interested in working with materials and images from the world we live in now.” Her material is Tyvek®, a featherweight, durable synthetic plastic as common as paper in our culture: in FedEx mailing envelopes; to wrap houses under construction; and in the orange cover-alls worn by prisoners working along state highways. Commercial-grade Tyvek comes in stiff sheets, which Schoettle washes to make more pliable; in time it becomes softer (she does not use a grade of Tyvek made for clothing).

MARIAN SCHOETTLE

      Originally from Pennsylvania, Schoettle lived in Europe before moving to New York’s Hudson Valley. Though she has made and sewn clothes all her life, her interests in conceptual art and photography led her into design. She describes the stencil lettering, half-erased numbers, and word fragments that she draws with surplus hardware and paint as “culture-jamming. Every typeface has further cultural information.” Sometimes she includes photo-transfer images of distorted buildings. The artist deliberately defies composition, letting anarchy rule a layout. “I’m influenced by Dada,” she explains. Her visual language exploits distinctively conflicting ideas: protective versus perishable, for instance, in a new two-tone brown Tyvek that plays with the notion of paper. A sense of irreverence opens up engagement: one customer on her way to Egypt wrote a travelogue about her trip on the inside of one of Schoettle’s coats.

Beloved New York Times street-fashion photographer Bill Cunningham once said his favorite decade was the sixties. The era’s anthem of freedom of expression lives on in the exhilarating confections of New Orleans-based designer Starr Hagenbring, whose kaleidoscopically colorful luxe-silk coatdresses and jackets manifest an air of contagious revelry and joie-de-vivre. Her wearable art, painstakingly embellished with handpainted lace, handpainted imagery, free-form machine stitching, piecing and layering, is lush and cumulative, making not so much a statement as a pirouette.

STARR HAGENBRING

      “Martha Stewart taught us to glitter a pumpkin,” Hagenbring says. “I like to make people feel happy wearing something beautiful. In my family, it was a real event to get dressed up and go out.” Raised in Illinois, Hagenbring graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in theater design, and had her own boutique in New York’s SoHo, while developing the dramatic blaze of stained-glass colors integral to her designs. “People respond to color, especially to shades in the orange/magenta/red range, which complement every skin tone.” The opulence of her work belies her restraint, for example in applying gold. “Gold implies splendor, rather than glitz,” Hagenbring explains. “For the best teachers, look at the Egyptians or the Byzantines. Don’t look at Las Vegas.”

Her couture tailoring defines a feminine shape; hints at a waistline suggest a sexier attitude than shrink-wrapped knitwear that leaves nothing to the imagination. A jacket may have up to nine gores; “Gores don’t cut off your waist from your hips; they keep a long line.” Everything is fully lined, and sleeves are opened to allow more movement. At the same time Hagenbring injects a bit of provocation: a painted series of religious symbols, or recently, over-scaled dung beetles. “I like to take the misunderstood and invite people to really look at it and see its beauty,” the artist says. Her clothing exults in living life to the hilt.

ROB & BARBARA MATHEWS

      When a jazz ensemble musician came to Rob and Barbara Mathews for a pair of awesome shoes with a retro vibe to wear performing, the Mathews obliged, crafting stellar red-and-ivory leather brogues. A third-generation shoemaker, Rob Mathews met his wife, Barbara, as students at Middlebury College. They established a custom shoemaking business in New Hampshire while also restoring an eighteenth-century farmstead. “Small shoemaking shops dotted the New England countryside in earlier times,” Barbara Mathews says. “We’ve found bits of antique shoes and shoe tools in the old buildings on our property. We feel like we’re working in the spirit of New England shoemakers, often with their old tools right in our hands.” The Mathews team up on design and construction, bringing science—Rob Mathews’ certification in pedorthics—as well as art to their craft.

Custom shoemaking is a collaboration; it involves your wishes and your feet in measurements and fitting, cushioning preferences, and picking colors and style. The Mathews act as interpreters and consultants as well as artisans, often forming lifelong bonds with their clients. “We love showing the possibilities to make something individual and expressive,” says Barbara, which are epic considering the variety of ethically sourced leathers from around the world that they have available. Their shoes are handsewn and all leather-lined. “People are always surprised at how light the shoes are at first,” Barbara explains. “Custom shoes are made to feel like you’re going barefoot.” Probably nothing seems as personal or as memorable as a pair of bespoke shoes; visitors to Monticello speak of Thomas Jefferson’s tall riding boots as one of their favorite sights.

It takes time to create timelessness. “Creating by hand involves a lot of problem solving, prioritizing and organizing. It isn’t serendipity: it’s very thoughtful and meticulous work,” as Rebecca Hungerford puts it. The handmade connects us: in the age of the internet and mass-production, it speaks to something as indefinable as a sense of human touch. Linda Kindler Priest recalls an old table she saw in an antiques store. “It was handfinished,” she remembers; “it glowed.” Adam Paulek reflects that the handmade is “comforting, because it makes you part of a continuum.” Making something by hand is the essence of our humanity, Starr Hagenbring believes: “Creativity is the spice of life. You get a wonderful thrill from finishing a piece, or a room, or a dish of food, and it’s turned out fantastically. That thrill—it’s better than anything.”

Smithsonian Craft Show. National Building Museum
Preview Night April 26. April 27 – 30, 2017

www.smithsoniancraftshow.org

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Leslie Clark is a freelance writer and editor in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Around town here you see a bumper sticker that reads Art Saves Lives,” Clark comments. “In these horrendous times, it felt life-saving to speak with some of the incredible artisans at the 2017 Smithsonian Craft Show. Not only were they generous and thoughtful talking about their work, but also they helped remind me of brighter vistas, of what is possible when people put their hearts and minds to what they care about. A big thank you to each and every one, and to Ornament magazine.” 

Comment

Leslie Clark

Leslie Clark is a freelanced writer and editor in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Clark, who claims red is her favorite color, was flabbergasted by her visit to the “The Red That Colored the World” exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art up on Museum Hill. “I had no idea how exhaustively people worked, for centuries, to produce a red color. No wonder kings and prelates hogged it for themselves. Cochineal changed everything. Even now, with synthetic dyes around, its amazing properties are still the best. It makes you grateful to Mother Nature and those little bugs.”

Degas and the Paris Millinery Trade Volume 39.4

 
An inveterate window-shopper, Degas often foregrounded the hats in his paintings, turning these overlooked accessories into the main event. Some of the same hats appeared in different Degas images, suggesting that he kept a collection in his studio.
SELF-PORTRAIT IN A SOFT HAT by Edgar Degas, oil on paper, mounted on canvas, 26.0 x 19.1 centimeters, 1857. Courtesy of Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.

SELF-PORTRAIT IN A SOFT HAT by Edgar Degas, oil on paper, mounted on canvas, 26.0 x 19.1 centimeters, 1857. Courtesy of Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.

In the late nineteenth century, hats were essential accessories for both men and women across the social spectrum. As an informal group of avant-garde artists—dubbed the Impressionists—began to reject traditional academic subjects in favor of painting scenes of everyday life in Paris, hats took center stage in canvases capturing the minutiae of the modern world. A new exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum, “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade,” unites intimate Impressionist paintings of Belle Epoque milliners and their clients with surviving examples of the chic chapeaux that inspired them.

      These flowered, feathered and frilled confections were works of art in their own right, with price tags to match; the Impressionists recognized their creators as kindred spirits. The milliners in their paintings are depicted as not just window dressing, but as fellow artists; in some scenes, such as The Milliners in the Saint Louis Art Museum’s collection, the colorful hats in their hands even resemble artist’s palettes. At its height, the Paris hatmaking industry employed nearly one thousand milliners, most of them female, ranging from famous names like Caroline Reboux and Jeanne Lanvin to anonymous ouvrières and trottins. In addition, the industry encompassed the major secondary trades that provided its materials, notably fleuristes, who created artificial flowers, and plumassiers, who prepared bird plumage. Although centered in Paris, millinery was a global trade, as feathers imported from Africa and South America adorned hats exported to New York and Chicago.

PARIS, RUE DU HAVRE by Jean Béraud, oil on canvas, 35.2 × 27.3 centimeters, 1882. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington.

      While milliners appear on streets and inside shops in the Impressionist paintings of Pierre-August Renoir, Édouard Manet, and Eva Gonzalès, no artist was more attuned to this engine of modern mercantilism than Edgar Degas, who explored the theme of millinery in twenty-seven paintings and pastels. Like the ballerinas and jockeys Degas is best known for painting, milliners occupied a marginal social space, where working-class artisans could mingle with the upper crust. An inveterate window-shopper along with his friend and fellow artist Mary Cassatt, Degas often foregrounded the hats in his paintings, turning these overlooked accessories into the main event. Some of the same hats appeared in different Degas images, suggesting that he kept a collection in his studio.

For Degas, hats represented modern commodity culture, as well as offering an endless source of variety, color and texture. While the capacious bonnets of the early nineteenth century protected the wearer’s face from the elements and her modesty from prying eyes, by the 1870s, women’s hats were purely ornamental, offering little protection from the elements. “A hat is nothing but a pretext for a feather, an excuse for a spray of flowers, the support for an aigrette, the fastening for a plume of Russian cock’s feathers,” wrote Charles Blanc in his 1875 treatise L’art dans la parure et dans le vêtement. “It is placed on the head, not to protect it, but so that one can see it better. Its great usefulness is to be charming.”

The capote (French for “hood”) popular in the 1850s and 1860s made a resurgence in the late 1880s for evening and reception wear. It was considered flattering to most faces and, though small in size, could be rich in ornamentation; one example in the show is made of silk tulle, velvet and pongee, a lightweight raw silk, topped by ostrich feathers. “The tendency now is to make [capotes] very decorative,” Vogue reported in 1893. “All sorts of jeweled passementerie, embroidered crêpes and tulles enter into their composition, and notwithstanding their diminutive size they are sometimes very costly.” In 1893, the duchesse de Maillé attended an exhibition opening wearing a capote “covered with mistletoe, the berries being represented by gigantic pearls and the leaves by emeralds, which attracted much notice, so close to nature was this costly imitation of Christmas ‘blossoms.’ ”

THE SHOP GIRL by James Tissot, oil on canvas, 146.05 x 101.6 centimeters, 1883-1885. Courtesy of Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.

      Instead of shielding their wearer, hats increasingly served as blank canvases for all manner of trimmings and decorations, including not just feathers but the wings, heads and even entire bodies of birds. These avian ornaments lent dimension and visual interest to the low, brimless toque hats popular around the turn of the century. “Birds, alas, entire seagulls rest on these toques, or else a bird’s head forms the middle in front, the two wings spread out to cover the whole hat,” the weekly magazine La Semaine littéraire declared in 1901. These small toques quickly ballooned into wide, mushroom-shaped nests for pheasants, birds of paradise, hummingbirds, peacocks, and even owls, all mounted with glass eyes. Curiously, Degas never painted these birdlike hats, preferring to depict ostrich feathers, although probably for aesthetic rather than moral reasons.

In nineteenth-century France, colibri (French for “hummingbird”) was used as slang for a frivolous person, making the frolicsome creature an especially fitting fashion emblem. European and North American incursions into Central and South America made hummingbirds found there readily available to fashion dealers as well as specimen collectors. The tiny birds’ iridescent feathers, heads, skins, and even entire bodies were incorporated into hats and jewelry, including hummingbird-head earrings and brooches.

In 1911, it was estimated that the Paris fashion industry was responsible for the deaths of three hundred million birds per year. Growing concern over the rampant pillaging of exotic bird populations for their plumage led to the formation of England’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 1889 and America’s Audubon Society in 1913. The use of game and poultry feathers remained morally neutral, as did ostrich feathers, which could be plucked from the tail without harming the bird. As the tide of public opinion turned against so-called murderous millinery, French modistes increasingly employed their talents to lend exoticism to materials from non-endangered, domestic fowl like ducks and chickens, or create artificial “birds” out of feathers and glue.

Almost as popular as feathered hats were hats trimmed with artificial flowers, which tended to be worn in the summer and at the theater. Fashion designer Paul Poiret recalled in his memoirs that women’s hats transformed theaters into flower gardens. Fleuristes used a vast array of stamps, irons and goffers to transform delicate silks and muslins into flowers of astonishing botanical accuracy. Of the estimated twenty-four thousand fleuristes working in Paris between 1896 and 1906, eighty to eighty-five percent were women. Flowermaking was the profession of Nana, Emile Zola’s heroine, and Mimi, the title character of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème”—as well as Marie Dupuis, who became one of Renoir’s favorite models.

MME GEORGETTE: WOMAN’S HAT of black lace and artificial flowers on wire frame, 50.8 x 29.8 centimeters, circa 1910. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. WOMAN’S HAT of straw with ostrich feathers, silk lace and artificial flowers, 24.1 x 48.3 x 41.3 centimeters, circa 1910. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. MAISON VIROT: WOMAN’S HAT of plaited straw over wire frame, silk velvet and maline, silk roses, leaves, and ferns, with alterations, 39.4 x 38.1 centimeters, circa 1900. Courtesy of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. WOMAN’S HAT of silk faille, velvet, cord, jet beads, and African starling, 10.2 centimeters crown height, 21.0 x 22.9 centimeters overall, circa 1890. Courtesy of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

      Maison Camille Marchais was known for creating remarkably lifelike imitation flowers. The roses on the hats the firm exhibited at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 were so realistic “that a bee tried one,” a visitor observed. Customers could purchase artificial bouquets as well as flower-trimmed hats. “The extrachic... is to offer a mass of flowers from Camille Marchais,” the magazine La Grande revue reported in 1880. “The mass is stuffed with huge bunches of violets, gillyflowers, roses, daffodils... and at the base a clump of natural lily of the valley with one or two roses to complete the illusion; impossible to imagine anything more successful... because this bouquet is durable, whereas the bouquet from Nice is withered before it arrives.” So convincing was the illusion that the butler to a Russian princess allegedly ruined a bouquet Marchais had sent from Paris by plunging it into a vase of water. 

Artificial flowers could transform the humble shepherdesses’ sunhat into a garment fit for a queen. Flat, flower-trimmed straw hats in the bergère (shepherdess) style evoked the rustic wardrobe Marie-Antoinette had adopted a century earlier for playing milkmaid in her model village, Le Hameau. Le Magasin des Demoiselles dubbed similar hats “chapeaux Trianon,” after Le Petit Trianon, the queen’s miniature palace in the gardens of Versailles. These historical revival styles were popular during the reign of Empress Eugénie, who was fascinated by Marie-Antoinette and frequently dressed as the martyred queen for court masquerades.

THE MILLINERY SHOP by Edgar Degas, oil on canvas, 100.0 x 110.7 centimeters, 1879-1886. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

      A very different type of straw hat was the boater, so named because it was originally worn by men for yachting and other summer sports. It began to appear on women during the 1880s, often paired with tailored ensembles inspired by menswear. In 1884, Maud Watson won the first women’s singles championship at Wimbledon wearing a boater, which lent a masculine touch to her corseted and bustled tennis ensemble. It was a rare example of a unisex hat style in the Impressionist era and quickly became associated with the active, independent “New Woman” who so fascinated Degas and his contemporaries. In 1894, when a bicycling craze swept France, fashionable sportswomen paired voluminous bloomers and with tiny boaters perched on the tops of their heads. By the 1890s, boaters could be seen on city streets, trimmed with artificial flowers.

YOUNG GIRL ON THE GRASS by Berthe Morisot, oil canvas, 74 x 60 centimeters, 1885. Courtesy of Ordrupgaard Museum.

      Women’s hats grew in size along with fashionable hairstyles. The large, full coiffures of the early 1900s—often augmented by false hair—brought a corresponding inflation in hat size. Hats were worn perched atop these full coiffures, anchored by hatpins, which could be highly ornamental in their own right. A large bouquet of artificial flowers was one visual trick used to mask the gap between the smartly tilted hat and the hair.

While women’s hats were one-of-a-kind works of art created by modistes, men’s hats were typically made by male chapeliers (hatmakers) in a much more standardized style—a quality emphasized by Édouard Manet’s Masked Ball at the Opera. Despite their uniformity, however, hats were one of many essential male accessories that enlivened and complicated the comparatively limited palette, range of garments, and choice of textiles available to men in the late nineteenth century. The top hat (chapeau haute de forme) was a formal hat worn day and night throughout the nineteenth century. Originally made of beaver felt, by the 1850s it was covered in gleaming silk. Although the top hat underwent minor changes in shape over time as the size and curvature of the crown and brim evolved, its phallic silhouette remained a distinctive aspect of menswear.

Degas abandoned his millinery subjects in the mid-1880s, only to return to them in the late 1890s, when he shifted his focus from the milliner’s customers to the milliner herself. These works, which experimented with color and abstraction, were very personal, not for sale; at the time of his death in 1917, Degas had several millinery pastels and paintings in his studio. By this time, millinery itself was on its last legs. Widespread backlash against the plumage trade and the outbreak of World War I doomed the once-ubiquitous hat. It shrank and shed its ornamentation, finally disappearing from everyday life. 

MASKED BALL AT THE OPERA by Édouard Manet, oil on canvas, 59.1 x 72.5 centimeters, 1873. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington.

“Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade” exhibits
at the Saint Louis Art Museum through May 7, 2017 and the Legion of Honor in San Francisco,
from June 24 to September 24, 2017.

 

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles, and a frequent contributor to Ornament. She has worked as a curator, consultant and educator for museums and universities around the world. Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. She contributed to the catalogue of the exhibition “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade,” currently showing at the Saint Louis Art Museum and then moving on to San Francisco’s Legion of Honor. Next up for Ornament is her article on Aileen Ribeiro.

Virginia Dudley Volume 39.4

 
Everything I do is related to arts and crafts… It’s not a way of life, it is life to me. If not for that, I’d see no point in living.
— Virginia Dudley
CONTEMPORARY VIEW OF VIRGINIA DUDLEY’S PROPERTY. Photographs by Ashley Callahan.

CONTEMPORARY VIEW OF VIRGINIA DUDLEY’S PROPERTY. Photographs by Ashley Callahan.

Virginia Dudley was born in 1913 in the small town of Spring City, Tennessee, and grew up in Chattanooga, an industrial city nestled around a bend in the Tennessee River amid the dramatic scenery of the Cumberland Plateau. She practiced many artistic media—photography, printmaking, painting, sculpture, ceramics—and is best known for her award-winning enamels of the 1950s. The records documenting her life and career are fragmentary, but enough survives to indicate the impressive diversity of her artistic pursuits, her remarkable skill and vision, and her determined and independent personality. In an interview for the Chattanooga Times in 1962, she firmly expressed her passion for her vocation: “Everything I do is related to arts and crafts… It’s not a way of life, it is life to me. If not for that, I’d see no point in living.”

FISH BRACELET of enamel on copper with silver, 5.08 x 17.15 centimeters, circa 1955, illustrated in Design Quarterly, 1955. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. 

      Dudley’s parents were not wealthy, but her mother encouraged her interests, and through a series of scholarships, Dudley pursued an art education. She first received a scholarship to the University of Chattanooga (now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), where she studied photography and painting from 1937-1940, earning a certificate of completion of art training. Then she won a scholarship to study in New York—a city she loved—at the Art Students League, where her instructors included William Zorach and Wil Barnet. While in New York, she also studied at the Craft Students League and served as Berenice Abbott’s photographic assistant at the New School for Social Research.

In 1943 she was awarded a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship and left New York to spend a year traveling in the South making photographs and sketches. Though most fellowships went to African American artists, some went to “white southerners with an interest in race relations,” as noted by the Spertus Museum in Chicago for an exhibition of Rosenwald-supported art. Dudley, as her niece Patricia Antonia Collier recalls, was staunchly opposed to segregation. Around this time, she acquired property in Rising Fawn, Georgia, on Lookout Mountain (near Chattanooga) and built a small home. She also married Oscar “Mac” McElhaney (1897-1944), a retired commercial photographer, who died near the end of her fellowship period.

After this loss, Dudley returned to the Art Students League, also studying at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17, which he had relocated from Paris to New York when World War II began. During this second period in the city she met Joseph Spencer Moran (1923-2005), a graduate student in English at Columbia, and they married in 1946—though she again kept her given name.

Moran took a teaching job at New Mexico College in Las Cruces (now New Mexico State University), but Dudley told the Chattanooga Times (1955) that she did not relish the role of faculty wife. She enrolled in school briefly at New Mexico College, then in 1948 accepted a scholarship to Scripps College in Claremont, California, near Los Angeles, and did graduate work at Claremont Graduate School. Dudley had become enchanted by enamels while in New York, where she had seen an exhibition of medieval enameled objects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Claremont was one of the few places in the country that offered enamel instruction. She studied with leading enamelist Jean Ames (1903-1986), who, with her husband Arthur (1906-1975), was part of “the development of a dynamic enameling movement in Southern California,” as Bernard N. Jazzar and Harold B. Nelson note in their book Little Dreams in Glass and Enamel.

VIRGINIA DUDLEY working in her studio, circa 1954. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by A. Glenn Hanson, Max Keister or Guy Hayes.

VIRGINIA DUDLEY working in her studio, circa 1954. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by A. Glenn Hanson, Max Keister or Guy Hayes.

      During this time, Dudley also traveled to northern California where she visited Pond Farm, an artists’ colony founded by Jane and Gordon Herr that offered the Pond Farm Workshops from 1949-1952. There she encountered, as reported in the Chattanooga Times (1952), “artists from Austria and Germany who had, as she had, the thought that enameling was an art that should be revived.” She received her M.F.A. in 1950, creating a series of large enameled wall panels for her thesis as well as her own kiln.

American studio craft in all areas grew quickly in the post-war years—as returning G.I.s filled schools, academic programs expanded, and opportunities to exhibit and purchase craft multiplied—and the field of enamels was no exception. A relatively small niche within the craft world, enamels often was linked with ceramics, as both use kilns and involve the application of vitreous surfaces to grounds. Exhibitions like the Ceramics Nationals, which originated in Syracuse, New York, at the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts (now the Everson Museum of Art), then traveled nationally, brought important media and public attention to contemporary ceramics and enamels. Dudley’s work appeared in many of the Nationals between 1949 and 1959, including the 16th in 1951, which featured two of her trays, Metropolitan and Golden Fishes, and the 19th in 1956 for which she won an award for enamels.

METROPOLITAN TRAY of enamel on copper, 20.32 x 20.32 centimeters, marked “rising faun enamels/virigina dudley” on back, circa 1951. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by John Poehlman.

GOLDEN FISHES TRAY of enamel on copper, 22.2 x 25.4 centimeters, signed “rising faun enamels/virginia dudley” on back, circa 1951. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by John Poehlman.

      In 1950 Dudley returned to her home in Rising Fawn with Moran and they established Rising Faun Enamels—with a “u” rather than a “w” to distinguish from the town and to reference the mythological woodland creature—and created pins, pendants, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, tie clips, cufflinks, trays, and wall plaques or mosaics, that “sold in fine stores all over the country from New York to California” (Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution, 1952). They worked with the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, and Dudley explained, “The guild encourages craftsmen of the area by helping to exchange information, market products, and obtain raw materials.”

During the 1950s Dudley and Moran expanded the one-room cabin by adding a studio, living room and kitchen. Andrew Sparks described the home in the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution (1953) as “constructed largely of love and tarpaper, second-hand windows, old doors and lumberyard bargains.” He also referred to it as “one of the most interesting modern houses in Georgia,” noting, “the front yard is a cantilevered slab of sandstone that projects over an 87-foot vertical drop into a gorge that looks like a
green-and-blue Grand Canyon.”

BIRD BROOCH/PENDANT of enamel on copper, 6.99 centimeters diameter, circa 1950-1957. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by Ashley Callahan.

      The house sits on the edge of a bluff overlooking Johnson’s Crook, a scenic bend in the valley, and is near both Tennessee and Alabama. Though the address is Rising Fawn, that town—the closest with a post office—sits at the base of the mountain, and the community at the top is referred to as New Salem. The area had developed a reputation as an artists’ colony, thanks to Fannie Mennen’s (1903-1995) efforts, starting in 1947, to organize annual art sales known as the Plum Nelly or Clothesline Art Show.

Dudley was resourceful and fiercely self-reliant, and the couple lived in the home without electricity for a couple of months, without a car for four years, and without running water. They enjoyed the seclusion, and the Chattanooga Times (1952) reported: “Here on Lookout Mountain, they found the freedom to build as they pleased, paint and draw when they wanted to, to fire up the furnace at midnight, if that hour is convenient for them.”

In 1954 Craft Horizons included a six-page illustrated article by Moran that details Dudley’s process. He wrote: “She is demonstrating through her studio-workshop that enameling can be an artistic medium of variety, subtlety and elegance, providing a modest livelihood for the hard-working practitioner.” He offered this description of her studio: “The nucleus of the workshop is the large table on which Virginia applies enamel to copper. This table, flanked on two sides by shelves containing jars of enamels, is directly beneath a skylight. To the right of the table stand the two kilns where the enamels are fired. A wood-burning space heater stands close to the chimney in the south wall.”

SEA BIRDS PANEL of enamel on copper, sand, paint, 81.28 x 48.26 centimeters, circa 1954. Collection of Georgia Museum of Art, University
of Georgia. Photograph courtesy of Georgia Museum of Art.

      For larger works, like enamel plaques, Dudley made preparatory oil paintings, often dividing them into sections to plan basic colors and shapes. Moran prepared the copper, cutting and forming it as needed, and polishing it. Dudley applied the enamel—she had about three hundred colors—to the metal through a variety of methods to create different effects; Moran described how she sprinkled powdered enamel through a fine mesh screen, trailed it gradually between her fingers for a loose and linear effect, and painted “moistened enamel with a brush” for “the greatest control and precision.” Each piece, whether a pendant or a section of a mosaic, would be fired multiple times—usually just for a few minutes each time—to melt the enamel and fuse it to the metal, creating a thin, glassy surface. Small earrings usually required about six firings, while larger, more complex elements might require up to twenty-nine firings. Moran wrote that Dudley was “fascinated with the rich, latent possibilities to be wrought by the fusing of metal and enamels through intense heat,” and there was “always a tremor of excitement when we [opened] the kiln and [took] out an enameled piece.”

The Rising Faun Enamels are sophisticated in their range of techniques, variations in form, color combinations and complexity of layers. The metal is carefully shaped and the objects are finished on the back (counter enameled). Dudley achieved an impressive depth with her enamel, sometimes creating objects with opaque surface colors punctuated by small open areas revealing a translucency below that suggest dappled light shining into mountain streams. Her color combinations—even in miniature—are striking, with hot pink next to bright orange, or golden green below a vivid aqua. Her designs ranged from cubist-inspired geometrics to mid-century biomorphic forms, and she favored natural motifs,
especially fish.

While Dudley incorporated her last name into the designs of most of the larger trays and plaques, or added her name, “rising faun enamels,” or “virginia and joseph” in enamel on the back, the jewelry is less consistently marked. Some larger pins and pendants have her name on the front, and some jewelry has paper labels on the back with “RISING FAUN ENAMELS/VIRGINIA AND JOSEPH” (sometimes with the line “FROM THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS”), but many items are unmarked.

While Rising Faun Enamels fit into the small world of studio enamels, it also fit into the growing field of modern studio jewelry, another area for which Dudley was recognized. In 1955 and 1959 the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis—a leader in promoting mid-century design and craft—included her work in two important issues of its publication Design Quarterly that were dedicated to contemporary jewelry. The 1955 issue, a who’s who of American mid-century jewelry, showed black and white photographs of two of Dudley’s bracelets, both composed of free-form sections, one abstract with light speckles on a dark ground and the other with fish. The 1959 issue included a pendant described as a “gold and silver encrustation on enameled copper,” and includes this quote from her: “I consider each piece of jewelry important within itself, a compatible object which intensifies the being of the wearer by heightening the presence and expanding the reality of the person.”

 
FISH BROOCH/PENDANT, 7.78 x 3.81 centimeters, paper label on back marked “VIRGINIA DUDLEY.”

FISH BROOCH/PENDANT, 7.78 x 3.81 centimeters, paper label on back marked “VIRGINIA DUDLEY.”

 

      In 1954 Dudley explained, “When we built our studio, we were striving to solve a problem perplexing to many artists and craftsmen today: the problem of creating and marketing objects made by hand, with skill and sensibility, for those seeking not just the unique or unusual, but objects, well-made and functional, to gladden the discriminating who are so often wearied by mediocrity and monotonous repetition.” This goal may have been too idealistic, though, especially given their remote southern setting, and the next few years saw a shift in their approach as they worked to supplement their income. In 1955 they opened a retail shop in their home, American Craftsmen, selling Rising Faun Enamels as well as the work of about nine other craftsmen. By 1956 Dudley was teaching classes at the University of Chattanooga Evening College and at the Hunter Gallery of Art in Chattanooga, and in early 1957
she took a job with the Army directing arts and crafts recreational programs at Fort Monroe in Virginia. Though likely determined largely by financial concerns, this change may also reflect Dudley’s inclination to move on to new projects after she mastered a technique, a characteristic her niece remembers well. Dudley once stated, “A constant wariness of being trapped by one material, one approach, lives with me.” Her new job soon was followed by divorce, which marked the end of Rising Faun Enamels.

ABSTRACT BROOCH/PENDANT, 8.26 X 5.56 centimeters. 

      Dudley continued to include enamel work as part of her roster of activities in the following decades, but its prominence diminished. Also, by the 1960s, making enameled jewelry became a popular hobbyist activity, and kits with pre-cut flat forms and limited colors resulted in a saturation of the market that, as Jazzar and Nelson note in their book Painting with Fire: Masters of Enameling in America, 1930-1980, “began to undermine [enamel’s] status as a legitimate and highly regarded form of contemporary art.” Dudley returned to her earlier pursuits of travel and education, and maintained her Rising Fawn home as a weekend or summer retreat. From 1958-1959 she did post-graduate work at the College of William and Mary, and in 1959 at the University of Maryland’s overseas branch in Uijeongbu, Korea, where the Army transferred her to oversee more than a dozen craft shops, which she did until 1961 when she took up a similar role for the Air Force for two more years.

      Even though she was moving on to new activities, Dudley’s reputation as an enamelist was well established. In 1957 Oppi Untracht, instructor in enameling at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, published the how-to book Enameling on Metal, which featured illustrations of several of her plaques/mosaics, including Sea Birds. Also, in 1959 the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City (now the Museum of Arts and Design) included Dudley in its seminal exhibition titled “Enamels,” which included five of her works, from an early tray to recent jewelry.

NECKLACE with metal choker. Shield is 6.03 x 9.21 centimeters. Jewelry is enamel on copper, circa 1950-1957. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by Ashley Callahan.

NECKLACE with metal choker. Shield is 6.03 x 9.21 centimeters. Jewelry is enamel on copper, circa 1950-1957. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by Ashley Callahan.

During a visit to Rising Fawn in 1962 she discovered that her home had been burglarized, and that many of her finest works, both paintings and enameled plaques, as well as a box of clippings and catalogs, had been stolen. The local newspaper reported, “A quantity of ‘Rising Faun Enamels’ jewelry also was removed, including one-of-a-kind pendants, medallions and cuff links.” None of the material, valued at ten thousand dollars, was recovered, and the event remained a source of bitter frustration to Dudley. 

From 1963-1971 she taught art at Shorter College, in Rome, Georgia, then, as her eyesight began to fail, retired to Rising Fawn. She died in 1981 at age sixty-seven. Though Rising Faun Enamels existed for only seven years—a brief passage in her productive life—that period of creative focus, entrepreneurial collaboration with Moran, and immersion in the natural beauty of her region resulted in a body of work that reflects both the captivating qualities she admired in the medieval enamels that first inspired her and the modernism of the mid-twentieth century.

SUGGESTED READING
Jazzar, Bernard N. and Harold B. Nelson
, Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present. Los Angeles: Enamel Arts Foundation, 2015.
     —Painting with Fire: Masters of Enameling in America, 1930-1980. Long Beach: Long Beach Museum of Art, 2006. 
Stevenson, Margie and Patricia Collier. “Virginia E. Dudley.” Chattanooga Regional Historical Journal 10: July 2007, 49-70.
Thomas, Joe A. Virginia Dudley and American Modernism, exhibition brochure, Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia, July 1-August 2, 2014.
Virginia Dudley website: http://www.virginiadudley.org.

EARRINGS ON RISING FAUN ENAMELS CARDS of enamel on copper, varying sizes, circa 1950-1957. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by
Ashley Callahan.

     Get Inspired!


Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. After repeatedly encountering Virginia Dudley’s name for years while working on various research projects about craft in Georgia and modern jewelry, she became an admirer of Dudley’s accomplishments in the field of enamels, especially jewelry. She was thrilled when family friends Sally and John Poehlman of Rising Fawn put her in contact with the current occupant of Dudley’s amazing home, David Lyons, and with Dudley’s niece, Patricia Antonia Collier. Callahan appreciates the support, enthusiasm and warm welcome she and her husband enjoyed in Rising Fawn.

Tamar Navama Volume 39.4

 
I deliberately show the backside of the skin, the ugly side that people want to hide,” Navama explains. “There is the process of transformation between animal, a live creature, to an object. In our minds we forget this process and I’m trying to bring it back and show it.
 
ARMPIT NECKLACE of silver, eighteen and twenty-two karat gold, alligator skin, 7.5 x 9.0 x 1.0 centimeters, 2010. Photograph by Yaniv Schwartz.

ARMPIT NECKLACE of silver, eighteen and twenty-two karat gold, alligator skin, 7.5 x 9.0 x 1.0 centimeters, 2010. Photograph by Yaniv Schwartz.

MIRROR SKIN CUFF of silver and leather, 7.6 x 7.0 x 5.5 centimeters, 2014. Photograph by Tamar Navama.

MIRROR SKIN CUFF of silver and leather, 7.6 x 7.0 x 5.5 centimeters, 2014. Photograph by Tamar Navama.

Perhaps leather’s close affinity to the human skin as a protective and insulating material has made it seem too primary, too foundational to serve as ornament: as an enhancement that acquires its attractions partly because it is functionally superfluous. Perhaps leather’s susceptibility to wear and tear makes it feel too ephemeral to embody the kinds of projected desires for perfection that precious objects generally reflect. Perhaps leather is simply too common a substance to be charged with any significant symbolic meaning, except in the case of certain animal pelts, jaguar or leopard, for example, in which the leather itself remains concealed beneath colorful patterned fur. For whatever reason, leather is an oddity in ornament. Used by humans for thousands of years, perhaps even before our full evolution into humanity, leather as a wearable material is perpetuated in our shoes, belts and purses, but it almost never infiltrates our jewelry, except in the subordinate, utilitarian role of a watchband or a cord on which to string rustic beads.

TAMAR NAVAMA wearing one of her earrings, in yellow plastic, brass and silver. Photograph by Erin C. Turner. 

TAMAR NAVAMA wearing one of her earrings, in yellow plastic, brass and silver. Photograph by Erin C. Turner. 

      For Dallas, Texas artist Tamar Navama the seemingly inevitable lot of leather to be a wearable substance routinely relegated to functional duties, even when dyed and varnished to a high gloss, has entailed both challenges and opportunities ever since she began exploring the material as the mainstay of her jewelry. One of her key concerns has been to overcome longstanding prejudices against the idea of leather as a precious material, or, more accurately, as a material precious in its own right rather than as a consequence of its incorporation into Gucci handbags or Jimmy Choo boots. To address this concern she has followed a two-pronged strategy in which leather sometimes asserts the inherent physical qualities, pliability, for example, that make it so useful as a functional material and other times transcend its physicality to become an inspiration for design and even a template for production of elements in other media. Regardless of whether her works incorporate actual leather or merely the traces and impressions of it, she has made leather the focus of her work with the consistency and determination of an advocate.

The foundational series for Navama’s engagement of leather, Second Skin, is also the most varied, embracing leather both as a material to be appreciated in itself and as a source of visual and conceptual abstraction. The series title, a seemingly straightforward reference to wearing animal skin over human skin, is ambiguous enough to allow for at least three other interpretations that have opened fruitful lines of artistic exploration: the use of scraps of leather ordinarily devalued as commercial seconds; the relationship between real skin and its synthetic imitation; and, most conceptually complex of all, the temporary transformation of the wearer’s skin from its primary condition as a site for ornament to a secondary state as representation, a transition occurring, for example, when the heavy, textured surface of a bracelet is lifted from a wearer’s wrist and momentarily leaves its physical traces behind in the form of impressions in the skin.

 

The first and most direct interpretation of Second Skin, the concept of an animal skin serving as a kind of prosthesis for or duplicate of the human skin, has been explored by Navama in a series of brooches, rings and pendants incorporating small pieces of dark alligator hide. Mounted on silver or plastic backings, the bits of animal skin generally do not lie, as clothing would, directly against the wearer’s own skin, nor do they serve any functional purpose. Irregularly shaped, like pieces from an eccentric jigsaw puzzle, they play formally against elements of silver or gold in an organic-and-geometric dynamic. Lest the scaly network of the leather’s surface become too easily abstracted into mere pattern, Navama reminds the viewer of the material’s nature as animal skin by tacking it to its backing with tiny gold pins that recall the process of stretching and curing hide as well as shaping it over blocks.

In other instances, as in the case of a pendant with the appearance of a torn watch band, the raw side of the leather remains visible, a reminder that the material has been stripped from an animal’s body and preserved for human use. “I deliberately show the backside of the skin, the ugly side that people want to hide,” Navama explains. “There is the process of transformation between animal, a live creature, to an object. In our minds we forget this process and I’m trying to bring it back and show it.” No implicit judgment is conveyed by this action. Navama does not moralize over an industry that, by its very nature, depends on death. She does, however, wish to underscore the fact that leather is worthy of respect and admiration as a precious material that cannot simply be mined from the earth like diamonds or gold.

Another potential reading of the series title Second Skin concerns both the industry’s focus on particular sections of alligator skin—those in which the scales are most regular and the skin is fitted to the flattest areas of the animal’s body—and its rejection of the remaining irregularly patterned and contoured parts as seconds. The titles Armpit Ring and Armpit Necklace might convey an immediate impression of vulgarity, but in fact they are merely descriptive of the location over which the pieces of leather they incorporate once lay on the alligator’s body. Difficult to use, unlike the hornback or belly skin of the alligator, these sections are, in effect, industrial discards. For Navama, the process of incorporating them into jewelry is not so much an act of aggrandizement, of raising the mundane or abysmal to an exalted status, as of vindication. In ornament, a piece of alligator hide can be as visually luxuriant and formally vital as any precious gem, regardless of whether the clothing and accessories industries would classify it as primary or secondary skin.

STINGRAY CUFF of silver and copper, 7.0 x 7.0 x 5.7 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Lynné Bowman Cravens. ERUPTION CUFF #2 of silver and plastic, 8.5 x 8.5 x 14.5 centimeters, 2014. Photograph by Lynné Bowman Cravens. BLACK ON BLACK SERIES #6 NECKLACE of steel, paint, paper, plastic, 7.0 x 18.0 centimeters, 2015. Model: Jacklyn Butt. Photograph by Lynné Bowman Cravens.

      A third strategy through which Navama has explored the concept of a second skin involves both the body of the wearer of a piece of jewelry and reference to animal skin incorporated, as material or as image, into that jewelry. Here, the second skin is largely metaphorical: a trace, a pattern of evidence, left behind after the surface, or “skin,” of a piece of jewelry is removed from where it rested on the body. In part, works in this vein are about the nature of jewelry and how the maker can utilize it as a link between the surface of the body and the larger material world. A good example is a bracelet in which a raised pattern of granulation relates to ray skin. “The inspiration for this is looking at the skin and trying to imitate it, but the imitation is coming from my metalsmith world,” Navama explains. “It’s a sheet that has been drilled, and then there are granules on the inside that are meant to create impressions on the wrist. You’re left with the skin while this object is sitting on the table, so there is kind of a shift from the bracelet to what’s happened on the body.”

A fourth potential meaning of Second Skin—as a reference to a surrogate or stand-in for real leather—is suggested by such works as the Climbing Brooch, in which simulated alligator scales stamped into metal plates serve as integral parts of the compositions. More illusionistic than this is the black-plastic alligator skin incorporated into Eruption Bracelet #1 and Eruption Bracelet #2. These hollow-formed-silver, c-shaped cuff bracelets—aesthetically dramatic contrasts of light and dark, smooth and rough, geometric and organic—recall expensive fashion objects that incorporate actual alligator skin, but at the same time their inclusion of a synthetic material associated with mass production raises questions. Should these works be seen as sophisticated decorative-art objects that elevate the aesthetic status and monetary value of ersatz alligator skin to the levels associated with the real thing, or are they, on the contrary, high-end objects conceptually brought low by the infiltration of imitation? Another interpretation, more consistent with Navama’s expressed views on alligator hide, is that the skin itself, abstracted into a scale pattern in the plastic substitute, is responsible for its own elevation. In other words, alligator skin has an intrinsic, rather than merely contextual, value as an abstract design element.

Exploration of this abstract design element in a purely formal context led Navama to develop a related line, or rather sub-series of jewelry encompassed by the Second Skin series: the Fresh Brooches. In these works, she has employed digital files created with Illustrator software as the basis for brightly colored acrylic jewelry. “Those files are coming from images of an alligator skin that I traced then adjusted by shrinking and expanding parts,” she explains, “but here, instead of trying to create a memory for skin, it’s okay for the forms to have their own lives. I got these imitations of imitations of imitations, and then at some point they became these laser-cut acrylic shapes in different colors.” These often serve as components in unique formal arrangements that include brushed silver plates, various stones set in bezels, and silver link chains, but Navama has also employed them in production jewelry by attaching simple findings to create bracelets or large earrings. She has also experimented with laser cutting the designs in other materials, such as paper, rubber and—in a cycle from material to abstraction and back again—leather.

 

TAMAR NAVAMA’S VARIED INTERESTS INCLUDE HANDMADE LEATHER SHOES AND PURSES AND COLLABORATIONS, SUCH AS ONE DURING NEW YORK FASHION WEEK.

FOUR VIEWS OF TALL SHOES, wet molded and leather lamination, 2012. The shoes are transitioning between an animal and a shoe. The tail represents the creature while running away, which also hinders the wearer from walking easily. Model: Natalie Keinan. Photograph by Tamar Navama.

NEW YORK FASHION WEEK 2015. Navama was invited to design and create jewelry for Naadam Cashmere. Naadam is a socially conscious cashmere garment brand based in New York that partners with herders in Mongolia. Her jewelry was accessorized to their collection, in brightly colored orange, blue and yellow necklaces and bracelets, consisting of silver, thread, cord, silver-plated copper rings and carabiner clasps. Photographs by Hannah Thomson, courtesy of Naadam.

 

      The title Fresh Brooches conveys something of the vitality and vibrancy that Navama associates with the jewelry of this series. “It’s more playful than my other work,” she notes. “I have two babies in my world, so I started making things in yellow and red.” Like the colors, the shapes are exuberant, partly because they arise from a genuine curiosity about what might result from stretching, contacting, or otherwise altering the original designs in Illustrator and partly because those designs have originated in characteristics of the scaling of an alligator’s skin that evolved specifically to facilitate a lively interaction with the physical world. “As I alter the patterns, I try to leave one of the things that is most important and interesting for me,” Navama says. “That’s the change of the pattern on the animal. Some parts of the skin need to bend, so they’re different from the parts that will be constantly rubbed against something. Around the eyes the scales get smaller so that the skin can have the wrinkles that it needs in order to move. The shapes change based on the use of that part of the animal. For me there is something amazing in that, and I’m trying to take it and use it and show it in my work.”

If the Fresh Brooches convey the energy and elasticity of life, Navama’s series Black on Black acknowledges that life is inevitably and eternally linked to stasis as well. “I lost my mom a few years ago, and it’s something that I had on my mind,” she explains, “so I consider the Black on Black necklaces to be mourning jewelry, though they’re not necessarily meant to be used for that purpose.” Deriving from her practice of manipulating scale patterns in Illustrator then laser-cutting these to create web-like pendants, the Black on Black works are quieter, more poignant and more intimate counterparts to the Fresh Brooches. Suspended on silver chains that are sometimes partly or wholly darkened with liver of sulfur, the pendants convey melancholy but also the serenity that comes with detachment from the material world through spiritual or philosophical acceptance of ephemerality. The medium, plastic layered over laser-cut paper rather than acrylic, is crucial to the Black on Black works in this respect. In the imperfections arising from the process of creation—the membranes that randomly close some of the holes and the tiny knobs and trailings that occur within others—the frailty of life is written with poetic simplicity. Here, the affinity of alligator hide to human skin, brought out by Tamar Navama through the process of abstraction peculiar to art, transcends the functional and ornamental and broaches the existential.

 

Click on Photos for Captions

      Get Inspired!


Glen-R.-Brown_Contributor.jpg

Glen R. Brown is a Kansas State University professor. Drawn to media underused in contemporary jewelry, he noted a vital issue raised by the alligator-skin brooches and pendants of Dallas artist Tamar Navama. “When it incorporates alligator-hide scraps incongruously with geometric silver components, Tamar’s work conveys the melancholy of a fragile nature subjected to industry,” he remarks, “but when her work involves alligator-hide patterns invading the realm of digitally generated design, then nature—as an idea, at least—reasserts itself within the artificial to remind us of things we can’t really do without.”

Celestial Volume 39.4

NU WA, THE CREATOR PENDANT by Cynthia Toops, metalwork by Nancy Bonnema, of micro mosaic polymer clay, sterling silver and old steel caliper, on a sterling silver chain, 2016. Photograph by Doug Yaple. Background: PISMIS 24. Photograph courtesy of NASA, ESA and Jesús Maíz Apellániz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain). Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble).

NU WA, THE CREATOR PENDANT by Cynthia Toops, metalwork by Nancy Bonnema, of micro mosaic polymer clay, sterling silver and old steel caliper, on a sterling silver chain, 2016. Photograph by Doug Yaple. Background: PISMIS 24. Photograph courtesy of NASA, ESA and Jesús Maíz Apellániz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain). Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble).

Humans have always gazed at the heavens with wonder and awe. The sky, with its endless shifts in light and mood, inspires fear and faith, science and fantasy. The gods of nearly all religions dwell in the endless, unfathomable worlds beyond our little planet, as do the extraterrestrial civilizations described by science fiction writers. Even as astrophysicists study space and explain what they know, the celestial world remains tantalizingly mysterious to most of us. And thank goodness for that.

      In times of personal or societal turmoil, we turn to the sky with its infinite possibility and dream of worlds beyond our own. The artists in “Celestial: Comets, Cupids, and Other Heavenly Bodies,” a recent exhibition (February 8 - 28, 2017) at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery, in Seattle, Washington, were inspired by shooting stars and blue moons, meteors and cloud patterns, origin myths and the zodiac, time traveling and communication with other worlds. The exhibition was a delightful antidote to the dark skies of mid winter and dark horizons everywhere. 

The exhibition included the work of twenty-two artists mostly from the United States and Canada. With jewelry displayed on reproductions of celestial maps, the show looked like part of a stylish observatory display, as though the jewelry represented miniature solar systems for us to study. Jan Smith’s exquisitely crafted enamel and silver neckpieces suggest tranquil blue landscapes on other planets. Plants and animals could live on these welcoming orbs. At a time when our earth’s environment is increasingly fragile, Smith’s Oort Cloud and Once in a Blue Moon offer hope for worlds with still pristine blue waters and clear skies.

METEORITE LANDING RING by Checha Sokolovic of sterling silver, patina, charcoal, cement, dye, and resin, 7.0 x 3.2 x 5.1 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Barbara Cohen. UNIVERSE RING by Jennifer Merchant of acrylic, fine silver leaf, silver, glitter, and printed photographs, top measures 3.2 x 2.2 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Jennifer Merchant. RADIANT CUFF by Wolfgang Vaatz of oxidized sterling silver, eighteen karat yellow gold and diamond, 2016. Photograph by Wolfgang Vaatz.

      Cynthia Toops, noted for her work in polymer clay micro mosaic, created narrative pieces based on myths about the heavens. Her pendant Nu Wa, The Creator is named for a goddess from Chinese mythology with a human face and a snake’s body. Nu Wa is the goddess of order and she also created humans. One of her heroic acts was to stop the heavens from collapsing onto earth. Toops collaborated with metalsmith Nancy Bonnema to make the piece.

Checha Sokolovic’s work incorporates treated charcoal used as gemstones. Meteorite Landing is a sterling silver and cement ring with a hunk of treated charcoal displayed like treasure. Meteorites that land on earth are in fact treated like precious rocks, and Sokolovic’s work raises questions about beauty and exactly what makes a material precious. Jennifer Merchant’s acrylic-based necklace and ring included bits of space photography. Merchant excels at building layers of acrylic, fine silver leaf, silver, and glitter all in the service of creating depth. For these pieces she also used snippets of photographs taken through the Hubble Space Telescope. Her necklace and ring, both called Universe, are glimpses of infinity.

Some of the most striking work was abstract in design but rich with cosmic allusion. Carla Pennie McBride’s several pieces are studies in black and white, positive and negative space. Light and Dark Necklace is a translucent epoxy resin sphere held in place by a chain of beads made from black lava. It is an elegant piece of jewelry as well as a poetic reference to the interdependence of our rocky planet and the life-giving atmosphere that surrounds us.

      Then there is Kirk Lang, who found a real meteorite to work into his brooches. Lang’s work is formal and well made and the hexagonal shape of his brooches suggests clusters of atoms and molecules, or other scientific phenomena made visible. Crafted of titanium, gold, diamonds, and meteorite, Lang’s work also refers to the preciousness of materials. In this case, shards of meteorites are as valuable and beautiful as diamonds and gold.

Nadine Kariya mined Greek mythology for inspiration, and made rings and neckpieces referring to Athena, Aphrodite and Ganymede, a Trojan prince who Zeus transformed into an eagle. Like heroes from all classical mythologies, the Greek gods travel between Earth and the heavens at will. With its classical grandeur, Kariya’s work could easily be worn by the gods of any culture.

MOONBEAM ANTHEM 1: BOWIE (obverse, reverse) by emiko oye of LEGO in fine and Argentium silver, and stainless steel pin. 10.8 x 9.53 x 2.54 centimeters. Photograph by Daniel Fox, Lumina Studio.

      There was work in the show representing shooting stars, the signs of the zodiac, and planets belted by outer rings, in the manner of Saturn. For wit, however, it is impossible to improve on pieces by Jana Brevick and emiko oye. Brevick has for many years made work about robotics, extraterrestrial communication and any number of other subjects sparked by her fascination with science and outer space. Her silver brooch/pendant Tracking Heartbeats resembles a miniature radio tower perched on a scooped out antennae dish. You can imagine it floating through space listening, perhaps indefinitely, for a message from another world.

Artist emiko oye infuses smart design with pop culture in a way that was perfectly apropos to this exhibition. Using purple and black LEGO pieces, she made brooches that resemble tiny space ships. Like the galaxy crossing space ships in Star Trek, her LEGO transporters are all right angles and diamond shapes. San Francisco-based oye is known for creating cheerful jewelry out of the bright plastic toy bricks. But for this show she also added song lyrics about the eternal appeal of looking beyond Earth for inspiration. On the backs of the brooches she inscribed lyrics from David Bowie, Prince, Depeche Mode and the character Hedwig, in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Bowie and Prince, who both died in 2016, sometimes presented themselves as messengers from other worlds. When times are tough on our planet, the musicians suggested, dream of better worlds far, far away. The jewelry in “Celestial” made it easy to dream.

 

RINGS BROOCH by Sara Wauzynski of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, egg tempera on gesso, pearls ,and garnets, 2.75” x 1.5” x 1.25”.

 
 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Robin Updike, a Seattle-based arts writer and a regular contributor to Ornament, is a longtime observer of the craft scene. Over the course of more than two decades she has reviewed many exhibitions at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery in Seattle and has always been impressed with the gallery’s themed, group shows. In this edition of Ornament Updike reviews a Facèré exhibition in which twenty-two jewelry artists made work about celestial bodies, both real and metaphorical. She let us know that the resulting show was “dreamy.”

Andrea Geer Volume 39.4

KNIT TUNIC WITH SCARF of merino wool/rayon blend yarn; scarf is knit and leather, handloomed, 2015. Background: ACRYLIC PAINTING on stretched canvas, 91.4 x 183 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Tim Fuss.

KNIT TUNIC WITH SCARF of merino wool/rayon blend yarn; scarf is knit and leather, handloomed, 2015. Background: ACRYLIC PAINTING on stretched canvas, 91.4 x 183 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Tim Fuss.

Art is a mirror to life. It takes all the visual humdrum of reality, and adds in the emotional tones (over and under), the sounds, the smells, the memories, the thoughts, and the imaginings that compose our complicated and at times remarkably simple existence. What comes out is a refracted prism, a carnival reflection that represents our state of being better than the “real” world itself.

      It is in that service Andrea Geer dedicates herself, working through processes within processes to turn the ideas that dwell inside into physical objects. From knitwear to digitally-printed fabric and leather cut and sewn into garments, Geer manages a balance between her repertoire of skills and tools, and her capacity to bring forth her thoughts as coherent and functional wearables.

Her background in the arts comes from learning on her own and the structure provided by her fine arts education, showing how important the tension intertwining different realms of experience is to the creative process. Geer earned a BFA in graphics design at the Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as an MFA in painting. The latter deeply informed her ability to see things from a big picture perspective. Rather than viewing clothing purely as an object, she learned to see it abstractly, conceptually as an empowering vehicle that could change how the wearer is perceived, and perceives themselves. This is the guiding principle behind Geer’s designs. How that transformation happens, from a drab covering to becoming an article of power, beauty and grace is a process involving numerous steps and a variety of techniques and disciplines.

“As I have moved forward in my life, I have collected many tools and materials that have aided me in creating,” she explains. “I have ultimately moved in a direction that did not require me to focus on one tool or set of tools.” This multimedia approach has led to Geer embracing everything from sewing machines and paintbrushes to scissors, digital styluses and Photoshop. While learning how to utilize a new material or piece of equipment takes time, listening to her speak reveals an open mind that is continually searching for the best avenue for expressing an idea.

In the past few years, Geer has taken her interest in painting and made use of the miracle of digital printing to produce textiles which feature her own fine art. A chance encounter at a New York City fabric show introduced her to a small company that was able to print on leather, and more important, willing to do small batch orders. It was a marvelous serendipity, and Geer leapt at the chance to incorporate her two-dimensional art into a wearable form. With careful meticulosity, she describes, “I started by having paintings I had previously created printed on to the leather. The paintings were large, around three-and-a-half by six feet. Then, I began to create the artwork to the size of the fabric. I created new large paintings that were close to the width of the fabric.”

 

SWEATER AND SKIRT of merino wool/rayon; sweater is handloomed, skirt is ponte knit and hand manipulated, 2014. DIGITALLY PRINTED TOP of polyester crepe de chine, 2016. DIGITALLY PRINTED LEATHER SKIRT with removable panel, 2016. Model: Allison Ridgley. Photographs by Tom McInvaille except where noted.

      Eventually, she began incorporating digital art into her repertoire. A Wacom tablet, essentially a canvas, brush and palette all rolled into one, is the first tool employed in this alchemy. By using the tablet’s stylus, she can paint, pen or sketch a digital file that can then be printed on various fabrics. As she reminisces about her childhood, a deeper thread is exposed. “The most direct route to expressing an idea visually was with a pencil. Typically, now when I use a pencil, it is to quickly record an idea for future use or to map out an idea that is important to my work. The pencil in time became a tool that records something that will be executed in a different medium.

ANDREA GEER. Photograph by Tim Fuss.

ANDREA GEER. Photograph by Tim Fuss.

      “I remember the awe and love of a process that allowed me to create. It was with a sense of wonder and excitement that I first drew as a child. The stylus is an electronic pencil that allows you to draw on a Wacom tablet. The tablet allows you to draw directly onto a surface. The drawing takes place in Photoshop where you can manipulate the type of line, the texture, the color, and many other things. The stylus has become what the pencil once was. The most direct way to communicate my ideas.”

Once she receives the printed textiles, spontaneity and a willingness to be flexible helps guide the process from taking a piece of cloth and transforming it into clothing. A look is arrived at by visualizing how the fabric will best flatter the body, with a particular cut and drape determining how the garment will fall and tuck on the wearer. Then a pattern is devised. Every step of the way, Geer is willing to consider new possibilities, particularly being attentive to when it is necessary to let go of an old idea in order to move in a fresh direction.

This simple truth grows from the unmitigated, primal spirit which lies within, that initial spark which grows into a flame as it is fed and nourished. All it needs is an outlet, a tool that releases that energy into something that transcends the metaphysical into the physical. For Geer, that was the pencil.

DIGITALLY PRINTED CAPE in polyester crepe de chine, 2016. Background: WHITE GRAY LINEAR PATTERN digital artwork created using Wacom tablet, 2017.

DIGITALLY PRINTED CAPE in polyester crepe de chine, 2016. Background: WHITE GRAY LINEAR PATTERN digital artwork created using Wacom
tablet, 2017.

      This sense of wonder in creating is the essence of Geer’s work. It is the exploration of mystery, the charting of unknown territory, the grand adventure which uncovers surprising new ground. “I certainly don’t feel bound to one way of creating clothing,” she explains. “The spontaneity along each step is important to the process. Often, I order the fabric not knowing what I will make from it. In the case of the leather skirts, the leather arrived and I knew right away after seeing it that it had to be a skirt.”

The delight of Geer’s clothing is earthed in its spontaneity and playfulness. The basis of her knitwear is creating wearable sculpture, with the key word being wearable. Lightweight, unencumbered, yet as dynamic as she can push it, each piece seeks to redefine the shape of the body, either with circles, squares and other geometric shapes, or by creating voluminous pantaloons that stretch from breast to ankle. Striated with black and white ribbing, and running down the outside of each leg, this particular piece is a redefining of the outer garment, although a particularly daring individual could likely find a combination of clothes to make it part of one’s foundational ensemble.

In a very different manner, Geer’s skirts and t-shirts featuring her digital prints push boundaries by breaking up the standard assumption that casually worn clothing must be either in a single, flat color, or adorned with a recognizable pattern. Abstract paintings leave the wearer awash in gradients, broad, thick brushstrokes, and interposed panels of geometric shapes. Asymmetry is the name of the game here, with colors and black lines channeling the attention of the viewer so either your eye is constantly in motion, or specific highlights cause your gaze to become arrested by a spot of intrigue.

Geer ran a storefront in Rochester, New York, for two years before she decided it was not having a beneficial impact on her imagination. She has since transformed it into a showroom and workspace, where she can talk with customers and demonstrate the stages the fabric goes through before it becomes clothing. “I think people of all ages are interested in process and sharing the actual work is a key step in enticing new younger customers as well as previous buyers,” Geer remarks. “I think people are happy to know that it is not a magical process but a series of steps.”

What lies at the heart of Geer’s work is the act of letting go, of having that space to try new things and revel in the excitement of that outcome. “Sometimes the process of experimentation feels effortless because I am not always trying to get to an end result, I just want to see how things might go together. There are so many moments of uncertainty in working this way, but behind this uncertainty lies a feeling that is exactly the opposite. It’s a feeling of conviction and trust.”

 
GEER’S STUDIO in Rochester, New York. Photograph by Kyle Schwab.DRESS of hand-manipulated folds of merino wool/rayon blend yarn, 2014.

GEER’S STUDIO in Rochester, New York. Photograph by Kyle Schwab.DRESS of hand-manipulated folds of merino wool/rayon blend yarn, 2014.

 
 

     Get Inspired!


Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. For his contribution to the latest issue, Benesh-Liu explores the art to wear of Andrea Geer, whom he met last November at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. After talking with Geer about her creative process through a series of emails, he found a multimedia artisan whose holistic approach puts together digital and traditional handwork. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft, where you can find out what is happening with art to wear in the global neighborhood.

Chinese Silver Hairpins Volume 39.4

CHINESE SILVER HAIRPINS, an excellent representative sample of the numerous styles, from single to multi-tine examples. A number are decorated by enameling, gilding or set with glass simulations of jade and coral. These are fabricated, cast or die-struck, some with multiple techniques. Sizes range from 8.5 to 21.2 centimeters (cm) long, and 0.6 to 13.4 centimeters wide. Courtesy of Leekan Designs. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

CHINESE SILVER HAIRPINS, an excellent representative sample of the numerous styles, from single to multi-tine examples. A number are decorated by enameling, gilding or set with glass simulations of jade and coral. These are fabricated, cast or die-struck, some with multiple techniques. Sizes range from 8.5 to 21.2 centimeters (cm) long, and 0.6 to 13.4 centimeters wide. Courtesy of Leekan Designs. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

Hair adornments were a vital part of women’s jewelry in many parts of East Asia, recently reinforced during a visit in 2016 to the Asian galleries of the Newark Museum of Art. Metal hairpins were not numerous among the Japanese, Korean and Chinese jewelry on display, although Chinese metal examples have been well documented (Duda 2002, Hang 2005, Lingley 2007, Liu 1999). Perhaps this results from many such ornaments being from the lower classes or general populace, and not from the upper classes, thus not of significant crafting or preciousness to warrant inclusion in museum collections.

      While on this same trip, I was able to study a large selection of relatively simple Chinese silver hairpins at Leekan Designs of New York, well-worn and dating from the early twentieth century or possibly even earlier, obtained from Beijing in the 1980s. Later, Paddy Kan sent me a more comprehensive collection of hairpins. The twisted wire hairpins shown on the facing page do not appear to have been published before, although some of the other more elaborate ones are shown in Duda (2002), Hang (2005) and Lingley (2007). Given the large populations of this country during the last centuries, such hairpins would be expected to be numerous, especially since some were worn in multiples, although all vintage Chinese jewelry is now scarce. Most hairpins were stuck into buns, to hold this hairstyle in place, while flat ones had hair wrapped around them. Interestingly, the very simple twisted hairpins have been employed as defensive weapons by women in Chinese martial arts movies. To anyone with an interest in metalsmithing, these hairpins are most likely products of small, unsophisticated workshops, but demonstrate a surprising number of clever techniques, also used in the manufacture of the metal portions of Chinese bangles (Liu 2013).

I do not know if such jewelry techniques have been covered in the Chinese literature, since I do not read Chinese, although Hang (2005) does mention the use of press-molding for rattan and silver bangles. Hang is also the most comprehensive in coverage of Chinese hairpins, historic and vintage. Najdowski (2011) has described and shown images of dies used by the Miao minority in making repouseé silver or base metal jewelry. It is very likely that Han jewelers also used similar tools and techniques, given that dies were widely used in hairpin manufacture. Due to the extensive and repeated use of popular motifs in Chinese jewelry, which all have significant meanings as rebuses (Bartholomew 2006), it makes sense to use dies to replicate these complex, yet standardized designs.

REFERENCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bartholomew, T.T. 2006 Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art. San Francisco, Asian Art Museum: 352 p.
Duda, M. 2002 Four Centuries of Silver. Personal Adornment in the Qing Dynasty and After. Singapore, Times Edition: 208 p.
Hang, H. 2005 Precious Adornment Kit. Ming, Ching to Republic of China Era. Female Traditional Silver Ornaments. Beijing, Sanlian Bookstore: 422 p.
Lingley, K. A. 2007 Excelling the Work of Heaven. Personal Adornment from China. Featuring the Shyn Collection. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Art Gallery: 158 p.
Liu, R. K. 1992 Wholesale to the Trade. Overseas Trading Company. Ornament 15 (3): 104-105.
—1999 Collectibles. Chinese Hair Ornaments. Ornament 23 (2): 8-9.
—2013 Vintage Chinese Bangles. Rattan, bamboo, coral, and more. Ornament 37 (1): 16-19.
Najdowski, P. 2011 Guzang Miao Festival. Ceremonial silver. Ornament 34 (5): 70-73.

 

Click on Photos for Captions

 

     Get Inspired!


Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty-plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. Recently he has been giving one-on-one photography lessons at our office, as well as teaching workshops on bamboo and matrix jewelry. In this issue Liu writes about vintage Chinese silver hairpins of the general populace, an important item in the personal adornment of many Asian women in the past centuries.

Kristina Logan Volume 39.3

TURQUOISE FLORAL PENDANT/BROOCH of flameworked glass and fabricated sterling silver, 7 centimeters diameter, 2016. Photograph by Dean Powell. 

TURQUOISE FLORAL PENDANT/BROOCH of flameworked glass and fabricated sterling silver, 7 centimeters diameter, 2016. Photograph by Dean Powell. 

After extensive renovations, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum reopened this past July with a stellar showcase of objects from its permanent collection. “Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery,” which is ongoing, offers eighty-plus eclectic and engaging examples of craft art, from the Eames brothers’ plywood Leg Splint, 1942, to Judith Schaechter’s stained glass The Birth of Eve, 2013. Curated by Nora Atkinson, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, the exhibition works by association rather than by chronology, seeking to emulate today’s hyperlinked world.

      Kristina Logan is represented by a brooch/pendant featuring a pattern of cobalt and silver accented with a ring of sterling dots. The lampworked soda-lime glass and sterling silver piece, made in 2001, is displayed alongside Alexander Calder’s undated hammered copper Necklace. In a video produced for the show, Logan speaks about Calder and their aesthetic ties. She loves how he used simple materials and created value “by infusing them with creative energy, ideas and careful mark-making.” Glass, like brass and copper, she notes, “has little intrinsic value, but it is the artist’s hand and spirit” that can give them worth.

Logan’s appearance in the Renwick show comes as no surprise: over the past twenty-five years, she has become one of the foremost glass bead artists in the world. Her work is in major collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and she has earned special recognition in her field, including the title “Dot Queen”—for the marvelous array of dots that accent her beads.

Certain of Logan’s designs, such as the Constellation necklace and the Cactus bead, are icons of contemporary beadwork. Her brooches, pendants, rings, and necklaces mesmerize. Kaleidoscopic disks set in sterling silver dazzle the eye.

COLLECTION OF TOTEM BEADS of flameworked glass, largest bead 10 centimeters long, 2000-2003. Photograph by Dean Powell.

COLLECTION OF TOTEM BEADS of flameworked glass, largest bead 10 centimeters long, 2000-2003. Photograph by Dean Powell.

     Having started out making single beads, today Logan is the creator of reliquaries, candlesticks, goblets, teapots, chalices, and other objects that incorporate her beadwork. She is increasingly interested in pushing the boundaries of scale while retaining her intricate details. She is currently finishing up several statuesque drinking vessels inspired by eighteenth-century Nuremberg goblets she discovered in the Corning Museum of Glass. While the profile of her lidded goblets are similar to those early ones, the flameworked, pâte de verre and bronze pieces are “incredibly different” on a tactile level. One of them was featured in the recent exhibition “Beginnings” at the Corning Museum of Glass.

When asked about the evolution of her designs, Logan admits to progressing in geological time—very slowly. If you were to look at her beads today alongside ones she made early on, you would be able, she avers, to see the lineage. She does make drawings—of the brooches and metalwork—but the bead designs arise from experimentation. Once in a while an idea will come to her when she is not looking for it, at three in the morning, but ninety-nine percent of the time it happens when she is in the studio. She believes the constant pattern of work brings ideas. “I believe in that preparation,” she has stated. The concentration that comes with deadlines helps spur the work forward.

GOBLET of glass, bronze, silver, steel, lost wax cast and flameworked glass, cast bronze, 11.43 x 11.43 x 33.02 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Bill Truslow.

     Logan’s beads are marked by opaque and transparent layers—“That’s how I find color,” she says. Starting with a “Crayola box of all the colors,” she uses layering to play subtle variations on the palette, thereby altering the design from piece to piece. She relishes this exploration of tint and shade and hue. Early on Logan was not always comfortable with color, and has noted, she “may have been afraid of it.” It was not the color in flameworking that interested her so much as the fluidity and movement of melting glass.

Logan likes working in series, “beading an idea to death,” she says with a smile, until she gets it right. She loves the refining process, a “precision” that comes “from hours and hours of going back over the same concept again and again,” deepening the vocabulary along the way. While she admires artists who can jump ideas, it is not in her DNA to work that way.

Architectural detail has been an important inspiration, be it East Indian doorways, Moroccan tiles, or mosaics from the pre-Renaissance and Renaissance. European reliquaries from 1300-1500, the bronze armatures found in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s work—these also inspire, as do patterns in nature. One collection of brooches got its start after Logan came across a book on ancient shields of Africa, South East Asia and Oceania from the Barbier-Mueller Museum collection in Geneva, Switzerland.

Logan has made it her mission to challenge the stereotype of bead jewelry, namely, beads strung together or with knots between them, like a string of pearls or a rosary. She is committed to connecting beads with metal in a way that is nontraditional, that “counteracts that idea of stringing.” To that end she cuts, drills and grinds her beads, in the process taking them to a new place in the realm of ornament. She is an innovator.

COLLECTION of large disk beads in flameworked glass, 5.08 centimeters diameter, 2016. Photograph by Kristina Logan.

     Kristina Logan was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, but spent much of her early life in New Hampshire’s White Mountains; she considers the Plymouth/Waterville Valley area her home. She boasts significant artistic genes, especially when it comes to working with her hands. Her mother, Reg Logan, née Surette, was a fashion illustrator at a time when newspaper and magazine advertisements were hand-drawn; today, she makes insect jewelry and ceramic objects. Logan’s grandmother, Reggie Surette, also worked in illustration, hand-drawing and -coloring for the Rust Craft Greeting Card Company, while her grandfather, Eliot Surette, did restoration in churches in the Boston area.

Growing up in this artistic milieu Logan recalls thinking that she, too, would draw for a living. In turn, she tells her own children, nine-year-old Valère and twelve-year-old Sophia, that she can tell that they already have the family hands. One of her necklace designs, a lively and playful collection of round beads, is named for her daughter.

Logan earned a BFA in sculpture at the University of New Hampshire in Durham in 1987. The all-star faculty included painter John Hatch (1919-1998), printmaker and draftsman Sigmund Abeles, and sculptor Michael McConnell (1948-2012). She appreciated the focus they placed on the foundations for making art—and their stories of life in New York City. She ended up embracing 3-D and carving in wood, sometimes with a chainsaw.

After moving to the coast of New Hampshire, Logan chanced into a job working for the renowned glass artist Dan Dailey in Kensington. “He needed people with good hands,” she recalls, and she fit the bill. In the four years in his studio, she received an education in glass. She did a lot of enameling on vases, as well as sandblasting, cold working, studio organizing “and making sure that pieces got to factories in West Virginia to be dipped in acid, and got back home again.”

One night while attending Pilchuk Glass School, Logan spied someone flameworking. She remembers thinking, “Oh, man, you mean I can do glass by myself? Without an enormous studio?” While she appreciates the sense of teamwork found among a group of glass blowers, she prefers working alone. As she noted in a 2009 interview, she likes the feeling of being self-reliant. 

Logan-LR-DSC_0957.jpg

     Logan was at Pilchuk to take a class in pâte de verre, which she describes as a kind of lost wax casting technique for glass. She was interested in trying to incorporate cast parts into the wood sculptures she was making at the time, but she found herself “seduced” by the flame and melting glass, by the intimacy and smaller scale of this work—“a torch and two hands.”

When she began to make beads, Logan was not all that serious. It was an amusement; “Oh, I’ll make some beads, it’ll be great, I’ll sell them for a dollar,” she recalls thinking. She had no idea that she would become fascinated by the rich cultural and anthropological history and reach of beadmaking. “All of a sudden,” she recounts, “I kind of plummeted into this world that I now exist in and adore.”

For a time Logan sold individual beads that other people would use to make jewelry. She attended bead shows, loading up her Volkswagen van and hitting the road. It afforded her a modest living and was “very empowering.” After a while, however, she wanted to make something out of the beads. She began collaborating with a jeweler friend who taught her how to solder. Soon she was making a few pieces of her own and loved it.

PREPARING the silver prior to soldering for Ivory and Red Constellation Necklace, 2015. Photograph by Kristina Logan.

     Logan never went to school for metalwork, but she knew enough to make the pieces she wanted to produce. If she wished to try something new, she would ask a friend—and sometimes her mother—how to do it. “I’ve always learned metalsmithing through osmosis,” she says. Formal training came from a few evening classes with the Australian silversmith Alan Place who worked for a time at Old Newbury Crafters in Amesbury, Massachusetts.

In her thirties Logan “induced” arthritis in the cartilage in her left thumb from nearly non-stop beadmaking. Taken aback by the idea that one could wear out a body part at that age, she wore a brace for a while, but continued to work as hard as ever. Eventually realizing that she could no longer be a “bead machine,” Logan began making larger objects and combining glass and metals. Returning to her sculptural roots, to what was important to her as an artist, she needed to invest more heart into her work in order “to feel better about myself and not have my hands wear out.”At the same time Logan began to see the potential of beads as sculptural forms. Individual beads could be resonant objects that people might carry around with them, like a Japanese netsuke or a marble—“a small piece that holds importance.” She came to believe that an object could be made so carefully that it could hold “spiritual content” without being attached to any specific religion.

Logan’s totem beads, inspired by ancient African granite beads, epitomize this belief. She started out making them as handles for objects, but never made the actual object for the handle. While she has made a few brooches out of them, she feels they connect to the hand more than anything.

Logan likes working in series, ‘beading an idea to death,’ she says with a smile, until she gets it right. She loves the refining process, a ‘precision’ that comes ‘from hours and hours of going back over the same concept again and again,’ deepening the vocabulary along the way. While she admires artists who can jump ideas, it is not in her DNA to work that way.

     The “Contemporary Glass Bead Exhibition” in Prescott, Arizona, in 1993 proved to be a turning point, both for Logan and the universe of bead artists. “You can kind of call that the beginning of the glass bead movement,” she says. About eighty people came together and realized, “Hey, we’re all making glass beads! We’re a society.” The Society of Glass Beadmakers, later changed to the International Society of Glass Beadmakers, was born. Logan would serve as its president in 1996-1998 and later, in 2005, win its Hall of Flame award. Its annual conference, called “The Gathering,” takes place in a different spot each year. While the ISGB has, says Logan, waxed and waned over the years, “we still get together.”

KRISTINA LOGAN’S STUDIO, designed and built by Michael Graf. Photograph by Kristen Fuller.

     Asked about how she balances teaching with her artmaking, Logan estimates that ninety percent of the time she is working alone in the studio—“just me making”—with the balance spent leading workshops. In addition to instructorships at Haystack, the Corning Museum, Penland, and other schools and private studios further afield, she has started offering bead workshops at her new studio in Portsmouth. Being around other artists and interacting with students charges her up.

In the workshop at Haystack, assisted by bead artist Priscilla Turner Spada from Newburyport, Massachusetts, Logan taught flamework technique—“all beads, all the time”—plus how to insert silver rivets in the bead holes. Seated before torches attached to three benches set along a wall of windows overlooking Jericho Bay, the students gamely wound the melting soda-lime glass canes around mandrels and listened as Logan shared the thought process that goes into creating her beads.

Logan has sought to impart her knowledge of her art to an ever broader audience. In 2009, the Corning Museum of Glass helped in that mission, producing “Beadmaking with Kristina Logan,” the seventh installment in its Master Class series. In the thirty-minute video Logan offers insight into her artistic principles. She notes, for example, that she has never turned away from making smaller beads because “it all serves the greater purpose, to have your hands ready to work with this molten material.” She also admits she is not a fast beadmaker. Indeed, she encourages her students to “seek ease and the fewest movements possible.” She likens it to her yoga practice “where your movement and your breath are very much connected to your mind at the same time.”

IVORY AND RED CONSTELLATION NECKLACE of flameworked glass and fabricated sterling silver, 4.45 x 1.27 x 66.04 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Dean Powell.

      “Bead people are passionate about beads,” Logan says. They understand the primal connection people have to these pieces of glass and how they are worn on the body. They also appreciate, as she does, the long lineage of beadwork in the cultures of the world. These beautiful objects bring people together “on a heart level.” That is the level to which Logan aspires, in art and life.

SUGGESTED READING 
Benesh, Carolyn L. E. “Kristina Logan. A Luminous Aesthetic.” Ornament 21.4: 42-45, 1998.
DeDominicis, Jill. “Kristina Logan. Master Class in Glass Beadmaking.” Ornament 30.3: 64-67, 2007.
Dubin, Lois Sherr. The History of Beads: From 100,000 B.C. to the Present, revised and expanded edition. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2009.
Hemachandra, Ray, editor. The Penland Book of Glass: Master Classes in Flamework Techniques. Lark Crafts, 2011.
Jenkins, Cindy. Making Glass Beads (Beadwork Books). New York: Lark Books, 1997.
Logan, Kristina. “Creative Process and Inspiration.” Glass Bead Evolution. International Society of Glass Beadmakers, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2014.
     Masters: Glass Beads: Major Works by Leading Artists. New York: Lark Books, 2008.
     1000 Glass Beads: Innovation & Imagination in Contemporary Glass Beadmaking. New York: Lark Books, 2004.

 

     Get Inspired!

 
 

Carl Little caught up with Kristina Logan in late August at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle where she was teaching a workshop on glass beadmaking. Based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Logan is “the leading maker of glass beads working today,” according to David Whitehouse, executive director of the Corning Museum of Glass. Little is one of twenty poets featured in a series of videos produced during Maine poet laureate Wesley McNair’s tenure. They can be viewed on the University of Maine website. His most recent book is Wendy Turner—Island Light.

Egyptian Broadcollars Volume 39.3

VIRTUALLY INTACT FAIENCE BROADCOLLAR OF WAH, an estate manager, XIth Dynasty, circa 2020 B.C., 39.4 cm deep. X-ray in 1940 revealed this almost intact broadcollar within his mummy wrappings. It is the best preserved example of its type and is strung on linen threads without disk beads, with the typical fringe of drop pendants and semi-circular terminals. The first row has 83 cylindrical faience beads, the last 222 beads, increasing gradually in length from top to bottom, hinting at how many beads are required for this broadcollar. Ceramic artist Carol Strick has made a replica of this necklace. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund/E. S. Harkness Gift, 1940, 40.3.2; gallery 105. Photographed as displayed, with high ISO and manual mode on a Canon SLR. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament unless noted.

VIRTUALLY INTACT FAIENCE BROADCOLLAR OF WAH, an estate manager, XIth Dynasty, circa 2020 B.C., 39.4 cm deep. X-ray in 1940 revealed this almost intact broadcollar within his mummy wrappings. It is the best preserved example of its type and is strung on linen threads without disk beads, with the typical fringe of drop pendants and semi-circular terminals. The first row has 83 cylindrical faience beads, the last 222 beads, increasing gradually in length from top to bottom, hinting at how many beads are required for this broadcollar. Ceramic artist Carol Strick has made a replica of this necklace. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund/E. S. Harkness Gift, 1940, 40.3.2; gallery 105. Photographed as displayed, with high ISO and manual mode on a Canon SLR. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament unless noted.

No other ancient culture has been as well-studied as that of Predynastic and Dynastic Egypt, especially the personal adornment of their upper class women and men. Well-developed technologies of working stone, metal, faience, glass, and fibers, all under the control of dynastic elites, contributed to a precision and uniformity of jewelry and dress. Living in a hot, dry climate, men wore linen kilts, women thin, tight sheath dresses of the same fiber, some pleated, and often with straps that covered the breasts. For health and comfort, both sexes usually shaved their heads, using wigs to prevent sunstroke (Watterson 1991). Depictions of ancient Egyptians on paintings, reliefs and statuary invariably showed them wearing broadcollars, almost an essential form of dress. The majority of broadcollars were made of cylindrical and/or disk beads of faience, a self-glazing, thixotropic ceramic that was both a luxury and a magical product for the elite (Friedman 1998).

 

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Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. Recently he has been teaching one-on-one photography lessons at our office, as well as teaching workshops on bamboo jewelry. In this issue Liu writes about ancient Egyptian broadcollars, usually made of faience beads, how they were made and extant examples of this beautiful item of dress, including modern replicas by artist Carol Strick.

Tufted Tales: Chenille Garments Volume 39.3

Georgia and textiles, cotton in particular, have a long association, and the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail is bringing increased recognition to the history of the industrial growth resulting from that union. In addition to the expected cotton mills, the trail highlights numerous factories devoted to the production of garments and accessories including hosiery, underwear and—in Bremen—menswear. In the northwestern corner of the state, especially in the town of Dalton, the trail focuses on the old highway where small roadside businesses sold souvenirs like tufted peacock bathrobes and on the mills that manufactured chenille bedspreads and garments before focusing on the production of carpet. My book Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion, published by the University of Georgia Press, is part of a growing body of research into the region’s textile history and the first to focus on tufted fashion.

      In the spring of 2015 the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail organized a conference focused on using the arts to tell textile stories; the event included presentations about mill town music, life in a mill village, using theater to convey information about the past, and incorporating narrative elements into the promotion of historic destinations. I shared stories about the makers and manufacturers of tufted garments, encouraging the careful reconsideration of well-known stories and the inclusion of individuals at all levels of production, as well as stressing the importance of preserving objects. Following are five tufted textile stories.

CATHERINE EVANS WHITENER AND CANDLEWICK KIMONOS

CATHERINE EVANS WHITENER with a candlewick bedspread, circa 1960. Courtesy of Bandy Heritage Center for Northwest Georgia, Carpet and Rug Institute Photograph Collection.

      Almost any recounting of the history of Georgia’s tufted textiles begins with the story of Catherine Evans Whitener (1880-1964) and her “rediscovery” of the traditional candlewick technique for decorating spreads in the late nineteenth century. Actually, there was increased interest in these historic textiles in many parts of the United States as part of the Colonial Revival. As Americans celebrated the country’s centenary and reflected on the people, places, and objects associated with its founding, they turned to forms like candlewick spreads, originally popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for inspiration. 

Whitener, inspired by an antique candlewick spread in a relative’s home, made her first few spreads as gifts, then began selling them. Orders quickly outpaced her individual production capabilities and she taught neighboring women her process. She either drew her own pattern or copied an existing spread by placing it fluff-side down with a fresh sheet on top that she rubbed with a greased tin (or other “stamping iron”) to transfer the pattern. Then she stitched the pattern with plain running stitches, clipped the stitches with scissors, and boiled the fabric to shrink the weave and hold the stitches in place. Finally, she dried and fluffed the spreads, creating the familiar pompom decorations. The women she taught in turn instructed others, and a cottage industry developed. By the mid-1910s department stores throughout the Midwest and New England carried the popular southern bedspreads. As automobile travel increased (especially by the late 1920s), Dalton also developed a thriving culture of roadside stands, known as “spreadlines,” selling tufted products.

As consumer demand for the textiles increased, and due to government pressure for fair wages, the industry mechanized in the early 1930s. The new machine-tufted textiles were called chenille, French for “caterpillar,” to distinguish them from the earlier hand-tufted candlewick goods. As the mechanization process progressed, the machines evolved from single-needle converted sewing machines to large, multi-needle machines that could produce tufted yardage. Later, carpet became the dominate tufted product, eclipsing chenille in the 1950s. 

MRS. RALPH HANEY wearing a candlewick kimono with a peacock design, circa 1920. Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia Collection, gor466.

      The tufted textile industry whole-heartedly embraced and promoted the story of Catherine Evans Whitener by the 1930s. For example, in 1953 a buyer for Rich’s department store in Atlanta wrote an article for the Tufted Textile Manufacturers Association Directory, the industry’s annual publication, advising stores to tell their sales forces “about the young farm girl, Catherine Evans, who made the first modern tufted spread in 1895 and launched a multi-million dollar industry.” As Philis Alvic details in her book Weavers of the Southern Highlands, other textile production centers in southern Appalachia in the early twentieth century offered similar stories in order to connect their modern textiles with antiques and capitalize on the popularity of the Colonial Revival.

Though rarely mentioned, Whitener made garments—aprons and kimonos—as well as spreads. While none of her garments are known to survive, a single photographic image from the region showing Mrs. Ralph Haney (née Exzene Carter, 1894-1962) wearing a kimono suggests the type of work Whitener would have done. Haney’s kimono appears to be hand tufted in a single color on a solid color background and shows a peacock next to a vase in a trellis setting.

I found several advertisements from 1923 in northeastern newspapers for candlewick kimonos, and while the ads do not mention Georgia, the garments are similar in style and description to Haney’s. One ad, for the Joseph Horne Company in Pittsburgh, lists some of the color combinations of these garments as “gray with rose designs, orchid with lavender, orange with blue, pumpkin with white, black with rose, old blue with white, yellow with yellow, leaf green with green.”

These were part of a vogue for Orientalism in fashion, and the butterflies, peacocks, and kimono form are relevant to that theme. The production in southern Appalachia of kimonos that were handcrafted using a traditional technique related to the Colonial Revival and reflecting a Japanese-inspired contemporary fashion trend, represents a remarkable combination of influences that enriches Whitener’s story and helps expand its significance beyond local history.

A PINK CANDLEWICK DRESS

CANDLEWICK COTTON DRESS, circa 1930s. Photograph by Michael McKelvey. Collection of Bradley Putnam.

      While visiting with a collector in Tunnel Hill, a small town north of Dalton, I encountered an unusual pink dress and bonnet. The dress was a mystery to the collector; he purchased it because it was tufted, but did not know its history.

At the time, I was well into my research and particularly interested by how in the late 1920s and early 1930s women from the region helped promote candlewick spreads by traveling to department stores throughout the country to give hand-tufting demonstrations. Often these women wore Colonial Revival style costumes with bonnets. An ad for a demonstration at Macy’s in New York in 1931 reads, “You’ll have to imagine the log cabin and the cotton fields background. But the girls themselves, in cotton frocks and sunbonnets, will be here, tufting the spreads by hand, just as they do in their native Georgia.” Other evidence suggests that these “native costumes,” as they often were called, were sometimes tufted.

As I examined the pink dress—hand tufted then dyed, assembled with a sewing machine, a silhouette that recalls a French shepherdess—the details all suggested that this was a rare survival: an example of a costume worn by a hand-tufting demonstrator. It is not an accurate copy of anything that existed historically and it is not a style that was ever popular during the twentieth century, but it is appropriate as a circa 1930 interpretation of something from “golden olden times.”

The marketing of candlewick spreads was not the only entrepreneurial enterprise that benefited from the incorporation of Colonial Revival style costumes. Fashion historian Beverly Gordon, in an article on Colonial Revival fashion published in Dress, explains that by the interwar years the practice was popular in businesses such as Colonial-style tea rooms (with costumed waitresses) because the high moral associations with the style helped increase profits. She also notes that historical accuracy was less important than conveying a sense of a charming and picturesque past. The lovely image that the candlewick demonstrators presented helped sell bedspreads, but it was actually a far cry from the experiences of many of the tufters, often desperately poor women working long, hard hours for very little pay.

EMILY BENNETT AND U.S. 41

TWO VIEWS of Mrs. J. H. Bennett’s chenille business, with Willie Jean Chitwood, Helen Bennett (Mrs. Bennett’s daughter), and Aveline Chitwood seated at left, circa 1937. Photographs probably taken by Iduma Chitwood. Collection of Helen Johnson.

      Many small businesses existed along the highway, first called the Dixie Highway and later U.S. 41, in northwestern Georgia. One belonged to Mrs. J. H. Bennett (née Emily Mealor or Mealer, 1904-1997). Select records from her business survive in the collection of the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society in Dalton, and one of her daughters, Helen Johnson, who lives a few miles from where her mother worked, recalls many details about what she made.

Bennett began working as a hand tufter while her husband farmed; they lived out in the country at the time and she sold her wares on the spreadline of a friend who lived near the highway. Then the family moved to U.S. 41 and she set up her own spreadline near the Resaca Confederate Cemetery, just south of Dalton. In the early 1930s her husband built her a little log cabin and she worked there alone. In many ways, she epitomized the popular notion of a traditional Appalachian craftswoman; she almost always wore a bonnet, she used an old-timey needlework technique, she was near a Civil War historic sight, and she worked in a log cabin, albeit a brand-new one. In 1936 the Atlanta Journal even included two photographs of her business on a rotogravure page about Bedspread Boulevard, as the highway was called at the time. In addition to bedspreads, she made pillows and aprons, which the newspaper described as “novel.”

CHENILLE COTTON APRON by Mrs. J. H. Bennett, undated. Photograph by Michael McKelvey. Courtesy of the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society, Crown Gardens & Archives, Dalton, Georgia, gift of Helen Johnson.

      Bennett soon acquired a single-needle tufting machine, adding bath sets, capes, jackets, and robes to her inventory, then moved to a new spreadline down the road. Her daughter believes that Bennett’s ability to sew clothing—a skill learned of necessity because she had four daughters and limited income—helped her translate the tufted textiles into appealing garments.

Bennett had regular customers who would visit her when traveling U.S. 41 to vacation in Florida and who would write to her during the year to place orders. Sometimes travelers would make purchases as they traveled through and she would ship the goods to their far-away homes. She also sold to a few department stores in Chicago. Bennett continued her business until Interstate 75 opened in 1965 and drew away the tourist traffic from the older highway, though she still tufted until she was eighty years of age.

ARTHUR RICHMAN AND THE ART-RICH MANUFACTURING COMPANY

MATCHBOOK COVER advertisement for Blue Ridge Manufacturing Company, circa 1945. Private Collection.

      As chenille garments became increasingly popular in the late 1930s, several big spread companies realized that they needed to bring in specialized talent. They knew how to manufacture and design and market spreads, but clothing was new to them. Samuel Hurowitz (b. Russia, 1898-1975), who had founded Blue Ridge Spread in Dalton in 1933, added a garment department and in 1939 had hired Arthur “Artie” Richman (b. Poland, 1904-1965), an experienced garment designer in New York, to run it.

Richman’s designs for Blue Ridge included a series of chenille robes with playing card motifs, recorded through patent applications. He filed for the patents in April 1943 and was granted them in December 1943, but during that time much of Blue Ridge’s production was turned over to the war effort.
Blue Ridge featured the heart design in an advertisement in Glamour in 1944 that acknowledged the reality of wartime retail. Part of the text reads, “We are still trying to make shipments… to at least one store in each city so that you may have yours.”

Sometime before World War II ended Richman left Blue Ridge to start his own company, Ann-Lee Chenilles, which existed only briefly. By 1947 he had established Art-Rich Manufacturing Company, a large, long-lived business that focused on chenille robes for women and children. The overwhelming majority of chenille manufactories were in northwestern Georgia, and in 1949 the industry produced almost five and one half million chenille robes. Even though Richman’s business was one of the younger ones in the region and it never manufactured hand-tufted candlewick products, he still capitalized on the appeal of the industry’s early southern roots by adding paper tags to his robes that read, “This chenille robe is made where the candlewick tufting industry originated,” with an image of cotton.

MODEL wearing a chenille robe by Art-Rich, circa 1953. Courtesy of Bandy Heritage Center for Northwest Georgia, Carpet and Rug Institute Photograph Collection.

      For many years robe companies used the same basic pattern to make traditional wraparound robes, but as chenille robes started to lose favor in the 1950s—as national fashions changed and as carpet became the dominant tufted product in northwestern Georgia—robe manufacturers introduced a variety of different styles to try to maintain market share. Richman even wrote an article for the Tufted Textile Manufacturers Association Directory in 1954 addressing how the production of robes had shifted from employing single-needle machines (as multi-needle machines that could produce tufted yardage were common by that time) and one pattern that was used for years with just some variation in the decorative motifs to an industry with “constantly changing” styles requiring “new patterns... to keep pace with the trend.” He pointed out that the small changes, including the buttons and buttonholes and various trimmings, required additional materials and labor.

During the 1950s duster robes surpassed the popularity of traditional wraparound robes. These new robes, typically three-quarter-length, could be styled a variety of ways and appealed to the growing youth market. Chenille robes, though, never regained their former prominence and began to fall out of fashion. Art-Rich diversified its offerings, adding terrycloth robes. Shortly before Arthur Richman died in 1965, his son Martin Richman (1929-2007) took over the company. Art-Rich continued experimenting with new styles
and other materials, but could not compete as cheaper imported goods hit the market, and closed in the early 1980s.

MARILYN WOLF AND THE CHENILLE REVIVAL

POSTCARD of children’s recycled chenille bathrobes, 1997. Photograph by Michael Scott Studio, New York City. Marilyn Wolf Designs, collection of the artist.

      Chenille fashion experienced a revival towards the end of the twentieth century. Beginning by the early 1970s, crafters and designers began cutting up old tufted bedspreads to make new products, especially garments including jackets, robes, bloomers, aprons, bibs, skirts, pullover blouses, and hats. Many were motivated by nostalgia as well as an interest in recycling encouraged by the burgeoning environmental movement.

One of the designers to repurpose old spreads was Marilyn Wolf of Narberth, Pennsylvania. She had established a small manufacturing business around 1970 and in the mid-1990s she made a small collection of chenille robes using chenille yardage she had purchased from a close-out sale. Then, through an acquaintance who happened to own a rag factory (a business that collected leftover fabrics from thrift stores and other sources), she gained access to a seemingly limitless supply of vintage spreads. By the 1980s and 1990s, as many original owners of tufted bedspreads downsized their homes, secondary markets were flooded with inexpensive materials.

MARILYN WOLF JACKETS FLYER, “Jackets fashioned from vintage chenille,” circa 1997. Marilyn Wolf Designs, collection of the artist.

      Wolf used these to make colorful one-of-a-kind robes and jackets for women, as well as teddy bears and baby blankets, that are notable for their playful patchwork aesthetic and postmodern profusion of colors and patterns. As the supplies of chenille dwindled and material became more precious, and, she notes, as the market for high-end art clothing for children increased, Wolf turned her attention to small robes, rompers, and jackets for children. She often added non-chenille materials like marabou or vintage buttons. She sold her designs through exclusive stores including Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s and in children’s boutiques across the country. When she could no longer find adequate supplies of quality chenille, she turned to other materials.  

 

Though the tufted textile industry was centered in the South, it became a national phenomenon. While Hollywood helped cement the iconic status of the chenille robe—with appearances ranging from glamorous actresses like Katharine Hepburn in Holiday in 1938 to Oscar-winner Shirley Booth’s downtrodden character in Come Back, Little Sheba in 1952 to Michael Douglas as a creative writing professor in the Wonder Boys in 2000—its presence in the lives of everyday Americans led to innumerable personal stories and memories about the material. In sharing my research for Southern Tufts, I have heard many recollections—about a mother’s favorite aqua robe with flowers, a child’s fascination with the rows of tufts on a bedspread, a family member who devoted a lifetime to the industry—and I welcome more stories and encourage the preservation of tufted textiles and their histories.



SUGGESTED READING
Alvic, Philis. Weavers of the Southern Highlands. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2003.
Callahan, Ashley. “From Roadside to Runway: A History of Chenille in Fashion.” Ornament 34.4: 26-31, 2011.
The Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia. Images of America: The West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2015.
Deaton, Thomas M. Bedspreads to Broadloom: The Story of the Tufted Carpet Industry. Acton, Massachusetts: Tapestry Press, 1993.
Gordon, Beverly. “Costumed Representations of Early America: A Gendered Portrayal, 1850-1940.” Dress 30: 3-20, 2003.

 

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Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. The University of Georgia Press published her book Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion in December 2015. She grew up in Dalton—known over time as both the Bedspread Capital of the World and the Carpet Capital of the World—and is pleased to be able to share information about the tufted textile industry’s history and about her home state’s contributions to American fashion.