Keri Ataumbi Volume 40.1

 

KERI ATAUMBI, 2017. Photograph by Raechel Running. BUMBLE BEE RING of oxidized sterling silver, twenty-two karat yellow gold, brilliant-cut white diamonds, yellow sapphires, black pearl, 5.1 x 4.4 x 5.1 centimeters, 2011. Photographs by Keri Ataumbi except where noted.

 

It is late May in New Mexico. Santa Fe has recently been hit by twelve inches of snow—here today, gone tomorrow. The desert has appreciated the moisture; wild flowers pop up and some of the cacti blossom. An accompanying frost, however, has decimated the Concord grape vines Keri Ataumbi has been cultivating at her home in Cerrillos Hills just south of Santa Fe. She shrugs her shoulders as she beckons a visitor into her studio.

      Ataumbi is preparing for the annual Native Treasures Indian Arts Festival at the Santa Fe Convention Center. It is the kick-off to the busiest season in the city when various arts and cultural festivals draw people from around the world. The Native Treasures show benefits the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) in Santa Fe. Ataumbi and her sister, master bead artist Teri Greeves, have donated works. In 2015 they were designated “Living Treasures” at the festival.

On this May afternoon Ataumbi is also looking ahead to future shows. Earlier in the day, Elizabeth Evans from Four Winds Gallery in Pittsburgh had come by to look at new work, which Ataumbi’s apprentice, jeweler Tania Larsson, is busy photographing. The mood in the studio is bittersweet: after two years with Ataumbi, Larsson is returning to her home in Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Her story is remarkable: Of Gwich’in and Swedish descent, Larsson was born and raised in France and moved to Canada at age fifteen. Her mother, Shirley Firth Larsson (1954-2013), was an Olympic cross-country skier. 

The two women met when Ataumbi filled in for a friend to teach a jewelry class at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe where Larsson was pursuing a fine arts degree. The only native college with a focus on fine art, IAIA enrolls students from tribes across North America. Ataumbi found it refreshing to be around young minds, and she was impressed by Larsson’s go-getter attitude and took her on. 

Ataumbi herself came to jewelry in her late twenties; she has been a full-time craft artist for going on eighteen years. She started her artistic life as a painter, but switched to jewelry after taking a basics course at the Santa Fe Community College. Today, she boasts a thriving jewelry business and a special stature among the makers of wearable art in America.   

Her approach to art and life is the same: Ataumbi gets inspired by an idea and sets out to make it happen. Sometimes it will take her a couple of years to figure it out, designing and drawing, reworking and rethinking. When she has finally settled on the concept, she may have to turn to friends to pull it off. For example, a piece with a prominent pavé setting required that she learn the technique. She sought assistance and acquired a new skill in order to fulfill her vision. It is one reason why she loves being in her field: there is always something new to learn. 

Ataumbi works in series, developing a theme then exploring different ways to represent it. For example, her insect collection featured damsel flies, beetles, water bugs, yellow jackets, and her “girls,” the honey bees she cares for (she calls herself a “lackadaisical beekeeper”). The water bugs appear in a set of earrings, their small eighteen karat gold bodies hugging black Tahitian pearls. A brooch inspired by a Datura flower features twenty-two karat gold honey bees exploring its crocheted silver folds.

THAW-YAW KOOIE EARRINGS of eighteen karat yellow gold, white diamonds, coyote fur, 8.3 x 5.7 x 1.3 centimeters, 2016. Model: Amber Morning Star Byers. Photograph by Bri Crimino.

      Rarely will Ataumbi return to a series even if it has been popular; she likes the idea of having a finite body of work. “Even though I could make bugs forever,” she explains, “I’m not going to go back because those pieces were made in a specific time period.” She also wants to be able to explore other imagery—and honor the collectors who have invested in her work. She does do commissions, with a special passion for wedding rings. “You get to make something so highly personalized,” she says. She often works closely with the couple, to channel their vision. Making these rings is, to her, an “act of prayer.”

Ataumbi’s pieces have tended to move between structural and surface-oriented—and abstract—on the one hand and pictorial/figurative on the other. The oxidized silver arrow cuff from her Archery series, for example, has a hard-edge dynamism, even with its various accents: eighteen karat gold, six rose-cut diamonds, and twenty-eight brilliant-cut diamonds. The series arose after Ataumbi took up archery as a way to deal with carpal tunnel syndrome. 

In the pictorial category, Ataumbi often draws on animals, including the “critters” that frequent the desert around her home and studio: snakes, tarantulas, birds, and spring peepers. She can be quite literal in her representations of these creatures, but more often she stylizes their shapes. A snake brooch features a sleek gold serpent with diamond eyes sliding along a sterling silver twig. 

Asked about her favorite materials, Ataumbi is quick to declare her love for high karat gold. “It’s a color thing,” she explains, but she has also developed an understanding of its properties that allows her to work with it in complete comfort. She has a similar passion for diamonds—low cut, colored, natural gray. She likes combining the rose-cut with the brilliant: “I like the fact that they’re the same stone but look so different, but they just love each other—one big happy family.” 

Silver, platinum and gemstones, as well as such natural materials as buffalo horn and brain-tanned buckskin, are also on Ataumbi’s list. She tends, she says, to use materials in an untraditional manner. She points to platinum: Instead of a high shine, she likes to leave it in a rough state with a kind of buffered texture. “I think of the material as an artist, not as a trained jeweler who has a degree in stone setting,” she says. She sets out to make an art object rather than a piece of fine jewelry. 

Ataumbi and her husband enjoy sailing—on lakes in New Mexico, in Turkey, the Caribbean, and Maine, among other places. This connection to the water led to the Ocean collection. Here again, the pieces range from abstract to more literal. Sometimes it is the material, such as coral, that ties the work to the theme; at other times, it is the image: a squid ring, a sea turtle cuff. The latter piece was inspired by snorkeling and watching turtles graze in sea grass. The turtle is carved from a mabé pearl; the grass, made of twenty-two karat gold, is sprinkled with sapphires and diamonds. 

THAN TDAY KX’OLE-PAHN NECKLACE of sterling silver, eighteen karat yellow gold, twenty-two karat gold, rose-cut colored diamond, brilliant-cut white diamonds, sapphires, mother of pearl, watercolor on velllum, hand-painted, 5.1 x 2.5 x 81.3 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by UnderexposedStudios.com.

      Ataumbi’s mussel shell necklace is among her boldest creations. Thirty or so of the bivalves were formed using a hydraulic press and then were etched, soldered and connected by rivets. One gold shell stands out from the silvery gray array of its oxidized silver neighbors. A hook allows the wearer to wrap it twice around the neck or leave it long. The piece was featured in “Native Fashion Now”, which originated at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, in 2014, and finished up at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City this past September. 

Among her most remarkable series is one Ataumbi started two years ago after her mother died. From her twenties on, Jeri Ah-be-hill (1935-2015), a Kiowa-Comanche, had worn native clothing everywhere she went as a way of graciously educating people she met about who she was while honoring the people she came from. She also oversaw the Native American Clothing Contest at the Santa Fe Indian Market for seventeen years. When she died, Indian Country News titled its obituary “Kiowa-Comanche fashion icon Jeri Ah-be-hill walks on.”

MOMMY’S SERIES: TDAHN KHAW CUFF of oxidized sterling silver, twenty-two karat yellow gold,  brilliant-cut white diamonds, 5.1 x 4.4 x 5.1 centimeters, 2015.

      In addition to fine moccasins, belts and tea dresses, Ah-be-hill wore jewelry from her extensive collection. In her Mommy’s Series Ataumbi set out to recreate some of the pieces she had inherited. Developing the work was a way to both honor her mother and work through her grief, which had left her in a kind of creative limbo (her mother’s death had been unexpected—she suffered a heart attack in her yard). 

Among the pieces was a vintage Harvey ring her mother used to wear on her little finger. Fred Harvey (1835-1901) was a British-born entrepreneur who is generally credited with helping to build a market for Native American jewelry in the American west. The original ring, in silver, was falling apart so Ataumbi remade it in her own style, using eighteen karat gold and adding her signature accent: a small diamond set in the underside. The actress Melaw Nakehk’o wore this dazzling vertical ring, along with a set of Ataumbi’s gold orb earrings, on the red carpet at the premiere of the 2015 film The Revenant in which she starred. 

In another piece, Ataumbi combined painting and jewelry, a first for her. She was inspired by the Native American tradition of placing umbilical cords into fetishes that represent one’s clan. Ataumbi’s, made by her grandmother, is in the shape of a turtle. “The fetishes are hung on a cradleboard when we’re babies,” she explains, “and then as we grow older we wear them on a belt. When we die, they’re buried with us.” Which is why, she adds, “it’s so offensive to go into stores, trading posts, galleries and find them lined up, old ones, taken from graves.”  

The multipart piece, which won best in show at the 2016 Indian Market in Santa Fe, features a miniature portrait of Ataumbi’s grandmother, Carrie Susie Ataumbi, for whom she was named. Certain elements of the piece conjure her mother, such as the white buffalo symbol, which is made from mother of pearl. “It’s hard to put something like this up for sale,” she notes. She hopes a museum might acquire it.  

Recreating her mother’s jewelry led Ataumbi to reconsider her attitude toward Native American jewelry. She had generally steered clear of “native aesthetic” in favor of her own creative vision. When she was younger, she had made a conscious decision to avoid being pigeonholed as a native artist (“a lot of our young native artists go through this,” she explains).  

Since her mother died, Ataumbi has begun to rethink this stance. “At forty-five, total mid-career,” she states, “I’m owning it finally.” While she has always drawn on traditional Kiowa imagery and materials, in some of her new pieces she has been mixing in the things that “are valuable to us as native people” with things that are valuable in the jewelry world. One example is a pair of earrings that incorporates porcupine hair. Some of these pieces appeared in “From My Studio: Feathers to Diamonds” at the Shiprock Gallery in Santa Fe in July. 

      Ataumbi has collaborated on pieces with several artists, including jeweler Robin Waynee and beader Jamie Okuma. Waynee, who lives in Santa Fe, is of German and Saginaw Chippewa descent and “likes very clean lines,” according to her collaborator. A multiple Saul Bell Award winner, she and Ataumbi partnered on an earrings-ring-necklace set related to the insect series. They donated the necklace to the Indian Market’s gala auction in 2011, in support of the Southwest Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA). 

Ataumbi’s collaborative pieces with Jaime Okuma have drawn on the latter’s award-winning beadwork. Of Shoshone-Bannock and Luiseño heritage, Okuma, who lives on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in Pauma Valley, California, is known for her customized designer footwear as well as exquisite beaded ornaments. 

Okuma and Ataumbi chose Pocahontas as the subject of their first piece, a jewelry set comprised of a ring, pendant and a pair of earrings. “[Pocahontas] changed history, a single individual acting as a bridge,” Ataumbi has stated, “and Jamie and I are bridge people, too, moving between two worlds, esthetics, and perspectives.” 

The artists used three well-known images of the renowned Native American cultural figure as sources: Simon van de Passe’s 1616 engraving, the Sedgeford Hall portrait from the 1750s and Thomas Sully’s 1852 rendering. The complex piece, which incorporates a wide range of materials, including antique glass, buckskin, twenty-four karat electroplated beads, eighteen-karat yellow gold, fresh water pearls, indigenous wampum, and diamonds, was purchased by the Minneapolis Institute of Art for its permanent collection in 2014. The two have teamed up since to co-create a Marilyn Monroe ring and a bracelet with a human skull, For the Love of Art, inspired by German artist Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull and For the Love of God (2007).

FOR THE LOVE OF ART BRACELET, collaboration with Jamie Okuma of oxidized sterling silver, eighteen karat yellow gold, rose-cut colored diamonds, black diamonds, antique seed beads, black diamond beads, brain-tanned buckskin, 5.1 x 4.4 x 5.1 centimeters, 2014.
POCAHONTAS RING, collaboration with Jamie Okuma of eighteen karat yellow gold, rose-cut colored diamonds, brilliant-cut white diamonds, antique seed beads, brain-tanned buckskin, 5.1 x 5.1 x 5.7 centimeters, 2014. Collection of Minneapolis Institute of Art.

      Keri Sue Ataumbi was born in Lander, Wyoming, on the Wind River Indian Reservation, home of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. She grew up on the Eastern Shoshone side of the reservation. Her mother, Jeri Ah-be-hill, had met her husband, Italian-American sculptor Richard Greeves, in St. Louis. They eventually moved to Wyoming where she opened the Fort Washakie Trading Company in the mid-1960s. She ran it for nearly thirty years. 

Both parents had a major influence on Ataumbi’s growth as an artist. She remembers her father welding horseshoes to create a garden gate and pouring bronze to create one of his romanticized western figures for which he is well known. As she told Southwest Art Magazine in 2004, she came to love spending time in the foundry. She and her sister learned to think for themselves, to tackle the challenges of creating objects.

YELLOW MUSSEL SHELL TAB EARRINGS AND STACKING RINGS of twenty-two karat yellow gold and yellow mussel shell; rose-cut colored diamonds, turquoise and twenty-two karat gold, 5.1 x 3.2 x 0.6 centimeters; 1.9 x 1.9 x 0.6 centimeters, 2016. Model: Shayla Blatchford. Photograph by UnderexposedStudios.com

      Her mother’s grassroots commitment to Native American artists inspired her from early on. In her teens, while working at the Anadarko Southern Plains Museum, Ah-be-hill encountered a native artist who was trying to place her moccasins, an exquisite pair with extraordinary beadwork, in the museum’s shop. Outlets were few, and after coming upon the moccasins on a gas station counter alongside the Wrigley’s gum and cigarettes, Ah-be-hill felt compelled to bring this work to a broader audience.

Ataumbi describes this moment as a turning point in her mother’s life. She was among a group of pioneers who said, “This is art.” When she opened the trading post at Fort Washokie, she made sure Native American art from across the country was front and center. Among Ataumbi’s memories is the bottom shelf of a long counter in the trading post filled with moccasins of all sizes, from baby to adult. “Anyone who walked through those doors could walk out with a pair of brain-tanned handmade authentic Native American moccasins,” she recounts, adding, “and that fit you.”  

BISBEE TURQUOISE RING of eighteen karat yellow gold, Bisbee turquoise, white diamonds, 2.5 x 2.5 x 1.9 centimeters, 2015.

      Ataumbi also remembers the native traders coming by her mother’s store in their RVs to sell their wares: Navaho rugs, sterling silver, pottery. Her mother would buy “bread and butter” stuff—earrings, rings, beadwork items, and the like—as well as the materials for making them: hides, beads, needles, etc. Then she would usher in her daughters, who helped in the store, to look at the “good stuff” and let them pick out something. Ataumbi still remembers seeing her first Charles Loloma piece, in the back of a Winnebago. Loloma (1921-1991) played a major liberating role in the development of the contemporary Native American jewelry movement.

Ataumbi claims she came out of the womb knowing she wanted to be an artist. “I didn’t have a choice,” she says with a smile. While sorting through her late mother’s belongings, she discovered all her childhood drawings (“the woman did not throw anything away”), including a self-portrait made when she was six or so years old that showed her sitting at a work table. Beneath her mother’s heading, “What I’m good at,” it says “Making stuff.” 

At age eight or nine Ataumbi considered becoming a mortician because she had read that da Vinci used to go to the morgue to study cadavers. “That was really silly,” she admits, yet it foreshadowed her determination to pursue a life in art.

Ataumbi attended the Cambridge School of Weston outside Boston. It was the “ultimate culture shock,” she recalls, moving from remote Wyoming where she had been home-schooled to this predominantly white upper class school. At a “hugely formative moment” in her life, she loved it. It strengthened her independent spirit and helped fuel her artistic inclinations. She remembers in particular a drawing class taught by painter Todd Bartel. Bartel encouraged his students to freely explore what drawing might be. “As a teenager, that blew my mind.”   

      Bartel had attended the Rhode Island School of Design and recommended it to Ataumbi. Looking back, she might have chosen a different route: RISD proved to be a “wrong fit,” plus a lot of unpleasant things happened while she was there, from having her car and house broken into to having a friend thrown in jail. After less than a year, she fled west to Santa Fe where her mother was living.

Following a short stint in retail, Ataumbi established a landscaping business with a friend—“two women who didn’t have a clue but who were determined to figure it out,” she recalls with a smile. And figure it out they did, building a successful business. When her partner decided to go to medical school, Ataumbi found herself at a crossroads: would she carry on without her or embrace art full-time? 

Ataumbi is quick to point out that the whole time she was landscaping she was painting and showing her work at LewAllen Contemporary in Santa Fe. She would take time off to paint, working furiously for several weeks to produce work for shows. Her paintings at the time were “very surface-oriented, very abstract, very textured,” influenced by the contemporary Italian artist Francesco Clemente. She produced several series, riffing on Native American subjects, such as Séndé, the Kiowa trickster, and Stony Road, one of the survivors of the great flood. 

While her paintings sold, Ataumbi felt the need to return to school. She earned an Associate of Fine Arts degree at the IAIA, then transferred to the College of Santa Fe (now the Santa Fe University of Art and Design). While not especially strong in the arts, the small Catholic school had a terrific art history department. One of her teachers there, artist and clothing designer Linda Swanson, had a profound impact on her thinking. “She taught me how not to fear intellectualism and criticism,” Ataumbi recalls, and to communicate in her own voice. 

Following graduation, Ataumbi felt she needed to get her masters, but changed her mind after a half of a year at the University of New Mexico. “I’m going to end up being a teacher,” she thought to herself, “and not have any time to do my own work.” She took a jewelry class at the local community college, a beginner’s course—“how to saw, how to use fire, this is what a mullion is.” She was hooked: “This is it. This is it. This is it.”

Over time Ataumbi built up her business while doing random jobs to help make ends meet. She recalls with a smile her first showing at the Heard Fair in Phoenix: dreaming of selling out and being the next big thing, she managed two “pity sales”: purchases by her mother and a cousin. The steps forward were slower than she wished, but she was dogged. 

Her studio is located in what was once a small barn space renovated by her husband, Joel Muller, a contractor (her office is in the former chicken coop). The walls are decorated with a wonderfully eclectic assortment of art and objects, many from her mother’s collection. Here and there are her own paintings. Although painting was her first love, Ataumbi has found it to be anxiety-provoking, and yet she returns to it when time allows.

ARROW CUFF of oxidized sterling silver, eighteen karat yellow gold, rose-cut colored diamonds, brilliant-cut white diamonds, 5.1 x 4.4 x 5.1 centimeters, 2015. 

      Showing off her laser welder, Ataumbi admits to feeling love for an inanimate object. “I can make a weld that is half the width of a hair,” she says with awe. She keeps some of her tools in a handsome Japanese tea cabinet from the 1920s. She spends a lot of time in the Los Cerillos hills near her home, running with her dogs (“my studio assistants”), hiking and exploring. 

Ataumbi has lived in and around Santa Fe for going on thirty years now. She loves the mix of cultures and communities. The artists support one another. “I’ve run out of acetylene—got a tank?” She markets her work through several galleries, museum shops and fairs, including the annual Indian Fair and Market at the Heard Museum in Phoenix where she has won a number of prizes in several categories. She is considering entering some non-native fairs, but recognizes the challenge of putting together a cohesive body of work. “I tend to be all over the place,” she says. She also uses social media, including Facebook, to promote her work. 

Part of her mission as an artist is to educate people. When non-natives tell her that her work “doesn’t look native,” Ataumbi explains that she grew up on the rez, in a native home. “You can see the lightbulbs go on,” she says. She firmly believes, and has proven by her own example, that contemporary native jewelry does not have to fit a certain mold.

Like Keri Ataumbi's work? Here's a few beautiful pieces that we weren't able to show in print:

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Carl-Little_Contributor.jpg

After a week in Santa Fe this past May, Carl Little was ready to move there. “Santa Fe boasts the third largest art market in the U.S.,” he notes, “and it was the National Geographic Traveler World Legacy Award winner for Sense of Place in 2017.” In addition to a memorable visit with Keri Ataumbi, Little spent time on Museum Hill (where the Wheelwright Museum was featuring an extraordinary beadwork exhibition), took in the galleries on Canyon Road, and enjoyed the city’s high desert vibe. Little’s most recent book is Philip Barter: Forever Maine, published by Marshall Wilkes.

Kat Cole Volume 40.1

 

405 SUMMIT CATALOG OF BELONGINGS NECKLACE of steel, enamel, 17.8 x 25.4 x 0.3 centimeters, 2012. Photographs by Kat Cole except where noted.

 

Κat Cole defines a place by its detritus. For her, Pittsburgh is rusted steel and tin in smoky shades; Greenville, North Carolina, is brightly colored bits of plastic and glass; and Dallas is oily rocks and concrete rubble. As a child, she grew up in the lush hills near Atlanta, Georgia, then as a teenager moved to the flat plains of Muncie, Indiana, and has since lived in six states—a peripatetic existence that has honed her awareness of local land and cityscapes. She explains the importance of these moves to her art: “I find meaning through the observance and intimate awareness of the places I inhabit. With each geographic change, I have become more attuned to the natural and man-made attributes that make a location unique. I look to the built environment of the city where I live for the formal qualities of my work: materials, forms, color, and surface quality.” Cole expresses her experiences of place through jewelry and sculpture, primarily working with liquid enamel on steel and sometimes including found elements.

KAT COLE applying enamel. Photograph by Gail Reid.

KAT COLE applying enamel. Photograph by Gail Reid.

      Cole attended Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, receiving her BFA in Crafts and Material Studies in 2007. She studied with Jim Meyer, Jack Wax and Susie Ganch, focusing on jewelry and glass. She also worked with noted British enamelist Helen Carnac, whom Ganch invited for a two-week residency; Carnac’s use of liquid enamel on found steel and minimalist approach proved influential and “gave [Cole] the creative beginnings [she] still [draws] from today.” Carnac explored Richmond on foot, and brought “lots of little rusty things” into the studio to enamel. Cole recalls, “It seemed very open ended, she was curious to see what would stick or how the enamel would come out on these found things,” adding, “It was not about perfection, but exploration.” 

Cole next moved to Pittsburgh, where she lived for two years, working as a retail manager for the Society of Contemporary Craft and establishing her first studio. She had limited tools and materials and relied mostly on snips, a soldering torch and found objects. Pittsburgh’s urban landscape—row houses, steel mills, smokestacks—inspired her to create her House Series from the materials she collected along the streets as she walked around her new city, in particular tin cans that she cut and folded into one-inch-high row houses like the old homes where steel workers lived. Through this scavenging process, Cole developed a love of discards and an appreciation for what they can convey about a place. The simple three-dimensional forms of the houses, whether singly in earrings or grouped in necklaces like All Connected, gave her the chance to investigate the aesthetic nuances of rust and shades of aged metal. During her time in Pittsburgh, she met Robert Ebendorf, who is known for his iconoclastic use of nontraditional, found and repurposed materials in jewelry, during an event at the Society of Contemporary Craft; he encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree at Eastern Carolina University, where he taught. 

ALL CONNECTED NECKLACE of found objects, copper, brass, 20.3 x 20.3 x 1.27 centimeters, 2009.

      So, in 2009, Cole relocated to Greenville, North Carolina, to study at ECU, and received her MFA in Metals and Jewelry in 2012. In addition to Ebendorf (a champion of her work who describes her as “one of the new contemporary voices in the enameling field”), Cole studied with Mi-Sook Hur and Ken Bova, and had another opportunity to learn from Carnac, serving as her studio assistant during a “Mark Making in Enamel” workshop at Penland School of Arts and Crafts in North Carolina in June 2010. Cole enjoyed this chance to get “a full introduction to [Carnac’s] creative process,” in which, according to Cole, “the object is a by-product of the thinking, versus thinking about what to make.” Cole continued to use found objects, but as “Greenville is not a rusty place,” she incorporated colorful plastics and glass in her work. Ebendorf suggested that she work with old tins, so she began collecting vintage enameled boxes (with images applied through a lithographic process) from antique stores. She sanded and marked the decorated exteriors of the boxes, and sometimes the patinated interiors as well. Her Richmond Tobacco necklace features a collection of blue, yellow and orange tobacco boxes—some worn over time and some scratched and abraded at her bench—folded into small rectangular prisms displaying ornate typography. Another necklace, Tractor Trailers and Trash, combines colorful narrow boxes created from tins with found objects in unusual shapes. Cole amassed a “library of tin,” with an impressive variety of colors and patterns, but she wanted more control. Then, while experimenting with enamel on a thin sheet of steel (for a work she never completed), she had an “ah-ha moment”, and realized that using freshly processed steel rather than readymade boxes and scraps would give her the ability to fold, solder and enamel as she pleased. 

TRACTOR TRAILERS AND TRASH NECKLACE of tin, found objects, sterling silver, brass, steel, 116.0 x 116.0 x 3.3 centimeters, 2012.

      Steel’s appeal to Cole is multifaceted. She enjoys its connection to Pittsburgh, which produced multitudes of steel during World War II. She also likes the fact that it is one of the most recycled materials in the world; for her, this quality makes it inherently historical. She also considers steel to be her “secret weapon” when creating jewelry because it allows her to make work that is large, but counterintuitively light in weight. She has “spent a lot of time reading about alloys, surface tooth, steel cleaning agents, and doing trial and error in the studio,” to find the format that works best for her—and she speaks with authority about the science behind her process.

Steel’s strength makes it ideal for enamel. Typically creating enameled jewelry involves applying finely ground glass to metal (often copper) by sifting, then heating it in a kiln until the glass melts and fuses to the surface. Cole uses liquid enamel—which combines ground glass with porcelain powder, pigment and water—and is more common in industrial applications than jewelry. She explains that liquid enamel has been used for over a century on the surfaces of bathtubs, washing machines, automobiles, and food containers. Liquid enamel can be dried with a heat gun before its short kiln firing, which allows her to ornament both sides of a sheet of steel. Also, Cole often solders the steel prior to firing it, an unusual approach that allows her to create distinctive enameled constructions.

From an artistic standpoint, liquid enamel provides a surface that allows for a broad range of mark making—she can draw in it, paint with it, make scratch marks, stencil patterns—on both three-dimensional folded forms and flat plates linked together. Some elements are dipped, leaving part of the steel exposed and giving the rest a thick coating with a fluid edge that emphasizes the liquid nature of the enamel. She fires the enamels in layers, and sometimes scratches through one layer to reveal an earlier color. She explains, “I let it drip and puddle, it can also crackle if a little thick, or have rust bloom, if left wet on the steel.” Cole does not desire to achieve consistent surfaces, instead seeking unexpected moments like when the enamel pools in one area or thins out at the edges or folds, allowing the metal to peek through a hazy layer of glass. 

 

URBAN WALL NECKLACE of steel, enamel, 45.7 x 25.4 x 0.3 centimeters, 2017. “A good friend asked to borrow some work to wear during her maternity photo shoot. When I saw this image I was floored. She changes the context of the necklace entirely, it is powerful and makes me think of my work in a different way. Baby Hendrix Elle Collins was born October 24th.” Model: Marsena Collins. Photograph by Kauwuane Burton.

 

      Through this combination of an industrial material and an industrial process with an artistic approach, Cole often captures the vague essence of a place, suggesting built structures through materials and color palettes or referencing familiar architectural forms in miniature—abstractions that take on universal qualities. For her thesis project, though, Cole sought to represent more specific and personal spaces: the apartments she had lived in. To document her memories of these residences she made lists of her belongings in each. A red necklace, 405 Summit Catalog of Belongings, is a visual inventory of what she owned in her Greenville apartment, with the odd flat shapes symbolizing items such as sinks, a washer, chairs, an oven, and a television. For Cole, this autobiographical jewelry shows how a place can define a person. 

WINTER—THE LAND BELOW NECKLACE of steel, enamel, 30.5 x 16.5 x 3.81 centimeters, 2013.

      After graduate school, Cole served as a visiting artist (a sabbatical replacement) for a year in Metals/Jewelry at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. There she was struck by the graphic quality of the sparse winter landscape with its snow-covered farm and industrial buildings—flat expanses punctuated by geometric volumes in black and white. She created a group of Structure brooches, earrings and necklaces —three-dimensional forms roughly enameled (mostly in white)—that recall distant silos, barns or factories. Often traveling by plane to conferences, she made numerous works based on aerial views, something she had started while in Greenville. One necklace, Winter–The Land Below, is a cluster of white, three-dimensional rectangular forms with black lines, some smooth like highways and some meandering like rivers, that suggests the starkness of the frozen terrain; the areas where the lines come together represent cities (Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids) and the dark mass of Lake Michigan is just visible on the western edge. Cole’s expression of place adopts a distinct cartographic quality through this series. 

X MARKS RED NECKLACE of steel, enamel, 45.7 x 20.3 x 0.3 centimeters, 2016.

In 2013, Cole and her soon-to-be husband, whom she met in Michigan, relocated to Dallas, Texas, their current residence. In an interview for Art Jewelry Forum in 2015, Cole described how the move affected her work: “When I first came to Dallas, I was living right downtown. The skyscrapers, windows, air conditioner units, and trucks on the street are all rectangles, it’s constant repetition of a singular shape. My work has become larger and more abstract since my move here.” The “x”s that had appeared regularly in her work took on a new significance when the couple bought their first home and she felt she could mark that special location on a map with an emphatic “x.” She set about exploring her new environment, reading about its history, considering society’s complicated relationship with oil, and collecting evidence of the city’s quickly changing architecture.

Two distinct bodies of work emerged from her first years in Dallas: the Oil and Water series and the Built/Unbuilt collection. She explains that “Dallas is not a city built on an industry, it is built on banking and the wealth created from oil.” In lieu of the old factory buildings that she favored previously, but which are not part of Dallas, she often incorporates imagery in her ongoing Oil and Water series from historic photographs of drilling rigs, geometric constructions that complement her architectonic jewelry. After digitally manipulating the images, she has them “printed on a special oxide printer,” and applies them to the steel through a decal process. In Old Well necklace, black enamel oozes along the top of an angular projecting form with an image of offshore oil rigs in Galveston, Texas, while the Fields of Oil necklace, in bright red, combines a historic scene of oil rigs with a map of Dallas, expressed through the outlines between the many flat plates composing the necklace as well as a tight group of intricate cutouts that indicate a city grid. Occasionally Cole includes gilded elements, which contrast with the rich blacks and reference oil’s “black gold” nickname, as in Oil & Water #2.

 

PILE NECKLACE/BROOCH of steel, enamel, copper, 15.2 x 15.2 x 6.4 centimeters, 2016. Model: Pilar Zornosa.

OLD WELL NECKLACE of steel, enamel, rubber, magnet, 35.6 x 8.9 x 3.8 centimeters, 2015.

      Built/Unbuilt, which Cole presented as an exhibition at Gallery 360 in Minneapolis in fall 2016, addresses the physical transformations of architectural landscapes. She describes Dallas as a city that is in the midst of change, a city that is growing quickly, and a city that is full of people. Aspects of the new buildings appear in her work through crisp lines, vibrant colors and contemporary materials. At the same time, she observes other buildings aging, becoming empty and being torn down. The ghostly white and gray necklace Vacant, with its columns of open rectangles cut into the neatly fitted angular shapes, suggests the many windows of an apartment or office building through which inhabitants once peered or were observed. For Cole, the spontaneity and visual energy of demolition (a drastic change from the clear organization of a built structure) upends and erases a site’s history, readying it for something new. Cole inverts the demolition process by carefully constructing assemblages of rectilinear elements that suggest remnants of walls, windows and vents, as in the brooch Pile, paying homage to the brief moment between the site’s past and future. One group of pendants take their flat forms from the silhouettes of the debris piles.

COLOR LANDSCAPE #1 NECKLACE/BROOCH of steel, enamel, 27.9 x 10.2 x 2.5 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Dasha Wright.

      Cole’s latest work, for an exhibition at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery in Seattle this fall, expands her typical palette of gray, white, black, and red. Cole expresses the challenges of working with color in enamel: “Color brings a lot of subjective information into a piece, and unlike using paint I cannot always achieve a specific color or brightness in glass. This collection is attempting to surmount these doubts. I like to push myself, and this has been a great project for that. It feels riskier.” A new series of Pile Outline in Color pendants present the unconventional shapes in bright oranges, with drips of aqua and streaks of red, or white with misty areas of green and blue. Her Color Landscape #1 necklace/brooch of rectangular prisms with one flat open grid piece, suggests the vibrant hues of sunset over cool blues. The large necklace Color Landscape #2 takes on a painterly quality with smooth areas of built up layers, drops of bright blue, and almost sheer brush strokes of red; the back is bright yellow, scratched through to reveal gestural white “x” marks. 

Though Cole’s jewelry is made of materials that are hard and forms that, while small, are imposing—often in a limited palette—it reflects a strong sense of a populated world. She explains, “The steel and concrete structures that surround us are evidence of human inhabitants—past and present. Monumental structures are interpreted into the intimate scale of jewelry and are completed when worn on the landscape of the body.” Cole reflects humanity by crafting echoes of its buildings and marks upon the landscape, creating an important body of wearable work that demonstrates new possibilities in enameling and documents her experiences of a place’s history, evolution and potential.

OIL & WATER #1 NECKLACE of steel, enamel, 40.6 x 20.3 x 0.3 centimeters, 2015. Model: Pilar Zornosa.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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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. She has written books and curated exhibitions on sisters Ilonka and Mariska Karasz, Hungarian-born modern designers based in New York; Henry Eugene Thomas, a Colonial Revival furniture craftsman from Athens; and a history of chenille fashion. She served as the Curator of Decorative Arts at the Georgia Museum of Art from 2000-2008, and is a guest co-curator for an upcoming exhibition there on the history of craft at the University of Georgia. She met Kat Cole when Cole was a visiting artist at UGA, and enjoyed the opportunity to see her teaching students about her enameling techniques.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show Volume 40.1

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show 2017

THOMAS MANN

The craft world does not define itself through a particular medium but through the connection between the hand, the heart and the mind. For those in craft, it is vital to receive satisfaction from its pursuit and to appreciate, even revere, the materials, tools and techniques that give rise to finished work. The stimulus, the drive to create, is based on exploration of the unknown and what can be revealed from each singular search. A direct response to the desire for making life more meaningful, it is for an artist an anchor to the ever-surging flow of existence, perhaps most especially in troubling and chaotic times. The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, now in its forty-first year, is an important conduit where the best in craft is once more reaffirmed and validated by the uniquely talented artists who showcase their works. Here, the handmade in thirteen different media can be seen, appreciated and taken home to live again within one’s own personal experience.

      The craft categories—basketry, ceramics, emerging artist, fiber decorative, fiber wearable, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, and wood—are represented by almost two hundred experienced and talented American artists selected through a rigorous, annual jurying process based on originality, innovation and technical expertise in a medium. To support them is to encourage and promote the value and importance of art by hand as it is passed on, nourishing the planet with the limitless possibilities of human creativity, linking us over the millennia from generation to generation.

Long a major player in the contemporary jewelry movement, New Orleans-based Thomas Mann established his “Techno Romantic” branding in the 1970s as a means of both merging and diverging the material world with that of the human spirit. With a fondness for the found object, and the propinquity it can bring to jewelry, he was freed to improvise his constructions and to make compositions in unlikely and surprising juxtapositions. He eschews precious metals and gemstones, and his jewelry ingredients have been drawn from surplus stores and supply houses, from electronic instruments and costume jewelry parts, whatever might catch his eye. His preferred metals are aluminum, brass, copper, nickel, silver, and stainless steel; and he utilizes acrylic, fiberglass, micarta, and nylon, often carving them.

Mann’s jewelry has been influenced by his peers in the close community of fellow artisans, but is also inspired by other assemblists and collagists—Joseph Cornell, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Georges Braque, whose visual similarities are redefined into personal adornment. There is a great deal of humor and irony to be found, but, make no mistake, pay close attention to Mann’s craftsmanship; it is the platform from which his idiosyncratic voice carries a very personal and wondrous message. His jewelry lacks the existential angst of some other metalsmiths and embraces the more positive aspects of being human, echoing a purity and naturalness that come to mind when we think of Adam and Eve before their and consequently our fall. His evocative tributes to our hearts and hands show a tenderness and belief in the ultimate power and goodness of the human spirit.

LISA BELSKY

      The malleability of ceramics, among its more notable characteristic to alter, change and modify, makes the medium an especially fascinating one to explore. Ceramist Lisa Belsky is on a personal quest to test clay to its fullest capabilities. Belsky, a Philadelphia transplant to Columbus, Ohio, received her MFA from Ohio State University and stayed to set down personal and professional roots. These roots have taken hold and grown under Belsky’s artistic hand, maturing in her distinctive, sculptural ceramic forms.

For Belsky working with clay is also intertwined with her appreciation of fiber, especially knitting and crocheting. The threads of these practices are tied to her love of family; and her emotional connection to them stems from her childhood, watching her female relatives knit and crochet, passing the craft from one to another, and then following in their footsteps herself. 

Her pieces begin as handknit or crocheted fabric that are then manipulated, shaped and dipped into porcelain slip; the firing process burns away the material leaving the ceramic. What remains are basket-like vessels, leaving an abstracted sense of its inspiration, yet singular, no longer connected to its former fibrous state. “I view this body of work,” she says, “as a metaphor for embracing change while preserving memories.” As with many artisans, the result is a success when it elicits a deeper appreciation for the handmade object and the internal motivation that brought it forth.

 

STEPHEN ZEH

 

      Stephen Zeh, from Temple, Maine, plies his craft from the subtle tones born of the brown ash tree, following the traditions of Maine Woodsmen, Shakers and Native Americans. His finely woven baskets are made for use, whether to carry apples from the fall season, eggs from the hen or storing yarn for wintertime knitting. The brown ash has to be carefully selected for the right grain and flexibility to start the process for the hand scraping, other methods and tool use that takes place. A drawknife, shaving horse, ax, froe, and hornbeam maul will shape and release the wood’s natural sheen that over the years will grow a lustrous patina lasting into the future. 

Zeh also makes sweetgrass trays that turn a blond straw color over time and perfume the air with its natural scent. Also part of the repertoire are tea, cracker, bread, muffin, Italian breadstick, and French bread baskets, each with their own unique shape. Working with his partner and wife jewelry designer Tamberlaine, Zeh also designs exquisite diminutive jewelry; pendants inspired by the oak acorn, vegetable and fruit basket shapes, handwoven in eighteen and twenty-two karat gold. Their delicate forms, discrete visually, are so beautifully executed that they catch and arrest the admiring eye.

MEG LITTLE

      Meg Little, from Newport, Rhode Island, says it is up to you: walk on her one-of-a-kind rugs or hang them on the wall as an art object. Little specializes in hand-tufting, a process of punching strands of wool with an electric tufting gun into a backing stretched on a frame that she works, from the rear, in an upright position so that she can reach across the canvas into its design more easily. Her extraordinary color palette, sophisticated and elegant, is based on an expressive amalgam of geometrical shapes: triangles, squares, lines, circles.

 Little is a proponent of more is more, mixing colors that can go up to twenty-five different combinations in the tufter. All the yarn is commercially spun and dyed for the carpet industry and she uses two and three ply wools made for carpets and rugs. She says hand-tufting is an industrial process and she follows its guidelines in making her work, but the design and embellishment is due to her own creative sensibility. 

Her passion for hand-tufted rugs dates from 1984 when she moved to Cornwall, England, after earning her Master’s Degree from the Rhode Island School of Design. During the six years she lived in Cornwall, she met Grace Eckhert, a tapestry weaver who was beginning to experiment with the process, and introduced Little to the medium. Life was never the same and the designing and production of hand-tufted rugs became Little’s craft. She succeeds in making something extraordinary from the ordinary—that of the art of walking on rugs.

New York City-based Mina Norton was originally trained as a painter in her native Iran and studied commercial textile design in England before moving to the United States. From a family of doctors and lawyers, Norton was expected to proceed into one of these professions, but she had other ideas and moved instead in the direction of the arts. It is here that she has received her fulfillment and satisfaction, earning, in over thirty years of dedication and hard work, a widely-appreciated reputation. Her coats and jackets accomplish the feat of being both dramatic and refined. With her exacting nature, Norton fashions garments that are carefully and precisely structured. In her studio, they are hand-loomed with high quality merino wool, dyed and felted by hand. Improvisation occupies an important position in her vision, and she trusts her instincts when she introduces touches of color against an understated palette of grays and black. 

MINA NORTON

      Refining and re-defining, the clothing reaches a level of rich minimalism, in addition to a classicism transcending this modern age, but also most certainly acknowledging it. Her work is an infusion of world cultures, Iran, to be sure, but also Africa and India. It is not only the design but the comfort and wearability of her apparel that are exceedingly important to the success of a piece. Norton is determined to ensure that her clients receive a lifetime of beauty and practicality.

In a career that has led from teaching art to creating her own clothing and accessories, Andrea Geer, from Rochester, New York, does what it takes to achieve consistent results within her creative control. But it is experimentation with texture, form, color, and movement that ultimately propels her love of the process; she says, “As I learn more about my craft, my ideas evolve. I am most interested in how fabric moves around the body and how architectural form can be created using yarn.”

A combination of informed skills and physical tools, some unusual to clothing, are the manifestations of her pushing the standard, recognized boundaries of designing knitted garments for the female form. The goal is to enhance the body and to imbue the fabric and its ultimate shape with a seeming spontaneity and playfulness. While some of her clothing is hand-loomed on vintage punch card knitting machines and sewing machines, she also uses paintbrushes, digital styluses and Photoshop. For Geer, it is all about finding what will best express an idea she is formulating. 

The visual impact is a strong element in Geer’s work and it presents a commanding, vibrant presence. She received both a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design and a Master of Fine Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Perhaps due to the influence of both degrees in graphic design and painting, her designs reside in a more abstracted yet highly structured realm. As an additional flourish, she handmakes her buttons and pin closures, further customizing her mostly one-of-a-kind clothing, with a bit of limited production.

ANDREA HANDY

      Do not ask furniture artisan Bradford Smith whether he works in familiar styles, like Shaker or Arts and Crafts, because he will tell you that in the over thirty years he has been designing, the driving force has been to develop his own voice and not to be “pigeonholed” by any traditional style, or contemporary variations for that matter. His comfort level is to be found in combining the old with the new, intertwining craftsmanship and practicality with aesthetic expression.

From Worcester, Pennsylvania, Smith was raised on a farm where he helped his family by fixing and building things on the land. After high school graduation, for four years he worked in area woodworking shops and in them learned the basics of woodworking. And, he says, a strong work ethic. He went off to the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Craftsmen and graduated with a BFA in woodworking and furniture design. That same year, 1980, he started Bradford Woodworking with his wife Sandy, who also graduated from the school.

A special touch of Smith’s is his use of recycled and salvaged lumber and old farm equipment in his furnishings which encompass a full range of beds, benches, bookcases, cabinets, tables, stools, whatever will enhance the domestic environment in a distinctive way. He will use ax handles for chair legs, taking advantage of their S-curve and knobby foot. Pitchforks, he describes, “make ideal supports for chair backs and have some spring when you lean back.” With their generally farm-related themes, the pieces attract with an authentic rustic charm and warm presence.

 

BRADFORD SMITH

 

      Nick Leonoff’s glass works are luminescent and magical as they respond beautifully to light, a platform varying from opaque to translucent in a dazzling array of colors and gradations. In 2011 he established his glass studio in Brooklyn, New York. But a range of experiences have led him from his native California, where he was first introduced to the medium by apprenticing to renowned stained glass artist Alan Masaoka on the Monterey Peninsula, with whom his passion for glass began, to the east coast where he attended the Corning Museum of Glass and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. His fervor for glass began with Masaoka as mentor and deepened over the years as he has worked with other notable artists like Kait Rhoads, Greg Dietrich, Davide Salvadore, and Martin Janecky.

NICK LEONOFF

      Leonoff has been attracted to glassblowing since the day his first gather of glass emerged from the furnace and he experienced the breathtaking change of a molten form transition into a solid state. He specializes in Swedish overlay techniques to create layers of colored glass in the walls and on the surface of his glass forms. After annealing and cooling, he carves the pieces with diamond wheels to remove layers of glass, exposing colors within. This is where he designs and creates the patterns and textures that distinguish his work—the focus of his artistic concentration. 

Jeweler Tara Locklear finds her materials in the everyday, from concrete shards to skateboard fragments, reinforcing the particularly contemporary concept that jewelry can be made from anything, not just from the realm of precious metals and gemstones. A student of noted jeweler experimentalist Robert Ebendorf, she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metal Design from East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, and continues to reside in North Carolina, making Raleigh her hub. Not long ago, considered to be part of the category called Emerging Artist, Locklear has quickly established an active presence in the show, gallery and museum worlds. Her exhibition and workshop schedule, aside from the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, includes the American Craft Council shows, Smithsonian Craft2Wear, and galleries J. Cotter Gallery in Vail, Colorado, and the former Velvet da Vinci in San Francisco, as well as instructor at the Brooklyn Metal Works and Society of Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh. Already in her relatively young career, Locklear is so well considered that her jewelry is now part of Racine Art Museum’s permanent collection.

 

TARA LOCKLEAR

 

      With a sharp visionary sense of the unusual, Locklear explores the nature of beauty beyond the primary purpose of her materials, refashioning them into unexpected statements. She peels away, for example, the personal, autobiographical references an old skateboard might have meant to its skater and uses its wood to make a necklace. The same is true of hand-plucked cement found on roadways, detritus to most, trod on by the unknown, innumerable passings of people and traffic, but translated into a ring and clever kind of jewel. These seemingly insignificant substances are not only cost effective for Locklear to refashion, but by specifically choosing them for her bold and imaginative jewelry, she still values their original intent and also raised them to a new level of definition and meaning.

Some passions begin early in life and Michael Shuler’s goes back to that of a six year old, when he discovered that wood held his curious attention. That youthful focus never wavered as he progressed through his teenage years, figuring out how something, like a family heirloom chair had been built, then exploring, learning, making. The Santa Cruz, California, artist has maintained his studio since 1973 and since that time earned a highly respected reputation in wood turning.

With his record for superb craftsmanship dating to the 1980s, his resume is fulsome, including, to name a few, excellence in wood awards from the Smithsonian Craft Show, American Craft Exposition, Washington Craft Show. His works are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the White House Collection of American Crafts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum of Arts and Design, and Yale University Art Gallery. This year marks Shuler’s sixth appearance as an exhibitor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show.

Creating lathe-turned vessels have become his life’s work. His “segmented” vessels are exactingly cut from exotic hardwoods, like zebrawood, pink ivorywood, birdseye maple, gabon ebony. The result is an amazing patterning of colors and grain native to the wood itself, with perhaps up to five thousand segments of wood utilized in a large bowl and two thousand pieces in smaller ones. His second body of work, also drawn from nature’s bounty, “organicas”, is drawn from pinecones, Banksia protea, thistles, and artichokes. In both types of vessels he reveals an awe-inspiring beauty originating in the natural world; and, in the hands of this wood master, manifested by the power of imagination and infinite possibilities emanating from the human spirit.

 

MICHAEL SHULER

 
 

See Our Participating Artists at the Show

 
 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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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. As her travels take her throughout the United States, there are many places which are dear to her heart, one in particular being the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show that provides a venue for beautiful handmade art every November. Her delving into the work and philosophy of the craftspeople who exhibit is another testament to the creativity of the spirit.

Wayne Wichern Volume 40.1

PAGLINA STRAW BRAID SKEINS, imported from Switzerland, and parisisal straw cartwheels, imported from China.

PAGLINA STRAW BRAID SKEINS, imported from Switzerland, and parisisal straw cartwheels, imported from China.

Wayne Wichern has a lot of heads. He does not know the exact number, but it is more than a thousand, he estimates, divided between three studios. The cozy tribe greeting visitors to his suburban Seattle studio is comprised of four to five hundred of the sleek wooden forms, all about the size of a human head and all suggesting anthropomorphic sculptures, as though Constantin Brancusi decided to carve a village of people, leaving the details of bodies and faces to your imagination.

WICHERN using the Singer cylinder arm sewing machine to sew a head-size ribbon into the hat. Photograph by Jason Wells.

      Wichern is a hatmaker and the heads are hat blocks, the essential building units of traditional hatmaking. To make classic shapes, such as fedoras, using couture quality hat materials, like wool felt or parisisal straw, you need hat blocks. Wichern has spent thirty-two years collecting the blocks and they have been his constant companions as he has built a career as an artisanal hatmaker. A former ballet dancer whose interest in costuming led him to hatmaking for theater before leaping into couture millinery, he is happy to report that today hats are very much in style.

“The interest in hats has grown,” says Wichern. “There have been very interesting and popular costume shows, like the big fashion shows at The Met. And then there was Downton Abbey and other TV shows like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, where everyone wears hats. And there are the young royals,” he adds, referring to Queen Elizabeth’s grandsons and their photogenic wives, often photographed wearing eye-catching chapeaux. “I think one thing the young royals have done is to give young people permission to wear hats. It’s not just something that your grandmother did.” Hat shops carrying commercially manufactured hats are doing well, especially with young customers, Wichern notes, and the broader vogue for hats is reflected in his own business. “For the boutique milliner, working in a smaller, artisanal way, it’s never been better.” 

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      Wichern makes individual hats, by which he means handmade hats that are an elegant mix of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary attitude, often made for a specific customer. He makes such classic shapes as cloches, which are bell-shaped and suggest the 1920s or 1930s, and skimmers, which have crisp, flat-topped crowns and flat brims. He makes toques, turbans, fedoras, toppers, and hats whose large, outrageously swirling brims resemble crashing waves. He makes evening hats with names such as Wicked, Dahlia and Evening Rose. Any one of his black evening hats would transform the shyest wallflower into a femme fatale. Not long ago he created a skull-hugging black velvet cloche trimmed with fringes of dangling beadwork for a client with a taste for dramatic fashion. More beadwork rises like an opened fan at the front. Cleopatra could have worn such a headpiece to seduce any of her Roman paramours.

ANASTASIA of sage parisisal straw, dupioni silk, silk and velvet magnolia, and vintage silk veiling, 2010.

      Wichern makes hats on a speculative basis, hoping someone who drops by his Burlingame, California, studio will find one they like. He also holds trunk shows and participates in millinery and craft shows. Early in his career he made hats on a wholesale basis for small manufacturers, and he has made hats for millinery boutiques. But his favorite projects come from regular customers, some of whom commission him on a seasonal basis and for special events. “I have clients I just love. One is prone to bringing me bags of goodies. It could be a bit of fabric salvaged from the hem of a favorite dress. She wants to collaborate. It’s great. She presented me with a particular challenge when she brought me some beadwork that was white with a gold border, two pieces about eight inches each in length and triangular. They had been a neckpiece on something, and she wanted me to use them in a hat. She’s very much about telling me to do what I need to do. I thought and thought, couldn’t come up with anything, and was going to give the beaded pieces back. But then I started playing around with them, and sometimes something magical does happen.” The resulting chapeau is a cream wool felt cloche nearly hidden by the two beaded collars, which Wichern draped over the felt to make a turban shape. As a final touch he added a six-inch gold tassel from his vast trim collection. 

“My customers are people who have a sense of style,” Wichern says. “They are mature enough to know what to wear. People who buy my hats are people with experience. Most people who come to me are dedicated to hats, whether it’s for a special occasion or just to wear.” People who buy his hats are also women. The men’s hat market is entirely different, Wichern says, and would require different hat blocks and different types of felts. “When a man asks me if I would make a man’s hat, I usually tell him that if there’s something you really can’t buy commercially, maybe a bicorne, I’d be happy to work with you. But men’s hats are different, and you can’t be everything to everyone.” Wichern himself wears what he calls “low-key men’s shapes and berets,” none of which he makes.

Wichern creates hats the way professional milliners always have. He buys felt or straw basic hat shapes, called “cartwheels”, from commercial millinery suppliers, then molds them over hat blocks into an infinite number of sizes and styles. Because the brims and crowns of the blocks separate, he can create unique silhouettes by mixing and matching crowns and brims. The felt is wool or rabbit. The parisisal straw is from the sisal plant, and is the standard material for couture straw hats because it is finer than other straws and can be molded into more complicated shapes. 

WICHERN blocking a felt body over a wood hat block; the final task is using the compress tool to press the felt into the recess detail carved into the block.

      Making a hat is surprisingly physical. Millinery ateliers conjure images of artisans adjusting silk flowers on romantic, feminine styles. But hatmaking requires physical strength and an ability to work with high heat. To mold either felt or straw Wichern applies moisture to the material. For felt, he also needs the extreme heat produced by an industrial steamer. The moist hat forms then are tied down tautly with cord at the crown and the brim to create the basic silhouette. When Wichern demonstrates this he throws his shoulders, arms and hands into knotting the cord. Depending on the style, the hats also must be sculpted by hand, in the manner of a ceramist shaping a hunk of clay. If styles have areas that curve in and out on the crown, creating those shapes requires pressing removable parts of the block back into the felt, and tying or tacking that down as well. By happy coincidence, Wichern’s youth as a Wyoming farm boy followed by years of ballet training appear to have prepared him for the physical rigors of hatmaking.

When the hats are dry the next day, they are removed from the blocks, a process that can require a little wrestling. Wichern cuts excess straw or felt from the brim, finishes the brim edge on one of his several sewing machines, and sews a sizing ribbon into the inside crown. He then trims the hat, which could mean anything from sewing silk flowers to the brim to creating leaves and feathers out of salvaged bits of trimmed felt or straw. He saves every scrap of excess material to be repurposed into trim. He also collects beads, feathers, braid, ribbons, scraps of luxe fabric, silk flowers, bits of costume jewelry, and just about anything that might someday be useful as trim. In his Seattle studio he has turned a small bathroom into his trim room, and even the shower stall is stuffed floor to ceiling with plastic storage boxes filled with trims—an Ali Baba’s cave of adornments.

Wichern has always been motivated by aesthetics and artistry. After high school in Cody, Wyoming, he moved to Seattle to study floral design at a community college known for horticultural programs. His degree landed him a job at a floral shop in Bellingham, north of Seattle, where he worked happily for several years. “Then I discovered dance in about ‘78 or ‘79. Movies like The Turning Point and Chorus Line really made an impression on me, and though I was old to be taking up dance, I enrolled in ballet school in Bellingham. After a while my teacher told me I should move to New York to keep studying, so I did. Eventually I was in some regional companies. At those companies I would put in extra time in the costume shop. I had great hands, thanks to my work at the floral shop, and I enjoyed it. In retrospect, I think the extreme aesthetic of ballet comes through in my millinery; the attention to line and gesture that goes into hatmaking is related to ballet.”  

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      By 1985 the life of a professional dancer with its constant travel had lost its allure, and he moved back to Seattle, where he made hats for professional theater companies and worked in visual merchandising for what was then Seattle’s most prestigious department store. He found studio space and decided to learn all he could about couture millinery. He began taking classes from John Eaton, a milliner who had been one of Seattle’s most successful hatmakers in the mid-twentieth century, a time when no well-dressed man or woman attended a formal event without a hat. “John was retired by then and was giving classes casually in his basement. Then, at the point where he could no longer teach, he suggested I buy his stuff, so I did, and dragged it all over to my studio.” Eaton’s blocks were the beginning of Wichern’s collection, though he has added many hundreds since then via eBay and other internet sales sites. “Blocks have a way of finding me. People will be cleaning out grandma’s attic and find a few, and they find me on eBay. Over the years I’ve also purchased hundreds at a time when hat factories close or go offshore. I’ve sold off a lot, since I end up with duplicates.” His oldest blocks are from the 1930s, though many are newer. They have all become more precious as hat block production in the United States has nearly vanished. Most hat blocks today are manufactured in England or Australia.  

 

WICHERN Studio and classroom in Burlingame, California, Museum Studios, Peninsula Museum of Art.

 

      When his husband’s career took the couple from Seattle to the Bay Area in 2001, Wichern found a studio near San Francisco Airport. The location is ideal for the frequent workshops he teaches, which attract students from around the country. He also teaches at a shared studio he maintains in metropolitan Seattle, and at craft schools, including the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. “I enjoy teaching, and I think it’s partly because I didn’t have an official academic base myself when I started out. And teaching always helps me learn.” He notes that there are very few full-time programs in the U.S. where students can learn couture millinery, so he likes the idea that his teaching passes on the legacy of millinery craftsmanship. He also tries to give his students tips about the business side of boutique millinery. “When students ask me about pricing, it’s always a little awkward, but I understand the question. You can go with time and material, but that doesn’t always work. I tell them I’ve created a range of work for a range of prices. When people duck into my Burlingame studio and ask how much my hats are, I always smile and say they are one hundred twenty-five to four hundred eighty-five dollars, but that I can certainly make a more expensive hat if they like. That usually breaks the ice and if they like hats, they come in.”

LOREDANA SWIRL STRAW of raspberry parisisal straw, silk and rayon brocade fabric, 2006.

      For now Wichern’s career is at full throttle. But he is in his sixties, and looking ahead to what might eventually become of his block collection and his antique tools, such as his very old Willcox & Gibbs machine for sewing hemp straw braid into spirals for certain types of straw hats. His hats are included in the collections at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and in the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

“I’ve worked long and hard to create something. I rounded up the equipment, created an artisanal market, been successful, and enjoyed it all these years. I don’t want it go poof someday and be gone.” And because he is always surrounded by his old friends the hat blocks, he finds himself thinking of their future. “I often find inspiration from the blocks. I just love them, even though I haven’t had the occasion to use all of them. But it is time to start thinking about where they will all go. Maybe they can go to several people, or a museum. The legacy doesn’t have to be personal, but I do want it to be about the craft.”

 

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Robin Updike is an independent, Seattle-based writer. She has been following Wayne Wichern’s remarkable career as a custom hatmaker for more than twenty years. In those days she covered fashion and style for The Seattle Times and Wichern was part of a robust artisanal Seattle hatmaking community. “I remember Wayne as one of the highlights of a show of independent fashion being held in a cavernous former railroad station in front of a very large crowd. Theatrically dressed and wearing some of his own more dramatic hats, he kept the show entertained by swiftly fitting hats onto the models as they stalked down the runway. He has always had great flair.”

Saul Bell Design Award 2017 Volume 40.1

 

VALERIE JO COULSON. Firenze Bracelet of sterling silver, Australian tiger iron, purple agate, and flower agate. Best of Show. 

 

Saul Bell is the patron saint of all jewelers and metalsmiths, past and present. For over fifty years, from the moment he opened Rio Grande, a wholesale jewelry supplier, on Route 66 (now Central Avenue) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1944, Bell became known as a trusted mentor and teacher, sharing his knowledge of old-world techniques and always ready with unstinting guidance and support for legions of artisans, jewelers and metalsmiths. By the time of his death, in 1996, Saul Bell had helped an industry grow up, and Rio Grande had become a megalith, the largest jewelrymaking supplier in the world. Now part of The Richline Group, Rio Grande in 2000 established the annual Saul Bell Design Award (SBDA), an international competition to honor distinction in jewelry design. The 2017 winners, in nine different categories, were announced this past May. For an artist, winning much-deserved recognition by a jury of peers carries with it an intangible feeling of validation—the judges above all know and understand the skills and craftsmanship it took to succeed.

      The competition stages two rounds of judging: the first to winnow entries down to a select group; the second to decide finalists and winners. Judges, white-gloved and armed with loupes, are charged with evaluating the creative originality, technical excellence and degree of innovation undertaken by every entry. Among the five 2017 second-round judges were Michael Good, an award-winning metalsmith and a pioneer in anticlastic-raising techniques; Debbie Sheezel, a name to conjure with as an internationally known Australian enamelist specializing in cloisonné on silver and gold, and a previous SBDA winner; Kent Raible, one of the country’s most acclaimed studio master goldsmiths and a two-time SBDA winner; forty-year jewelry industry veteran Mark Mann, the GIA senior director of Global Jewelry Manufacturing Arts; and Kaminer Haislip, a Charleston, South Carolina-based silversmith.

Italy comes calling in Valerie Jo Coulson’s bracelet, Firenze, receiving 2017 Best of Show. Employing hollow fabrication and stone inlay in sterling silver, the sculptural-looking Firenze is a masterpiece of construction and composition, meant as a tribute to the octagonal roof structure of the Renaissance-era Battistero di San Giovanni [the Florentine Baptistery]. The bracelet’s upper pattern celebrates pietra dura, an Italian inlay technique of cutting and fitting stones together to create illusionistic images. Coulson calls her first trip to Florence, in 2011, “an apex of my life.” In her jewelry, the artist says, she seeks “a purity of design with an aesthetic which is intrinsically governed by the principle of sacred geometry.” A veteran studio artist and 2014 SBDA winner, Coulson makes her home in rural Pennsylvania. 

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      Winner of the Enamel category for 2017, Sandra McEwen’s triumphant triptych brooch, Fool’s Errand, impressively re-interprets classical techniques in a vigorous, contemporary form incorporating faceted pyrite and a lavender moon quartz. The brooch seems cinematic in its shifts in perspective, while the irregular rhythm among its champlevé and cloisonné panels poses the niggling question: what is the foolish errand? McEwen, from Raleigh, North Carolina, studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. Fascinated with medieval illuminated manuscripts, she also has a notable reputation for her color sense. About Fool’s Errand, McEwen says, “I love the precision of the [twenty-four karat gold] wirework and the color of the sky. The colors travel from morning at the top to evening at the bottom. The blues are the unifying element.”

      A thirty-year-old memory of an eighteenth-century church in his native Ukraine inspired Aleksandr Maryaskin to win his second SBDA in Hollowware/Art Objects with his entirely hand-fabricated Discovery of Eggcellence. Maryaskin’s ethereal, bejeweled gold-filigree egg, reminiscent of Fabergé’s golden Easter eggs, opens up to reveal an exquisitely detailed, three-dimensional church. The egg sits above a half-sphere of polished lapis lazuli enclosed in a filigree base. Maryaskin gave himself the personal challenge of using only a laser welder to make the piece. A self-taught jeweler and metalsmith from Carrollton, Virginia, Maryaskin has a passion for manipulating metal and creating one-of-a-kind designs; he dislikes earrings because he has to make two of them. His filigree work, as fine as spun sugar made from fourteen karat white, yellow and red gold, alone is a feat of artistry; Maryaskin is especially proud of how he solved the engineering of the design to make all three components work together.  

      If you have got it, flaunt it, especially if you can show off the glamorous prize-winning ring, Passarola, by Arturo Sanfelix Garcia, of Valencia, Spain, participating in his first-ever competition. Garcia describes Passarola as a cocktail-type ring, inspired by traditional Georgian-era jewelry. The ring is cast and hand-fabricated in Argentium® silver with yellow and white gold plating, set with simulated amethysts and created diamonds, and crowned with a checkerboard-cut natural citrine. Garcia, who trained in his father’s jewelry studio, took two years to create the piece on weekends; the design kept evolving as he worked. Because it took so long, Garcia says, he has learned, “It is better to have a plan.”

      Jason Baide admits he is in love: Montana Yogo sapphires “are near and dear to my heart. Their rich color is completely natural, never treated. Plus they are found just a couple of hours from my hometown” in Bozeman, Montana. For his second SBDA, the Montana State University student won First Place in Emerging Jewelry Artists 22 Years or Younger with Flexibility, a hand-fabricated ring of fourteen karat yellow-gold wire and tubing set with his favorite sapphires. He has always been attracted to making flexible jewelry, going back to growing up working in his father’s custom jewelry gallery, where he got some early training. Baide said his greatest challenge was problem-solving the mechanics of how to “add the stones without hindering the smooth flexibility of the ring.” The chance recently to study in Italy had a huge influence on his aesthetics, reflecting what SBDA, in naming Baide, called “a sophistication well beyond his years.” 

The next Saul Bell Design Award ceremony takes place May 20, 2018, in Albuquerque. For 2018, the competition has upped the ante and introduced two new categories: Jewelry Collection Couture/Fine, and Jewelry Collection Fashion/Bridge. The event is held during the four-day Santa Fe Symposium, which brings together jewelry professionals from all over the industry and everywhere in the world to talk about work, business and the future. For craftspeople it offers a chance to network and swap trade news, brainstorm ideas, and hear about new techniques: exactly what Saul Bell set out to do.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Leslie Clark is a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based freelance writer. While learning about the winning artists for the 2017 Saul Bell Design Award, Clark was intrigued to discover that “women mostly learn jewelrymaking in classes, while men often have been taught by their jeweler-fathers. All the artists loved entering the SBDA competition for the chance to try something different. Almost everyone listens to something—music, or a podcast—while they work. And, fortunately, nobody pays any attention to trends.”

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.”

Jewelers at the International Folk Art Market Volume 40.1

Jewelers at the International Folk Art Market

FINE FILIGREE BRACELETS AND PENDANT by Andrea Usai from Sardinia. Usai makes extremely intricate and fine filigree, which at first glance is suggestive of granulation. The secret may be in his delicately twisted wirework. Using the traditional method, two wires are placed on a wood board, then another board is put on top and the wires are rolled in between the wood. This results in very finely twisted wire, the basis of filigree. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament Magazine. High ISO was used in the show tents, where the lighting was varied; for closeup shots, an external flash and macro lens were used.

ANDREA USAI, of Kokku, from Sardinia, an island off Italy, with a client in his booth.

The International Folk Art Market (IFAM) in Santa Fe, now in its fourteenth year, is an enormously successful market for one hundred fifty artists or collectives from fifty-four countries. Ornament has often covered this event in the past, from 2012 to most recently in 2016 (Ornament Vol. 39, No. 1, 2016). This year, the Ornament staff attended IFAM, where the huge crowds of enthusiastic attendees braved long lines and intermittent rain. The incredible diversity of folk art, live music and good food were more than adequate compensation.

      In 2017, both attendance and sales increased over last year. Ninety percent of the money goes home with the folk artists, where these earnings make an important contribution. Some artists saw their sales double, to over twenty-one thousand dollars, a substantial amount for a weekend event but possibly the average, although knowledgeable local observers say some sell far more. One possible downside to IFAM may be that there are now far fewer ethnic art dealers in Santa Fe.

As with well-attended shows, conditions are not good for interviews—veteran members of the press never want to interfere with sales of their subjects, and the close conditions in the tents left little room even to photograph. I chose to cover five jewelers out of about twenty booths that carried jewelry, but was only able to shoot macro images of three of their works. The jewelers we covered came from Ecuador, India, Macedonia, Niger, and Sardinia. Interestingly, a number of the jewelers have partnered with someone in the United States, like Elhadji Koumama of Niger and Jorge Moscoso of Ecuador. This makes sense economically and practically, especially regarding funding and having a wider distribution. Except for Dharmendra Soni, whose work was in the “Enduring Splendor” show at Fowler Museum at UCLA, where he met Patrick Benesh-Liu (Ornament Vol. 39, No. 5, 2017), we did not know any of these jewelers previously.

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ELHADJI KOUMAMA, from Niger, and MARIE FLAHERTY, from Satuit Trading Company, Massachusetts, who was helping Koumama and carries his jewelry in her own firm. The Koumama family have been jewelers for twenty-five generations and now use fine silver, stone (primarily carnelian), ebony and glass in their jewelry. He is wearing the traditional indigo-dyed headdress.

      Surprisingly, it is perhaps Tuareg jewelry of West Africa that is the most well known in the world market. Elhadji Koumama, like many jewelers from that part of Africa, are often itinerant and have now established themselves in Europe or America, while maintaining a base in Niger or Mali. While many elements of Tuareg jewelry are still derived from traditional symbols like the Agades and other crosses, as well as the talhakimt, other aspects appear to be adaptations to a more Western taste. Dharmendra Soni, from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, sells a mix of jewelry, both traditional and his own designs, employing casting, repoussé, stampwork, and many other techniques. The other three jewelers, Jorge Moscoso from Ecuador, Katarina Doda of Macedonia and Andrea Usai of Sardinia, all work in filigree. Usai works in gold; Moscoso in gold and silver; and Doda in silver alone.

KATARINA DODA, from Macedonia, makes a wide variety of jewelry utilizing the filigree technique. Her parents make equipment for jewelers, like furnaces and specialized tools for filigree work. Doda has had wide experience selling internationally and apparently has many fans of her filigree jewelry. The closeup of a bracelet demonstrates her skill; she only studied jewelrymaking in 2010, and established her jewelry business after six months of schooling.

      The use of the filigree technique is widespread, especially around the Mediterranean countries, and in the Iberian peninsula, from where it spread to the Americas. Usai works in both open- and ground-supported filigree, while Doda and Moscoso use openwork filigree. Filigree is a technique that uses the minimum of material for a maximum of volume and lightness. It can consist of only wirework, or it is combined with granules. Because granulation often involves fusion, this may also be utilized by these jewelers. Most filigree consists of unit construction, whereby wire frames contain thinner wire designs within, held in place by tension before soldering. The processing of the wire used in filigree is crucial, involving annealing, straightening, twisting, and flattening. The prepared wire is then shaped or formed, often requiring very delicate work with fingers or tweezers.

Besides the opportunity to see so many handmade crafts from around the world, and meeting their makers, this type of show offers students of craft a chance to see how craftspeople, in this instance, jewelers, treat one technique like filigree in many different ways. Next year the International Folk Art Market meets July 13-15, 2018.

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DHARMENDRA SONI, from Rajasthan, India, at his booth; he was one of four jewelers who participated in “Enduring Splendor,” an exhibition of Indian jewelry at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Shown are a large selection of bracelets, traditional and Dharmendra’s own designs, made by a variety of techniques, including casting, repoussé, stampwork, and stone-setting. India has a long tradition of fine metalworking and jewelrymaking. Dharmendra Soni belongs to a caste of jewelers known as sonis, thus his family name signifies his occupation.

SUSAN BELL AND JORGE MOSCOSO, respectively from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Cuenca, Ecuador. Bell met Moscoso while vacationing in Ecuador. At that time, his jewelry was in base metals. She arranged to fund his work in silver and gold, thus widening his market through Belle Gold Fine Jewelry in Santa Fe. Moscoso’s work is exceedingly fine openwork filigree. A mixture of silver and copper is used for the finely powdered solder, with borax as the flux. Then the torch flame is carefully applied, taking into consideration the finer and larger components to be heated and soldered. The work is produced among colleagues in his workshop.

 

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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. A frequent lecturer, some of his topics include precolumbian jewelry, prehistoric Southwest jewelry and ancient Egyptian jewelry. In this issue Liu writes about glass ornaments at The Israel Museum with Jocelyne Okrent, and documents five jewelers who attended the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Native Fashion Now Volume 40.1

DRESS, HEADPIECE AND CAPE by Orlando Dugi (Diné) of paint, silk, organza, feathers, beads, and twenty-four karat gold; porcupine quills and feathers; feathers, beads and silver, Desert Heat Collection, 2012. Model: Louisa Belian. Photograph by Thosh Collins.

Inset:
THE MESSENGER (THE OWL) CAPE AND HEADPIECE by Margaret Roach Wheeler of silk/wool yarn, metal, silver, glass beads, and peacock feathers, Mohatan Collection, 2014. Photograph by Greg Hall.
 

Fashion exists along an interesting spectrum—that of building personal and public identity. It is the overarching narrative, the sizzling, morphing cinematic of the mind’s eye that is constantly reinventing itself. While fashion as a concept exists universally, the institution’s birthplace, and the subsequent structure that was created from those beginnings, could fairly be ascribed to Paris. As such, fashion has been a European-dominated organism for most of its modern existence.

      As a sculptor of identity, then, it is perhaps most apropos that a people who have struggled with retaining and defining their identity have become the most recent insurgents within what has for the last century been a Western cultural enterprise. Represented in the exhibition “Native Fashion Now”, originating at the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts, and ending this September at New York’s National Museum of the American Indian, the work of sixty-seven Native American artists and designers reassesses the topic of fashion, and introduces exciting possibilities towards where it is traveling.

The exhibition is better viewed through the lens of perspective and context to achieve maximum impact. Fashion is ravenous, devouring and subsuming participants in a high stakes competition for fame, recognition and income. But the greatest fashion designers have always been subversives—Elsa Schiaparelli, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Yves St. Laurent, Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Rei Kawakubo, and Issey Miyake shared a mindset that flouted rules and sensibility to change how the game was played. In doing so, they shifted the boundaries of the masculine and feminine.

What modern Native fashion designers are doing, then, is more clear within this setting. Seen not as minor titillations in a leviathan oeuvre, but as poking holes and proffering jests that subtly undermine the status quo, these designers are introducing a radical concept, bringing the legitimacy of non-European aesthetics into the world of fashion. The exhibit, in covering a diverse range of work, examined the many directions from which this change can emanate. Take, for example, the striking ensemble Desert Heat by Orlando Dugi (Diné).

In this dress, Dugi has carefully aligned the shock value of most contemporary fashion with a cultural aesthetic grounded in his own tradition. Desert Heat’s long, shimmering dress, dyed shibori-style with ardent crimsons, blotches of black and coronas of orange, is topped with a mantle of feathers, draped over the wearer’s shoulders and locked around the throat with a beadwork collar. A headdress of porcupine quills and feathers surmounts the whole like a wild woman’s crown. All of these elements contain traces of Dugi’s native world, and to those in the know it is hard not to see his outfit for what it is—a ferociously graceful costume that transforms its wearer into a bird of prey. Paying homage to the dancer’s ensembles of Native American tribal rituals, it also respects the animals of the earth. Indeed, although not indigenous to North America, Dugi’s piece resembles the snake-slaying secretary bird of Africa.

POSTMODERN BOA of stainless steel, sterling silver, enamel paint, and feathers, by David and Wayne Nez Gaussoin (Picuris Pueblo/Diné), 2009. Model: Tazbah Gaussoin. Photograph by David Gaussoin; courtesy of Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

      While Western contemporary fashion appears to be a monolithic construct of fashion labels and major design firms, contributors to it have differing ideas of what fashion actually is. From those who consider themselves artists rather than fashion designers, to those who see no distinction between the two, and finally people who firmly see themselves as couturiers, the term, like art itself, is subject to interpretation. Native artists Wayne Nez and David Gaussoin (Picuris Pueblo/Diné) work in a variety of media, and their contribution to the exhibition is Postmodern Boa, a serpentine rising spiral of enameled steel festooned with feathers.

As an item of adornment both sleek and slinky, coquettishly hiding its wearer yet revealing glimpses through dark crimson, Postmodern Boa evokes an aura of pomp and mystique. Yet despite its allure, the origins of this crafted object are deeper. The community-focused nature of Native culture was what brought about its creation. The Gaussoin brothers had been collaborating for a series of fashion show fundraisers, with the aim of raising money for a nonprofit that enabled Native American youth to attend the Santa Fe Opera. “These early fashion shows took place in a night club. I think that idea of opera and night club together kind of explains that piece,” Wayne Nez recalls.

These hidden roots, which despite being unknown to the outside observer exist regardless, are an integral aspect of Native fashion. The undercurrents of family, tradition and community are present in many of the works displayed in the exhibition. Niio Perkins’s (Akwesasne Mohawk) pièce-de-résistance, a blue cotton and velvet dress with cuffs, collar and belt decorated with intricate beadwork, in the traditional Woodlands Indian style, is demure, understated and attractive. Its modest demeanor, in comparison to more contemporary styles, belies the lush embellishment of vines, flowers and leaves, vivid against a stark black background. Two white birds resembling doves, accented with small pearls, meet in the middle of her waistband, their green beaks almost touching. It is a symbol of both beauty and peace.

EMMA ENSEMBLE by Niio Perkins (Akwesasne Mohawk) of cotton, velvet, glass beads, and metal pins, 2010. Photograph by Ornament.

      All made by hand, Perkins’s ensemble could not have manifested without the influence and inspiration of her mother, Elizabeth. Perkins’s development as an artisan is strongly connected to the artistic environment of both family and tribal culture. “I learned to bead as a child in the lap of my mother,” she recollects. “She is a phenomenal seamstress and designer of traditional clothing in her own right. I was a needy baby; she had to hold me as she used the sewing machine. When I started to get in the way, she gave me a bowl of beads and taught me a few techniques to occupy my little hands. I grew up among families who beaded to supplement their income. It has always felt like a natural thing to do.”

A jacket embellished by Thomas Haukass (Sicangu Lakota) for his friend Kenneth Williams Jr. (Northern Arapaho/Seneca) is a statement on the importance of connections and relationships for Native Americans. While the cream-colored linen blazer is European in design and origin, it has been transformed into a canvas for ledger designs, an open book, as it were, that takes a quintessential Native expression of preserving identity in the face of assimilation and oppression. Each warrior on the jacket is a hero, a doer of mighty deeds and a collector of titles. The term “counting coup”, after the Native warrior tradition of striking an opponent with a coupstick, speaks to the recognition, and recollection, of courage. For Haukass, this garment was his way of honoring the accomplishments of his fellow artist.

Sometimes the roots of something mighty come from a single seed. Louis Gong is of the Nooksack tribe, who share the Northwest Coast of Washington with other Coast Salish peoples. He is also French, Scot and Chinese, and this unique mix has led to exploring his own identity through art.

The prelude to this story came from junior high. Sometimes what we lack can give rise to passionate desire later in life, and so it was with Gong. “I grew up poor, so in seventh and eighth grade, when everyone was wearing Vans, I wanted to own some but couldn’t afford them,” he explains. “Fast forward twenty years, I saw a coworker wearing a pair of Vans, and it brought back that sense of wanting to buy one.” Gong went to the store to search through rows of shoes, but nothing he found seemed to represent him, and who he was. He bought a blank, white pair, brought them home, and took a sharpie to the sneakers with gusto. As his hand put ink to canvas, formline designs grew and flourished until Gong was left with an elaborately decorated piece of footwear that spoke to his unusual and complex heritage.

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      These sneakers would be the seed for Gong’s business, Eighth Generation, a vehicle for empowering Native artists. A farseeing philosophy guides his vision for the company. Seven generations is an intertribal concept for making decisions, a framework of sorts that says every action should be considered for its impact on the next seven generations. The name Eighth Generation imparts Gong’s personal touch, relating both to his Cantonese background, where the number ‘8’ phonetically sounds like the word prosperity, and his gesture of respect to the preceding generations that laid the foundation for where he stands today. 

Giving back to the community, both national and local, is natural for him. “I’ve heard it referred to as a culture tax,” he says. This understanding, that we are part of the fabric of a creative world, is shared by most Native artists, and is perhaps the greatest disjunct from the world of contemporary fashion, where famous names and big labels, with commercialized products that have unknown makers, stands today. The real scoop is not only how Native artists will change the outward aesthetics of the fashion industry but its processes as well. In that, “Native Fashion Now” is a portent of things to come.

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      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. Earlier in the year he made the trip to New York, where he visited the National Museum of the American Indian, a peaceful space for insightful exhibitions on Native art. There he had the chance to see “Native Fashion Now”, an enterprising and innovative show organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. That viewing laid the foundation for an exploration into Native art as it relates to contemporary fashion. Speaking with Native artists, he was amazed at the stories that lay underneath the surface of each piece. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft.

Glass Ornaments at the Israel Museum Volume 40.1

CORE-FORMED PHOENICIAN HEAD PENDANTS, representative samples of these early glass ornaments, from about the second to sixth century B.C. 
GLASS WORKSHOP PRODUCTS of blown vessels and rare windowpane glass, Beth Shean, A.D. sixth-seventh century. Courtesy of the Israel Museum. Photographs by Jocelyne Okrent and Eliana and Daniel Mitropoulos.
CHUNKS OF GLASS COLORED BY COBALT OR COPPER OXIDES most likely recovered from the sea, as seen by the barnacle shells. Blue glass was both highly desired and widely used; glass beadmakers utilized pieces of such glass to make their products, but did not make their own melts.

The vast complex of the Israel Museum, based in Jerusalem, is its largest cultural institution and houses the Archaeology Wing, recently visited and extensively photographed by Jocelyne Okrent and her children, Eliana and Daniel Mitropoulos. This enabled us to write a brief review of their extensive glass ornament and small object collections of the ancient Middle East. Here we show glass beads and other items of personal adornment from Mycenaean Greece to the Islamic Period, when their glass products were widely distributed in antiquity. Given the importance of glass and other silicate beads and ornaments in deciphering dating, trade, technology, and cultural traits of ancient peoples, this exhibit covers most of the important glass ornaments from the ancient Middle East.

      Like neighboring Egypt, Israel is also rich in archaeological glass. The glass ornaments of the Archaeology Wing, both from within the country and the surrounding Middle East, have been documented by Maud Spaer’s catalog (2001). Much of their holdings in glass come from the 1970s donation of the Eliahu Dobkin Collection, which was assembled in Jerusalem. Additional important contributions came from the Stern Collection, acquired in Egypt, and the Rabenou Collection, gathered in Iran.

The 1970s were the beginning of intense activity in the bead community and I began acquiring the Ornament bead study collection then (Liu 1995), often from sources in the forementioned countries, as these were the main suppliers of the marketplace. It is likely that Lebanon, Syria and Turkey also contributed glass ornaments. Jocelyne’s late mother, Rita, of the Rita Okrent Collection, was a major dealer of beads and other jewelry at that time.

Because a large part of the museum’s glass beads, pendants, earrings, and bracelets came from private collections, not only does it match that of many other bead collectors, but also tends to be more broadly representative than many museums without access to such types of collections. Thus their displays and accompanying captions are heuristic for museum visitors who want to expand their knowledge of ancient glass ornaments and small objects of glass like spindle whorls, as well as glassworking in general.

Few museums are able to exhibit glass workshops and their products, such as the one from Beth Shean. A glass furnace was also found, as well as ashes and olive pits for annealing the glass, to prevent cracking from heat stresses. At a mid-first century B.C. Jerusalem glass workshop, there was evidence of glassblowing, a late glass technique that is not germane to most ancient beads shown.

While some of the glass ornaments are segregated as to age or culture, others are shown in a mixed lot, which can be confusing to those who have less knowledge of dating or attribution of beads. But such assemblages are often the way beads are found or acquired from the marketplace. The obvious challenge is in their identification. Often, working with small batches of mixed beads provides good opportunities for learning. For example, in Figure 4, of gold glass beads, there are also three pyramidal glass spacers, two of blue glass, one with a gold-foil cover. Hotworked, then ground, these show how gold was used to enhance glass ornaments. This is a practice that dates from at least Mycenaean culture, when beads, like those shown on this page, were also gold-foiled. 

 

Left to right, top to bottom:
1. MYCENAEAN GLASS IVY LEAF SPACER BEADS, press-molded, fourteenth-thirteenth century B.C.
2. TRIANGULAR EYE BEADS, from Jerusalem and the Aegean(?), late ninth-seventh century B.C., with core-formed glass vessels, sixth-third century B.C.
3. MONOCHROME BEADS/SPACERS, TRAILED BEADS AND BIRD BEADS, Near East and Western Asia, fifteenth-thirteenth century B.C.
4. GOLD GLASS BEADS, BEADS SIMILAR TO THOSE FROM RHODES AND ROMAN PYRAMIDAL SPACERS, latter having one with gold-foil cover.
5. TABULAR EYEBEADS, THREE EARPLUGS/ORNAMENTS AND TWO BIRD BEADS, Western Asia, Egypt and probably Italy, eighth-seventh century B.C.
6. EYEBEADS, Mediterranean region, Persia and Egypt, sixth century B.C. - A.D. fourteenth century.
7. STRAND OF GLASS PENDANTS, varying dates, up to Byzantine Period.
8. ISLAMIC PERIOD BEADS AND PENDANTS, including those done with folded technique.
9. GLASS BRACELETS, unprovenanced, A.D. third-nineteenth century.
10. ROMAN/PTOLOMAIC, ISLAMIC AND BYZANTINE BEADS AND PENDANTS; note use of loops, and characteristic yellow/green date bead from Egypt.
11. SILVER HOARD FOUND IN TERRACOTTA JAR, mostly of silver jewelry, rolled/folded silver melts, carnelian and other hardstone beads, as well as faience beads. Most likely this was a jeweler’s hoard. Possibly the silver was rolled to save space in the jar.

 

REFERENCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Lankton, J. W. et. al.
2003. A Bead Timeline. Volume I: Prehistory to 1200 CE. Washington, D.C.: The Bead Museum/Bead Society of Greater Washington: 96 p.
Liu, R. K. 1995. Collectible Beads. San Marcos: Ornament, Inc: 256 p. 
Spaer, M. 2001. Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum. Beads and Other Small Objects. Jerusalem: The Israel Museum: 384 p., 1 map.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Jocelyne Okrent is the owner of the Rita Okrent Collection, which she has managed since early 2008. Her mother, Rita Okrent, was a pioneer bead dealer and ethnic jewelry designer, active from the 1970s/1990s in necklace design with ethnic beads. Although Jocelyne’s professional expertise was as a product manager in technology, and not in her mother’s bead collection, she has become knowledgeable regarding her mother’s remaining inventory. In her spare time, Okrent manages her twin thirteen year olds, two cats and a dog, and does some local Southern California Bead Society Bazaars.

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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. A frequent lecturer, some of his topics include precolumbian jewelry, prehistoric Southwest jewelry and ancient Egyptian jewelry. In this issue Liu writes about glass ornaments at The Israel Museum with Jocelyne Okrent, and documents five jewelers who attended the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Chagall: Fantasies For the Stage Volume 40.1

SELF-PORTRAIT WITH SEVEN FINGERS of oil on canvas, 126.0 × 107.4 centimeters, 1912. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. All images © 2017 Artists Rights Society, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Modernist painter Marc Chagall frequently drew on the performing arts for inspiration; many of his paintings depict musicians and dancers, and he famously created murals for the Moscow State Jewish Theater, the Opera Garnier in Paris and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Born in Russia, in modern-day Belarus, in 1887, he was a student of Léon Bakst, who designed the opulent sets and exotic costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s groundbreaking Ballets Russes. Chagall moved to Paris in 1910, just after the Ballets Russes had become the toast of the town.

      But Chagall’s own four productions for the stage are relatively unknown: the ballets “Aleko”  (1942),“The Firebird” (1945) and “Daphnis and Chloé” (1958), and one opera, Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (1967). “Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—a more focused version of a larger exhibition on Chagall and music seen in Paris and Montreal—puts Chagall’s theatrical costumes and scenic designs in the spotlight.

 

COSTUME DESIGN FOR “THE FIREBIRD”: Blue-And-Yellow Monster from Koschei’s Palace Guard of watercolor, gouache, graphite, and india ink on paper, 46.5 × 29.1 centimeters, 1945. Private collection.

 

COSTUME FOR “THE FIREBIRD”: Blue-And-Yellow Monster from Koschei’s Palace Guard of wool/synthetic knit with polyurethane, wool/synthetic knit appliqués, wood beads, silk plain weave (chiffon), and animal hair, 1945. New York City Ballet. 

      Rather than revealing a new side of Chagall, the theater amplified and, one senses, fully realized his vision, transforming the stage into a Chagall painting come to life. A lyrical blend of Cubism, Fauvism and Symbolism, his artwork is dreamlike without ever being cloying or creepy—a description equally applicable to his theatrical endeavors. As one early reviewer wrote, “He creates a naive and irresponsible world without gravity or function, in which the subconscious reigns with such unquestioning authority as to achieve an appearance of sweet reasonableness.” 

All four productions used very few props, relying on the costumes and painted backdrops to tell the story. Like Chagall’s canvases, they were populated with anthropomorphized animals and whimsically distorted human figures, rendered in faceted planes and vibrant rainbow hues. Instead of luxurious materials, Chagall’s costumes employed a Pinterest-worthy plethora of superficial decorative techniques: paint, beadwork, appliqué, faux fur, feathers, collage, and patchwork. 

It is tempting to call these pieces sculpture, but you cannot dance in a piece of sculpture, and you cannot wear it over and over again, performance after performance. Chagall’s shabby-chic approach to stage spectacle was not only consistent with his aesthetic—he often used collage in his artwork—but camouflaged natural wear and tear, as well as facilitating repairs. His attention to wearability is evident even in his larger-than-life costumes, with masks made of lightweight papier-mâché and anchored to the body by visible suspenders.

COSTUMES FOR “THE MAGIC FLUTE”, 1967. Metropolitan Opera Archives, New York. SARASTRO of silk plain weave, painted, with silk plaieave and metallic appliqués. GREEN-FACED MONSTER (WITH REPRODUCTION MASK) of cotton knit, painted, with synthetic/lurex plain weave appliqués, silk plain weave (chiffon) appliqués, synthetic knit, painted, and papier-mâché. QUEEN OF THE NIGHT (WITH REPRODUCTION HEADDRESS) of silk/synthetic plain weave with silk plain weave (chiffon) appliqué.

      In 1941, Chagall—who was Jewish—fled Nazi-occupied France with his family, settling in the United States. It was there that the Ballet Theater of New York commissioned him to design a new ballet, “Aleko”, set to the music of Tchaikovsky and based on a Pushkin poem. Chagall’s paintings often drew upon the Russian fairy tales and Yiddish folklore he had known since childhood, making him a natural choice for the production. Much of his scenic work was inspired by lubki, the Russian woodblock prints that often illustrated such stories.

COSTUME FOR “THE FIREBIRD”: Monster with Donkey’s Head of wool/synthetic knit, painted, with polyurethane and wool/synthetic knit appliqués, 1945. New York City Ballet.

      Amazingly, “Aleko” was almost derailed because American stage union regulations would have prevented Chagall from painting the backdrops himself; instead, he finished it in Mexico City, where it premiered before traveling to New York. As a result, the costumes reflect Mexican dress and textile traditions as much as Russian ones, complete with circle skirts and puffed sleeves. (Only eleven of the original sixty costumes survive.)

Perhaps because he was unused to working in three dimensions, Chagall painted both the costumes and the backdrops, using fabric that looks like raw canvas. The New York Times was duly impressed: “It is Chagall who emerges as the hero of the occasion. He has designed and painted with his own hand four superb backdrops, which are not actually good stage settings at all, but are wonderful works of art… So exciting are they in their own right that more than once one wishes all those people would quit getting in front of them.” Another critic agreed that “no ballet can stand up to his designs.”

Thanks to the success of “Aleko”, the Ballet Theater commissioned Chagall to create a new production of “The Firebird” in 1945. Igor Stravinsky had written the ballet—based on a Russian fairy tale—for the Ballets Russes in 1910. Chagall had given up on painting after the death of his wife, Bella, the previous year, but the ballet lured him back. His famous stage curtain depicts the titular half-bird, half-woman; her face bears a striking resemblance to Bella’s. The production was so successful that it remains in the New York City Ballet’s repertoire today, the sets and costumes re-created from Chagall’s designs.

COSTUMES FOR “DAPHNIS AND CHLOÉ”: Shepherdesses, 1959. Opéra National de Paris.

At the end of World War II, Chagall returned to France, where he would live until his death in 1985. For his next production—Maurice Ravel’s ballet “Daphnis and Chloé” at the Paris Opera—Chagall worked with the choreographer George Skibine to ensure harmony of scene and movement, even going so far as to paint the costumes while the dancers were wearing them in order to guarantee that they complemented their bodies and gestures. The results may look fantastical—Pan is seven and a half feet tall and a trio of shepherdesses wear candy-colored dresses—but Chagall’s palette and motifs were, in fact, inspired by his recent travels in Greece.

Chagall once said: “I believe in God, Mozart and color. Without them I could not live.”

Naturally, he jumped at the chance to design a new production of “The Magic Flute” for the Metropolitan Opera. The production required three years of work for fourteen sets and two hundred and twelve costumes. The Met kept Chagall’s designs in a purpose-built safe while the production crew worked. The massive undertaking displays the full range of Chagall’s powers; his Papagena is impossibly chic in a feathered dress that would make Balenciaga proud, but her animal companions look like battered stuffed toys, patched and leaking their filling. 

 

LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART INSTALLATION for “Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage.” Photograph by Fredrik Nilsen. 

 

      As beguiling as the forty-one costumes assembled here might be, the highlight of the LACMA show is an array of one hundred of Chagall’s gouache costume sketches and backdrop designs, almost all drawn from private collections. They are not static maquettes but highly finished, fresh and dynamic depictions of bodies in motion, an effect the installation attempts to capture by placing some mannequins on rotating platforms and others posed in theatrical attitudes. Music from the four shows plays in the background, and Chagall’s backdrops are digitally recreated within proscenium arches. 

Chagall’s work paved the way for future collaborations between visual artists and the performing arts. The show brings to mind the subsequent stagecraft of Salvador Dalí, David Hockney and, especially, Maurice Sendak, who shares Chagall’s playful yet slightly sinister imagination. This is where the wild things are.

“Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage” is on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
through January 7, 2018.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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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. In this issue, she explores modernist artist Marc Chagall’s costumes for the stage. His fantastical designs, on display in an exhibition currently showing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, evoke a wild dream-like realm of imagination. Chrisman-Campbell sums it up: “This is where the wild things are.”

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.

 

      Get Inspired!


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.

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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!


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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.

 

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      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.” 

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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.”