Wendy Stevens Volume 40.2

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"The things that inspire me are buildings, architecture, the industrial essence of a city,” says Wendy Stevens. Never mind that we’re seated inside a converted barn deep in the pastoral landscape of rural Pennsylvania, the evidence of this inspiration is all around us. It’s in the machinery, the hammers and rivets, the rolls of leather and sheet metal, and especially in the products themselves: the gleaming purses, handbags and other wearable items whose delicate patterns both embody and belie their industrial materials.

      The blue-gray Vespa parked outside the studio hints at a more cosmopolitan outlook, and indeed the origins of Stevens’s aesthetic can be traced to New York’s Lower East Side. When she arrived there in the early 1980s, the area still held many remnants of its gritty industrial past. “There was scrap metal on Canal Street,” she recalls. “SoHo had machine shops where they sold tools for working on sheet metal.” Walking around the city, she saw many elements—from buildings, bridges and subways right on down to manhole covers—that would come to inspire her imaginative designs. 

WENDY STEVENS at her hand shear cutting sheet metal. Photograph by Dariel Benton-Updike.

      Stevens was no stranger to industrial landscapes. She grew up in Cleveland, home of U.S. Steel, at a time when the Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it briefly, and famously, caught fire. After living in Spain in 1977–78, she returned to the States to study bilingual education at the University of Arizona, focusing on Spanish and Italian. Upon completing her degree she relocated to San Francisco and found work as an elementary school teacher.

Disillusioned with teaching, she decided to move to New York, where a number of her friends had gone to pursue careers in the arts. She landed in the East Village, which in the early 1980s was still a relatively affordable, if dangerous, place to live. Drugs and crime were rampant, but the neighborhood was also on the cusp of becoming a major center of artistic activity. “The galleries in the East Village were just beginning,” she says. “I got there at an ideal time.” 

A defining aspect of Stevens’s career is that her creativity has worked in tandem with a very practical approach to solving problems. “Moving to a city like New York, I was fascinated with what people carried throughout a whole day. You’re walking all over the city and on subways, and you see all sorts of different things that people carry.” 

STUDIO SHOT of attaching a hinge onto bag with an upholstery hammer on the stake bench. Photograph by Kate Lacey.

      At the time, she was working as a bartender at a Tribeca club called Area. “Women would come into the nightclub carrying these enormous bags,” she recalls. “We’d have to put them behind the bar. I thought, ‘Why not just get a little durable wallet to wear cross-body? You can dance with it; it has your ID and just what you need.’ So that was one of the first pieces I made.”

This functional piece of wearable art became the template for many projects to follow. Her earliest creations were handcrafted in copper, brass and monel (a nickel alloy), but she soon discovered lightweight, durable stainless steel, after which “there was no turning back,” she says. “Sheet metal was great. I didn’t sew much growing up. I hated the fact that nothing ever kept its shape. With the sheet metal, I took a hammer and a nail, put a hole in a piece of copper, set a snap in it, wrapped it around the steel railing outside my building, and said, ‘Wow, this is pretty great!’ ” She would bring the pieces to her co-workers to try out. “All the bartenders, they were my tests, to see how it felt, how it held up.”

Dubbing her business Accessories in Metal, Stevens began fashioning bags, belts, desk accessories, “and even a pair of sandals, made of monel, for my father.” Her years in the cash-starved public school system had given her an important skill that now came into play. “With teaching you learn how to resource things,” she says. “I was able to start pulling things together. I found a company in Brooklyn that sold sheet metal, and they had tons of scrap that they just threw away. My landlord had a plumbing contracting service with all these guys. Every morning they’d be loading their truck and I’d pull them in and say, ‘How do I solder this, anyway?’ They showed me how to use a TurboTorch. So everything was kind of aligned in the right way for me to start what I’m doing.”

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      Her first big break came at an open vendor day at Henri Bendel, the New York design emporium that helped launch the careers of such luminaries as Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren and Andy Warhol. “First in line, I was ready to show a buyer my three little, very crooked handbags,” she recalls. “So I laid out a piece of leather, put them out. She comes in and says, ‘I love them, I’m going to take three of each.’ I was thrilled. At that point, I had a soldering iron, a tin snip and a file. She asked, ‘How long will it take you to make nine bags?’ I said, ‘All summer.’ She said, ‘OK, deliver at the end of summer.’ ”

Another early buyer was Clodagh Ross & Williams, the high-end furniture and accessories shop opened by three women designers on St. Marks Place in 1986. “They loved what I was doing, that I was using an alternative material for a handbag,” says Stevens. “They ended up publishing a book and put my work in it.”

In the studio Stevens uses a deburring wheel to soften any sharp edges, and then belt sands one side of the sheet to “make the top of the piece super uniform and silky with a matte finish. I like the pieces to look soft and silky,” she says. The result is a light, textured metallic surface that resembles a piece of satin or lace fabric.

      Several years later, when she approached Lewis Dolin, who had a showroom at Broadway and Houston, he already knew her work from the Clodagh Ross & Williams publication. Dolin invited her to participate in the prestigious Accent on Design show in 1988, bringing wider exposure to her growing line of bags and accessories. He also introduced Stevens to her future husband, the furniture-maker Will Stone, who was another of Dolin’s featured artisans. 

ROLLS OF LEATHER STRAPPING, stitched and ready to attach to bags. Photograph by Dariel Benton-Updike. 

      “When I first met Will, he was doing tables, and really doing well with it. He had a major operation out in State College, Pennsylvania,” she recalls. “He would come and visit me in his studio. I’d be sitting there doing something, and he’d say, ‘What are you doing? Do you know that there’s a tool for that?’ And I’d say, ‘Really, what is it?’ ” While a relationship between two artisans could easily have turned competitive, she appreciated that Will didn’t “step in boldly, because it wasn’t his thing. He was already respectful of the fact that it was my thing.”

As her business continued to expand, Stevens found that she needed more space, which meant leaving the East Village behind. Around 1990, friends helped her find a suitable location in East Kingston, New York, a small town along the Hudson some hundred miles north of the city. “It was a great building,” she recalls. “An old sewing factory with huge wooden floors. It was perfect. I built a little apartment at one end of it.”

      Stevens remained in East Kingston for two years, continuing her long-distance relationship with Stone, who was then living in a log cabin in central Pennsylvania. When the couple decided to get married in 1992, they moved onto an old farm near Boyertown, Pennsylvania, some forty-five miles northwest of Philadelphia, converting the barn into a two-thousand-square-foot studio in which they both could work. 

In 2004, after two decades of steadily building up her brand, Stevens’s career took a sudden, devastating turn. On a cold day in January, she received a call from a neighbor to alert her that smoke was coming from the roof of their barn. More than a hundred firefighters battled the blaze throughout the day and into the night, but by the time it was over all that remained were two stone walls and a foundation.

“They couldn’t really figure out what started it,” she says. “It was a barn, so the roof was open and exposed to birds, mice, whatever, so they could have just chewed through the wires in the winter. It was absolutely freezing cold. They sprayed foam into the building. My studio fell in on top of my husband’s. It was so depressing. It was such a mess.”

Despite the shock of losing her work space, her tools and her inventory in the space of twenty-four hours, Stevens came to see the forced hiatus as a chance to reimagine her way of doing things. “It was career-changing for me,” she says. “I had started with nothing—no tools, just hand-punching holes, just really primitive ways of working with sheet metal. It had been a long process. But the fire gave me the opportunity to completely start over again with everything I knew.”

She took an online course in computer-aided design (CAD) and began focusing on how to draw her pieces. This was new territory for Stevens. “I never drew anything. I went right to the sheet metal and cut it out. All of a sudden I realized as I sat down to draw a pattern, ‘I don’t draw.’ ” She enlisted the help of a drawing instructor from Lehigh University, who “would come and sit with me. He was a big help.” 

She also began learning the etching process, which allows her to create her own intricate designs in the metal, rather than working with commercially produced patterns. “The etching process is totally amazing,” she says. “It really took a whole year, and I’m still learning what I can do with this process. I’m constantly pushing it to an uncomfortable edge for my etcher.” 

Up until the fire, her line had still included desk accessories such as lamps, picture frames and letter holders, in addition to the bags for which she was best known. She now chose to focus exclusively on bags and began drawing new designs in AutoCAD. “I have to take into consideration a lot of things when doing these drawings: Where the fold is. What the radius of the fold is. Is it too close to the pattern? Is it going to distort the pattern?”

LEATHER GUSSETS. These parts have been cut, glued and punched with holes corresponding to the metal parts where they will be attached with rivets. Photograph by Dariel Benton-Updike. 

      Her drawings are converted to film, then photo-etched into stainless steel by a company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A clean sheet of stainless is cut to size and coated with a chemical resist of dry film. The sheet is exposed to ultraviolet light, then placed in an acid bath for about thirty minutes. When the photoresist is removed, the pattern is etched into the surface.

In the studio Stevens uses a deburring wheel to soften any sharp edges, and then belt sands one side of the sheet to “make the top of the piece super uniform and silky with a matte finish,” she says. The result is a light, textured metallic surface that resembles a piece of satin or lace fabric. The sheets are then joined to the leather trim by rivets and outfitted with hardware designed by Stevens and produced in Italy. Most bags have hinges at the bottom and use magnetic clasps. Thanks to the resilient stainless steel, the resulting pieces are both durable and surprisingly light.

The first model she produced after the fire was appropriately titled Phoenix Bag, after the mythical bird that rose from the ashes. Others have taken their names from the fabric-like quality of her patterns, such as the Lace Clutch and Houndstooth Bag. The perforated La Camisa is shaped after the shoulders and neck of a woman’s blouse and comes in powder-coated finishes of red, graphite or black.

WENDY STEVENS STUDIO. After the studio fire in 2004, the facility was redesigned and rebuilt on the main level of the stone barn on her eight-acre farm property. In the foreground is a packing table with finished pieces. To the right is the leather cutting table with a gluing machine. Directly behind the packing table is the stake bench where the pieces are assembled. Against the wall are the orange pallet racks where sheet metal is stored with a hydraulic lift. In the background are the tool benches with slip rolls, notchers, shears, a hand press brake and a hydraulic brake, a sand blast cabinet and deburring wheels. Photograph by Kate Lacey

      Stevens’s line currently includes about fifty pieces. Their whimsical titles often derive from her love of travel and Romance languages. Her series of pasta-themed bags, for example, includes the Bucatini, Penne Purse and Capellini Clutch. The French connection comes across in her Baguette and La Pochette, while the Flamenco and El Dia reference her love for Spanish. Others take their names from the world’s great design capitals, including her London and Paris bags.

While Stevens’s designs continue to reflect the industrial aesthetic she developed in New York in the 1980s, her twenty-five years in bucolic Berks County, Pennsylvania, have not been without an impact on her work, as evidenced by the Seed Pod Purse, with its concentric, onion-like layers, as well as the Fiddlehead Fern Bag, Chestnut Bag, and a series featuring an intricate pattern of overlapping roses—all referencing plants found outside her studio. Other bags take their names from the shapes they emulate, such as the Pinwheel and Accordion.

Stevens’s work has garnered an international following and has been featured in Elle, Mademoiselle, Bazaar, and Vogue magazines. In 2010 she was honored by a solo exhibition at the Tassenmuseum (Museum of Bags and Purses) in Amsterdam. “I was the first American to be invited to do that. I went to Amsterdam and saw the collection in the museum, which was really amazing,” she says. “It’s a beautiful, big old brownstone right on a canal. You start at the top and there’s a case with one of the very first bags from the 1600s, and it’s a man bag! It’s a big huge pouch that slid on the belt with a padlock, insanely heavy.” She also saw precursors to her own work in the museum’s collection of aluminum bags from the Art Deco era. “My bags felt like they belonged there in a historical sense,” she says. “After doing something so alternative, and never feeling like I fit in anywhere, it was just great to have that experience. They ended up acquiring four pieces for their permanent collection.”

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      In the States, she has shown her work at many prestigious craft shows, including the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., the American Craft Council show in Baltimore, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, where she was honored in 2016 with the Ornament Award for Excellence in Art to Wear. On receiving the latter, she says, “I was surprised, shocked and thrilled! Part of the enormous challenge in designing and making my bags in stainless steel has always been to ensure they’re wearable; that they drape well across the body or over one shoulder, or fit comfortably when clutched in the hand; and that they don’t feel cumbersome or awkward, but rather become part of the person using them. So to have that interpretation honored by Ornament was a very personal success for me.”

The longevity of Stevens’s success can be attributed in large part to her ability to continue adapting and extending her work in new directions while remaining true to her particular vision. A more recent (and very profitable) extension of her line, for example, has been a series of iPhone holders that drape over the shoulder and are worn cross-body.

Her newest venture is a foray into the wedding and bridal market. “My daughter gave me this suggestion. She has friends getting married now. She told me, ‘There are shows that my friends go to, where they can see wedding dressing and meet wedding photographers.’ I’m going to develop a whole collection of wedding bags, which I’m well on my way with.” Her bridal line made its debut at a show in Philadelphia in December.

“It’s very exciting for me,” says Stevens, “because one thing leads to another. I’m thirty-two years into it and still I have so many ideas that I want to do.”

SUGGESTED READING
Arginteanu, Judy.
“Product Placement: In the Bag.” American Craft, June/July 2012, pp. 16–17.
DiNoto, Andrea. “Wendy Stevens: Industrial Chic.” Metalsmith, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2015, pp. 28–35.
Stevens, Wendy (as told to Brandi Stewart). “Blazing Recovery: A Fire Destroyed My Manufacturing Firm—and Ignited My Entrepreneurial Spirit.” Fortune Small Business, November 2008, pp. 71–72.

 

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      Get Inspired!

 
 

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David Updike is an editor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where his most recent projects include books on the art of the Mexican Revolution, the Peale family and Marcel Duchamp. His profile of Rochester-based jewelry artist Barbara Heinrich appeared in Ornament Volume 39, No. 4. For this issue, he visited the designer Wendy Stevens at her studio in rural Pennsylvania. “I took my daughter with me because she’s very interested in fashion and design, and she was totally inspired by Wendy’s work and by the idea that you could build a career around creating beautiful things for people to wear.”

Ancient Nubian Face Beads Volume 40.2

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ENLARGED VIEWS OF FOUR INTACT NUBIAN FACE BEADS: These very clear images show good representations of Medusa, two as a Gorgon and two as a woman. But in this case, the women are formed from Gorgon face canes, evident from the striations of their hair; numbering 8 - 9. The rectangular striations represent the writhing snakes of Gorgon. The clarity of their outlines and their precise shapes suggest that these are geometric rods that were bundled onto or overlaid the face cane and not hot-layered. These four beads present two treatments of the basic face cane, all with a black outline around the lower face, with an additional red lower surround for the Gorgons, as well as a yellow bust. The red arc represents the blood from her severed head. Gorgon canes used on spherical face beads very rarely show this feature; out of over 220 scanned images, there were only two with a blood arc.

The close conformation of the Gorgon faces suggests they are from the same cane. Gorgon as a woman has flesh-colored glass formed into a neck and shoulders, with a black line or rod for a necklace, but they differ somewhat, possibly altered when marvered or encased onto or into the matrix to form a cane, although both have 9 hair striations. All of the glass of the face, neck and bust have some degree of uneven pink, although some are more faded.

The use of flesh-colored glass for mosaic face beads is unique, since all other extant beads have the skin portrayed in white/whitish or slightly ruddy glass. Could the skin tone of all other beads have de-vitrified to white from flesh-colored? Probably not. The whitish glass around each face cane is the same and has deteriorated more than the other colors of glass. When illuminated at the right angle, these white, mottled areas are actually cracked or crazed glass.

These similarities strongly point to products of the same glass workshop, most likely Roman Egypt, possibly Nubian. The transparent green matrix around the face canes of these Nubian face beads makes this color the most common for tabular face beads, totaling 44 of 62 tabular beads examined, or seventy-one percent. Photograph courtesy of and © the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, previously published in Liu (2014: 42).

Figural mosaic images on beads are among the most rare of ancient glass. Early Roman Egyptian face beads of approximately 100 B.C-A.D. 100 represent the most numerous of such ornaments, perhaps existing in the low thousands and were widely distributed through Europe and the Middle East, and are usually regarded as luxury goods. Recent finds place them in the Crimea, Yemen, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Nubia, and Croatia (Sidebotham et al., 2015), as well as Hungary (Liu, pers. comm.). Their most common imagery displays full-frontal faces of Medusa as a Gorgon with stylized snakes as hair, or less often of Medusa as a beautiful woman with luxurious long hair, a necklace and a bust. Late Roman face beads, of the fourth/fifth centuries B.C., number less than thirty, occur primarily in northern Europe and Russia, but have entirely different imagery, most likely emperors. The only other cultures that also produced figural mosaics are the Javanese (Jatim beads of fifth/sixth century A.D., Lankton and Bernbaum 2007), Thai at Klong Thom (tabular face beads that may not be mosaics, possibly first to seventh century A.D.), at Bara in Pakistan and potentially somewhere in Afghanistan, based upon two nearly identical beads with complex griffin and duck mosaics.

      For those who study such mosaic face beads and glass with similar canes, there are major, problematic suppositions, since no workshops with such figural canes have ever been found, nor any face canes used for beads. Some Egyptian glass workshop sites did contain mosaic glass/canes (Stern and Schlick-Nolte 1994: 27). However, two larger cane slices depicting the most frequently used Gorgon and Medusa as a woman are in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art (Liu 2008b: 62, 1.6 cm high and 2.2 cm diameter) and may be very rare examples of face canes before they were pulled or reduced to the diminutive sizes suitable for marvering onto or encasing in a face bead (page 38). Composite mosaic bars with half-face images for theater masks have been found, but these larger, more complex canes were never used for beads (Liu 2008b). 

ROUND TABULAR EARLY ROMAN MOSAIC FACE BEADS from the Crimea, all with a Gorgon face cane, 1.4 cm high, 0.4 - 0.6 cm thick; (Liu 2008b, 2014). Burial conditions there tend to weaken the glass, so one of these broke, revealing that the transverse, non-tapering perforation resulted from hot-piercing and not from being formed on a mandrel. With our observation of similar hot- or rod-piercing in Nubian tabular face beads, this probably means that all or most tabular face beads are composed of one face cane encased in a glass matrix, with the perforation pierced. They all follow the convention of having the eyebrows, eyes and nose made in one rectangular block, with the mouth a separate element. The forehead and lower part of the face are also separate; this has also been observed by Alekseeva (1971). Note that the right-hand bead is very similar in color to Nubian tabular face beads, and the lighter glass of the eye/nose/eyebrow block is clearly evident. Courtesy of Teresa and Paul Harbaugh. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament unless noted. BROKEN HOT-PIERCED LOZENGE-SHAPED NUBIAN TABULAR FACE BEAD AND FRONTAL VIEW OF BROKEN NUBIAN TABULAR BEAD OF GORGON showing distortion of cane and red arc indicating blood of Gorgon’s severed head, 1.1 cm diameter/23.830c. Note crazed, cracked or crackled glass around face cane. BROKEN TABULAR GORGON FACE BEAD VS CLASSIC ROUND TABULAR GORGON FACE BEAD FROM NUBIA; the latter is deteriorated, but the stylized rod striations are faintly visible, 1.1 cm diameter/23.788. INTACT TABULAR NUBIAN FACE BEAD OF GORGON AS A WOMAN, placed on top of flashlight in attempt to show cracks/23.830c. Note cracks, grooves on surface, as well as large amount of surface pits. All photographs of Nubian glass beads are courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, taken by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

      Because the Gorgon/Medusa canes are placed into so many different shapes of beads (spherical, tabular, barrel, and bulla-shaped), numbering between one for tabular, two to eight face canes per spherical bead and varying in how they are placed on the bead, with a great variety of surrounds and colors, in addition to other mosaic imagery, researchers have postulated that Medusa, Gorgon and other canes employed on face beads were most likely produced as a basic cane by skilled glassworkers in Ptolemaic-Roman Egypt, such as in Alexandria, Egypt, the Levant or elsewhere in the Middle East (Henderson 2013, Lankton et al., 2016). These face/Medusa/Gorgon canes, whether in large diameter form or reduced by pulling while hot into smaller sizes suitable for face beads, were then distributed to disparate end users, usually glass beadmakers. Thus the great individual variation found on early Roman face beads. But there has also never been confirmation that face canes were an item of trade, although glass tesserae for mosaics or beads have been found in such contexts (Andersen and Sode 2010, Henderson 2013, Neri et al., 2016).

LOZENGE-SHAPED, ROUND AND SQUARE TABULAR ROMAN MOSAIC FACE BEADS, from respectively Nubia, unknown location and the Crimea. The rhomboid cane of Gorgon as a woman lacks any overlaid hair, and has a simple black bar as a necklace, like the face cane from the Crimea. The surrounding glass is badly cracked and appears whitish; it is approximately 1.2 x 1.5 cm. THE ROUND BEAD OF MEDUSA as a woman has overlaid black hair, necklace of a mosaic bar, quite similar to the spherical face bead found in Nubia on bottom of page and is 1.5 cm in diameter. THE SQUARE BEAD OF MEDUSA as a woman has a necklace and a crisp bundled-rod surround of chequer pattern; this style is one of two well known for square face beads (Liu 1976; 2008b). Square face beads are rarer then round ones but lozenge-shaped tabular beads have only been found in the one Nubian cache. In all three beads, the face cane extends through the depth of the bead. Mosaic face cane slices were probably clipped or nipped off the composite bar, and have conchoidal fractures on both obverse and reverse, before grinding/polishing, as seen in specimens on page 38. Square bead courtesy of Teresa and Paul Harbaugh. Photograph of round tabular bead courtesy of Jamey D. Allen and former Lois S. Dubin Collection.

      While we do not know the size of ancient face canes, Brian Kerkvliet (Liu 1989), the first American to make mosaic face canes, used the layering or the hot-strip method for his murrine canes. In one continuous work session of about two hours, he ended with a piece of glass cane approximately three inches in diameter by four inches long (approximately 7.5 x 10.0 cm), before pulling the rod while hot to a size small enough for application to face beads, at approximately 0.35 cm diameter.

The iconography of the three Gorgon sisters, including Medusa, the only one who was mortal, is schematic but not overly rigid when portrayed in glass mosaics: Gorgons have variable number of hair striations or stylized snakes, seen as square/rectangular rods (Liu 2014). Most, but not all Gorgons on tabular beads, also have a red line on the lower portion of the face cane, indicating the blood from her severed head, sometimes misinterpreted as a beard. Very rarely do Gorgon face canes on spherical beads display this red arc of blood. 

Medusa, shown with long black hair, a neck with necklace and bust, also shows considerable variation; she is known for her charms and beautiful hair, but in a number of her face canes, the overlying black hair barely covers the stylized snake hair, which protrude from the forehead as knobs, as seen below. Where Medusa is shown with long hair, achieved by hot layering black glass (actually purple), it varies considerably, as do the mosaic bars used to denote her necklace. The application of Gorgon and Medusa as a woman has never been seen on the same face bead, except on one extremely rare glass spindle whorl held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Liu 1976). All these images have apotropaic value, most likely adding to their value as luxury beads. Presumably, people contemporary with these face beads would have been able to decipher the meaning of all their features, but not modern viewers, who lack knowledge about their mythology and their iconography.

SPHERICAL EARLY ROMAN MOSAIC FACE BEADS from Nubia and two beads from the marketplace, with no attribution. All are Medusa with long black hair, a mosaic bar necklace, neck and bust, all in white glass for the skin (although the flesh of the Nubian bead has an ivory cast); middle bead is 1.3 cm diameter and has been highly reground. THE GREEN BEAD FROM NUBIA has two face canes and no other applied features; it is highly unusual in that the matrix of the face cane almost matches the body of the bead; usually, the cane color contrasts with the rest of the bead, as seen in the other two examples. Note the close resemblance of the mosaic bar used to denote a necklace in the round yellow tabular bead and the green spherical face bead from Nubia. THE BLUE BEAD IS A GOOD EXAMPLE of the overlaid hair not completely hiding the original rod striations on the Gorgon face cane, as noted by the partial rods or knobs on her forehead. At least 6-7 such beads have been seen. Notice the considerable variation of the nose, eyes, eyebrow, mouth, and necklaces of these six beads, as well as the hair, and that only the Nubian tabular cane has flesh-color. Photograph of the green spherical bead 24.764 courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photograph of middle bead from Liu (1995). Photograph of blue bead courtesy of Walker Qin, collection of the Beijing Bead Museum/Library.

      In 2014, I was able to view high resolution color photographs of the tabular mosaic face beads excavated in the 1920s by Reisner in Nubia from the Merotic culture. These early Roman face beads, besides being the largest cache from a known context, were unique for their lozenge shape, versus round or square for all extant tabular face beads. Like other early Roman mosaic face beads, those from Nubia probably date from about 100 B.C.-A.D. 100, although those from Meroë are more tightly dated to 40 B.C.-A.D. 114. In addition, Gorgon canes were used to represent both Gorgon and Medusa, without overlaid black hair for Medusa, but she had a neck, necklace and bust, and many faces and bodies of both types were in flesh-toned glass, also never before seen in extant face beads (Liu 2014). Gorgon used as a woman, i.e. Medusa, is a rare mosaic image; out of a database of about 220 face beads that I have scanned, only 38 present Medusa as a woman, usually seen as plaques on spherical face beads, even rarer on tabular face beads. Of these 38, only 7 appear to be made from Gorgon canes; none of these modified Gorgon faces had ever been applied to tabular beads. Since Nubians were adept with faience working, glazed stones, glassworking in the form of unique stratified eyebeads with gold bands, as well as enameling (Markowitz and Doxey 2014a), I thought at that time that these Nubian face beads could be an excellent example of local glassworkers modifying imported face canes. But without compositional studies on the glass of face canes and their surrounds, there is no way to prove this supposition. In recent email discussions with James Lankton, he might test some of these Nubian face fragments if granted permission.

Our study of these Nubian face beads presented a compelling case for the supposition that all forms of facial images for early face beads were all derived from a Gorgon cane, adapted by beadmakers into Medusa and numerous other variations.

      With the advent of portable XRF spectrometers and their ability to undertake accurate, non-destructive compositional analyses (Lankton et al., 2016; Liu et al., 2012), museum curators and collectors should be much less loath to have their specimens tested. The Nubian face beads, while weathered to some extent, have mainly non-devitrified surfaces, so they should not skew results of XRF testing. If glass samples of the eyes/nose block, matrix of the face, their hair striations, hot-layered hair and surrounds were tested, as well as the matrices surrounding the cane slices, there should be enough information to compare with the compositional glass databases now being gathered (Henderson 2013; Lankton and Dussubieux 2006). If face beads from other known sites were also tested, the results would offer more for comparison. Large and varying differences in glass of the face canes versus their surrounds could suggest local production of the beads, with the mosaic canes as an import. 

GREEN BARREL BEAD WITH TWO FACES, found in Nubia; faces appear to be a version of Gorgon, but not seen before. Brown glass may denote hair. The face cane shown is battered and of very white glass. This bead (21.12473.4) was found with the eyebeads with gold foil or bands on the last page. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

      The face beads excavated by Reisner could have been imported by the Nubians from Roman Egypt, since there was extensive trade, including luxury items like glass, between gold and agricultural product rich Nubia and Egypt (Markowitz and Doxey 2014b; O’Connor 1993: 89). Our study of these Nubian face beads presented a compelling case for the supposition that all forms of facial images for early face beads were all derived from a Gorgon cane, adapted by beadmakers into Medusa and numerous other variations.

This past October, both Tom Holland and I were going to be in Boston, so I requested permission from Denise Doxey (one of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Egyptian Curators) if we could study the Nubian glass finds, which included those seen previously as photographs and a few others mentioned in excavation reports. Sage and Tom Holland are among the few American glass artists who have replicated ancient glass beads (2003), so I was grateful to have his experienced eye in directly examining these face beads. Since we were not at the museum long, further shortened by an emergency evacuation, I sent a set of my photographs to Sage and Tom so they could analyze them further. Tom’s first observation was that all the Nubian tabular face beads were slices from a whole cane and not face canes marvered onto a bead. Like most tabular face beads, these were therefore not made on a mandrel but were a nipped slice of a cane, reheated for working into a more uniform shape, then hot-pierced, often called rod-pierced. Hot-piercing with an iron rod distorts the cane, as seen in the photographs shown of both broken Nubian and non-Nubian tabular face beads. Interestingly, while the interior glass is distorted, the surface face cane images themselves do not show this effect. In this type of piercing procedure, the glass is hot, while the iron rod is cold. In contemporary glassworking, a red-hot tungsten rod is used to pierce cold glass, the complete opposite of the ancient process.

When we examined the tabular Nubian face beads, both intact and fragmentary, on the surface of almost all Nubian-found tabular face beads, while very well preserved, there was deteriorated white, mottled glass surrounding the face canes, also noted by Reisner in his field sketches. Using macro photography and flash at the right angle, it become apparent that this is merely extensive cracking, crazing or crackling of the glass surrounding the face cane, indicating great incompatibility with the opaque murrine face cane glass. On some, there were also fractures (very apparent with transillumination), both in the glass and on the surface, as well as many pits on the glass surface. Not all tabular Nubian face beads displayed these additional features, nor did other non-Nubian tabular face beads with similar transparent green glass surrounds. The crazed glass appears to be a translucent brown glass, seen in a few examples that had not crazed too badly (page 39). The cracked glass framed the face cane to provide support for the facial components, to prevent surface tension from distorting these features when the mosaic cane was being hotworked. This type of incompatibility was never seen on any other extant tabular early Roman face beads. 

UNUSUALLY LARGE PLAQUES OR FACE CANES OF GORGON AND MEDUSA, respectively F1909.491, 2.2 cm diameter and F1909.511, 1.6 cm high, neither perforated but ground flat on both sides. Too big for face beads, these are probably extremely rare slices of canes before they were heated and pulled or reduced in diameter to sizes suitable for use in face beads. These are the only such face canes I have seen since I began to research mosaic face canes in 1974. The Medusa slice is notable for the very luxuriant hair and having what appears to be two necklaces, one a mosaic bar. Slices of face canes were struck, clipped, snapped or chipped from a composite mosaic bar (Stern and Schlick-Nolte 1994: 62).
THREE FULL-FACE MOSAIC SLICES REPRESENTING COURTESANS, 2.2 cm high, show the same cane, but flipped; two are ground flat, one shows the conchoidal fractures as a consequence of being broken from a composite bar. Interestingly, these faces are not white, but almost flesh-colored. Both the Freer Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art own identical slices, which are somewhat too small and simple for theater masks, but too large for face beads. In addition, such imagery of courtesans was never used for any face beads. Photographs were previously published in Liu (2008b), courtesy of the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Gift of Charles Lang Freer; and Liu (2008a), shows additional tabular face beads and mosaic face inlay, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      Three other face beads from Nubia represented a round green classic Gorgon tabular bead, much degenerated so it was not possible to determine the original color of the face cane; a spherical bead with two faces of Medusa, with cane slices almost matching the green glass of the bead matrix. Rarely are face canes just marvered onto a matrix without different squares of color filling the intervening spaces, or of the face cane not being of a contrasting color to the matrix of the bead. The last was a green barrel bead with two somewhat battered and atypical faces of Gorgon (page 37); this face and that of Medusa were white, unlike the other flesh-toned Nubian tabular beads, and lack cracking/crazing of their glass, although they do show damage from burial. Thus, we strongly believe these three face beads were imports.

While Nubians certainly had skills working silicates such as faience and enameling, there is no evidence of glassworking (Markowitz and Doxey 2014b), although Lacovara (1998) comments on the importance of the Merotic glass industry. The approximately 35 intact, broken and fragmentary tabular face beads excavated from Meroë (W308 number 27, accession numbers 23.830a, b and c, Dunham 1963) show unique features: rhomboid or lozenge shape, versus round or square for all other extant tabular face beads; both Gorgon and Medusa images derived from Gorgon canes, without addition of overlaid hair on Medusa; flesh-colored face and body, versus white for other extant tabular beads; extreme incompatibility between the glass of the face canes and overlaid or surrounding glass, manifested in cracking, crazing and crackling of the glass surface. Despite all these dramatic differences, we cannot conclude whether these Merotic finds are locally altered or are imports. Whether locally adapted or imported from Roman Egypt, all the tabular Nubian beads are the product of the same workshop or beadmaker, and are unique in the totality of early Roman face beads. The other three face beads that were not found in W308 are most likely imports. Perhaps careful compositional testing will provide an answer to the origin and makers of this tantalizing group of Nubian tabular face beads.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Robert K. Liu thanks Denise M. Doxey, Yvonne J. Markowitz, Amelia Kantrovitz, and Carolyn Cruthirds of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for providing both the photographs of the Nubian glass beads, for answering my numerous questions on their attribution, as well as permission to study, photograph and publish the Nubian material. He also thanks Jamey D. Allen for the yellow face bead image of Medusa and prior discussions on Roman mosaic face beads. 

 

NUBIAN TABULAR FACE BEADS where glass around face cane has not entirely crazed, showing its original translucent brown glass color; one can clearly see that it is not meant to be hair, but merely frames the face cane. When making a cane, the background glass of any subject is a necessary support that prevents distortion from surface tension when the mosaic cane is being hotworked.
GLASS EYE BEADS WITH STRATIFIED EYES AND APPLIED GOLD BANDS, recovered from a royal burial in the Northern Cemetery at Meroë, 1.8 cm diameter (Dunham 1957). Dating from the early second century A.D., these eye beads are the only ones known in the ancient world to have applied gold bands on their surface (pers. comm. 10/31/2014 D. Doxey), although other composite and glass beads also had gold applied (Liu 2014: 41). Note the two parallel grooves on the left-hand bead, due to gold foil or sheet having fallen off. Due to the higher melting temperature of gold than glass, it will sink into the glass, causing such grooves that have been misinterpreted as ground into the glass to accommodate the gold bands. Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition. Photograph courtesy of and © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, previously published in Liu 2014: 41.
PHOTOGRAPHIC SETUP FOR NUBIAN GLASS BEADS of hand-held Canon 6D, 100mm macro lens, coupled to Canon 580EX flash with plastic diffuser, on Leitz tablepod/ballhead, as primary camera. 100mm lens was coupled to Kenko 12mm extension tube to further increase magnification. Liu also used hand-held Canon 7D, 60mm macro lens with high ISO and no flash.

 

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Henderson, J. 2013 Ancient Glass. An Interdisciplinary Exploration. Cambridge University Press: 433 p. 
Holland, S. and T. Holland. 2003 Master Class: Warring States Beads. Ornament 27(1): 46-51.
Karlin, E. Z. 2007 The historic use of the medusa image in jewelry and the decorative arts. Presented at the Second Annual Fall Jewelry Conference at FIT: A place in time: Jewelry within the context of the decorative arts. October 6, 2007, New York City.
Lankton, J.W. and M. Bernbaum. 2007 An Archaeological Approach to Understanding the Meaning of Beads Using the Example of Korean National Treasure 634, a Bead from a 5th/6th Century Royal Sila Tomb. Beads 19: 32-41.
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O’Connor, D. 1993 Ancient Nubia. Egypt’s Rival in Africa. The University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania: 178 p. 
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Sode, T. 2004 The Glass Bead Material. In: Ribe Excavations 1970-76, Vol.5, edited by M. Bencard and H. Brinch Madsen. Jutland Archaeological Society, Hojbjerg, Denmark: 83-102. 
Spaer, M. 2001 Ancient glass in the Israel Museum. Beads and other small objects. Jerusalem, Israel Museum: 384 p., 2 maps.
Stern, E. M. 2001 Roman, Byzantine, and Early Medieval Glass. 10 BCE-700 CE. Ernesto Wolf Collection. Ostfildern-Ruit, Verlag Gerd Hatje: 427 p.
—and B. Schlick-Nolte. 1994 Early glass of the ancient world. 1600 B.C.-A.D. 50. Ernesto Wolf Collection. Ostfildern, Verlag Gerd Hatje: 450 p. 
Stout, A. M. 1985 Mosaic glass face beads: Their significance in northern Europe during the Later Roman Empire. Vols. I, II. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota: 359 p.
1986 The archaeological context of Late Roman Period mosaic glass face beads. Ornament 9 (4): 58-61, 76-77.
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      Get Inspired!

 
 

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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 revisits the unique early Roman mosaic face beads found in Nubia, and enlists the help of glass bead experts and replicators of ancient glass, Sage and Tom Holland.

Aileen Ribeiro Volume 40.2

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HABIT DE PEINTRE by Jean Lepautre, Jean Berain, Jacques Lepautre, French, of handcolored engraving on paper, circa 1682. Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Clothing Art: The Visual Culture of Fashion, 1600-1914 is the latest—and possibly last—book from fashion historian Aileen Ribeiro, author of seminal studies such as Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe; Dress and Morality; Fashion in the French Revolution; Ingres in Fashion; The Art of Dress; Fashion and Fiction: Dress in Art and Literature in Stuart England; and Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art.

      Published by Yale University Press, ambitious in size and scope, clocking in at five hundred seventy-two pages, Clothing Art unleashes the full range of Ribeiro’s powers as an interpreter of art and dress, offering new insights into her areas of established expertise as well as deep dives into new scholarly territory, such as the Dutch Golden Age, the Venetian Carnival and fin-de-siècle Japonism.

The book’s broad temporal and geographical reach allows Ribeiro to make illuminating connections that would be impossible in a more focused study, as she draws parallels between the Black Prince and the Romantic dandy, between Jacques-Louis David and Arthur Lasenby Liberty. It also makes room for hundreds of sumptuous images, including many that will be new to even seasoned students of fashion history. 

Ribeiro pays close attention to items of clothing stashed in the backgrounds and margins of these artworks, which are often overlooked or considered to be mere props. She gets inside the minds of artists, examining how they coped with the physical distortions caused by corsets and crinolines. William Hogarth, the eighteenth-century artist who figures prominently in the book, wrote in his book Analysis of Beauty that dress “is so copious a Topick, it would afford sufficient matter for a Large Volume of itself.” Clothing Art proves his point. 

MARCHESA BRIGIDA SPINOLA DORIA by Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish, of oil on canvas, 1606. Samuel H. Kress Collection. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

      The rise of fashion history as a discipline began with artists, who sought to give their historical paintings authenticity, often by using period garments as props or recreating them in their studios. Ribeiro points to the intense thought and debate artists have historically devoted to fashion, and the ways it has informed their work. Society painters like Franz Xaver Winterhalter and Alfred Stevens—often dismissed as “etoffistes”—were sensitive to not just the surfaces but the social nuances of clothing. The Pre-Raphaelites and the artists of the Wiener Werkstätte designed clothes that embodied their artistic philosophies; painter Mary Cassatt wore Paquin. For twentieth-century artists, fashion functioned as both signifier and scourge of “modernity.”

Bridging the still-wide gap between art historians and fashion historians, Ribeiro admonishes fashion historians to “never lose sight of the fact that works of art are works of art first and not just repositories of fashion references,” encouraging an art historical approach rather than indiscriminate cherry-picking of images. “As for art historians,” she adds, “who are sometimes too prone to think that, since we all wear clothes, they can easily understand them in art and interpret them accordingly, it has to be said that clothes in the past are nothing like the ones of today and cannot relate to them in any meaningful way.” But she cautions both groups that “every visual and textual description in the end relates to real clothes”—many examples of which are illustrated and analyzed in the text.

Ribeiro retired from her post as Professor of History of Dress at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art in 2009, but continues to be in demand as an author, speaker and consultant. She recently worked on an exhibition of portraits from the late 1880s to 1945 that coincided with London Fashion Week in September. She spoke with Ornament about her new book, the culmination of her long career of scholarship.

THE EMPRESS EUGÉNIE by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, German, of oil on canvas, 1854. Mr. and Mrs. Claus von Bülow Gift. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      How has the field of dress history changed since you published your first book, Visual History of Costume: Eighteenth Century, in 1983?

There are two answers to this. The first is that the academic standards of much (not all) writing on clothing have tightened up, partly due to the impact of theory which, when used with perception and knowledge of the history of dress, makes for a more nuanced discussion on the subject. The downside of this is when writers on dress, particularly those working on twentieth and twenty-first century fashion, use theory without understanding, resulting in misleading and garbled work. 

The second is that periods before the twentieth century are no longer studied to the extent they should be, which limits the possibilities of historic clothing as an essential element of discourse in the humanities.

How has its relationship with art history changed? Have art historians fully embraced the importance of fashion history, and have fashion historians risen to the challenge of becoming art historians?

The abandonment of the earlier periods in the study of the history of dress has led to art historians entering the field, realizing the importance of dress and textiles to their work. 

I’m pleased that this is so, especially when they have knowledge of the subjects they write on—or feel free to ask relevant specialists for help—but sometimes this isn’t the case and errors, along with unscholarly work, are the result. On the other hand, when it comes to dress historians, they often seem frightened of art historical sources, unsure of how to make use of them in their work. Only when the history of dress is taught more widely—and more professionally—in art history departments at the university level might the situation be improved to the benefit of both sides.

HOMME DE QUALITE EN HABIT D’ÊPÉE by Nicolas Arnoult, French, of handcolored engraving on paper, 1683-1688. Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

      Can you describe your research process? 

The research process begins with an idea, a concept, which requires quite a lot of work before a synopsis can be written. This doesn’t always mean I strictly follow the synopsis; thoughts and ideas change as part of the research process. But it provides a kind of template. Then comes a great deal of research into texts and images, the latter especially so with regard to Clothing Art. I like to collect all the information before writing as I need to see the book as a whole, as a unit.

Did you know this book was going to be five-hundred-plus pages when you began writing it? 

No, I didn’t. But about halfway through writing the book, I realized that I’d been over-ambitious in the scale of my project and thus needed many more words, and lots more images.  My wonderful editor Gillian Malpass [to whom the book is dedicated] agreed to an extended volume but was slightly taken aback at the length when I handed it in! As ever, she took it in her stride and produced a beautiful book, for which I’m most grateful.

In the book you discuss the “emotional aspects of clothes.” How does one research that elusive subject?

With difficulty! It’s still a somewhat nebulous notion in my mind, partly to do with the emotional charge of a great painting; Alfred Stevens referred to painting as “nature seen through the prism of an emotion.” To the historian of dress, things are important as ideas are, and surely emotions can reside in clothes and accessories. Lionel Trilling put it well when he talked of the “strong emotion about the life in objects, the shapes that people make and admire.” I’ve been thinking about the Five Senses recently—the subject for my keynote paper at the most recent Costume Society conference—and posit a sixth sense when looking at art, which might encompass ideas of love, understanding, memory, and so on. 

 

SELF-PORTRAIT by Judith Leyster, Dutch, of oil on canvas, circa 1630. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

 

      You studied under the late Stella Mary Newton, the pioneering dress historian who founded the graduate program in History of Dress at the Courtauld Institute, and eventually replaced her when she retired. How did she shape your approach to the subject? 

What seems so obvious now—that artists depict the clothes they see around them and that paintings can be dated by the clothing depicted in them—was Stella’s great and innovative contribution to the history of dress. This wasn’t surprising, as she had been married to an artist and art critic and spent many years at the National Gallery in London analyzing dress in art, identifying the clothing and textiles, and suggesting dates to undated works of art. To me, having studied history as my undergraduate degree with a focus on political events, it was a revelation to look at painting, to be totally immersed in it and how clothing made up such an important aspect of it. This approach inspired me to examine dress in art, what relations there were between truth and imagination, what meanings clothes might have, and so on.

MADEMOISELLE SICOT by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, of oil on canvas, 1865. Chester Dale Collection. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

      What was it like stepping into her shoes at the Courtauld?

As one might expect, it was somewhat intimidating. Although I was determined to follow her approach linking art and dress, I wanted to follow my own way, and to create my own style of writing. For this reason, I never asked myself: “What would Stella do?” Although I thought it was important for students to know about the history of dress from classical antiquity onwards, I was never enthused by medieval or Renaissance clothing, which was Stella’s forte, and I positively refused to teach the study of regional or folk costume.

In this wide-ranging study, were you consciously trying not to repeat yourself? There are significant investigations into periods and subjects not covered in your previous books. Are these new areas of interest or long-term projects that haven’t appeared in print before?

I didn’t want to write a survey of the history of dress—too old-fashioned an idea. So the answer was a general introduction, a chapter on portraiture and then a series of case studies in periods with which I was familiar—the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—and to write considerably larger chapters on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For the last fifteen or so years, I have been involved in a number of exhibitions of nineteenth-century art—most recently Renoir at the Phillips Collection in Washington—and this has become a source of great interest and pleasure.

Do you have a favorite period or artist?

Tastes change. A few years ago, if you’d asked me this question, I would have said the eighteenth century, and possibly Jean-Etienne Liotard, not just his sumptuous portraits but the wonderful Levant paintings. And I still love Goya very much. But my favorite period now is the second half of the nineteenth century; it contains many of my favorite artists such as Manet, Whistler, Vuillard, and Lavery. In terms of a favorite period in fashion, I think I would go for the 1870s, which seems to me elegant and graceful, not too extreme like the crinolined 1860s or the harsh lines of the 1880s, with the square bustle.

PENELOPE by Charles-François Marchal, French, of oil on canvas, circa 1868. Gift of Mrs. Adolf Obrig. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      You caution that “it is through familiarity with surviving historical garments that we begin to understand what the artist aims to do in depicting clothes in his or her work.” Obviously, this becomes difficult with the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, from which relatively few garments survive. Even from later periods, surviving garments may be inaccessible to researchers for a variety of reasons. Do you have any advice for scholars on how to get around those obstacles?

Of course, the historian of dress needs to examine extant clothing where this is possible or desirable, but in periods before the late sixteenth century there are few surviving garments. Even in later periods, clothing in museums is often limited to garments worn by the elite, high fashion, ceremonial robes, and so on. The only advice I can give (and it may sound rather odd) is for the scholar to learn about the physicality of clothing by learning how to sew—not necessarily dressmaking skills, but an ability to note how clothing is constructed and to see how clothes work on the body. While extant clothes are limited in number, far more early textiles survive in museum collections, and a study of these, allied to contemporary documents such as inventories, and close examination of works of art, should help the scholar in getting to grips with early dress itself as well as working out “what the artist aims to do in depicting clothes” and how.

You point out that art historians often misapply labels like “showy” and “brazen” to dress in Victorian art, because it’s showy in comparison to what we wear today, while subtle class clues—like a top hat instead of a bowler—may be lost on modern viewers. How do we, as students and viewers of historic clothing in art, avoid projecting our own prejudices?

As creatures of our time, we cannot totally avoid projecting our prejudices; after all, critics and artists in the past did this, too. What we can do in mitigation is to familiarize ourselves with the social behavior—manners, etiquette, class, status, cultural assumptions—of the periods in which the artists we are working on lived. A knowledge of history is crucial in providing the background to any work of art.

ARRANGEMENT IN FLESH COLOUR AND BLACK: PORTRAIT OF THEODORE DURET by James McNeill Whistler, of oil on canvas, 1883. Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      Why begin the book in 1600 and end in 1914?

Clothing Art does include references to images of dress before 1600 and after 1914, but I decided to concentrate on the Early Modern period, a vast span of years in itself! From the seventeenth century, artists seemed to be engaged in a greater variety of ways to depict clothes, including a growing sense of how dress could depict the past. From the late eighteenth century, I sense artists thinking at a deeper level than before about the ideas behind clothing, a process intensified throughout the nineteenth century. Why 1914? This isn’t easy to answer; a case could have been made for continuing up to the outbreak of the Second World War, and possibly to the mid-twentieth century. I think I felt 1914 was a symbolic date, the beginning of the “war to end all wars,” after which a very different society emerged, and radically new forms of art were on the horizon.

Artists have historically concluded that dress could be “artistic” but not “art.” Do you agree? In the book, you conclude that “art and clothing can be seen as indissolubly linked and yet at the same time separate entities, and this is how we should appreciate them.”

I certainly stand by my statement here. I’m not yet convinced that fashion—being so intimately linked to the body—can be art. But of course jewelry is art, or can be, and there may be a case for thinking that a suit of Renaissance armor—which, after all, is metal clothing—is art. It did cost more than, say, a portrait by Titian of the man who wore the armor. 

Do you consider yourself an art historian or a dress historian, or both? 

Both. The work I do, whether writing or lecturing, relies on being both. When I began my career, I thought of myself as a dress historian, but gradually I came to wear two caps, one as a dress historian, the other as an art historian. I suppose I’ve become more attracted to art than extant clothing, although I can appreciate the skill of a dress by Worth or Poiret, and there’s a frisson when I see garments with a historical resonance such as Lord Byron’s famous Albanian costume, which I discuss in Clothing Art, and was lucky enough to examine.

LA PROMENADE by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, of oil on canvas, 1870. Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

 

SUGGESTED READING
Ribeiro, Aileen
. Clothing Art: The Visual Culture of Fashion, 1600-1914. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017.
—. Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011.
—. Fashion and Fiction: Dress in Art and Literature in Stuart England. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005.
—. Dress and Morality. London and New York: Berg, 2003.
—. Ingres in Fashion: Representations of Dress and Appearance in Ingres’s Images of Women. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999.
—. The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France, 1750-1820. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995.
—. Fashion in the French Revolution. New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1988.
—. Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe, 1715-1789. New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1985.
Chrisman-Campbell, Kimberly. Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015.

 

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Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles. 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, published by Yale University Press. For this issue, she interviewed her former mentor, Aileen Ribeiro, who recently retired as Professor of History of Dress at the Courtauld Institute of Art, in London. Chrisman-Campbell’s probing questions delved into the tensions inherent between fields, issues of academic research and the boundaries between art and fashion.

Genevieve Yang Volume 40.2

 
Meaning is an evanescent construct, and the desire to imbue meaning into her work lies at the core of Yang’s art. Her approach to cultivating an emotional narrative marries careful attention with the freeflowing aspect of imagination. Each piece is minimalistic and refined, titrated down to its essentials.

DESCHUTES PICTURE JASPER BROOCH of Deschutes picture jasper, sterling silver, champagne diamonds, 4.5 x 5.7 x 0.6 centimeters, 2017. Jewelry photographs by Hap Sakwa. DEATH VALLEY VIEW. Photograph by Abby Kihano. 

Genevieve Yang’s fascination with jewelry has deep roots. As a baby, she would often get up to mischief by pilfering her mother’s jewelry collection, draping it over herself like the Queen of Sheba. Even when not trying on her mother’s jewels, Yang had her own strands of bead necklaces that she would wear every day. Her partner in crime was her grandfather, George Lindberg, who not so subtly directed her interests into working with her hands. A salesman for Caterpillar who previously served in World War II as a flight instructor, Yang’s grandfather made his own jewelry and had an extensive studio and set of tools. His own work involved channel inlay of stones. From introducing her to rock collections and his studio, to making Yang her very own bench pin for her to wirewrap with, his delight in nurturing her desire to create was a fundamental force in her life. Not that Yang needed encouragement; from a very young age beading, wirewrapping and making jewelry was a passion that burned brightly.

     Yang’s future revealed itself as early as grade school. “When I was seven, they had me fill out this form that said ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and I wrote ‘Jeweler’ and my brother in his wrote, ‘Make Movies.’ Now my brother’s in the film industry. So it’s really interesting. My mom thinks that kids know when they’re at that age what they want to be.”

STAR MAP OVAL EARRINGS of oxidized sterling, pure palladium, white diamonds, 1.9 x 3.2 x 0.3 centimeters, 2017. “These ovals are set accurately to actual star maps. The constellation lines are hand-engraved which reveal one earring featuring Ursa Major and the other featuring Ursa Minor.”

Her mother, Georgia Lindberg Yang, is also an art jeweler who most recently has worked with handpainted brooches. However, she was content letting her daughter find her own way. Perhaps she knew Yang had enough of a mentor in her grandfather. Interestingly, while both artists have quite different aesthetic voices, there exists a common fondness for the portrait; of using the metal as a frame within which resides a little narrative.

Yang’s work is an exploration of storytelling by a jeweler who prizes precision in technique. Her pieces are exact, clean and well executed, with strong lines and bold shapes. Into this world of carefully wrought dimensions Yang inserts the seed of a story. 

Her star maps, a popular subject that stems from the sense of wonder the celestial lights inspire, come from hours of research. She uses a database of stars to have accurate information, and the source for a particular map often stems from a personal attachment, the emotions and feelings evoked by viewing the pattern these far away suns paint across the depths of space.

GENEVIEVE YANG breaking into her mother’s jewelry box, Palo Alto, California, 1988.

      Meaning is an evanescent construct, and the desire to imbue meaning into her work lies at the core of Yang’s art. Her approach to cultivating an emotional narrative marries careful attention with the freeflowing aspect of imagination. Each piece is minimalistic and refined, titrated down to its essentials. The vocabulary of the stones and precious metals used is architectural; the silver and gold form the foundation of a cuff, providing a strong base. Decoration comes in the form of diamonds, which in Yang’s jewelry are her way of illustrating on the surface of the metal. Channels are cut into the patinaed silver, and as the diamonds are set, a transformation occurs. The silver becomes the sky; the gold, the rolling hills. And the diamonds, jagged, split, branching in lines, have now been transmuted into lightning flashing down from the heavens.

GENEVIEVE YANG in her Santa Rosa studio, 2016. Photograph by Robert K. Liu/Ornament. GEORGIA LINDBERG YANG, 2008. GEORGE LINDBERG in his Oklahoma City studio, 1997.

      Yang admits to being a jeweler whose focus is precious stones; there is something about working with such a palette that requires restraint, planning and forethought. The expense of the materials makes mistakes costly, and do-overs difficult. Taking what exists in the mind’s eye, and transmuting it into a piece of precious jewelry, is a different task than when one utilizes nontraditional materials. There is the subtle tinge of adrenaline, the necessity of exerting a level of control over one’s self.

Yet art is about serendipity as much as it is execution of an idea. In a recent series, Yang has begun making use of picture (also called landscape) jasper to depict the deep valleys and rolling hills that make up the playful interpolation of background and foreground which is the earth itself. Picture jasper, as well as agate, is what happens when deposits of silt and ash seep into cavities usually found in volcanic flows. The slow, continual layering of siliceous matter builds upon itself, forming patterns that can look remarkably like a shrubbery studded landscape. Yang’s approach to these miniature miracles is utilizing them like portraits of the land, prong setting them in a silver frame studded with tiny, glittering diamonds.

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      There is a common thread tying together the lightning, the star maps and the picture jasper portraits, and it’s not just that they are Yang’s interpretations of earth and sky. There is a narrative, underpinning each piece, which is absent in commercial jewelry. This is not by accident; it is by design. There is an intention behind Yang’s work, and she wants you to know it.

The seed that fostered Yang’s love of the scenic aspects of nature stemmed from a wilderness course she took when she was eighteen years old. Her grandfather drove her out to the site, ever her greatest supporter. “It was snow camping. It was thirty below. And it was brutal,” she pronounces. “That’s when I came up with the whole concept for doing the Phases of the Moon, which I’ve done, and now expanded on.” The evolution of this theme has taken place slowly over time, stretching out like the burgeoning branches of a sapling transforming itself into a mighty oak. From such an intimate encounter with the wild, the night sky, the stars, and the planet’s horizon, Yang found enough sensorial material to last a lifetime.

MOON RING of oxidized sterling silver, star quartz, white diamonds, black diamonds, 4.4 x 2.5 x 2.5 centimeters, 2010. 

      Transmuting those experiences into a physical form took time. Although her grandfather had taught her basic metalsmithing techniques, including soldering, Yang recognized she wanted professional instruction to broaden her foundation. She knew that she wanted to learn how to make technically precise jewelry; alternative material art jewelry was not the direction she wanted to travel. Yang heard about Revere Academy, founded by master metalsmith Alan Revere in San Francisco, and after taking a tour decided that this was what she had been looking for. She enrolled in the school’s Graduate Jeweler program, and after graduating was ready to take on the world. Her first six pieces of jewelry were submitted to the jury of the American Craft Council Baltimore show, and she was accepted.

Shows are a glamorous affair for Yang, where she can dress her best and be surrounded by beautiful worksmanship and incredible craft. She has also made many friends along the way, all of whom have helped her to become a better craftsperson and saleswoman.

Jaclyn Davidson was one of those mentors on the craft show circuit. “ ‘You are going about this all wrong. You are going to exhaust yourself. You need to save your energy for the people that really care,’ she told me. And I was like, ‘Okay.’ ” That revelation made a big impression on Yang, who prior to the established jeweler’s critique believed every visitor to her booth had to be greeted, that each person required the same amount of attention. Davidson’s advice drove home the need to be discerning with her potential customers.

Precious jewelry is not a field which many young people break into, particularly in the craft shows, and Yang was very young when she first got into that ACC show. Thomas Turner, a jeweler who often attended alongside Yang, recently recollected those early shows, reminiscing that, “You looked like a baby, when you showed up here.” She gives a lot of credit to Judith Kinghorn and Devta Doolan for being supportive of her work, in providing a constructive atmosphere that helped her feel safe and welcome.

Yang’s earliest jewelry was abstract shapes; still minimal, and hollow, which has continued to be a motif in her oeuvre. Eventually, she worked up the courage to take her big creative leap, which resulted in her first moon piece. “I sit on ideas forever,” Yang explains, laughing. Gestating, developing, turning it over and over in her mind, that piece, which would eventually become her Phases of the Moon necklace, was a concept that somehow needed to be brought forth.

PHASES OF THE MOON NECKLACE of sterling silver, twenty-two karat gold, 47.0 x 2.5 x 0.6 centimeters, 2009.

      “Sometimes I have these moments, for example, on my wilderness course, where I felt this certain way, and I thought ‘I want to capture that feeling in this piece.’ When there’s this extra layer of meaning, something that speaks to me, trying to capture this feeling that I had, I can see it come out in the piece. I’m not drawn so much to the outdoors where people say, ‘I love leaves and seedpods’ and that kind of thing; for me it’s more the landscape. This vast view, and the feeling it gives you, and trying to funnel it into my work.”

DAY LANDSCAPE CUFF of sterling silver, eighteen karat yellow gold, citrine, natural colored diamonds, 6.4 x 3.8 x 4.4 centimeters, 2013. “This is one of my favorite cuff designs which I designed and made when inspired by all things day and night.”

      In the last few years Yang and her family have suffered two tragedies, the first was the loss of her father, and then, her sister. Each passed away within three months of each other. When those whose lives are interwoven with our own are pulled away from us, an attempt is made to make sense of the nonsensical. Yang’s own journey since then has been of reclaiming herself and finding a new path forward.

Since then she has moved to a new house in Mill Valley with her husband, to which she’s relocated her studio (formerly in her mother’s home). As of last year she applied to the Mill Valley Arts Festival for the first time, wanting to test how her work would sell in her local community. She had an unexpectedly enthusiastic response to the jewelry, with a greater number of postcards finding their way into the hands of potential clients. 

“Saleswise it was good, not the best, but could have been a lot worse. I suspect that I will likely have a couple people reach out once they have some time to process my work,” she remarks contemplatively.

In her own way, Yang comes from a jewelry tradition that is similar in spirit to the multigenerational craft lineages of Native American families. The wonderful peculiarity of George Lindberg and Yang’s connection is that there was only one child in the family who received tutelage in continuing the crafting tradition. What Lindberg recognized in his granddaughter was an understanding of why jewelry is so important—it is not simply a way of earning a living. For all three jewelers, grandfather, mother and daughter, making jewelry is a form of expressing the contents of the heart.

DAY/NIGHT EARRINGS WITH CLOUDS of oxidized sterling, fine silver, eighteen karat yellow gold, pure palladium, keshi pearls, citrine, natural diamonds, rainbow moonstone, white diamonds, 2.5 x 8.0 x 2.2 centimeters, 2017. “The Day Earring features keshi pearls for clouds which are prong set over a gold landscape. The citrine sun shines above with natural diamond rays. The Night Earring features white diamonds set accurate to an actual star map with hand-engraved constellation lines.”

Jewelry’s physical perfection can hide from the casual observer the amount of effort required—the daily foibles and the dirty work that lies behind the magic curtain. At their best, a jewelry artist succeeds in communicating that depth. Looking at her carefully wrought Day/Night Earrings with Clouds, with precision-set diamonds surrounding a rainbow moonstone and tiny stones emulating the sun’s rays radiating from a bold citrine, one could hardly imagine that its maker wears sweatpants and Uggs while in her studio. However, it only takes a willingness to examine an object closely to see how Yang’s jewelry is the result of intense effort.

Once one gets past the surface, and begins to question how the object came to be, answers arrive. How were these lines that connect diamond stars made? Even without an extensive background in jewelry, one can tell that they had to be cut into the surface of the metal. How were these diamonds set, to appear as if they are intrinsically part of a piece? Once you look closely, the divots must have been made to place each diamond, which then had the metal crimped to lock each precious stone in place.

Yang has worked all her life to be able to make miniature pieces that look like they were effortless, a complete creation. Each one, which can fit into the palm of your hand, has a great deal more history than greets the eye at first glance. If, with deeper inspection, you find the phases of the moon; the rolling hills of your home state; a sun shining brightly above the mountains; or perhaps, something which relates to a very personal memory, you will have found what Yang is striving for. Make sure to tell her that; she will be glad to know.

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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. On a visit to San Francisco for his uncle’s eightieth birthday, he had the pleasure of visiting Genevieve Yang and her mother, Georgia, in Santa Rosa. In her jewelry studio they discussed Yang’s work, background and inspirations. Yang’s responses ranged far and wide, from childhood to her most recent shows, and despite an interlude when the gardener’s lawnmowing provided a noisy backdrop to the conversation, Benesh-Liu came out with greater insight and appreciation into her career.

Beads: A Universe of Meaning Volume 40.2

MAN’S MOCCASINS by Iowa artist, 64.5 x 32.3 centimeters, circa 1875. Private collection. Photographs by Neebinnaukzhik Southall (Ojibway), courtesy of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian except where noted. GAUNTLETS by Plateau artist, 35.6 x 22.9 centimeters, circa 1940. Private collection. MOENNITARRI WARRIOR IN THE COSTUME OF THE DOG DANSE by Karl Bodmer (1809-1893), circa 1840.

MAN’S MOCCASINS by Iowa artist, 64.5 x 32.3 centimeters, circa 1875. Private collection. Photographs by Neebinnaukzhik Southall (Ojibway), courtesy of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian except where noted. GAUNTLETS by Plateau artist, 35.6 x 22.9 centimeters, circa 1940. Private collection. MOENNITARRI WARRIOR IN THE COSTUME OF THE DOG DANSE by Karl Bodmer (1809-1893), circa 1840.

"Beads: A Universe of Meaning,” currently on exhibit at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, explores the diversity of Native American beadwork traditions practiced throughout the United States. Almost since their introduction to the New World at the end of the fifteenth century, glass beads have been used by Native artists to convey ideas about tribal, community and personal identity; wealth and status; beauty and spirituality; as well as about popular culture, resistance and relationships. Featuring more than seventy pieces dating from circa 1800 to the present, the exhibition presents beadwork as a fundamental medium of artistic, cultural and personal expression.

BAG DEPICTING A WHITE-TAILED DEER by Sandra Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone-Bannock), 2011. Private collection. 

      The first piece encountered in the gallery is an early nineteenth-century man’s outfit, consisting of a painted  hide shirt and leggings embroidered with porcupine quills and beads. The leggings resemble those worn by Perishka-Ruhpa in Karl Bodmer’s portrait, Moennitarri Warrior, In the Costume of the Dog Danse, painted in about 1840. The quillwork strips that line the shoulders of the shirt and the outer edges of the leggings are trimmed with the type of large blue beads that early traders and explorers first brought into Native communities after about 1670, with the opening of the North American fur trade. In exchange for beaver pelts, which were highly valued in Europe as a material for felted fur hats, French entrepreneurs provided their Native American trading partners a variety of European-made items. Metal tools and cookware, cloth, ribbon, and thimbles were welcomed and readily incorporated into Native life. But glass trade beads, whose lustrous colors evoked natural materials—crystal, shell, copper, and stone—that already held profound cultural and spiritual meaning, resonated in a way that other goods did not. Beads fit easily into existing ideas about ornamentation and design, and they required no preparation. As they became available, women increasingly combined them with traditional embroidery materials, such as bird or porcupine quills, to decorate clothing, bags, cradleboards, and dwellings, thus enhancing their families’ material and spiritual standing within their communities. They also brought honor to themselves: a woman’s artistic contributions in the form of beadwork and quillwork demonstrated her virtue, and was valued to the degree that women’s craft societies were equal in status to men’s military societies. Women who showed artistic promise were subjected to rigorous tests of skill, accompanied by extensive ceremonial initiation, feasting and recognition that involved the entire community.

MÉTIS CREE COAT, 76.2 x 71.1 centimeters, circa 1900. Although the cut of this coat suggests that it was made during the late nineteenth century, it is possible that the beadwork is earlier and has been repurposed from another garment. Private collection. Photograph by Ornament.

      A significant portion of the exhibition is devoted to beadwork traditions of the Pacific Northwest. By the early nineteenth century, Native trade networks had carried European and Chinese glass beads to indigenous people living in the Columbia River Plateau—the area comprising interior Oregon, Washington and western Idaho. The first migrant trains carrying Euro-American settlers began to arrive during the 1830s, after a wagon trail had been cleared from Independence, Missouri, to Fort Hall, Idaho. By the 1850s newcomers flooded into the territory, converting open land into farms and towns and compromising sites where Plateau women customarily gathered basketry materials and edible plants. After 1855 Plateau people were increasingly confined to reservations, and the annual cycle of foraging and hunting became more difficult to maintain. As women spent less time gathering, processing and preparing basketry fibers and traditional foods, they turned their attention to beadwork, developing a unique tradition that, then as now, encouraged innovative and individualistic design. Floral patterns, inspired by imagery on commercially printed cotton cloth, transfer-ware ceramics and other products traded from or seen in the possession of white newcomers, began to appear by the 1870s. Horses were the subjects of the first pictorial designs, reflecting local equestrian traditions that date to the 1700s. These were followed by depictions of other animals, birds, fish, and people. During the twentieth century Plateau artists enthusiastically embraced images drawn from popular culture, ranging from glamorous “flappers” to Nipper, the RCA Victor dog. 

VEST by Plateau artist, 50.8 x 40.6 centimeters, circa 1900. The beads have been sewn onto commercial cotton fabric. Private collection. Photograph by Ornament.

 

 

In 1910 a group of Oregon businessmen organized the Pendleton Round-Up—a celebration of the town’s frontier heritage that featured horse racing and riding competitions. Modeled after popular entertainments such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the success of the event depended upon the participation of Native American performers and demonstrators, who attended annually. In 1916 at the age of fifty-three, Nez Perce rodeo rider Jackson Sundown won the “all around” bronc riding competition, beating men half his age and securing his place as a legend of the sport. His victory roused tremendous enthusiasm among Plateau people. 

As other rodeos and round-ups followed, they not only became opportunities for Native people to gather and compete for prizes, they also inspired lavish displays of beaded clothing, accessories and horse gear. A horse collar beaded with bright orange flowers, made by Irene Onepennee during the 1950s, and a circa 1930 flat bag with the image of a bronc rider emblazoned against a bright blue sky, attest to the importance of these events and to Sundown’s continued popularity.

The mounting of an exhibition such as this one, in which the qualities of the featured pieces include fragility, weight and a range of ages and techniques, presents challenges that require a high level of skill and craftsmanship on the part of museum technicians, as well as on that of the artists. This is especially true in an institution the size of the Wheelwright, where staffing is limited and budget is always a challenge. For most installations (including this one), we rely on the expertise of a team of contractors: exhibitions designer Louis Emmanuel Gauci of Knoxville, Tennessee; lighting designer Todd Elmer of Santa Fe, New Mexico; and preparator Jack Townes of Estacada, Oregon. For this exhibition, Jack was assisted by artist and volunteer Cathy Short (Citizen Potowatomi) of Santa Fe.

 

WOMAN’S BEADED YOKE by Plateau artist, 132.1 x 101.6 centimeters, circa 1950. Detail shows the lovely beaded flowers enhancing the yoke. Private Collection. Photographs by Ornament.

      Normally the Wheelwright’s fifteen-hundred-square-foot changing exhibitions gallery is gutted and redesigned for each new project. For “Beads,” time and budget prevented us from building new casework from scratch, and we were challenged to adapt both storyline and object placement to a pre-existing design. We decided to place the shirt and leggings in a tall, narrow case at the entrance to the exhibition because they represent the beginning of our story. Their age and condition meant that they could not be displayed on a mannequin; instead they required the full support of a padded slantboard.

Using cotton fabric and polyester batting, Jack and Cathy designed padded inserts for each part of the outfit. Powerful magnets encased in tyvek pouches hold the shirt and leggings, with their inserts, on to a slanted panel of medium-density fiberboard upholstered with batting and polyester fleece. The result is that the outfit is fully, but invisibly, supported. Magnets are similarly used to mount bags, pouches, beaded cuffs, and other pieces throughout the exhibition. They safely bear the weight of fragile objects, and spare the expense of creating individual armatures for each piece.

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During the twentieth century Plateau artists enthusiastically embraced images drawn from popular culture, ranging from glamorous “flappers” to Nipper, the RCA Victor dog.

      In an effort to emphasize that beadwork is a living (and thriving) tradition, the exhibition avoids a strict chronology, and frequently juxtaposes nineteenth-century pieces with contemporary work. A Sandra Okuma bag depicting a white-tailed deer shares a case with a nineteenth-century pouch bearing an image of a Federal eagle. Jaime Okuma’s beaded and ribbon-appliquéd coat is placed opposite a heavily beaded Plateau dress of blue wool trade cloth. A large case at the back of the gallery, devoted to beadwork made especially for children, holds a pair of circa 1870 Columbia River Plateau cradleboards with lavish floral designs, Jamie Okuma’s contemporary Baby on Board cradleboard, and Teri Greeves’s and Dennis Esquibel’s collaborative Ahday Chair. Modeled on the design of a Kiowa cradle, the chair is designed as a small throne for an ahday child. In Kiowa tradition, this favored child receives all of the best that a family can give—insurance that should the worst happen, one family member might survive. Greeves writes, “Though this practice may seem unfair to the other children within the family, I believe it has a very serious function in relationship to the fragility of life both in the past and the present. The ahday is the child that might have a greater chance of living, of surviving the brutality of genocide. The ahday becomes the beauty of life, a being to make beautiful things for, a being of hope in all that is beautiful in Kiowa life.”

KEN WILLIAMS POWWOW REGALIA, consisting of headdress, choker, vest, collar, tie, belt, shirt, breechcloth, leggings, beaded mirror bag, and Eagle tail fan that were provided by Williams’s many friends. Williams is Northern Arapaho and Seneca. Photograph by Ornament.

      To illustrate the importance of beadwork as a signifier of contemporary Native identity, the exhibition includes clothing and accessories currently in use by Wheelwright staff and associates. Arapaho/Seneca artist Ken Williams is a renowned beadworker, and also the manager of the Wheelwright’s museum store, the Case Trading Post. Ken’s knowledge of beadwork traditions and his expertise as a collector informed much of the exhibition, but museum protocol prevented us from including his work in the show. However Ken’s personal regalia—the outfit he wears for powwows and other events—is an assemblage of work by many other artists, acquired mostly as gifts from family members and friends. Ken generously agreed to lend it for the exhibition. 

While it is possible for museums to acquire specially designed mannequins made of archival materials, the cost of these is prohibitive. Instead, the Wheelwright has assembled a collection of female forms, purchased primarily at local “going-out-of-business” and garage sales. We customize these for museum use by padding them with polyester batting and Ethafoam, an inert polyethylene foam used extensively in exhibitions and to store museum objects safely.  To support Ken’s outfit we purchased an inexpensive, commercial male mannequin made of shiny white plastic. We expected to cover the mannequin with a neutral-colored knit material. But with limited choices at our local chain fabric store, and in consultation with Ken, we decided instead on a gold lamé jersey—a reference to Ken’s outgoing personality and his love of sparkling gold jewelry. Cathy Short set about creating a handstitched hood and gloves to cover plastic parts that would not be hidden by regalia.

The creation of the “Kennequin” (as it was dubbed by museum staff) was enjoyable for the exhibitions crew, but it also helped us to address ideas related to contemporary Native identity, and the continued importance of beadwork in Native American life and culture. One of the most striking components of Ken’s outfit is a feathered headdress that he received as a gift from Kiowa-Comanche elder, the late Jeri Ah-Be-Hill, Teri Greeves’s mother. When Ken received the antique Arapaho headdress it was in poor condition: the only salvageable parts were the feathers and a strip of beadwork. Ken removed these, cleaned them up, attached them to a new cap, and added decorative elements of his own—a treatment that both Greeves and Williams agree is an appropriate use of treasured antique materials. The spirit of the artist inhabits regalia, making it a living creation. Through renewal and reuse, it lives on.

REFERENCES
Berlo, Janet Catherine and Ruth Bliss Phillips. Native North American Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Grafe, Steven L. The Origins of Floral-Design Beadwork in the Southern Columbia River Plateau. PhD Dissertation. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1999.
. Beaded Brilliance: Wearable Art from the Columbia River Plateau. Oklahoma City: National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, 2006.
Penny, David W. Art of the American Indian Frontier: The Chandler-Pohrt Collection. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1992.
 

“Beads: A Universe of Meaning” is on view at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian,
Santa Fe, New Mexico, through April 15, 2018.

 

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Cheri Falkenstien-Doyle is the Marcia Docter Curator of Native American Jewelry at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe, New Mexico. As the curator of a small museum that originates all of the exhibitions it presents, she works with an exceptional team of designers, preparators, museum staff, and volunteers. Her current projects include exhibitions with printmaker Melanie Yazzie, and silversmith Norbert Peshlakai; as well as a catalog of the Jim and Lauris Phillips Collection of Native American Jewelry.

20/20 Exhibition Volume 40.2

SUZANNE AMENDOLARA: CAST STERLING SILVER ELEMENT, measuring 6.4 x 5.1 x 1.9 centimeters, for the “20/20” collaborative exhibition. Photograph by the artist.

Collaborations are a unique form of education: they bring new ideas to artwork, create a different purpose for making and force artists to take responsibility for creative decisions. As an artist making metalwork for more than three decades, I occasionally get caught in a rut or feel like my work is dated or insignificant. The problem-solving aspects of collaborative pieces help me to work through these challenges. For example, during the past several years, I have engaged in collaborations with Daniel DiCaprio, Renée Zettle-Sterling and Robert Thomas Mullen and much enjoyed how the discourse stretched my imagination. Working with elements created and handed to me by another artist to complete forces me to think in a different manner than I normally do when resolving a piece. It is also informative to see how other artists use forms that are particular to my work. Experiencing both vantage points of the collaborative process allows me to generate unfamiliar and fresh solutions in my own studio practice. In every single case, these collaborations were rich and rewarding experiences for both artists.

      Brigitte Martin, the founding editor of crafthaus, suggested that I expand and formalize my collaborations as part of an invitational exhibition project that she would co-sponsor. The works were to be shown during the Society of North American Goldsmiths Conference, at the Marion Cage Gallery, in New Orleans, from May 24 to 27, 2017 and online at the crafthaus website, crafthaus.ning.com, from September 23 to October 31, 2017. Our premise was to cast multiples of a single sterling silver element, then send one of them to each member of a group of artists with the request to complete the piece by October 15, 2016, using the shape in any way they chose. Measuring 6.4 x 5.1 x 1.9 centimeters, mine could be interpreted in numerous ways, yet still indicative of my own work, and it would be my only contribution to the show. The majority of the artists wanted to keep their piece a surprise and I saw most of them for the first time as I unwrapped their packages when they arrived to be photographed.

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      While the exhibition title was tied to our original intent of inviting twenty artists, “20/20” also inferred perfect vision or being able to see clearly. In a case of spontaneity, we kept the title even though the show went on to include twenty-one artists. Brigitte and I were concerned with seeing a broad range of solutions to our challenge and developed a list of artists who have a wide range of working styles. Entering into a collaboration, there needs to be total trust between the artists. Therefore, every artist was given complete control over their end of the project; they could forge it, cut it, solder onto it, color it, etc.

We chose artists who work in jewelry and objects in traditional ways (Tom Muir, John Rais, Todd Reed) and others who work with experimental and nontraditional materials and processes. Joshua Kosker made a series of jewelry from tangelo peels. Teresa Faris collaborates with her bird who chews wood that she then incorporates into her pieces. We invited jewelers, metalsmiths, enamelists, sculptors, and artists who work with wood and steel. Some artists, such as Alexis Spina, currently a graduate student at the University of Georgia, and Logan Woodle, an assistant professor at Coastal Carolina University, earning his MFA in 2012, are emerging in the field; while others are well-recognized and established (Andy Cooperman, Marilyn da Silva and Thomas Mann).

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      It was also exciting to see the collection of pieces with markedly different approaches. A few to mention: Joshua Kosker used humor to create a “high end” bathtub stopper with rubber and sterling; Marilyn da Silva used the casting to create one of her quintessential books; Todd Reed encrusted the surface of the casting with diamonds; Andrew Kuebeck used an enameled decal of nude males; and Kathryn Osgood used her typical natural forms found in the Outer Banks with textural enamel and pearls.

Naturally, I was also interested in seeing how the artistic handwriting of each artist would alter my work. And those hoped for influences did appear. Adrienne Grafton’s piece and the way she builds her narrative and Andy Cooperman’s forms and surfaces were those that have gone on to inspire me. In general, I learned to look at forms from every possible angle and orientation including upside down, the cross section and using partial forms or impressions of form. It was also intriguing to observe how artists used color, surface, line, and texture with a variety of materials.

Our purpose for putting together the show was to teach the artists involved, as well as the viewer, about different ways of seeing. There were no preconceived ideas of what each artist would do, just the anticipation that they would bring their own aesthetic to the project. The results were beguiling, entertaining and a testament to the power of creativity.

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Suzanne Amendolara is a metalsmith and teaches Jewelry Design/Metalsmithing at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Amendolara served as President of the Society of North American Goldsmiths from 2011-2014, and is currently on the Board of Governors at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Her metalwork has been exhibited regionally, nationally and internationally in galleries and museums, and is part of the permanent collections of The Renwick Gallery and the White House Collection of American Crafts, Washington D.C.

Nadine Kariya Volume 40.2

PEONY FAN PENDANT of cloisonné enamel, fine silver, sterling silver, pearls, and gold-filled chain, 1975. Photograph by Nadine Kariya. NADINE KARIYA IN HER STUDIO. Photograph by Kari Berger.

PEONY FAN PENDANT of cloisonné enamel, fine silver, sterling silver, pearls, and gold-filled chain, 1975. Photograph by Nadine Kariya. NADINE KARIYA IN HER STUDIO. Photograph by Kari Berger.

KINGFISHER BON VOYAGE PENDANT of carved boxwood, tin coaster, post-war Japanese porcelain fugu buttons, aquamarine, gilded wishbone, sterling silver, brass, fourteen karat gold, enameled iron, 2015. Photographs by Daniel Fox, Lumina Studio except where noted.

The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s exhibition of work by Seattle jewelrymaker Nadine Kariya is called “The Hammer and the Peony,” and the title is perfect. It evokes the idea that work—skilled, diligent, physical work—is required to create beauty. With her hammers, several of which share display cases with her jewelry, Kariya has for more than four decades used her skills as a master metalsmith to make jewelry that is astonishing for the complexity of its craftsmanship and its exquisite design.

      The show, curated and designed by Greg Robinson, the museum’s Chief Curator, includes about seventy pieces and serves as a retrospective of Kariya’s career. The exhibition is remarkable for several reasons, including that Kariya has made just about every type of jewelry you can name, from pendants and necklaces, to brooches, bracelets, rings, earrings, and cufflinks. She has made jewelry that looks tribal, such as the magnificent Dragon Stick Pearl Necklace, 2011, a regal composition of pinkish, oblong freshwater pearls and African brass beads. And she has made jewelry descended from the ateliers of European royal jewelers, such as the queenly Chalcedony Oval Ring, 2010.

Having supported herself for a couple of decades as a commercial jewelrymaker, there is not much that Kariya can not or will not design. Much of her work over the years has been commissioned, so she has often had to center jewelry around a stone or precious object given to her by a collector. Kariya obviously relishes the challenge. 

KINGFISHER CAUGHT BETWEEN MAN’S GOD AND MOTHER NATURE NECKPIECE of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, shakudo, carved boxwood, melamine and tin images, fourteen karat vintage snake, diamonds, steel cut beads, aquamarine, garnet, and braided leather cord, 2015.

      Noteworthy too is Kariya’s expertise in every technical aspect of jewelrymaking, from forging, fabrication and welding, to engraving and the alchemy involved in making cloisonné and alloys. She has also carved hardwood to create jewelry. And though metal is the basis of nearly everything she makes, Kariya has sometimes included found objects such as fossils, vintage treasures and animal bone. Her attraction to precious and semiprecious stones—often in majestic sizes—is a signature of her aesthetic.

“The Hammer and the Peony” starts with work from the early 1970s, including Voyager Brooch, 1973, the first piece Kariya sold after earning her BFA in Metal Design from the University of Washington. Made of amethyst, fine silver, sterling silver, and cloisonné enamel, the disc-shaped piece is about two inches in diameter and suggests an amethyst eye gazing into a dark sky. A fiery glow surrounds the oculus; perhaps the sun is in the background. There are white moons, or celestial bodies of some kind, below the oculus. Even in this first professional work Kariya’s talent as a colorist comes through in the brooch’s dramatic palette.

BIRTH OF ATHENA NECKLACE of sterling silver, shakudo, eighteen karat gold, negative quartz, diamond, elastic cording, 2017.

UME TV RING CONTAINER of sterling silver, cloisonné enamel, jeweled knobs, rotating antenna, 1976.

      Kariya’s skill with cloisonné is on display in other pieces from the 1970s, especially in a group of small silver boxes that could be containers for precious unguents. In Ume TV Ring Container, 1976, Kariya made a golf-ball size sterling silver television perpetually displaying a cloisonné screen of red plum blossoms, called ume in Japanese. The television knobs are small jewels. The antenna rotates. The box is charming but it is also a nod to the importance of television in 1970s culture, and a reference to Kariya’s Japanese-American heritage. Plum blossoms are a popular decorative motif in traditional Japanese art and design.

Among Kariya’s signature forms are rings and bracelets. Two large bangle bracelets made since 2000 are studies in complex alchemy and intricate surface embellishment. To make the bracelets Human Grid and Moonflower, Kariya used shakudo, an alloy of copper and gold; shibuichi, an alloy of copper and silver; and argentium®, an alloy of germanium and copper. The gold, silver and alloys create metallic palettes of surprising breadth and brilliance. In these bracelets and other pieces, Kariya uses the silver jewelry as a canvas on which to add decoration and pattern.

Until a few years ago, Kariya considered herself a maker of non-narrative jewelry. Her work had always been elegant and beautifully designed, but rarely imbued with stories or social commentary. Then in 2010 she was asked to participate in an exhibition in which each artist made work relating to a particular year from the twentieth or early twenty-first centuries. Kariya chose 2009 and made a piece about Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The piece is a suite of four brooches, each containing lines from speeches Obama made during the year. A white dove with an olive branch in its beak is the center of the suite. Obama’s words are engraved in spiraling ribbons held in a man’s hand, which emerges from the cuff of a peony-decorated sleeve. 

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      Kariya notes in her exhibition statement that the Barack Obama suite inspired her to make more narrative work. Since then she has created other ambitious narrative pieces. One is Kingfisher Caught Between Man’s God and Mother Nature, a necklace of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, alloys, carved wood, gemstones, braided leather cord, and a vintage gold snake. Prominent is the iconic image of God’s hand touching man from Michelangelo’s fresco, The Creation of Adam, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. A carved wooden kingfisher is trapped behind the giant hands, and in back of the bird is a glimpse of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. The Kingfisher is a recurring character in Kariya’s recent work, and in numerous traditional cultures the bird represents peace and prosperity. But in this large, ceremonial-looking neckpiece, the bird seems to represent humankind caught between the world we have created, with our laws and belief systems, and the natural world. In spite of its discomfiting environmental message, it is another beautiful piece. And as this thoughtful, serene exhibition demonstrates so well, beauty brings us joy, which is something we can always use more of.

SUGGESTED READING
Lorene, Karen.
Celebrating 70. Seattle: Lorene Publications, Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery, 2010.
Snyder, Jeffrey. Art Jewelry Today 2. Atglen: Schiffer Publications, 2008.
Updike, Robin. “Nadine Kariya: A Formalist Approach.” Ornament, Vol. 23, No. 2, 1999.
—. “Celebrating 70: Seventy Jewelers, Seventy Challenges.” Ornament, Vol. 33, No. 5, 2010.
—. “Nadine Kariya: Spiraling Arabesques.” Ornament, Vol. 34, No. 5, 2011.

“Nadine Kariya: The Hammer and the Peony,” shows at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art,
Bainbridge, Washington, through February 28, 2018.

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Robin Updike, a regular contributor to Ornament, is a Seattle-based arts writer who has been following Nadine Kariya’s work for many years. During that time Kariya’s elegant jewelry has been collected by some of Seattle’s best known metal arts patrons as well as those who simply admire beautiful, statement-making jewelry. Having supported herself for years as a commercial jeweler, Kariya combines outstanding craftsmanship with a highly refined aesthetic. Kariya’s current exhibition at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is a feast for the eyes and the soul.

Royal Crests & Vajra Masters Volume 40.2

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art is something of a labyrinth—a vast collection of galleries within galleries. On a morning in the middle of the week after Christmas, the Met was full of visitors from around the world drawn to the permanent collection as well as to various blockbuster offerings: a David Hockney retrospective, and “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer.” Two shows at opposite ends of the main building offered retreats from these throngs—and cultural revelation and enlightenment related to empowering adornments.

CREST (TSESAH) of wood, Bamileke, Cameroon, 91.8 × 57.8 × 33.0 centimeters, late nineteenth/early twentieth century. The Menil Collection, Houston. Photographs courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

       Tucked in among the displays in the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas section of the museum is “The Face of Dynasty: Royal Crests from Western Cameroon” (through September 3, 2018). The inspiration for the show was the Met’s acquisition in 2017 of an eighteenth-century monumental royal crest, or Tsesah, carved by an unknown artist from the Grassfields region of the Central African country. The museum borrowed three additional crests—out of a total of fifteen known extant examples—from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum for African Art, the Menil Collection and a private collection.

According to the curators, this first-ever display of more than one Tsesah in a single show offers an opportunity to appreciate their formal qualities “comparatively.” While the four crests share certain design characteristics, such as their “bombastic facial features” and soaring, expansive brows incised with linear patterns, they vary in size and condition. Some of them have been crudely but deftly repaired, yet they remain imposing, their earthy textures lending them a timeless quality.

In a “MetCollects” video interview about the Tsesah acquisition, Alisa LaGamma, the Pulitzer Curator in Charge for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, calls the Met crest “a sensational art form,” noting how it defies categorization: “it’s not freestanding, it’s not a mask, it actually was a crest that came out as part of a ceremony for the ascension of a new leader to the throne and his succession.” LaGamma remarks on the crest’s “out-of-the-box visual thinking” and how it was “original in its own time, but… remains fresh to this day.” 

African masks were of great interest to modern artists; one thinks of Picasso and others who found inspiration in their stylized visages. The Met display includes an installation shot from the exhibition “African Negro Art” mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in 1935 in which a Tsesah crest is shown displayed on a white pedestal. The Met exhibition also featured a twenty-seven-foot-long ndop royal display cloth; like the crests, ndop cloths were part of the “practice of power” in the Bamileke region of Western Cameroon and were tied to “long-standing regional exchange networks.”

Deep within the Met’s Asian Art section, the penetralia, as it were, of the northern end of the building, “Crowns of Vajra Masters: Ritual Art of Nepal” (through December 16, 2018)offers a stunning arrangement of five elaborate crowns, symbols of ritual authority worn by the hereditary caste of Vajracharyas, the highest ranking figures in Nepalese Buddhist community (the name is translated as “thunderbolt scepter master”).

VAJRACARYA PRIEST’S CROWN of copper, gold, turquoise, semiprecious stones, silver foil, Nepalese, 34.3 x 21.7 x 23.0 centimeters, circa fifteenth/sixteenth century. Rogers Fund, 1948. Collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      The crowns in the show represent the five Transcendent Buddhas of awakened wisdom. The curators have arranged the crowns in a mandala configuration, with paintings and various objects of ritual performance surrounding them. Entering the darkened room is something of a religious experience—not a temple, per se, but a place of intense and remarkable sacred imagery and imagination.

The ornate dazzling crowns, which date from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century, are made of gilt copper with applied repoussé medallions that have been set with semiprecious stones, crystals, rocks, and coral. They were worn by bodhisattvas, perfected beings possessed of compassion and spiritual wisdom. Four of the five crowns are from the Met’s collection; the fifth was borrowed from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Each conical crown varies in its iconography and decorative elements. A crown from Nepal’s early Malla period (thirteenth/early fourteenth century) features a series of diadem plaques that depict the bodhisattva Manjushri accompanied by smaller plaques of gift-granting goddesses. By contrast, the most recent crown in the show, dated 1717, has no figurative elements and is the most highly decorative, with a profusion of lotus flower plaques and floral bosses. Nearly all the crowns are surmounted by a stylized thunderbolt—the vajra—scepter, its five prongs sometimes resembling the beaks of birds. 

The pieces also vary in their construction, but the metalworking is consistently outstanding. Some elements are riveted to the crown, others are cast. The stones also differ from piece to piece: the VMFA collection crown features a diadem band inlaid with a rich blue lapis lazuli while several others are accented with turquoise. 

The crowns are complemented with an array of Nepalese objects equally stunning in their imagery and creation. Distemper-on-cloth mandalas offer elaborate representations of deities, including the wrathful Chakrasamvara with his embracing consort, Vajravarahi. A couple of mandalas depict the fearsome sword-wielding Acala (translated as “immovable”) who is said to be able to cut through the veil of ignorance.

Other objects in the show relate to the ritual offerings made by the Buddhist priests. There is an iron fire-offering ladle inlaid with gold and silver; a libation conch, which is used to pour blessed water during Vajracharya ceremonies; and a brass ewer with a spout in the form of the sea creature Makara.

In both the Tsesah and Vajra shows, one comes away with a sense of awe. Whether the impulse to create these astonishing adornments came from a need to display power or express belief, the individuals who carved and cast these objects were masters of their arts. The Met exhibitions help give them their due.

“The Face of Dynasty: Royal Crests from Western Cameroon” and “Crowns of Vajra Masters: Ritual Art of Nepal” show through September 3, 2018 and December 16, 2018, respectively, at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City.

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Carl Little, after submitting his reviews for this issue, joked about the complexities of navigating the vast Metropolitan Museum of Art, saying that “I considered leaving behind a trail of bread crumbs.” He relied on guards to guide him to two remarkable shows: “The Face of Dynasty: Royal Crests from Western Cameroon” and “Crowns of Vajra Masters: Ritual Art of Nepal.” Paintings of Portland, Little’s third collaboration with his brother David will be out in June. The two brothers also recently worked together on The Art of Arcadia, celebrating the founding of the national park in Maine.

Veiled Meanings Volume 40.2

DETAIL OF GREAT DRESS (BERBERISCA OR AL-KISWA AL-KABIRA) of silk velvet, gilt-metal cords, braided ribbons, Fez, Morocco, early twentieth century. Photograph by Mauro Magliani, courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. WOMAN’S OUTER CLOAK (ABAYA) of silk with gilt-metal thread, Baghdad, Iraq, later 1920s/early 1930s. Photograph by Mauro Magliani, courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. WOMAN’S ATTIRE of silk, silk velvet, cotton satin, and gilt-metal cord embroidery, Mashhad, Iran, early twentieth century. Photograph by Mauro Magliani, courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. 

DETAIL FROM COAT OF RABBI SALIMAN MENACHEM MANI of broadcloth and gilt-metal-thread couched embroidery, Hebron, Ottoman Palestine, early twentieth century. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu/Ornament.

Housed in Felix Warburg’s former Fifth Avenue mansion on New York City’s “Museum Mile,” The Jewish Museum is one of the world’s oldest museums dedicated to the presentation of art and Jewish culture. Founded in 1904, and featuring collections from the ancient to the contemporary, its current focus highlights apparel from the collection of The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Over twenty countries and one hundred examples of Jewish costume from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries illuminate the diversity and complexity of Jewish identity and culture in “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress.”

      Staged in a darkly lit room for protection of its textiles, the lighting serves as a successful aid to what turns out to be a fascinating and immersive ambiance. We understand that clothing serves to functionally cover our bodies (a form of shelter from our nakedness and to separate us from the natural world); but its cultural dimensions are far deeper and wider wherever it is worn, gaining ever more complicated meanings as it emerged from the mists of time. With Jewish migration historically worldwide, “Veiled Meanings” addresses this subject thematically in the exhibition’s four sections: Through the Veil; Interweaving Cultures; Exposing the Unseen; and Clothing that Remembers. Largely subsumed by non-Jewish cultures, it is not surprising that Jewish clothing was identical to, or a tweak of the dominant nationality, as well as having characteristics identifiably Jewish, such as badges, the color yellow, the Judenhut (the Jewish hat), and specific types of robes and face gear marking them as different from Christian and Muslim societies.

 

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      Female outdoor body wraps were the custom throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Uzbekistan. Through the Veil shows the degree that body wraps primarily masked female personal identity, shielding it from public scrutiny. As indicators of status or religion, one display of differentiation was the wearing of veils; in Baghdad, Iraq, Christian women did not cover their face, but Jewish women wore a fine-mesh black horsehair veil for more total concealment. 

Especially interesting is the amalgamation of cultural diffuseness brought about by migrations over time and place throughout the world. In the section Interweaving Cultures, there is seen a zesty embrace of contemporaneous internationalized fashions, motifs and materials in the making and wearing of dress. One delightful representative is an ensemble where the skirt was inspired by a ballet tutu. This shalita gained popularity and imitation after a European visit in 1873 by the Shah of Persia and his (favorite) wife.

As both a protection from evil and symbolic of fertility, a bride’s palms were painted with henna dye and reflected ongoing traditional beliefs. Sewn by her mother, the Henna Dress was made for Dakhla Rachel Mu’allem, who was married at eleven, and worn to the child’s henna ceremony prior to the marriage ceremony itself. The dress shows a mixture of cultural influences from the Ottoman coatdress worn by Muslim and Jewish women to the European-style gathered long skirt sewn to a long-sleeved top. Like this one with its decorative flourishes, many garments pointedly emphasized and amplified the breast area. Interestedly, and a curious conundrum, in a culture that was sexually restrictive and proscribed modesty as a critical indicator of the virtuous female, these dresses were not considered immodest. Today they might be considered a mixed message of what is a women’s traditional role in a culture experiencing worldly influences, vacillating between tradition and modernity.

WOMAN’S COAT (KALTACHAK) of brocaded silk, ikat-dyed silk and cotton lining, Bukhara, Uzbekistan, late nineteenth century. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu/Ornament.

HENNA DRESS of silk satin, silk and lace ribbons and tinsel embroidery, Baghdad, Iraq, 1891. Photograph by Mauro Magliani, courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. GROOM’S ATTIRE WITH AMULETIC SYMBOLS of indigo-dyed goat hair and brocade jacket and trousers with silk-floss embroidery, cotton shirt, artificial silk sash, Zakho, Iraqi Kurdistan, early twentieth century. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu/Ornament.

      Two stunning garments, a woman’s kaltachak from Uzbekistan of brocaded silk and ikat-dyed silk, and from Iraqi Kurdistan a groom’s attire decorated with diamond-shaped amuletic symbols, are breathtaking examples of craftsmanship at work. In Zakho, from where the groom’s outfit derives, Armenian weavers were renowned for the high quality of their patterned goat-hair fabrics. The woman’s coat is a superb example of the compelling presentation that ikat-dyed fabric makes; and the combination of brocade and silk is elegant and luxurious. This kaltachak likely reflects the political and social changes that were taking place in Bukhara following the Russian conquest and Jews were free to emigrate to Ottoman Palestine. By the end of the nineteenth century some one hundred eighty Bukharan Jewish families had resettled in Jerusalem and it is surmised that this extraordinary coat is from one of these families.

The importance of family in Jewish life, ensuring its continuance and stability, is another feature of the exhibition with its examples of children’s clothing. Symbolic weddings of five-year-olds were held in Moroccan communities on Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and was meant to strengthen the children’s connection to the Torah and its commandments. Imitating a real groom’s attire, the boy’s suit here is decorated with hamsas (hand symbols), a North African emblem to ward off evil.

“Veiled Meanings” shows the degree to which Jewish dress is akin to other periods of history in timeless, essential struggles between religion, tradition and modernity, East and West, freedom and equality. Yet the exhibition’s power is its ability to synthesize what is visually unique and specific to Jewish life, experience and culture, by how dress has not only been regulated by those cultures that controlled Jewish daily life but the “way of life” (orah hayyim) proscribed by Jewish law itself.

In a subtle and understated way, the exhibition invites questions about how we live with a sense of respect, tolerance and accommodation for those who make up this world. How do we live safely and well in a turbulent world with forces that we, ourselves, cannot control, yet still rise to the challenge of expanding the inherent possibilities of what it means to be human? Many questions are there for answering.

“Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress, from the Collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem,”
shows at the Jewish Museum, New York City, through March 18, 2018.

INSTALLATION VIEW of Interweaving Cultures, Section Two of “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress,” at The Jewish Museum. Photograph by Jason Mandella, courtesy of The Jewish Museum, Jerusalem.

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Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and our in-house expert on contemporary wearable art. As Ornament’s resident itinerant, she moves to and fro across the USA in search of inspiring craft, great experiences and, of course, excellent food. In the waning months of 2017, she made her annual trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, a much beloved annual stop, adding a visit to New York City for more work. After one delightful morning spent at the Neue Galerie’s Cafe Sabarsky with artist Reiko Ishiyama, Benesh went on to The Jewish Museum to review “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress.”

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:

 

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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.

 

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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.”

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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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.

 

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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.

RKL_Contributor.jpg

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.”

 

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      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.”