Smithsonian Craft Show 2019 Volume 41.1

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April is always a perfect time to visit our nation’s capital as the city shakes off the withering cold of winter and looks forward to the rest of the year; that is, if one skips over the blazing heat and humidity of a Washingtonian summer. March 20 may formally mark the first of spring, but it is April that everyone truly embraces as a year reborn. Aside from the blossoming of its magnificent cherry trees, originally a gift of three thousand specimens from Japan in 1912, and celebrated by the wildly popular National Cherry Blossom Festival, the month is filled with one wonderful event after another. Savor this small sample of intriguing museum exhibitions currently showing, like “Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644-1912” at the Freer/Sackler Gallery, and “Good as Gold: Fashioning Senegalese Women” on The Mall, at the National Museum of African Art. Located steps from the White House, the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery hosts “Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery.” This exhibition of particular interest to those who love craft contains eighty objects from the 1930s to the present, drawn from its own craft collection, and selected by Nora Atkinson its curator.

But the month of April especially shines with that annual celebration of American craft, the Smithsonian Craft Show, at the National Building Museum, a much lauded architectural beauty and elegant setting for displaying wonders. Each year three invited jurors hone applications of approximately a thousand craft artists from across the country to those considered to have excelled in the handwork of their particular medium. The public is not only afforded the opportunity to meet and talk with the talented artists but to purchase one-of-a-kind works, selecting from twelve craft categories in basketry, ceramics, decorative fiber, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, wearable art, and wood. Many of the one hundred twenty-one artists have participated in prior shows and are well known to serious collectors who look forward to their return, but there is also the precious chance to discover new work. For this year, there are forty-five first time exhibitors like Gregory Burgard (glass), Constance Collins (wearable art), John Guertin (wood), Bill Jones (ceramics), Katherine Maloney (ceramics), Jennifer Nunnelee (jewelry), Deborah Polonoff (wearable art), Tamra Thomas-Gentry (jewelry), Kent Townsend (furniture), Genevieve Yang (jewelry), and Jean Yao (basketry). These entrants reflect the host’s determination to keep the craft world energized with vibrant creations, emphasizing that it is a powerful and lasting artform, always renewing itself. 

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The Smithsonian Women’s Committee, which has sponsored the show for thirty-seven years as a very successful fund-raiser for the Smithsonian Institution, has in recent years established the Smithsonian Visionary Artist Award. Starting in 2014, among those recognized for their achievements have been Albert Paley, Wendell Castle, Dale Chihuly, Toots Zynsky, and Faith Ringgold. For 2019 the recipient is Joyce J. Scott who holds a 2016 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship as part of many points of recognition in her career. In announcing Scott’s award, the Fellowship stated that her jewelry and sculpture “repositioned beadwork into a potent platform for commentary on social and political injustices.” By taking in the “Connections” exhibition at the Renwick during the run of the craft show, Scott’s work can be experienced among other artists who have also helped give voice to American craft as an instrumental embodiment of this country’s complex soul.

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This year sees the return of jewelry luminaries Roberta and David Williamson from Ohio whose work portrays the organic world in its most graceful and blessed. Skillfully wrought sterling silver frames, found objects and antique prints enhance the body in statement neckpieces, in some instances recalling pectorals of former eras. Their iconography is a place of enchantment where the imagery best reflects humanity and other life forces. For those who know the Williamsons or are familiar with their work, it is clear they understand how the world harbors darkness, inequality and injustice, but the couple intends to leave their mark with jewelry that respects what is good and honorable about life.

Massachusetts artist Amy Nguyen is another  award-winning participant in the show. Noted for  her textile work, she employs the art of dyeing through the practice of Japanese shibori. Her handwork is  one of deliberative and careful process driven by a prayerful attitude brought to the cloth from genesis to fruition. Nguyen sets a high bar in her garments and this has been rewarded by her recognition as among the most accomplished in wearable art.

New Yorker Mary Jaeger is a wearable artist who layers cloth for warmth and comfort but also for a certain sensuality in her unconventional arrangement of shapes and cuts through interesting patterns and various textures. Her application of color does not follow the usual path but shows an intriguing sense for the possibilities they might bring to a finished piece.

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The Smithsonian Craft Show is a panoramic example, over its four days, of the diversity of craft in America today. Technical expertise and brilliant craftsmanship reside in the meticulously carved and glazed porcelain objects, in celadon, oxblood and imperial yellow, by Cliff Lee, from Pennsylvania, whose work is on permanent exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shown on the PBS series of Craft in America or honored by the Renwick through its Master of the Medium award.

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Also a ceramist, Irina Okula, from Maine, produces more unconventional pieces. With fragments unified by clay transformed into statuesque vessels, she designs forms  that consist of piecing together broken clay shards, like quilts. “I decorate each shard,” she says. “I try to make interesting and compatible surfaces that dance and complement each other, making for a blend of expected and unexpected play upon the surface.”

There is a sophisticated yet warm and personal aspect to Judith Kinghorn’s jewelry in high karat gold, silver and precious stones. A lifelong Minnesotan, Kinghorn says that her work is mainly intuitive, but she has clearly been drawn to the aesthetic of the natural world and influenced by the beauty and singular characteristics to be found in the upper Midwest. Perfectly realized golden floral forms radiate from her brooches and neckpieces, and one thinks of untamed fields of wildflowers and of bouquets ready to present to a beloved.

Woodworker Peter Petrochko works in Connecticut and has studied architecture at the University of Cincinnati, and fine arts at Silvermine College of Art. While studying design, Petrochko says, “I became enthusiastic about making objects of wood, and chose wood as my craft.” He is challenged, as are most craft artists by the many possibilities that their medium might hold, and for him that is the vessel, one that many artists find themselves drawn to, whether in wood, clay, metal, and fiber.

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From Florida, Lucrezia Bieler astonishes by the brilliance of her papercuttings. Following a tradition from Europe, they are wholly her own. Mesmerizing in totality, one is compelled to enter her personal space, drawn to what seem to be thousands of intricate cuts emerging  in black and white. She has said that “I am intrigued to  create something really beautiful from a simple sheet of  plain paper. It is like turning paper into gold.” Bieler’s  work is another example of where meticulous process, concentration and precision are paramount to the successful realization of a handmade work.

Holly Anne Mitchell works paper in an entirely different manner from Bieler. And it is a fascinating exercise to see how one artist changes the quality of a medium compared to another. Now a resident of Indiana, in 1990 while  studying metalsmithing at the University of Michigan she  began exploring newspaper as a source of expression. Her assignment was to make a piece of jewelry which did not consist of any traditional jewelry materials—so, no metal and precious stones. Such began her journey into paper as a resource, and since those Michigan days Mitchell has been increasingly sought by collectors who want to see the latest in her wry, not cynical, but thoughtful observations on the social and political nature of the modern world.

Partaking of a show like the Smithsonian is to support artist contributions to the innovations that have always been integral to this country’s cultural evolution. During changing times, like the one in which we now live, it is helpful to take some moments to remember that artists help point the way to a more ennobling worldview. It is all about building up, not tearing down, always, but most especially, during the inevitable challenges that life presents to us all.

The Smithsonian Craft Show hosts  its thirty-seventh annual event at the National Building Museum, 401 F St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001, April 25-28, 2019. Visit their website at www.smithsoniancraftshow.org.

 
 

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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. The Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., is a destination that she looks forward to every year. From the plethora of museums in the city to the inspiring diversity of craft at the show (and of course, the company of good friends), this visit is one of her highlights. Drawn from her personal experience, this year’s article takes the reader through the show, touching upon artists from every media. Benesh also ponders the recent exhibition, “Jewelry: The Body Transformed,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Beadwork Adorns the World Volume 41.1

Clockwise left: LAKOTA “CREATION NARRATIVE” SHIRT by Thomas “Red Owl” Haukaas (Sicangu Lakota/Creole) of wool cloth, antique glass beads, 2016. Courtesy of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. Photographer unattributed. OBA’S “BARRISTER’S WIG” CORONET, Yoruba peoples, southwest Nigeria, of cotton, glass beads, 21.0 x 17.0 x 15.0 centimeters, twentieth century. Sara and David Lieberman Collection. Photograph by Craig Smith. BABY CARRIER PANEL, Kenyah peoples, Orang Ulu group, Borneo island, Indonesia/Malaysia, of cotton, glass beads, pineapple leaf fiber, 31.0 x 33.0 centimeters, mid-twentieth century. WEDDING MOCCASINS FOR BRIDE’S IN-LAWS, Lakota peoples, North or South Dakota, of tanned hide, glass beads, 26.7 centimeters, circa 1930. MUKYEEM MASK, Kuba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, of hide, wood, glass beads, cowrie shells, plant fiber, 39.5 x 44.9 x 54.0 centimeters, pre-1935. Courtesy of the Field Museum. Photograph by John Weinstein.

Clockwise right:
LEOPARD HELMUT MASK, Bamileke peoples, Grasslands, Cameroon, of raffia, indigo-dyed cotton and trade cotton, glass beads, 53.0 x 79.0 centimeters, circa 1900. HORSE NECK COVER (ghughi), Kathi peoples, Saurashtra region, Gujarat state, India, of cotton, silk, glass beads, mirror, metal, 128.3 x 162.6 centimeters, circa 1930. David McLanahan Collection. OBA’S BRITISH CROWN-STYLE CORONET, Yoruba peoples, southwest Nigeria, of cotton, glass beads, diameter: 16.0 centimeters, mid-twentieth century. GROOM’S WEDDING BAG, Banjara peoples, Wadi, Gulbarga, Karnataka state, India, of cotton, cowrie shells, metal, 49.0 x 30.5 centimeters, circa 1986. CHINA POBLANA BLOUSE, Puebla, Mexico, of cotton, glass beads, 62.3 x 53.5 centimeters, circa 1935. COLLAR, Saraguro peoples, Ecuador, of glass beads, nylon thread, 11.7 x 37.0 centimeters, 1963. BRIDE’S APRON (ijogolo), Ndzundza Ndebele peoples, Transvaal region, South Africa, of goatskin, glass beads, 60.5 x 42.0 centimeters, circa 1970. All photographs courtesy of the Museum of International Folk Art and by Blair Clark, except where noted.

European glass beads, as author and curator Marsha C. Bol explains, are “the ultimate migrants.” In her exhibit “Beadwork Adorns the World,” which recently closed at Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art, and her accompanying book, The Art & Tradition of Beadwork, she explored how, in the nineteenth century, these trade goods not only went to the far ends of the earth, but also were transformed into an astounding array of cultural and social artifacts. In the West, beadwork became mostly decorative, more so these days in couture and formal wear. But elsewhere, beadwork endowed clothing and objects with formidable power and rich, metaphysical meanings. It became the most profound expression of ritual, of majesty, of identity, and of the spirit world.

Dr. Bol generously agreed to sit down and talk about the years-long process leading to the exhibit. The extended search for superb examples consumed many air miles and many conversations with artists, since so much knowledge has only been passed down orally, from mother to daughter or from an elder to an archaeologist or historian. Intended to dazzle and impress, the beadwork in the exhibit did all that and more.

WEDDING OUTFIT (ulu rajang), Iban peoples, Sarawak state, Borneo island, Malaysia. HEADDRESS of wood, paper, glass beads, cotton, sequins, 38.1 x 61.0 centimeters. DRESS of stone, glass and shell beads, 77.5 centimeters long, twentieth century. David McLanahan Collection.

Q.  What was your inspiration for “Beadwork Adorns the World?”

Actually, it was a book project first. Back in 2011, a tall, stately, white-haired man named Gibbs Smith walked into my office. He was a magnificent man. He wanted to do this; he thought that Lois Sherr Dubin’s book, The History of Beads: From 30,000 B.C. to the Present, had been out for quite a long time and he wanted to publish something new; not about beads, but beadwork around the world. He came to me partly because of my background—I did a Ph.D. in Native American art history with a dissertation on Lakota [western Sioux] women’s and men’s arts, and I continue to do fieldwork. And he knew, because of this museum’s holdings, that it was the right place for the project. I was the museum’s director, so it was going to take a while to get it done. Bless his heart; he died about the time the book went to press.




Q.  What types of beadwork were shown in the exhibit?

The whole exhibit included two hundred sixty beaded objects. I used a very broad definition of beads: metal, shell, ceramic—all different kinds of beads, from fifty-two countries and one hundred four known cultural traditions. There were many examples of women and men’s clothing, several crowns, jewelry, and masks. There was also a beaded pillow, boxes, a royal stool, voodoo flags, bowls, and quite a few amulets. The pieces ranged from the nineteenth century to the present day, so it was not just about the past. When you first walked in there was a “Grab Me” piece. Exhibit designers emphasize the importance of that, to pique curiosity and interest. An extraordinary piece, it’s a wedding dress from the Iban people, who live in the Malaysian part of Borneo. Fully beaded, it weighs about thirty-eight pounds, with very large carnelian beads.


HEADHUNTER’S NECKLACES, Konyak Naga peoples, Nagaland, northeast India, of brass, glass beads, goat hair, conch shell, brass heads: 29.0 x 11.5 centimeters; blue beads: 58.0 centimeters; red beads: 26.5 centimeters, pre-1940.  Harry and Tiala M. Neufeld Collection.

HEADHUNTER’S NECKLACES, Konyak Naga peoples, Nagaland, northeast India, of brass, glass beads, goat hair, conch shell, brass heads: 29.0 x 11.5 centimeters; blue beads: 58.0 centimeters; red beads: 26.5 centimeters, pre-1940. Harry and Tiala M. Neufeld Collection.

Q.  Were there any surprises for you, while you were organizing the exhibit?

I always approach a project like this with two prongs. One is obviously that you need to work with the collections that you already have. But the other prong is to think about the themes and the content. The museum has an impressive collection, and I went through every drawer and every cabinet looking for beadwork. I ran through four part-time assistants during the project. The museum’s photographer, Blair Clark, and I would spend every Friday morning shooting pictures; we ended up taking about one thousand photographs.

As I was looking at objects, I started to realize that they fell into interesting groups of themes, beginning with life passages. It made me aware of something that I’m not sure that I had consciously understood, which is that beadwork is used for these peak moments in the lives of people in almost every culture. So if you start with childhood, from the cradle, then move on to puberty and adolescence, marriage and death, every beadworking society that I know of does it for an occasion, or to identify and set apart a king, a spiritual authority or someone of high status and position.

Then I got to thinking: beadwork is not a structure, like ceramics or textiles; it’s an adornment, an embellishment. It’s not something that can be used solely on its own—it’s almost always married with something else. That also pushed me towards thinking about how the embellishment, which did not stand alone, added to the effectiveness of the piece—maybe gave it more potency. The exhibit was arranged to follow those themes, which were developed in the book.

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BABY BONNET, Lakota nation, North or South Dakota, of native-tanned hide, glass beads, 9.1 x 2.7 x 4.6 centimeters, circa 1890. Bob and Lora Sandroni Collection. Photograph by LA High Noon, Inc. CHILD’S HAT, Nuristan province, Afghanistan, of cotton, silk, glass beads, buttons, metal, embroidered applied trim, 58.0 x 12.0 centimeters, circa 1950. BOY’S HAT, Bai peoples, Dali county, Yunnan province, People’s Republic of China, of silk, cotton, metal beads and objects, feathers, yarn, embroidered appliquéd applied trim, diameter: 14.0 centimeters, twentieth century. Photographs by Addison Doty.

Q.  What was the toughest part of the show to pull together?

Trying to be international! We were missing some areas and I couldn’t travel everywhere, which was frustrating. When I did get away for work, I searched for beadwork. I went to Uzbekistan, southwest China, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. I went to the Field Museum in Chicago to look at the African collection, which is absolutely mind-boggling. I found a wonderful private collection of Lakota beadwork that is in two homes, here and in San Diego.

What is also special to me about the exhibit and the book is giving more recognition to the beadwork of Borneo. The examples we included came from a private collection in Seattle. Pieces like those are considered treasures in Borneo. Before glass beads came in through the trade network, they were getting carnelian beads from Java. Their designs are very recognizable, especially for the Orang Ulu people. Among indigenous people in Borneo there’s a hierarchy; certain designs belonged to the aristocracy and certain ones to the middle class. The beadwork on baby cradles serves a double function, to reveal social position and for protection. Babies’ souls like to wander, so the beaded panels distract evil spirits and keep them away from harming the baby.

BOY’S VEST AND PANTS, Lakota nation, North or South Dakota, of native-tanned hide, glass beads, circa 1890. Bob and Lora Sandroni Collection. Photograph by LA High Noon, Inc.

Q.  No matter where you looked, Venetian and Czech glass beads seem to have gone all around the world. How did they become so widespread?

First it was the Venetian, and then the Czech glass beads. Beads were always expensive; they had a lot of value as prestige items. In fact in some places in Africa, like among the Zulu, the king controlled the rights to the bead trade; only the king and members of his court were allowed to wear beadwork on their headdresses and clothing. There are three desirable things about glass beads. First of all, they are quite durable, and last a long time even though they are glass; secondly, they have a luster and shine that is very attractive; and thirdly they come in many different colors, which is also extremely appealing.

On the Plains, seed beads arrived around 1850. You cannot say that, among the Lakota, there was nothing before then, because there was dyed quillwork, and many of the old geometric designs carried over into beadwork. Later on, during the reservation period for the Lakota and other Sioux tribes, there was a lot of pressure from the U.S. government to abandon traditional ways, including traditional clothing. There was a big florescence of beadwork then on the reservations, part of which I believe had to do with trying to preserve the identity of the children. That’s why you saw a little boy’s vest and pants, which are very Western in style, yet they are totally Lakota because they are not made out of cloth; they are made out of hide completely covered in beadwork. This kind of outfit would be more acceptable to the Indian agent and government people, yet it let everyone in the family feel a strong sense of their culture.






Q.  So wherever you go in the world, beadwork communicates shared cultural meaning.

There’s a fascinating example of that, which is well-recorded, from Zulu beadwork in South Africa. Zulu beadwork does the talking for the women when it’s involved in courtship. Young women would make beadwork bracelets, cuffs, ankle bands, or necklaces as gifts for the young man they had their eye on.

We call them “love letters,” though they were not quite that. The necklaces in the exhibit dated from the late nineteenth century and were loaned from the Field Museum. Scholars disagree about this, but from the colors and designs, proverbs could be discerned. It was not like a personal message, but let a young man know her intentions. A young Zulu man could pile on beadwork from many girls, all at the same time; a piece didn’t obligate him. And of course the more he wore, the more status he had.

One of the most exciting things about doing this project was that every piece has a story to tell, because they are all deeply imbedded in the cultures that make and use them. I tried to share those stories in the label texts, though of course you’re limited in the amount of space you have. But one day I was at the museum after the show had opened and I overhead a man—a man, no less—come out of the show and say to his friends, “That show! There’s a story about every piece!” He was very excited, and I was doubly thrilled because it was a man—often we think of beadwork as women’s work—and because he understood there was a story with everything.

“LOVE” LETTERS (ubala abuyise), Zulu (Xhosa?)-speaking peoples, South Africa, of cotton, glass beads, diameter: 19.8 centimeters, pre-1893. “LOVE” LETTERS (ubala abuyise), Zulu (Xhosa?)-speaking peoples, South Africa, of cotton, glass beads, diameter: 16.0-19.8 centimeters, pre-1893. Photographs by John Weinstein.

Q.  Let’s talk about Western attitudes towards beadwork as “women’s work.” There was a thought-provoking section of the exhibit and the book called “Gender in Beadwork.”

We underestimate beadwork’s importance in other cultures. The idea in the exhibit was to honor and acknowledge women’s artistry and creativity in beadwork. In traditional societies, there has always been a division of labor by gender. Women worked with materials for the home, like making pottery or baskets. The fineness and beauty of what women produced brought them respect and rank: it gave them status. Even in our culture doing beadwork was a practical skill; it demonstrated a woman’s housekeeping capabilities, how she could produce useful things. Certainly in fashion today beadwork is prized.


Q.  Some beadwork from Africa radiates drama and power and grandeur. There were examples from the Yoruba people in Nigeria, the Bamileke in Cameroon and the Kuba, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Why is that beadwork so imposing?

Those are magnificent pieces, all intended for the king. Again, the right to wear trade beads belonged exclusively to royalty. It’s very powerful, gorgeous stuff. Only a professional male beadworker can make the king’s regalia, and he actually does it at court. In hierarchical societies, the kings usually have both political and spiritual leadership. The star of that section was the great Yoruba crown. It reinforces the king’s divinity, separating him from other people; when he wears that crown, he embodies the oba, who can communicate with ancestral spirits. The long beaded veil covers his face, and he holds an elaborately beaded flywhisk to hide his mouth as he’s speaking. His feet can’t touch the ground, so they rest on beaded cushions. The faces on the crown represent the first oba, Oduduwa. When someone consults the oba, he is not asking about his future. In their belief system, you know everything that is going to happen before you emerge into this life. As you are born, you touch the tree of forgetfulness. You are asking the oba to remind you of what you used to know.

The king only wears that crown for major ceremonial occasions. He has day-to-day crowns, which resemble the British crown; Nigeria was a British colony during the nineteenth century. There are even beaded British-style wigs for court. That’s a good example of how traditional beadwork merged into modern society.

OBA ADEMUWAGUN ADESIDA II, in the courtyard of his palace, Akure, Nigeria, 1959. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, image courtesy of the National Museum of African Art. OBA’S GREAT CROWN (adenla), Yoruba peoples, southwest Nigeria, of palm ribs armature (pako), cornstarch (eko), cotton, glass beads, thread, 114.0 x 22.9 centimeters, 1920s. Photograph courtesy of Douglas Dawson Gallery.


Q.  The world is changing so fast. Does beadwork still have a cultural role to play?

Beadwork is still essential to reaffirm identity. For instance, after the Boer War in South Africa, the Ndzundza Ndebele people were indentured out to farms all over the country, scattered far from their homeland and each other. Ndzundza Ndebele women, even under those circumstances, began again to hold puberty ceremonies for boys and girls in these faraway places, which involved beaded aprons. Ndebele women are identified by their age-stage beaded aprons: for little girls, as unmarried adolescents, and as married women, when the apron has five distinct lobes. They held onto making and wearing these beaded aprons and are known for them today.

It’s always evolving. Nellie Star Boy Menard from Rosebud on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and I were judging at an arts fair in Bismarck, North Dakota. She saw a piece of beadwork and said, “Oh, that’s not Sioux enough.” I have talked to Florentine Blue Thunder and Tom Haukaas, who make their own pow-wow outfits, and they keep to the more historic traditions, but they complain that the judges now don’t know how to tell the old styles and designs. The pow-wow and social-dance competitions help beadwork to continue. If you don’t have a market for your arts, whether internal, among tribal members, or external, among outsiders, they are not going to survive.

ZULU RICKSHAW PULLERS ON THE BEACHFRONT, Durban, South Africa, early 1980s. Photograph by Jean Morris.


Q.  How can these older cultures stay resilient and sustain their beadwork traditions?

One way is through re-invention. In South Africa, Zulu rickshaw pullers became celebrated for their outfits. In the 1890s, somebody from Durban went to Singapore and brought back rickshaws (this is before there were cars). Only Zulu men were allowed to pull them, but then someone said they needed to wear a uniform so the police could identify who they were.

The Zulu men themselves created these wild, wonderful, imaginative costumes with the enormous, amazing headdresses. The oxen horns associated the strength of the ox with the man. They were a tourist attraction, and the men would stage their own competitions for who had the best costume. In the past they were famous warriors, so it became a source of real pride for the Zulu men.

Another way is through the marketplace. A purposeful part of the exhibit was to let visitors know that beadwork is still very much a living tradition. Within various sections I included profiles of contemporary artists, or of women’s co-ops who are working today. An example was the netted-beadwork necklaces made by indigenous Saraguro women in Ecuador. They’ve joined together five local associations into one big co-op, for marketing purposes and for buying materials. They can still make part of their traditional ethnic dress and bring in income to support their families. Oftentimes they are the main breadwinners in their communities.

CHILD’S BLOUSE PANEL, northern Afghanistan, of cotton, glass beads, 38.0 x 32.7 centimeters, twentieth century. Anne and Bill Frej Collection.

I should mention here that the International Folk Art Market was a great help to me, because a lot of beadwork artists come to the market and I was able to connect with them. The world is getting smaller all the time, and more beadwork traditions are crossing into global awareness. Artists are finding ways to adapt their beadwork and introduce innovations yet keep it meaningful. As I discuss in the book, beadwork has even moved into contemporary art. At the opening, Kiowa beadwork artist Teri Greeves told me she was so grateful to be included in an international show, and not strictly a Native American show. That made it all worthwhile.


Q.  As you were considering pieces for the exhibit and writing your book, you developed criteria for quality and excellence. Did you wind up with any personal favorites?

There were so many pieces I loved for different reasons, but some were standouts for me, because of the amount of incredible beadwork on them, the skill of the artists and the aesthetics. I’m thinking of Tom “Red Owl” Haukaas’s beaded Lakota cradles; the nineteenth-century double-headed elephant stool covered in red tube beads used by the king in Cameroon; the wonderful Brulé Lakota violin case; and a Ndebele married woman’s wearing blanket.

VIOLIN CASE, Brulé Lakota, Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, of commercial wood case, native-tanned hide, metal trim, glass beads, 81.3 x 25.4 x 11.4 centimeters, 1891. Courtesy of Stars and Stripes Foundation.

“Beadwork Adorns the World” showed April 22, 2018 - February 3, 2019, at the Museum of International Folk Art, 706 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505. Visit their website at internationalfolkart.org. The 16th Annual International Folk Art Market takes place July 12 - 14, 2019, Milner Plaza, on Museum Hill, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Visit their website at folkartmarket.org.


SUGGESTED READING
Bol, Marsha C.
The Art & Tradition of Beadwork. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2018.
Dubin, Lois Sherr.
The History of Beads from 30,000 B.C. to the Present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987.
Liu, Robert K.
Collectible Beads: A Universal Aesthetic. Vista, CA: Ornament Inc, 1995.
Roach, Mary Ellen and Joanne Bubolz Eicher.
“The Language of Personal Adornment.” In The Fabrics of Culture: The Anthropology of Clothing and Adornment. The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1979.
Sumberg, Bobbie.
Textiles: Collection of the Museum of International Folk Art. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2010.

 

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FON’S ROYAL STOOL, Bamileke peoples, Grasslands, Cameroon, of wood, raffia cloth, glass beads, 41.0 x 45.0 x 50.0 centimeters, nineteenth century. Photograph by John Weinstein. MITAKUYE OYASIN CRADLE by Thomas “Red Owl” Haukaas (Sicangu Lakota/Creole) of brain-tanned elk hide, cotton, glass beads, thread, 68.5 x 23.5 x 30.5 centimeters, 2005. Marilyn Eber Collection. MARRIED WOMAN’S BLANKET (irari), Ndzundza Ndebele peoples, Transvaal region, South Africa, of wool, glass beads, 269.2 x 381.2 centimeters, circa 1970.


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Leslie Clark is a freelance writer and editor based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is endlessly fascinated by the variety, intricacy, technical prowess, and rich beauty of beadwork. “I kept going back to the recent exhibit ‘Beadwork Adorns the World’ just to feast my eyes and try to understand more,” she says. “Once you discover the complex meanings of beadwork in other cultures, you come away with a real sense of awe and wonder.” She has taken the Museum of International Folk Art exhibition to a more revealing level, with her Ornament interview with Marsha C. Bol, curator of the exhibit, as Bol discusses how throughout the world beadwork communicates shared cultural meaning.

Demitra Thomloudis Volume 40.5

HOUSTON YELLOW TAPE PROJECT: 4814 CHENEVERT STREET BROOCH of reclaimed stair spindle, nickel silver, steel, and paint, 15.9 x 3.2 x 1.0 centimeters, 2014. DEMITRA THOMLOUDIS in her studio, 2018.  Photographs by Demitra Thomloudis, except where noted.

HOUSTON YELLOW TAPE PROJECT: 4814 CHENEVERT STREET BROOCH of reclaimed stair spindle, nickel silver, steel, and paint, 15.9 x 3.2 x 1.0 centimeters, 2014. DEMITRA THOMLOUDIS in her studio, 2018. Photographs by Demitra Thomloudis, except where noted.

Demitra Thomloudis’s large workspace looks like part art studio, part construction office. Hung on the walls are posters for contemporary jewelry shows as well as photographs of building projects. Rolls of duct tape, pieces of GreenGuard insulation board, bits of plywood, cement forms, and tabbed strips of metal are abundant. It is unclear what she found or scavenged, what she bought at the hardware store, what she purchased from art suppliers, and what is adornment-in-progress. And she likes it that way. Thomloudis is excited by the aesthetics of the built environment and allows the processes and materials of construction (and sometimes demolition) to inform her jewelry.

Thomloudis, who grew up outside of Philadelphia, strongly identifies with her Greek heritage. Her father emigrated from Greece in his early thirties and her mother, an elementary school special education teacher and a Philadelphian of Italian descent, embraced his traditions. Regular summer visits to Athens, “the New York City of Greece,” helped shape her interest in urban settings. Thomloudis also identifies with her father’s passion for tinkering. He worked as an auto mechanic for much of her youth and, as “a self-proclaimed builder,” often engaged in “crazy remodels” to their house. During first grade she had to enter her house via an eight-foot-ladder when he decided to add a second floor to their home while they were living in it, and she recalls a constant series of projects restricting the use of various rooms or fixtures. The do-it-yourself quality, economic considerations and sheer creativity of this activity made a strong, and positive, impression.

CrossPASS, SITE #8 BROOCH of steel, brass, cement, resin, pigment, and fibers, by Demitra Thomloudis and Motoko Furuhashi, 8.9 x 7.0 x 1.0 centimeters, 2016.  Photograph by Motoko Furuhashi.

CrossPASS, SITE #8 BROOCH of steel, brass, cement, resin, pigment, and fibers, by Demitra Thomloudis and Motoko Furuhashi, 8.9 x 7.0 x 1.0 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Motoko Furuhashi.

She loved to draw growing up and, combining that with her interest in the human body—inspired in part by the popular “Body Worlds” exhibitions—decided to study medical illustration in college. Thomloudis attended Ohio’s Cleveland Institute of Art, one of the only schools at the time that offered a degree in medical (rather than scientific) illustration. She tells stories of class periods spent drawing cadavers at nearby Case Western University, sometimes with appendages strung to the ceiling to create the desired poses. “It was so wild! I never want to do that ever again, but I’m really glad that I had that opportunity.” While taking life drawing and painting courses at Cleveland, and pre-med courses at Case, she, on a whim, added an elective in jewelry and immediately realized, “this is exactly what I was looking for.” With jewelry she could work with the body, investigate an array of materials, and have greater opportunity for self-expression—“I didn’t want to follow anyone’s rules.”

Continuing her education at San Diego State University, Thomloudis earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in 2013 with an emphasis on jewelry and metalwork. Living so close to the United States’ southern border soon affected how she thought about her work. She took inspiration from the scenes she viewed in Mexico of neighborhoods created out of necessity, of architecture in flux, of materials combined in unexpected ways. She also studied the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and encountered Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture (1964), finding it a key guide when considering vernacular, indigenous and anonymous forms of building and how untrained architects can upend traditional uses of materials and conventional rules of architecture. One of the works she created in California, Reconstructed: Framed, a brooch composed of open rectilinear forms of cement, silver and steel with bits of duct tape and thread (combining elements influenced by both sides of the border fence), appeared in the exhibition “La Frontera” organized in 2013 by Lorena Lazard and Velvet da Vinci Gallery. It was also in the revised version of the exhibition (“La Frontera: Encounters Along the Border”) earlier this year at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.

HOUSTON YELLOW TAPE PROJECT: 4910 JACKSON STREET BROOCH of reclaimed upholstery, nickel silver and steel, 7.6 x 8.9 x 3.8 centimeters, 2014.

In the Houston Yellow Tape Project, Thomloudis collected materials—decorative wood trim, colorful foam from a couch, door knobs—from ten residential demolition sites within a two-block radius of her home and used this debris to make ten pieces of jewelry that ‘physically embodied a singular, discarded moment during the sprawling trajectory of the city.’
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Thomloudis next spent a year in Houston as the Artist-in-Residence at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. That “sprawling, overwhelming urban environment,” where new buildings appeared seemingly overnight, drew her attention to “the guts of buildings” and to “how things go up.” In Houston she observed more steel and more corrugated metal, and reflected those contemporary regional choices in her work. While there she participated in an exhibition on sprawl, creating jewelry out of cement, steel and distressed wood, and explained to Houston Public Media, “With my work I’m trying to extract those things we take for granted, like cracks in the sidewalk or some of the materials buildings are made out of, and kind of freeze those moments and preserve them as artifacts.” 

RECONSTRUCTED: FRAMED BROOCH of cement, sterling silver, resin, steel, pigment, thread, duct tape, powder coat, wood, and nickel silver, 10.2 x 7.6 x 5.1 centimeters, 2013. Photograph by Seth Papac.

Along with the omnipresent construction in Houston, there was constant destruction. In her Houston Yellow Tape Project, Thomloudis collected materials—decorative wood trim, colorful foam from a couch, door knobs—from ten residential demolition sites within a two-block radius of her home and used this debris to make ten pieces of jewelry that “physically embodied a singular, discarded moment during the sprawling trajectory of the city.” She presented them in an installation that mapped the locations of the former homes, and she intended the jewelry to “ignite conversations between wearer and viewer regarding connections to material, time and place.”

Then Thomloudis returned to the border region, this time moving to El Paso where she was a visiting assistant professor of Metals and Jewelry at the University of Texas at El Paso. From the parking lot she used every day, she could see a neighborhood called Anapra in Ciudad Juárez comprising a group of houses with stucco facades, some painted in bright colors, that encrusted the otherwise barren hillside like gemstones. Though realizing that the makeshift quality of construction that appealed to her was in part the result of the neighborhood’s poverty, she primarily responded to the sensory experiences of seeing the glistening colors and shifting light reflected from the sun. She explains, “I didn’t want to forget that. I felt like I needed to respond to that place,” so she created Over the Fence, a series of more than ninety cement brooches (with brass, steel and acrylic paint), squarish in shape like the squat homes, that make permanent the view’s ephemeral quality. She acknowledges that this collection documents her individual experience of a specific place, but believes that such work can spur related memories in other people of other places—“I think that jewelry can allow us to keep those memories.”

OVER THE FENCE BROOCHES of cement, brass, pigment, and resin, sizes vary, approximately 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 to
7.6 x 7.6 x 15.2 centimeters each, 2016-2017.

OVER THE FENCE BROOCH.

OVER THE FENCE BROOCH.

Over the Fence was part of a collaborative work with Motoko Furuhashi, who teaches Metalsmithing & Jewelry at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, titled CrossPASS. As they explained in an interview for Art Jewelry Forum, they were “colleagues in this very isolated location,” who wanted to foster a sense of community between their university programs and their cities, so they focused their “common fascination with the surrounding landscape” on the forty-six miles of Interstate 10 that connected them. Together they traveled back and forth along this frequently—and speedily—traveled route and created jewelry (individually and collaboratively), video, audio, and a website based on specific locations. For one site, they drove a couple of miles from the highway to walk barefoot up a sand-covered mountain. They made a video of a mound of shifting sand against a blue sky that eventually reveals a hand—playing with the viewer’s sense of scale and heightening the viewer’s tactile awareness. They also created a brooch with the rich beige sand on a rectangular block (shaped like the local farmlands) with steel, silver, shards of clear acrylic with a few light green lines suggesting the area’s dry grasses, and a rusty mesh to evoke the tumbleweeds.

Much of Thomloudis’s work is large and she knows that some people assume it is meant to be sculpture rather than jewelry, but wearability is a constant consideration of hers. “In my studio, my process is that I am always trying things on. I consider things when they are halfway done: ‘How is this sitting? How is this fitting? How is this framing me? Is this heavy? Is this going to bother me? Could I wear this out?’ ” And while she emphasizes that she is not making small sculptures, “one hundred percent not,” she is interested in how her jewelry exists when it is not being worn. In gallery settings, she sometimes presents work in groups, for example allowing the large number of brooches in Over the Fence to convey the immensity of the view she experienced, and she likes the idea of a cluster of small brooches in a personal collection sitting out as a sculpture when off the body. She adds, “I really don’t want my things to be hidden in drawers. I want them to be out. I want them just to be part of life, whether it’s on the body or off the body—like architecture is part of our everyday lives.”

SUBDIVIDED AND JOINED (HT) NECKPIECE of cement, nickel silver, resin, pigment, and silver, 45.7 x 25.4 x 1.9 centimeters, 2014.

Sometimes she uses standard construction techniques, but on a smaller scale, and sometimes she has to reinvent those techniques in order to make works that are light enough to wear. She often uses cement, either adding a thin layer of it to hollow or lightweight structures to produce an “essence of mass” without the heft, or mixing it with resin—which results in a lighter mixture than mixing it with water—and casting it in silicon molds. Her Subdivided and Joined (HT) neckpiece appears to be made of massive chunks of cement with blocks of yellow recalling caution tape or construction equipment, but she formed the rectangular shape with the arched opening out of thin layers of concrete over metal mesh boxes, rubbing away the surface in small patches to reveal the interior structure. 

The geometry, colors, construction, and materials in Thomloudis’s work all reflect her experience of architecture, but she stresses that the references are not direct—she is using the visual vocabulary of architecture, but not trying to make miniature versions of what she sees. She states, “I’m really interested in the framework of architecture and how our bodies are perpetually in the landscape of architecture and this environment, and I’m interested in reversing that. What does it mean when those things are then on the body? Can we find these smaller moments that otherwise are overwhelming or forgotten in some ways?” Through constructing palm-sized reflections of what can be monumental in scale, she raises questions about the relationship of the body to the buildings that surround it.

TILTFRAME BROOCH of brass, steel, powder coat, Sharpie marker, graphite pencil, paint, and clear coat, 12.7 x 10.1 x 5.1 centimeters, 2017.

After a year in El Paso, Thomloudis spent a year in Ohio as the assistant professor and head of the Jewelry/Metals/Enameling Program at Kent State University before settling in Athens, Georgia, where she is an assistant professor in Jewelry and Metalwork at the University of Georgia. Her most recent series of work, to be shown at JOYA Barcelona Art Jewellery & Objects, is tentatively titled Tiltframe and reflects her continued investigation of buildings and industrial materials. These works feature pops of neon colors and an increased amount of drawing. Currently, she is intrigued by the systems of marks made by construction and city workers as they note the locations (or future locations) of walls, cuts, water pipes, and gas or electric lines, using carpenter pencils, fluorescent spray paint and markers. She observes them with a designer’s eye, transforming them from functional notations within a building site or streetscape to decorative elements of personal adornment. “I’m fascinated with the markings; what they all mean, how they become an ornament within the landscape; and then transpose that into wearable objects.” The brooches and necklaces of Tiltframe are collections of open brass and steel rectangles, powder coated in white with layers of lines and arrows in pencil and Sharpie. Her husband, a building inspector, offers practical support by interpreting the symbols, and she plans to start making works with marks themed to specific individual utilities such as gas, electricity and water.

Thomloudis particularly is proud to be associated with Athens Jewelry Week in Greece, a new international celebration of contemporary jewelry. The organizers invited her to speak at the first event in 2016, and she has enjoyed developing personal connections with Greek jewelers. Next summer she will participate in a new jewelry artist residency program at the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, next to the Acropolis. She relishes the opportunity to develop a more immediate connection to Greece in her work, creating “jewelry inspired by the physical and cultural geography of Athens.” She believes that “relating to the aesthetics of architecture/landscape/place” through jewelry, has “the potential to connect us closer to the world we are surrounded by,” and next summer will use this approach to explore her own cultural heritage.

SUGGESTED READING
“5 Questions, Demitra Thomloudis,” Mother Makers Blog, November 8, 2017, mothermakersblog.wordpress.com/2017/11/08/demitra-thomloudis. 
Callahan, Ashley, Annelies Mondi and Mary Hallam Pearse. Crafting History: Textiles, Metals, and Ceramics at the University of Georgia. Athens, GA: Georgia Museum of Art, 2017.
Malev, Daniela. To the Point: Pin Mechanisms and Brooch Back Design. Leipzig: Edition Winterwork, 2017. 
Thomloudis, Demitra and Motoko Furuhashi. CrossPASS. San Francisco: Blurb Publishing Company, 2017. 
Townsend, Jen and Renée Zettle-Sterling. Cast: Art and Objects Made Using Humanity’s Most Transformational Process. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2017.

 
VIENTO BLOCK 1 & 2 BROOCHES of steel, powder coat, cement, paint, sterling silver, nickel silver, and resin, 8.9 x 7.6 x 5.1 centimeters (left), 10.1 x 8.9 x 5.1 centimeters (right), 2015.

VIENTO BLOCK 1 & 2 BROOCHES of steel, powder coat, cement, paint, sterling silver, nickel silver, and resin, 8.9 x 7.6 x 5.1 centimeters (left), 10.1 x 8.9 x 5.1 centimeters (right), 2015.

 
 

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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 recently co-authored, with Annelies Mondi and Mary Hallam Pearse, Crafting History: Textiles, Metals, and Ceramics at the University of Georgia, which included work by Demitra Thomloudis and benefited from her assistance with photography. She appreciated Thomloudis’s enthusiasm, optimism and articulateness in their discussion of jewelry, construction and children. Since visiting the artist’s studio, Callahan has enjoyed a heightened awareness of the textures of the sidewalks, walls and parking decks and of the bright pink and orange markings left by city workers on the edges of the streets.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show 2018 Volume 40.5

 
MARINA TERAUDS

MARINA TERAUDS

 

The five jurors for the 42nd annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show had their work cut out for them, selecting 195 artists from a total of 876 applications. Per tradition, the show has a number of special add-ons, including the guest artist program, which this year features a cohort of twenty-six craft artists from Germany. As the show gets under way at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, a bounty of beauty and technical expertise awaits those who pass through its doors.

Once again the PMA Craft Show shines a light on some of the best and brightest in American art and craft in a dozen different categories. Fine art etcher Marina Terauds’s paper pieces stand out for their exquisite detail and precise lines, whether it’s a custom-made ex libris or a drawing of Queen Anne’s lace.

A Latvian by birth, Terauds studied graphic art at the Art Academy of Latvia and art pedagogy at the University of Latvia. After completing her studies she taught art and art history and worked as an artist-animator at the RIJA film studio in Riga. She currently lives in North Branch, Michigan.

LINDSAY LOCATELLI

Terauds uses original hand-cut copperplate intaglio prints and handmade paper as a basis for her three-dimensional compositions. She is a fantasist, a maker of inventive assemblages that sometimes bring to mind the work of Joseph Cornell. In one recent piece, a dress form is decorated with all manner of evocative imagery: a vintage clock, a mirror-holding bird-woman, an iguana, mushrooms, and butterflies.

Another newcomer is Lindsay Locatelli from Denver, one of fourteen “emerging” artists selected for the 2018 edition. The Philadelphia show has been at the top of her list for a while and she is excited to be going to the big dance to exhibit her contemporary art jewelry.

Locatelli works primarily in handcarved polymer clay and fabricated silver. She is drawn to creating organic and “intuitive textures” and applying bright colors, as witness a pair of spiky hoop earrings of polymer clay accented with eighteen karat lemon gold leaf. She loves the clay because she can sculpt it while it’s soft and carve it once it has hardened. She also likes the fact that it takes paint and other finishes well, “allowing,” in her words, “for the medium to mimic lots of other textures and materials.”

Diane Harty, a fiber artist from Frisco, Colorado, will be making her second trip to Philly, with some of her straw hats in various shapes and sizes ready for display, as well as chenille and felt headwear for colder weather. She employs about a dozen different kinds of braid in her hats, each one lending itself to a certain hat style. Harty recently obtained a few rolls of buntal, a fine white fiber produced in the Philippines from the leaves of the talipot palm. She has used the fiber to create cocktail hats. 

DIANE HARTY

Harty likes to approach each piece as sculpture; “I think it is a proper description,” she explains, “because I do not use any form or blocks to make the hats.” Instead, she shapes each hat as she is stitching it from the strand of braid. However, calling her pieces “sewn straw braid hats” is not quite accurate, she notes, although it suffices to describe functional work that “always has a touch of fun and interest.”

Another fiber artist, Deborah Cross from Freedom, California, has been to the Philadelphia show off and on over the past twenty years. She always looks forward to the enthusiastic reception given the artists and the high level of appreciation shown by the people who visit her booth. 

To achieve her complex designs Cross hand dyes and overlays pieces and appliqués silk fabrics. Her husband and partner, Gordon Heinel, helps with weaving and dyeing. The pair won the Ornament Magazine Prize for Excellence in Art to Wear at the 2013 show. 

This year Cross will be showing her newest limited edition wearables. She loves working in silk and wool, with houndstooth among her favorite fabrics. Indeed, she considers black and white to be “the most flattering fabric to wear.” On each of her new pieces she has airbrushed a gradation of black to striking effect. Some of the pieces also feature a stenciled discharge paste design. 

DEBORAH CROSS

Another couple in artistic cahoots, Nancy McCormick and Paul Monfredo have made around seven trips to Philadelphia over the years, bearing with them the fruits of their studio on Mount Desert Island on the coast of Maine. McCormick looks forward to seeing the work of fellow artists and admires the way the museum’s Women’s Committee organizes the show.

McCormick and Monfredo have been collaborating on decorative mirrors going on thirty years, inspired by images from the natural world, illuminated books, art history, and architecture. Their joint practice entails many steps, from building the frame to applying tempera paint. Monfredo handcrafts the panels from basswood, poplar and other woods, then applies several layers of hand-mixed clay, called “bole,” which he sands and polishes before applying gold leaf. McCormick creates the ornamental designs and paints them using tiny brushes. Elegant trees and stylized fish appear in several new pieces.   

Ani Kasten, a ceramist from Shafer, Minnesota, has been a prize-winner in previous PMA Craft Shows, including Best in Contemporary Clay in 2009 and Best in Show in 2016. Using wheel-throwing and hand-building techniques, she creates one-of-a-kind and small gatherings of sculptural vessels that, in her words, “explore the meeting point between natural and man-made worlds.”

PAUL MONFREDO & NANCY MCCORMICK

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ANI KASTEN

Kasten’s pieces often have a weathered look as if they had been discovered at an archaeological site. This appearance of what she calls “organic deterioration” evokes “the cycle of life, death, decay.” She embraces a minimal aesthetic she first encountered as a student of British ceramist Rupert Spira in 2000. The Nantucket-born artist has never lost her sense of the inherent earthiness of her medium, from her years in Nepal developing a stoneware production facility to the studios she established in Oakland, California, Mount Rainier, Maryland, and the St. Croix River Valley northeast of Minneapolis, where she works today.

Another jeweler, Seung Jeon Paik from Annandale, Virginia, will be returning for his second showing in Philadelphia. He has fond memories of meeting collectors and gallerists and receiving helpful feedback from them. 

SEUNG JEON PAIK

Among Paik’s offerings are brooches and pendants made from eighteen karat gold and sterling silver. He has turned to the cosmos for inspiration, creating “naturally occurring galaxy and swarming forms” through the representation of “small particles.” And as with Lyons, technology and tried-and-true techniques go hand in hand: Paik uses traditional granulation, Rhino 3D CAD and laser welding to produce his ornaments.  

In the mixed media category, Amy Roper Lyons from Summit, New Jersey, is returning for her sixth show, honored to be juried in again. She combines precious metals and enamel, seeking, she says, “to capture a tension and balance: the transparent fragility of glass, the strength and subtlety of the matte surface of the metal.” 

Roper Lyons is showing jewelry and larger objects: goblets, cups and bowls. Of note are several examples from her current series of Women’s Work goblets, “reimaginings” of what she calls the “historical trope of decorative female figures used ornamentally in sterling hollowware.” She turned to a mix of digital technologies and traditional methods to create these pieces. She used CAD to model the figures and cup frameworks, which were printed in resin on a 3D printer. She then made molds and cast the parts in sterling silver. The final step entailed enameling them by hand, employing plique-à-jour, a vintage method for creating a glowing surface. 

AMY ROPER LYONS

Meanwhile, Roper Lyons’s recent jewelry, in eighteen karat gold and enamel combined with gemstones, is inspired by outer space. Her cloisonné technique allows for subtle layering of colors over a textured base while creating areas that flash and glint.

William Alburger from Barto, Pennsylvania, won the Best New Artist award at last year’s craft show, earning him an automatic invite to the 2018 gathering. He calls himself a “repurposing eco-artist,” creating art from wood rescued and reclaimed in his part of the Delaware Valley. Most of his pieces are “eco-art” sculptures that can be displayed on the wall, but can also serve as shelf or mantel. He makes console and coffee tables too.

Alburger likes to imagine the life of the wood he works with, “the endless stories that lie buried in its rings and chiseled in its bark.” He also rescues barn boards. “To me, the deep texture and markings of decay are pure art.” The wood itself seems to direct him as he follows “the flow of the wood and tries to place in the spotlight the interesting grain or markings.”

Like many of the artists in the Philadelphia show Alburger is passionate about his materials and has made a personal connection to them. In this regard, Alburger and company fulfill one of the main criteria of the jurors, as noted by one of them, Perry Price, executive director of the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, in an interview for the show. “At this level,” Price states, “the mastery and accomplishments of the individual artists is almost a given, but makers who I tend to recognize with higher scores are the ones who draw me into their work by virtue of the originality and authenticity of their voice as artists.” That’s the common thread here: the original and authentic voices of these remarkable people.

WILLIAM ALBURGER

 
The five jurors for the 42nd annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show had their work cut out for them, selecting 195 artists from a total of 876 applications. As the show gets under way at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, a bounty of beauty and technical expertise awaits those who pass through its doors.
 

Get Inspired!


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Carl Little has previewed the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show for Ornament before and loves the opportunity. “The show’s remarkable variety and the stellar quality of the work makes it a daunting task to select a few craft artists to highlight,” he notes. Upcoming for Ornament is his review of “Uneasy Beauty: Discomfort in Contemporary Adornment” at the Fuller Craft Museum. His third collaboration with his brother David, Paintings of Portland, came out in June. He also contributed an essay to Nature Observed: The Landscapes of Joseph Fiore. Little lives and writes on Mount Desert Island in Maine.

Richard Chavez Volume 40.4

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When Richard Chavez polishes a stone, he walks into the bright New Mexico sun to check his work. The natural light allows him to see imperfections that would be invisible in the lights of his studio. Always a perfectionist, Chavez may take several steps in and out of the studio door until a stone is polished to his satisfaction. A fastidious lapidary artist, Chavez has been working with a selection of quality stones since the mid-1970s. Today he is recognized as one of the leading Southwestern lapidary artists.

      Chavez’s work is characterized by clean lines, fine polishing, attention to detail, and reflects his architectural background, which was his first career. While working for the architectural firm of Harvey S. Hoshour, Chavez became familiar with and began to apply the principles of “less is more” pioneered by Bauhaus modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. These same principles are apparent in the jewelry Chavez creates today.

BRACELET of fossilized walrus ivory, turquoise, coral, black jade, and silver, 3.2 centimeters wide, 2012. Private Collection.

      His jewelry is strikingly different from that of other Southwestern artists. The color palette he chooses relies strongly on either a predominant dark background of black jade or lapis lazuli or a light background of fossilized ivory; and generally, he incorporates turquoise and coral—both thought to be traditional Southwestern materials—only as accents.

Like many of his colleagues who began careers in the 1970s, Chavez was influenced by the groundbreaking work of jeweler Charles Loloma (Hopi, 1921-1991), who was also known for his use of atypical stones set in innovative designs. Like Loloma, Chavez distinguished his jewelry beginning in the 1970s by including stones that were thought to be nontraditional. The stones can include Siberian green jade, black jade, tiger’s eye, fossilized ivory, opal, lapis lazuli, sugilite, chrysoprase, and occasionally agates of particularly striking colors.

Chavez was born in 1949 and grew up in the conservative village of San Felipe Pueblo. Educational goals were important to his parents, which led Chavez to pursue a career in architecture. Initially, he trained as an architectural draftsman though a program at Draughon’s Business College in Dallas and later, while working for Hoshour, he took architecture classes at the University of New Mexico. He began making jewelry while working at Hoshour’s firm to supplement his income. Initially, Chavez made heishi beads from olivella shells or he hand-fashioned turquoise beads. But as the lower-priced heishi beads imported from Asia undersold his handmade work, Chavez began to look for other options. He noticed that some other Southwestern jewelers were creating intriguing designs in silver and he decided to try his hand at metalwork.

LAPIS LAZULI EARRINGS of coral, turquoise and fourteen karat gold, 4.1 centimeters long, 1992. Private Collection. BLACK JADE EARRINGS of coral, turquoise and eighteen karat gold, 3.2 centimeters long, 2003-2004. Collection of Joan Borinstein. SIBERIAN GREEN JADE EARRINGS of coral, turquoise and silver, 3.2 centimeters long, 2009. Collection of Carole Katz.

      Within a few short years after transitioning from heishi beads to metal jewelry with inset stones, Chavez began to receive recognition for his innovative designs. He won the Best of Show Award at Eight Northern Pueblos Show in 1976, the first year he participated in the event. That same year, he also sold at the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) Market in Santa Fe. In 1977, the second year he entered the SWAIA Market, he was awarded a first place ribbon, and in 1981 received a SWAIA Fellowship during the second year it was offered to artists. Chavez used the fellowship funds to purchase gold, which was a more expensive metal than silver, and as funds allowed, he utilized it with more frequency as part of his jewelry. During this pivotal period and at the forefront of change in Southwestern wearable art, he and a few other artists were transforming Southwestern jewelry from classic silver and turquoise forms to those that featured gold, innovative shapes and a variety of stones. The materials as well as the designs they created blazed new trails in Native aesthetics.

BRACELET of Sea of Japan coral, turquoise and silver, 2012. Collection of Mike and Gene Waddell.

      SWAIA—the organization that produces the largest leading Native American art market in the U.S.—had another major impact on Chavez’s jewelry. In the 1970s-80s, SWAIA rules required that jewelers use all natural materials. Chavez preferred onyx rather than jet for a black stone because jet is a soft stone and he wanted a stone that was more scratch resistant. Realizing that onyx is dyed to achieve the black color, and as such was not a natural stone, Chavez began to look for alternatives. In 1988, he tried black jade for the first time and found the stone to be one that was suitably hard and took a polish well. Always fond of the deep blue of lapis lazuli, black jade offered Chavez an alternative dark stone choice.

Chavez also found that black jade, which in the U.S. often comes from Wyoming or Northern California, is readily available in an unpolished form. Stone selection is an important part of the work of a lapidarist and Chavez purchases many of his stones at the gem and mineral shows held in Tucson or Denver. Materials are sold by weight and, of course, the stones look much different in their raw, unpolished states. When lapidarists cut into one, they might find that only a portion is of suitable quality. Much of the raw material can be discarded while cutting, shaping and polishing. Artists are taking a chance each time they purchase raw materials. 

NECKLACE of lapis lazuli, coral, turquoise, and silver, 22.9 centimeters long, 1992. Private Collection. Adjacent are preparatory drawings of works; one containing the necklace shown here. Chavez sketches all of his pieces to scale and on the final drawing will add notes about materials and dimensions. He has kept many of the drawings to record the development of his career over time.

BOLO TIE of fossilized ivory, coral, black jade, turquoise, and fourteen karat gold, 8.3 x 5.4 centimeters, 1998. Private Collection.

      When he first began working with metals, Chavez thought about the designs he wanted to make and worked directly with the stones and metals to create each item. Within a few short years, he began to draw preparatory sketches of jewelry designs—initially on lined note paper but more often on graph paper—and has continued this process, drawing all of his works to scale. For some pieces, Chavez may draw a series of designs on different pages of paper until he is satisfied; and on the final drawing, he’ll typically add notes about materials and also include dimensions. He has retained many of these drawings, which as a body of work illustrates the progression of his career through time.

Chavez’s interest in architecture has continued to influence his jewelry designs and he often photographs architectural features when he travels. The rings in particular evince architectural motifs—a building’s cornice may be inspiration for the lines of a ring or the corner of a building reflected in an angle or influence its height. Some have flat planes that rise above the hand, much like a structure rising from the ground. Several examples contain a different design on each side. The circular forms of building ductwork might appear as a circular stone added to a ring’s flat plane.

Through his work at Hoshour’s firm, Chavez was also exposed to contemporary art by artists such as Mark Rothko, Joan Miro and Piet Mondrian. Their influence can be seen especially in Chavez’s color choices. The patterns in stonework are often reminiscent of Mondrian’s colorations. His bolo tie pendants could be compared to a painter’s palette since the ornaments serve as a platform for design and color balance. Generally, these designs are abstracted geometrics, but at times one can detect the shape of a face or the hint of an eye.

Some of Chavez’s creations directly reflect nature. The best examples are his butterfly brooches, which can also be worn as pendants. With great skill, Chavez creates complex stone mosaics in the butterfly wings, or simply carves stones to form the wings, adding incised lines to delineate patterns and creases on the wing’s surface. Often, he carefully carves contrasting stones for use as butterfly bodies and heads.

BRACELET of black jade, coral, dolomite, and silver, 3.0 centimeters wide, 2010. Private Collection.

      Chavez was also influenced by the economy of Scandinavian designs and he strives toward uninterrupted lines—A clasp might be designed to look like other sections in a necklace or bracelet; or alternately, pendants are attached to the fronts of necklaces and, in the process, also serve as the clasp. This meticulous geometry has influenced placements in exhibitions. When his jewelry was included in the Albuquerque Museum’s inaugural exhibition, “One Space, Three Visions” in 1979, the curator included his jewelry in the contemporary rather than the Native American section.

Chavez is perhaps best known for the complex inlay shown in his bracelets. Since he cuts and shapes each stone by hand, his application of the stones to bracelet bands best exemplifies his mastery of blending shape, color and design. The stones are perfectly cut, often in trapezoid forms that match seamlessly. Sometimes Chavez adds thin gold bars as accents to the inlay while at other times he may choose turquoise or coral for his accents.

One of Chavez’s first uses of Siberian green jade was for a bracelet made in 1996: the emerald-green jade stones, some of which have black inclusions, drew further attention to his capacity for detail and it has become a signature design.

Another significant bracelet design represents his great accomplishments in stone polishing. It consists of a highly polished black jade plane with inset cardinal points in red coral or white dolomite. The surfaces are so perfectly polished that it is almost impossible to see the seams of the stones without magnification.

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      Chavez undertakes every step of jewelrymaking without the aid of assistants. In 1997, when the Heard Museum was preparing a Southwestern jewelry exhibition, Chavez submitted a handwritten artist statement, which said, “From raw materials to finished product, I’m the sole maker of my jewelry. Each piece coming out of my studio has a part of me reflected in it. Any aspect of my jewelry making involves designing, fabricating, the grinding of metal and stones, the polishing and the finish applied to a piece. As difficult as it gets sometimes, I’ll never delegate any part of the work to an assistant.” Chavez has kept true to that statement. Because he is involved in every step, he may produce a small number of quality works annually.

COLLABORATIVE BELT BY RICHARD CHAVEZ AND JARED CHAVEZ of black jade, coral, turquoise, and silver, 88.9 centimeters long, buckle measures 7.0 x 7.0 centimeters, 2012. Private Collection.

      In recent years, Chavez has collaborated with his son Jared (born 1982). Jared showed an inclination for art at an early age and an interest in jewelry design and fabrication while still a teenager. His parents encouraged him to attend college and after completing his Bachelor of Arts in studio art, with a focus in digital art and printmaking at Georgetown University, Jared returned to San Felipe and began to make jewelry on his own. The two men share a studio in San Felipe adjacent to the family home. While Richard emphasizes lapidary work, Jared has focused on metalsmithing. In 2011 they collaborated for the first time on a necklace that featured Jared’s metalwork and Richard’s lapidary work. They have undertaken several collaborations since.

For more than forty years, Richard Chavez has created masterful jewelry with complex inlay and striking color patterns that reflect his architectural sensibilities. As his work has evolved, he has perfected his techniques while his designs have continued to delight and intrigue all who view them.

SUGGESTED READING
Chalker, Kari, ed. Totems to Turquoise: Native North American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and Southwest. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2004.
Cirillo, Dexter. Southwestern Indian Jewelry. New York: Abbeville Press, 1992.
—. Southwestern Indian Jewelry: Crafting New Traditions. New York: Rizzoli, 2008.
Pardue, Diana F. The Cutting Edge: Contemporary Southwestern Jewelry and Metalwork. Phoenix: Heard Museum, 1997.
—. Contemporary Southwestern Jewelry. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 2007.
—. Symmetry in Stone: The Jewelry of Richard I. Chavez. Phoenix: Heard Museum, 2017.

“Symmetry in Stone: The Jewelry of Richard I. Chavez” showed February 2 - August 5, 2018 at the Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, Arizona 85004. Visit their website at www.heard.org.

 

      Get Inspired!


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Diana F. Pardue is Chief Curator at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Her interest in jewelry has led her to curate several exhibitions as well as to write articles and books about the topic, which include Contemporary Southwestern Jewelry; Shared Images: The Innovative Jewelry of Yazzie Johnson and Gail Bird; Native American Bolo Ties: Vintage and Contemporary Artistry (with Norman Sandfield); Awa Tsireh: Pueblo Painter and Metalsmith (with Norman Sandfield); and Symmetry in Stone: The Jewelry of Richard I. Chavez. It is the fine lapidary skill of Chavez and start-to-finish process that Pardue investigates in her contribution to this issue.

Pierre Balmain and Queen Sirikit Volume 40.4

PIERRE BALMAIN escorts Her Majesty Queen Sirikit to a private showing of his Autumn 1960 collection at Maison Balmain in Paris, October 12, 1960.  Photograph courtesy of Pierre Balmain S.A.

PIERRE BALMAIN escorts Her Majesty Queen Sirikit to a private showing of his Autumn 1960 collection at Maison Balmain in Paris, October 12, 1960. Photograph courtesy of Pierre Balmain S.A.

SKETCH FOR NUIT A LONDRES. All photographs courtesy of the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles.

As a participant on a tour to Thailand to study textiles, I had the opportunity to visit the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles (QSMT), Bangkok. Among the exhibitions on view was “Fit For A Queen,” a stunning showcase of the wardrobe the legendary Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain designed for Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. This was my second visit to the QSMT and I was again impressed by the quality of the content and installations of the exhibitions. I was particularly engaged by the concept and execution of the new exhibition and was delighted to discover the collaboration between the Queen and her French fashion designer. I had the pleasure to sit down recently with Melissa Leventon, one of the three curators who worked on the exhibition, and dive deeper into the back-story and development of this unique collaboration in fashion involving Thai and French culture.

You’ve been working as the Senior Museum Consultant for QSMT since 2006; when did the idea first originate of developing an exhibition and catalog on Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s wardrobe designed by Pierre Balmain?

The idea originated a number of years ago with our director, Piyavara Teekara Natenoi. We began preliminary research on the relationship between Her Majesty and Balmain in 2009 when a team from the museum traveled to Paris and visited the House of Lesage to discuss his work with the Queen. Fortunately, we videoed that interview with François and we have used excerpts from it in the exhibition. In one of our inaugural exhibitions, we used quite a number of the Thai-style dresses made for Her Majesty by Balmain so the logical follow-up was to do an exhibition that focused on the Queen’s Western-style wardrobe.

Did Her Majesty gift the Balmain pieces to the museum?

Yes. Her Majesty has been donating items from her Balmain holdings to the museum since 2009. Earlier this year we were given another sixteen ensembles and some of those will be rotated into the exhibition in 2018.

In addition to Daywear, Evening Dress and Outerwear, did the collection include other components, such as accessories, luggage and archival materials?

QUEEN SIRIKIT WEARING Nuit a Londres from Balmain’s Spring 1960 collection. The Queen’s customized version was in Thai silk and had shoulder straps added.

      It did, yes. We have a number of the hats Balmain designed for the Queen, as well as quite a number of Her Majesty’s shoes. The museum’s collection includes only one or two pieces of the Vuitton luggage Her Majesty used on the tour but happily, we were able to borrow several additional Vuitton pieces from the Royal Household. The archival materials we have in the exhibition are all on loan from Maison Balmain and the House of Lesage—Balmain kindly lent us nine sketchbooks, representing the house’s regular summer collections from 1960-1969, and Lesage lent us a number of the embroidery samples prepared for Her Majesty’s dresses.

What were some of the challenges in readying the collection for exhibition?

Research and object selection are always lengthy and painstaking. For this project, we had a lot of information and photographs of some ensembles, and very little information for others. So we had both to determine how to choose among many options and make good choices where we had few options. Dating the ensembles for which we had no external information was quite challenging until we were able to see the Balmain sketchbooks lent for the exhibition by Maison Balmain, which happened fairly late in the process. Those sketchbooks were key to our understanding of how the Queen worked with Balmain in the early years of their collaboration, and they challenged a lot of the assumptions we had made. Fortunately, they arrived in Bangkok before the catalog went to press!

We were also fortunate that many dresses were in very good condition, but getting them to look right on their mounts is always challenging. The evening dresses and ball gowns are all on invisible mounts, which our conservators had to make for each dress individually. That was an arduous and time-consuming task.

Can you describe the process that went into the making of the audio-visual components that accompany and complement the exhibition?

 
The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in Thailand is presenting more than thirty of the Queen’s daytime, cocktail and evening dresses in an exhibition that focuses on the twenty-two-year-long working relationship between Queen Sirikit and French couturier Pierre Balmain.

      A lot of time and effort went into the short animated presentations that show selected dresses putting themselves together. We commissioned five of them, and worked with a professional animation studio and designer/dressmakers. The designers replicated the patterns Balmain’s workrooms had used in constructing each garment, by studying the garment closely and taking careful measurements. The animators then translated the patterns into computerized form, and created a series of storyboards—just as if they were making a movie—that showed the shape of the pattern pieces and the order in which they were sewn together. We went through several drafts of each one, adjusting the views, construction order and pacing each time. So, a lot of work, but well worth it. The finished animations are not only informative, they are among the most popular features of the exhibition. 

Why did Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit decide to commission the renowned Paris couturier Pierre Balmain to design Her Majesty’s wardrobe for their 1960 state visit to fourteen European countries and the United States? 

AFTERNOON DRESS AND COAT, made entirely of Thai silk was worn both in New York and Rome during 1960 state visit.

      In that era, royal women and wives of heads of state commonly patronized either well-known fashion designers from their home countries or French couturiers. Her Majesty’s principal Thai dressmaker, Urai Lueumrung, advised her that there were no designers in Thailand in 1959 who were capable of producing the kind of Western wardrobe she would need for the tour, so a French couturier was the obvious choice. Balmain was an excellent choice for Her Majesty. He was experienced, widely traveled and had dressed other noble and royal clients, so the Queen knew that he would be able to advise her on the intricacies of royal dress protocol for European countries. Moreover, his couture operation was then one of the largest in Paris, so he had the capacity to produce Her Majesty’s orders quickly and reliably.

The Thai government had proposed that Her Majesty work with Dior and offered to pay for the Queen’s wardrobe. Their Majesties wisely declined the suggestion, as well as the payment offer. Dior was the largest and best-known couture house in Paris at the time, but Christian Dior himself had died and Yves Saint Laurent was at the helm. Saint Laurent was a great designer but he was very young and more interested in his generation’s youthful tastes than he was in classic style—not what Her Majesty was looking for.

What were the characteristics of Balmain’s designs that Her Majesty found so appealing? 

Balmain was known for elegant, classic designs—neat little suits, chic afternoon dresses and flowing, romantic evening dresses, all executed with close attention to detail. He was also willing to use Thai textiles in his designs for the Queen to help convey a sense of her Thai identity through her Western clothes. This, I think, was crucial to the success of their working relationship.

In the exhibition and catalog texts you make reference to the “seamless blend of Asian aesthetics and European high fashion” that Her Majesty and Balmain “developed and refined over their twenty-two-year collaboration.” This partnership resulted in a “fashionably Western and distinctively Thai” style. Can you talk about some of the pieces in Her Majesty’s wardrobe you feel best illustrate this concept?

EVENING DRESS of Thai silk and metallic brocade, 1960. This is one of several simple, Western-style evening dresses Balmain made for the 1960 tour.

      There are many. The Queen’s daytime ensembles from the 1960 tour, particularly the fashionable suits made entirely from Thai silk, exemplify the marriage of Western fashion and distinctively Thai textiles that created her characteristic style. Two of my favorites in this category are an orange Thai silk skirt suit that Her Majesty wore at least twice during the tour and for several years afterwards; and a Thai silk dress and swing coat ensemble, also worn in both the U.S. and Europe. Balmain also made evening dresses for the Queen in 1960 using this same approach, but substituting Thai gold-metal and silk brocade for the Thai silk.

The 1960 tour wardrobe firmly established Her Majesty’s style as utilizing this joint Thai/Western strategy. It carried over to her use of the Support Foundation’s village-woven textiles beginning in the 1970s, which were styled into Western garments by Balmain. It also applied, in a slightly different way, to Balmain’s work on Her Majesty’s Thai national dress. Modern Thai national dress was developed at Her Majesty’s behest for the 1960 tour. Stylistically, it incorporated modern Western tailoring with elements drawn from nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Thai court dress. Initially, it was made only by the Queen’s Thai designers. However, Balmain and the embroiderer François Lesage began to make some of Her Majesty’s national dress around 1963, adding European construction and embroidery technique, style and materials.

What was the reaction of the public and the press to the Queen’s style? Was she considered to be as fashionably and elegantly dressed as other women of royalty and position to whom she was introduced on the tour? 

The Queen, who was stunningly beautiful, attracted a lot of admiring public attention and was very popular with the press as well. A lot of the press coverage focused on what The New York Times rather breathlessly referred to as the “huge and wonderful wardrobe of fairytale proportions” and there is no doubt that she could hold her own with the most fashionable women in the world. She was elected to the Best Dressed List in 1960, which also included Princess Alexandra of Kent, Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy. She was re-elected to the list twice more, topping it in 1964, and then was elevated to the Best Dressed Hall of Fame in 1965.

What role did the House of Lesage play in developing a design aesthetic for Her Majesty? Was imagery for the embroidery drawn from both European and Thai sources? 

THAI NATIONAL DRESS of silk brocade, shows how the House of Lesage enhanced the garment’s woven pattern with lavish embroidery, 1979.

      Lesage’s embroidery designs for Her Majesty’s dresses often reflected his signature use of varied combinations of materials to create richly textured surfaces, which in turn influenced Thai embroiderers. I think, in fact, that Lesage’s major contribution to the Queen’s evolving style was the successful application of his distinctive approach to embroidery to Thai national dress.

Lesage used both European and Thai sources for the embroidery on Her Majesty’s Western cocktail and evening dresses. Many of Her Majesty’s most formal clothes from the 1960s use both European materials and motifs. However, others incorporate classic Thai motifs, such as flames, palmettes and lotus flowers. For dresses made of Thai brocade, Lesage’s embroidery often echoes the brocade pattern as a way of amplifying it. The Lesage archives also include copies of motifs from books on Thai art so he plainly was looking beyond the information gleaned from the textiles themselves.

As cited in the exhibition catalog, Balmain provided every conceivable service to assure that Her Majesty’s wardrobe on tour met his high standards of craftsmanship and carried “the stamp of enduring elegance.” Can you share with us some of the preparations involved? 

In addition to designing Her Majesty’s clothes, Balmain provided matching hats as needed. His in-house furrier also designed her furs. Balmain commissioned her footwear from René Mancini, a French custom shoemaker who supplied bespoke shoes to a number of couturiers, and he orchestrated the purchases of accessories such as gloves.

Balmain was also very involved in making sure the wardrobe functioned properly on tour. Their Majesties were constantly on the move, especially during the American portion of the tour, and the Queen often had to change three or four times a day. It was crucial that the right clothes for the right occasions be easily findable and always in ready-to-wear condition. To ensure this, Balmain developed a chart for the women who were responsible for caring for the Queen’s clothes during the trip, which listed each outfit, its individual components, the number of the trunk in which it was packed, and the occasion(s) for which it was intended. The list included swatches for easy identification. Balmain also taught Her Majesty’s attendants to pack the clothes so that they would appear fresh and unwrinkled when they were unpacked.

Did Balmain present sketches and fabric swatches to Her Majesty for approval? 

We think so, although we have not yet located any. Erik Mortensen, Balmain’s assistant, mentions in his memoir that Balmain introduced new design ideas to Her Majesty using sketches and samples, and we have seen Mortensen’s own sketches and swatches for Her Majesty from the period after Balmain’s death. 

How were personal fittings handled? 

As would have been customary for a royal client, Balmain went to Her Majesty for fittings. It was and is customary for a couturier to have a customized dress form made for each client to be used as a stand-in when the client was not present, so Balmain would have used the form made to Her Majesty’s measurements draping, cutting, and the preliminary fittings in Paris. For the state tour, Balmain brought the clothes needed for the intensive month in the U.S. to Bangkok along with his assistant Erik Mortensen, and a fitter. They spent about three weeks fitting the clothes on the Queen, and did most of the necessary alterations in the workshop of Urai Lueumrung, Her Majesty’s dressmaker. For the second, European phase of the tour, which lasted for five months and was much less intensive, Balmain and his team would visit the Queen almost every weekend at Their Majesties’ base in Switzerland to fit the clothes needed for the following week or so of official activities.

Why did Balmain contract with Vuitton to make the trunks with customized interior fittings for Her Majesty’s wardrobe? 

VUITTON HAT TRUNK. The Vuitton luggage ordered for Queen Sirikit was striped with the colors of the Thai flag and monogrammed with the Queen’s cipher.

      Vuitton is known for its customized luggage and boasts a long and impressive roster of royal and noble clients. They were really the logical choice. And it made sense for Balmain to order the luggage rather than leaving it to the Palace to do directly, because Balmain would have known which interior fittings were needed to accommodate the royal wardrobe and how many pieces of luggage would have been needed.

Who, if anyone, assumed the role after Balmain’s death in 1982?

Erik Mortensen, Balmain’s primary design assistant, became the designer for Maison Balmain after Pierre Balmain’s death. Mortensen had been in charge of Her Majesty’s orders since 1960 and thus the two already had a close and longstanding working relationship. I think that for the Queen, the transition from Balmain to Mortensen was probably fairly seamless.

When Mortensen left Balmain in 1990, Her Majesty followed him to Jean Louis Scherrer. He remained her couturier of choice until his death in 1998. After that, the Queen tried several other European designers—Dior, Givenchy, Valentino among them, and also increased her patronage of Thai designers such as Bha, Tirapan and Pichita.

You point out that the use of handwoven Thai silk brocades and ikats in Her Balmain-designed wardrobe were a deliberate strategy conceived by Her Majesty to promote Thai identity and elevate the textile arts of Thailand. In the 1970s, Her Majesty established the Support Foundation to promote the revival of Thailand’s traditional crafts, particularly weaving. Do you think the Foundation was a natural outgrowth of this strategy?

RENÉ MANCINI SHOES made for the Queen in a variety of materials. The Queen often wore this type of evening pump with Thai national dress.

      Not exactly. The establishment of the Foundation, in 1976, simply formalized an effort spearheaded by the Queen that had been underway for several years. So I think the strategy was born from Her Majesty’s desire to market the silks that were being produced at her behest in the most effective way possible. In other words, I believe the textiles came first, and Her Majesty’s decision to wear them followed.

One of Her Majesty’s objectives, through the Support Foundation, was to create a commercial market for the fabrics woven by local village women. Do you think the commercial channels have enabled these “humble village textiles” to now become fashionable? 

They are certainly popular in Thailand, and I think that is due to Her Majesty’s advocacy. However, they are not particularly prominent in fashion outside Thailand, so I don’t think they have achieved the lasting international recognition that Her Majesty may have hoped for.

What would you like visitors to “take away” from this exhibition?

I’d like people to understand something of the process of how Balmain and Her Majesty worked together, how important a factor Her Majesty’s appearance and style was in the success of the 1960 tour, how deftly the Queen exploited fashion to raise Thailand’s profile internationally, and how beautiful she looked. I’d also like people to appreciate how hard she worked to raise the profile and reach of Thai textiles.

“Fit For A Queen: Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s Creations by Balmain” is showing through June 30, 2019,
at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, Bangkok, Thailand.
Visit their website at
www.qsmtthailand.org.

 

      Get Inspired!


Jo Lauria is a Los Angeles-based curator, author and educator who is a specialist in the fields of craft and design. She has explored objects and environments that define the American lifestyle and culture through publications and exhibitions. The organizer of several museum-based surveys and national touring exhibitions, Lauria is currently the adjunct curator of the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA). Additionally, as Mentor Faculty at Otis College of Art and Design, she has guided students in their artistic pursuits and has contributed meaningfully to the academic environment. This issue she contributes a rare interview with Melissa Leventon, guest curator for “Fit For A Queen,” an exhibition showing at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. Together they examine the collaboration between French couturier Pierre Balmain and Thailand’s Queen Sirikit.


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Melissa Leventon is a specialist in European and American costume and textiles, and has been a consultant to the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles since 2006. Author of two books, she has also contributed to many exhibition catalogs and journals. Leventon is based in San Francisco, California, where she is principal of the museum consultancy Curatrix Group and a Senior Adjunct Professor teaching fashion history and theory at California College of the Arts.

Burning Man at the Renwick Gallery Volume 40.4

TRUTH IS BEAUTY by Marco Cochrane of stainless steel rod and stainless steel mesh, 2013. Photograph by Eleanor Preger, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery. THE 10 PRINCIPLES. Night scene: BURNING MAN PARTICIPANTS, 2013. Photograph by Neil Girling, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery.

Creativity is the principle that lies at the fiery heart of Burning Man. It is the sacred act that is celebrated by this neo-Pagan, techno-Hinduist, born-again-hippie festival, which represents to participants the absolute freedom to be one’s true self. It is appropriate that the hellishly hot, sandy basin in which the event sits is called the Playa. Metaphorically, it’s located on the boundaries of modern civilization and the vast unknown, between proverbial sea and sand. Effectively, it’s humanity’s sandbox, a place to play without all of the artificial constraints and prejudices we humans have made for ourselves.

      That word, play, is a much underappreciated aspect of human nature. Nora Atkinson would probably agree. As the Lloyd E. Herman Curator of Craft for the Renwick Gallery, Atkinson put together the landmark exhibition, “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” for many reasons, ranging from the personal (a former resident of the state of Washington, she felt a longing for West Coast culture) to the idealistic. As the quintessential outsider event, bringing Burning Man to the nation’s capital had more than a touch of subversiveness to it.

Burning Man was born in San Francisco, on the original Playa, Baker Beach, in 1986. It all began when carpenter Larry Harvey and his friend, Jerry James, knocked up a crude wooden effigy of a human being, dubbed the Man, bundled him up into the back of a Ford pickup truck, and carried it down to the shoreline. There, they and a group of friends raised the combustible figure, doused him with gasoline, and the rest is history.

WINTER IS COMING... by Manish Arora of silk and metallic armor, hand-embroidered, hand-embellished, chain-linked by hand, 2015. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

THE PLAYA PROVIDES NECKPIECE from various artists, assembled by Jennifer George, of metal, plastic, crystal, abalone, wood, and sterling silver, 2006-2017. The gifting economy that underpins the entire foundation of Burning Man, both literally and figuratively, leads to a continual and constant exchange of medals, pendants, badges, brooches, and other memorabilia as signs of affection, friendship, community, and shared memories. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

      Well, not quite. The catalysts that transformed the Baker Beach gathering into a temporary settlement nestled in the sweltering sands of Nevada desert were the po-po, and a group of like-minded malcontents, thrillseekers and iconoclasts known as the Cacophony Society. Like Russian matryoshka dolls, the Society came from a small group of friends who dubbed themselves the Suicide Club—after surviving, according to local lore, a stint hanging precariously from a loose railing over the crashing Pacific Ocean below Fort Point. Afterwards, Gary Warne and three compatriots recovered to safety, with a solemn oath to live each day as their last. These dwellers of the fringe, inhabiting the periphery of the human experience, would attract more like-minded individuals. Happenstance (and word of mouth) brought the flotsam and jetsam of San Francisco together on Baker Beach, celebrating the immolation of the Burning Man.

The festivities were interrupted in 1990, as the local police informed the revelers that the party was over. The community did not waste any time; during Labor Day weekend, a procession set out from Golden Gate Park, to find Burning Man’s new home, in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, far to the north of Reno. Here, in the middle of nowhere, underneath the blazing sun, a member of this band of merry adventurers, Michael Michael, marked the boundary between worlds with a foot dragged through the dirt, baptizing it with the words, “On the other side of this line, everything will be different. Reality itself will change.”

AERIAL VIEW of Burning Man gathering at Black Rock City, 2012.  Photograph by Scott London.

      Black Rock City is the real final frontier (pardons to Gene Roddenberry). There might be a lot of wild, unexplored and untamed land left on planet Earth, but Burning Man dives deep into the social, spiritual and ethical territory that lays far out in uncharted waters. Ten Principles girdle the philosophical foundation of Burning Man: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leave No Trace, Participation, and last, but absolutely not least, Immediacy. It is radical in that most honest of ways, by being a pure expression of what it preaches.

What may surprise those who view the festival as frivolous is the amount of work that goes into organizing Burning Man, and the structures that have grown up around it. The Department of Public Works (whose insignia is the Man circumscribed by the spokes of a tire wheel, embedded in a great black gear) has a laundry list of tasks that include “Building logical roads, creating and placing signage, maintaining approved potable water systems, providing portable and stationary electrical power, assisting with major art projects, and setting up the small-plane airport and runway.” The fact that between all those practical considerations, nestled surreptitiously, is the art, illustrates how the boundaries between practical life and art grow thin and merge together here. Like in many indigenous and folk traditions, there is no separation.

It was this challenge, of authentically presenting the spirit of the event, presenting the glitz and glamour without obscuring the substance, that Nora Atkinson faced in mounting the exhibition at the Renwick, part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Like a living flame, its temporary nature and spontaneity is its essence. How do you communicate that to an audience inside a building that is more than a century old?

 

BEFORE I DIE by Candy Chang (New Orleans, Louisiana), 2011. As an experiment in community building, and healing, Chang created the first wall on an abandoned house in her neighborhood of New Orleans. A response to a loved one who had just died, now these participatory installations, like David Best’s Temple, allow its audience an intimate relation with the art. In fact, the audience is part of the art itself. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

 

      The key, Atkinson reveals, is collaboration. “I reached out early on to the Burning Man organization. I had already had in my head a number of artists that I wanted to include, many of them being perennial artists that I thought really represented the aesthetics that have come out of Burning Man. But I also wanted to make sure that the community felt heard, and that the internal community favorites made it into the show, and that we had a really wide spread.” She makes reference to the populist nature that is at the root of Burning Man, an “Anything You Can Do I Can Do” ethos that sees MFA trained artists creating installations alongside carpenters and death metal heads.

Some, like Michael Garlington, graduated from Burning Man University by first working in the Department of Public Works, then apprenticing to celebrities such as David Best, who created the temple made of recycled wood that takes over the Grand Salon on Renwick’s second floor. Now Garlington’s work is exhibited by a gallery, and he erects his own sacred structures on the dusty surface of the Playa. For Atkinson, revealing this network of connections and relationships that develop through the festival was vital, as was giving Burners (a term for Burning Man attendees/devotees that is as contentious as it is ubiquitous) a voice in the show. “We actually put out a call in the Burning Man community, through the Burning Man organization, asking people to submit artists that they thought were important, artists that were some of their favorites, to us. And there were some pieces in the exhibition that made it in that were discovered through people’s suggestions.”

TEMPLE by David Best and the Temple Crew of recycled wood, 2018. Best creates wooden temples, spiritual structures, that are lit on fire each year at Burning Man. The Renwick commissioned him to create a temple for the exhibition, which Best dedicated to people who have lost, whether it be a loved one or something else. Visitors were encouraged to write on small wooden plaques that could be placed at the various altars around the temple. Best has said that there are few sacred spaces where people can reflect on loss and to celebrate and remember our deepest emotions. Photographs by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

      While the art installations may be the most memorable aspect of the festival’s visual milieu, Atkinson wanted to present the experience of Burning Man in a holistic and comprehensive manner, and what is a day on the Playa without body paint, glow-in-the-dark fabrics and otherworldly outfits?

READY TO LOVE ENSEMBLE by Manish Arora of thread, silk, beads, crystals, faux patent leather, felt, sequins, and iridescent armor, hand-embroidered, hand-embellished, hand-appliquéd, chain-linked by hand, 2016. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

      Normally we associate costumes and clothing as being different; one is unserious, fun and fantastical, while the other is outerwear to protect ourselves from the elements. Both however are the same in one very obvious respect: they are objects worn on the body. It is the gentle and not-so-gentle continuous pressure of society that makes certain outfits “costumes,” generally because they are too outlandish for people to comfortably accept as clothing. 

In fact, we are rejecting the validity of the wearer’s humanity. A person wearing something so outside the norm that we don’t recognize them as part of “our group” anymore becomes a caricature. Whether it is the loose, voluminous clothing of a clown, replete with red hair and rubber nose, or the dazzling ethnic attire from a foreign culture, for many people that invokes The Label of Other.

The costumes and clothing generated by Burners speak to the dissolution of societal labeling, just as the gifting of food, water and services represents an intentional shift away from a heartless status quo towards a healthy one. What you wear on the Playa is an expression of self; a statement of both exploration and identity where the message is simply, “This is who I am.” Whether the image you are projecting is what you want to be, what you actually are underneath society’s baggage, or the self you are finally, after many years, comfortable with revealing, Burning Man, for all its carnival illusions, is rather more real than the circus it superficially resembles.

With limited space and a huge breadth of material, Atkinson had to establish criteria for what pieces she wanted to display in the exhibition. The route she chose was to present artist and designer-made costumes to highlight the more unusual and fantastic wearables seen at Burning Man, while using photographs to give visitors an idea of what the every day Playa-goer looks like. She jokes about how when she has taken Burners through the exhibition, the most audible criticism is “Where’s the duct tape?” For many, who don’t know how to sew or cut fabric for clothing, ensembles are assembled from thrift-store purchases and random gear shimmied together with glue and a prayer.

NAGANA BRASS GOWN by Gelareh Alam of hand-cut leather, and custom metal work by Jungle Tribe, 2014. Although resembling something out of Mad Max, Alam’s intention for both pieces in the exhibition were born of a desire to express her thoughts on the emotional investment, both good and difficult, that love requires in a wearable piece. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

      That is not the case with the specimens on display here. Even though they appear like the regalia of alien queens, Gelareh Alam’s Cocoon Gown and Nagana Brass Gown, along with Caley Johnson’s collaborative piece the Crown of Nagini, are more than simple costumes. Rather than being made for theatrics or pretending, Alam’s clothing is meant to raise the stature of the wearer, and to create an aura of confidence that elevates them. They are also deeply personal. Alam, who grew up during the Iranian revolution, has been going through a journey of self-realization since she arrived in the States.

When Alam first came to the U.S. to study fashion design at the Art Institute of California, she was moving from a degree in psychology to a new world, without being able to speak English. She found her voice through visual communication, which she feels led to her emphasizing sight above the other four senses. America gave her the room to explore and grow as a human being. When Alam went to Burning Man in 2007, as she was completing her degree, it was because a friend gifted her with a birthday ticket.

What that visit did for her self-confidence was profound. She brought some of her clothing to the festival, and the recognition she received from total strangers was like the cosmos giving her the proverbial wink and nod. “I could not believe the response I was getting. It was amazing to see. Suddenly I was being praised for the creativity that I was not allowed to practice growing up, and that was a huge transformation.

“Burning Man was so natural for me, it felt like home,” says Alam. “Expression in the elements. Sublime. Here was a culture screaming that radical self-expression was not just good, but demanded. It was a place to re-define myself, and align with peace, equality, human empathy. It was transformational and deeply empowering. As an artist I am constantly in search of inspiration and constantly trying to break through those barriers. At Burning Man, this is the whole point of everything anyone does there.”

THORAX, AMBASSADOR OF THE INSECTS by Tyler FuQua of reclaimed materials, 2015-16. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

     Tyler FuQua has been constructing giant puppets for over fifteen years as his true passion, while making a living as a contractor. Building things is in his blood, whether it’s remodeling a bathroom or creating large metal installations. “Of course, it’s way more fun to build a giant robot instead of remodeling a bathroom,” he explains, “but sometimes I get projects that combine art and functionality.” His wearable costume, grandly titled Thorax, Ambassador of the Insects, was inspired as he mused about the speaker grills on his stereo, which resembled alien bug eyes. “I made the first helmet using these grills but it was just too ominous. I build fun things for all ages so this just wasn’t doing it for me. I went back to the drawing board and made what you see now. I really wanted to use as many reclaimed materials as possible, so the creation of Thorax was really determined by what I could find on the shelves at thrift stores. I would just walk around with an open mind until I found something that would work for what I needed. A lot of my art is creature-based, and I am a huge superhero fan, so Thorax is a conglomeration of those two things.”

There is also an element of self-invention. For many, Burning Man is that rare time in their life when they can be someone else. The straitjacket of their work, home or family life is temporarily lifted, and they are free to experiment with who they are. On the Playa, Burners find themselves anew, break apart previous conceptions of self, and come back together, rejuvenated, in some cases reborn, no LSD or ayahuasca required.

That isn’t to say everyone who comes to Burning Man finds it a transcendent experience; indeed, the point is the festival represents different things to different people. Perhaps that’s what makes it such a uniquely American phenomenon. Atkinson notes one of the reasons why she chose it as the subject of an exhibition was that Burning Man is as American as apple pie. “It was born in this very frontier culture, this sort of West Coast culture and Silicon Valley, believing that just because something has been done one way before doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be done. The idea of being out in a vast, empty environment and creating something entirely new from scratch has a lot to do with the entire American dream and the spirit of what we are as a country.”

TOTEM OF CONFESSIONS by Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti at Burning Man, 2015. Photograph by Michael Holden, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery.

      Such a multidimensional entity as Burning Man isn’t meant to be pinned down by taxonomists, although many will try. One flailing wing of the butterfly might be identified in that the festival is a radical social experiment. By undergirding the laboratory with strong, actively exercised principles, the Mad Scientist is unleashed into “the real world.” This doesn’t take place in a vacuum, a society without rules that is the nightmare of many a dystopian take on the future. In fact what we have here is a nascent utopia, taken to its practical heights by the wild and untameable spirit of the people involved. But the dream doesn’t die with the end of each year’s festivities; it keeps being passed on by those who lived it, out there on the dusty earth of the Nevada desert.

SUGGESTED READING
Bruder, Jessica.
Burning Book: A Visual History of Burning Man. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2007.
Christians, Karen and Christine Kristen. Jewelry of Burning Man. Santa Rosa, CA: Global Interprint, Inc., 2015.
Raiser, Jennifer. Burning Man: Art on Fire. New York: RacePoint Publishing, 2016.
King, Nicholas. Burners. Cochiti Lake, NM: Laughing Coyote Press, 2017.
Galbraith, Carrie and John Law. Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society. San Francisco: Last Gasp, 2013.
Jones, Steven T. The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert Is Shaping the New American Counterculture. San Francisco: CCC Publishing, 2011.

LORD SNORT by Bryan Tedrick, 2016. Photograph by Duncan Rawlinson, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery.

“No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” is showing in two phases, with the full exhibition through September 16, 2018, then certain works will be viewable through January 21, 2019, at the Renwick Gallery, Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006.
Visit their website at www.americanart.si.edu/visit/renwick.

Burning Man debuts annually; for 2018 it met from August 26 - September 3.
Visit their website at www.burningman.org.

 

     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. A scene hopper, Benesh-Liu has spent time in a variety of art and craft-based communities, from millennial pop culture fan groups like Anime cosplay and furry costumes to outsider art museums like the John M. Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. While in Washington, D.C. at the Renwick Gallery’s landmark exhibition, “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man,” he realized his interests were all leading to one place, Black Rock City. After interviewing Nora Atkinson, the Renwick’s Lloyd E. Herman Curator of Craft, as well as artists whose work was featured, the interconnectivity of this event with creative communities became apparent. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft.

Feathers and Fashion Volume 40.4

ROSEATE SPOONBILL WATERCOLOR (Platalea ajaja) by John James Audubon (1785-1851), circa 1831-32. Purchased for the New-York Historical Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863. Photographs courtesy of the New-York Historical Society. Audubon admired these prehistoric-looking wading birds, the largest North American member of the ibis family. The beauty of their feathers brought the species to the brink of extinction by 1920. They survived after the Audubon Society dispatched wardens to protect them and urged the passage of strict conservation laws. Today, the Roseate Spoonbill is one of the great success stories of the conservation movement.

The centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is a milestone for the field of ornithology, but the fashion world deserves to share in the celebrations, too. The passage of the Act—which prohibited the hunting, killing, trading, and shipping of migratory birds and regulated America’s commercial feather trade—was the direct result of women rallying together to resist the fashion for extravagantly beplumed hats that had devastated bird populations worldwide.

      In honor of what the National Audubon Society has declared the “Year of the Bird,” the New-York Historical Society’s recent exhibition “Feathers: Fashion and the Fight for Wildlife” blended fashion, activism and conservation science to honor the early environmentalists who helped turn the tide of public opinion against so-called “murderous millinery.” At a time when “ethical” and “sustainable” are once again trendy style buzzwords, the show served as both a cautionary tale and a call to action.

THE BIRD ON NELLIE’S HAT SHEET MUSIC, 1906. New-York Historical Society Library, Bella C. Landauer Collection.

      In the second half of the nineteenth century, hats were essential year-round accessories for respectable women. But they were more social conventions and decorative accoutrements than practical sources of warmth or protection from the elements. “A hat is nothing but a pretext for a feather, an excuse for a spray of flowers, the support for an aigrette, the fastening for a plume of Russian cock’s feathers,” wrote French art critic Charles Blanc in his 1875 treatise Art in Ornament and Dress (L’art dans la parure et dans le vêtement). Hats increasingly incorporated not just feathers but bird’s wings, heads and even entire bodies.

Far from being seen as barbaric or macabre, these avian accessories were initially admired for their natural beauty, artful craftsmanship and scientific interest. At a time of rapid urbanization, they brought city dwellers closer to nature; there was a corresponding fad for terrariums and aquariums. In February 1900, Vogue described a chic Parisienne wearing a “little toque . . . adorned with a few upright wings of some sort of South American bird, the sleek feathers of which gleamed like jewels.” The dead birds might be mounted on wires to create the illusion of movement. Sometimes they were framed in a bucolic mise-en-scène of leaves, twigs, dead mice, and reptiles. Advances in taxidermy in the 1880s and ‘90s affected hats as well as hunting trophies.

Hats served as posthumous perches for everything from petite songbirds like starlings, parakeets and hummingbirds to large and flamboyant birds of paradise, peacocks and even owls, reanimated with glass eyes. Milliners might amp up their exoticism by assembling Frankenfowl hybrids from the head of one bird and the wings or tail feathers of another. Plumes were dyed colors unknown in nature, or formed into trompe l’oeil flowers.

RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER EARRINGS of preserved hummingbird heads, gold, metal, unidentified maker, probably London, England, circa 1865. Animal parts and insects decorated late nineteenth-century jewelry. In 1865, London jeweler Harry Emanuel patented a method to inset hummingbird heads, skins and feathers into gold and silver mounts. As objects of beauty as well as scientific fascination, the dazzling birds’ heads and feathers were prized as earrings, necklaces, brooches, and fans. 

      “Colibri”—the French word for “hummingbird”—was slang for a frivolous person, making the diminutive creatures especially fitting fashion emblems. In 1889, the Parisian milliner Madame Josse created a toque trimmed with cut jet and “a dragonfly made of the breast-feathers of humming-birds,” according to the Millinery Trade Review. The English called hummingbirds “flying gems,” referencing their value as well as their beauty. The birds’ iridescent feathers, heads, skins, and even entire bodies were incorporated into hats, fans and pieces of jewelry; in 1865, London jeweler Harry Emanuel patented a method of setting them in gold and silver mounts. An example in the exhibit showed a pair of hummingbird-head earrings circa 1865 with the beaks tipped with gold.

Indeed, feathers adorned every part of a fashionable woman’s body. The enormous Roseate Spoonbill was a favorite of fan-makers; it was nearly extinct by 1920, though it rebounded after the Audubon Society dispatched protection wardens to its colonies. A bustled ice-blue satin evening gown of 1885 featured a swansdown-trimmed collar and train. Swans were an attribute of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, making their feathers an appropriate feminine ornament. Like the gown’s velvet underskirt and lace cuffs, swansdown was both expensive and sensual. It also played a part in beauty rituals, formed into powder puffs. Just as birds use their extravagant plumage to attract potential mates, so do people. 

SILK SATIN EVENING DRESS with feathers and swansdown accents by R.H. White & Co (1853-1957), Boston, Massachusetts, 1885. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.

TUNDRA SWAN WATERCOLOR (Cygnus columbianus) by John James Audubon. Purchased for the New-York Historical Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863. Tundra Swans once nested over most of North America, but disappeared rapidly as civilization advanced westward. By the 1930s, fewer than one hundred remained south of Canada. With protection from hunting and the disturbance of plumers, northwestern populations have rebounded. Today, their population is stable enough to sustain a limited hunting season in some areas.

SILK SATIN EVENING DRESS with feathers and swansdown accents by R.H. White & Co (1853-1957), Boston, Massachusetts, 1885. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009. TUNDRA SWAN WATERCOLOR (Cygnus columbianus) by John James Audubon. Purchased for the New-York Historical Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863. Tundra Swans once nested over most of North America, but disappeared rapidly as civilization advanced westward. By the 1930s, fewer than one hundred remained south of Canada. With protection from hunting and the disturbance of plumers, northwestern populations have rebounded. Today, their population is stable enough to sustain a limited hunting season in some areas.

      A delicate gold and diamond tiara—worn by a bride on her wedding day in 1894—sported trembling egret feathers instead of an aigrette, the feather-like spray of jewels named for the white bird who wears a lacy cape of plumage during nesting season. Egret feathers were scornfully dubbed the “white badge of cruelty” by wildlife advocates. They were worth a princely twenty dollars per ounce in 1915, according to The Tropic Magazine; as a result, egrets were hunted nearly to extinction. In 1902, about a ton and a half of egret plumes were sold in London, representing around 200,000 adult birds (and the destruction of two to three times that number of eggs).

 

GREAT EGRET WATERCOLOR (Ardea alba) by John James Audubon, 1821. Purchased for the New-York Historical Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863. The National Audubon Society adopted a flying Great Egret, one of the chief victims of turn-of-the-century plume hunters, as its symbol in 1953. The sheer splendor of their aigrettes positioned the Great Egret on the edge of extinction by the early twentieth century. With conservation laws, the species has rebounded. AIGRETTE HAIR ORNAMENT (from a Snowy or Great Egret) of egret feathers, gold, gold wire, diamonds, J.H. Johnston & Co, NYC, 1894. Museum of the City of New York, Gift of Mrs. Mary S. Griffin, 1961. Mature Snowy and Great Egrets develop wispy feathers along their breasts, heads and tails during their breeding season. Because of this fleeting growth, these feathers were among the rarest milliners used.

HERRING GULL WATERCOLOR (Larus argentatus) by John James Audubon with George Lehman, 1831. Purchased for the New-York Historical Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863. ACCESSORY SET OF HERRING GULLS, feathers, silk, including muff and tippet, unidentified maker, USA, 1880–99. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection, 2009. This unusual muff and tippet, made with four adult Herring Gulls harvested during breeding season, demonstrates how accessory manufacturers exploited these birds.

 
At the height of the “Plume Boom,” the U.S. fashion industry consumed five million wild birds annually, driving many species to the point of near extinction. London, the international hub of the unprocessed feather market, imported nearly 7,000 bird of paradise skins from New Guinea and more than 7,600,000 birds from India and Brazil in the first quarter of 1884 alone.

      Birds and birds’ wings were popular trimmings for the low, brimless hats called toques that trended in the Edwardian era, lending dimension and visual interest to minimalist style. “It’s the toque that dominates,” the weekly magazine La Semaine littéraire declared in 1901. “Birds, alas! entire seagulls rest on these toques, or else a bird’s head forms the middle in front, the two wings spread out to cover the whole hat.” Though seagulls may not seem exotic today, the large Herring Gull species nearly went extinct due to its popularity for hats and other accessories around the turn of the century. A gruesome highlight of the show was a matching muff and tippet set made of carcasses from four adult Herring Gulls; their distinctive red markings indicate that the gulls were killed during breeding season, when their plumage was at its most spectacular.

 

MME. FAUCHÈRE TRADE CARD, circa 1894. Numerous feather traders, importers and manufacturers were located in New York City. Many of the feathers incorporated into clothing and hats were imported from South America, South Africa and Africa. Game and plume hunters from Florida, Texas and Louisiana supplied many of the domestic feathers. 

 

      Women were not the only fans of feathers, however; the nineteenth century was the great age of men in uniform, and the exhibition included a military hat brandishing an exotic scarlet plume. But it was women—often the very elites who helped popularize feathered fashions—who were the first to respond to the trend’s alarming consequences for the environment.

FLORENCE MERRIAM BAILEY (1863–1948). Florence Merriam Bailey began her ornithology career while a college student. She established the Smith College Audubon Society in 1886 after becoming alarmed by the numbers of birds and feathers that adorned fellow students’ hats. Distinguished by her reverence for scientific observation, many of her books, including  Birds Through an Opera Glass  (1889), became important field guides. 

FLORENCE MERRIAM BAILEY (1863–1948). Florence Merriam Bailey began her ornithology career while a college student. She established the Smith College Audubon Society in 1886 after becoming alarmed by the numbers of birds and feathers that adorned fellow students’ hats. Distinguished by her reverence for scientific observation, many of her books, including Birds Through an Opera Glass (1889), became important field guides. 

      At the height of the “Plume Boom,” the U.S. fashion industry consumed five million wild birds annually, driving many species to the point of near extinction. London, the international hub of the unprocessed feather market, imported nearly 7,000 bird of paradise skins from New Guinea and more than 7,600,000 birds from India and Brazil in the first quarter of 1884 alone. South America and Africa (particularly France’s African colonies) provided the lion’s share of exotic birds. By 1911, it was estimated that the Paris fashion industry was responsible for the deaths of 300 million birds per year. This grim toll was exacerbated by the fact that birds were hunted when their feathers were at their most magnificent—that is, during mating and breeding seasons, which magnified the problem of hunting birds by disrupting their reproductive cycles and dooming their orphaned chicks to death.

GEORGE BIRD GRINNELL (1849–1938). Born in Brooklyn, Grinnell played a seminal role in American conservation. In 1886, Grinnell founded the Audubon Society of New York, the forerunner of the National Audubon Society (1905). He launched it from its publication Audubon Magazine as “an association for the protection of wild birds and their eggs.”

      The growing concern over the rampant pillaging of exotic bird populations for their plumage led to the formation of England’s Plumage League (later the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) in 1889 and, in America, a series of regional Audubon Societies, named for ornithologist John James Audubon. (Fourteen life-sized watercolors of birds—depicted living, flying and in their natural habitats—from his landmark 1838 book The Birds of America were on display.) The National Audubon Society was founded in 1905; in 1953, it adopted an egret as its symbol.

In Gilded Age New York, socialites Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna Hall staged tea parties to try to persuade their rich friends to stop buying hats with real plumage. Lilli Lehmann, a German opera singer and animal lover, campaigned passionately against wearing feathers during a residence with the Metropolitan Opera, offering her fans autographs in exchange for a promise not to wear feathers. Florence Merriam Bailey, an ornithology student at Smith College, established a campus Audubon Society in 1886 after becoming alarmed by the numbers of birds and feathers that adorned her classmates’ hats.

Politicians and many in the fashion and feather trades pushed back against these protests; after all, jobs were at stake. A cottage industry of “willowers”—often Italian immigrants, sometimes children—who specialized in lengthening the short strands of inferior ostrich feathers were among those affected. The Act impacted these laborers as well as feather importers, hat manufacturers and retailers. Surprisingly, some naturalists and ornithologists rallied to the defense of the feather dealers, pointing out that their destructive tendencies had been exaggerated by ignorant if well-meaning activists, and it was not in their financial interests to hunt birds to the point of extinction.

However, the feather trade was not just devastating to bird populations but to the greater environment; gulls, for examples, are instrumental in keeping shorelines clean. It also impacted the fashion workers who toiled in dangerous conditions in tenements to create feathered hats. Eventually, these widespread moral and environmental concerns were codified into law in the form of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This landmark legislation is credited with saving numerous species from extinction, including the Snowy Egret, Wood Duck and Sandhill Crane. It also paved the way for later legal protections of wildlife, such as the Endangered Species Act of 1973. 

A similar statute, the Importation of Plumage Act, was passed in the United Kingdom in 1922. In France, where a guild of plumassiers—the artisans who dyed, shaped, processed, and sold feathers for use in apparel—had been active since the sixteenth century and retained considerable political power, change was slower to come. But it was undoubtedly hastened by formation of the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO) in 1912, as well as by World War I, which inaugurated a new era of minimalism in French fashion.

UNKNOWN WOMAN WEARING AN AUDUBONNET. American Museum of Natural History, Special Collections. The Audubon Society also addressed the feather craze by promoting “birdless hats” trimmed with a variety of ribbons, flowers and fabric.

      Feathers from game and poultry destined for the dinner table remained morally neutral, as did ostrich feathers, which could be plucked from the tail without harming the bird. Milliners found creative ways to lend exoticism to non-endangered farm fowl like ducks, geese and chickens, or create artificial exotic “birds” out of commonplace feathers and glue. Ethical “Audubonnets” were decorated with ribbons, artificial flowers and twists of fabric; Audubon chapters commissioned leading milliners to design them.

The tradition continues today. Paris-based Lemairé, which has been supplying feathers to haute couture houses for more than a century, routinely makes feathers from common barnyard birds look like exotic specimens. British milliner Stephen Jones, whose work has crowned the heads of Princess Diana and the new Duchess of Sussex, has long used farm fowl feathers and artificial feathers in his elaborate headpieces, in compliance with Audubon Society guidelines.

As feathered hats and frocks have cycled back into fashion in recent months—seen at royal weddings, on the red carpet and on the runways of design houses like Nina Ricci, Calvin Klein, Balenciaga, Prada, Proenza Schouler, and Alexander McQueen—the morality of wearing feathers is once again being debated, just as many women are reluctant to wear fur or leather. Even down-filled winter coats are increasingly advertised as being “ethically sourced” and “cruelty free.” In February of this year, the Trump administration reversed a key provision of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, saying it poses a burden for utilities and energy companies; wildlife advocates argue that this move effectively guts the law. Maybe the Audubonnet will make a comeback?

“Feathers: Fashion and the Fight for Wildlife” showed April 6 – July 15, 2018, at the
New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, New York 10024.
Visit their website at www.nyhistory.org.

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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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. Chrisman-Campbell was recently honored by the Costume Society of America, receiving the Betty Kirk Excellence in Research Award. For this issue, she explains the history behind the “Feathers: Fashion and the Fight for Wildlife” exhibition at the New-York Historical Society, tracing a fascinating line between exploitation and activism.

Linda MacNeil Volume 40.3

LUCENT LINES SERIES NO. 09 NECKLACE of polished clear and neodymium glass, fourteen karat yellow gold-tubing, twenty-four karat yellow gold plated, 17.8 centimeters diameter, 1994.  Photographs by Bill Truslow except where noted.

LUCENT LINES SERIES NO. 09 NECKLACE of polished clear and neodymium glass, fourteen karat yellow gold-tubing, twenty-four karat yellow gold plated, 17.8 centimeters diameter, 1994. Photographs by Bill Truslow except where noted.

Monumentality in art, as André Malraux famously implied through his concept of the musée imaginaire, is an effect of form that, despite its associations with strength, imperviousness to change and dominance over surrounding space, is not necessarily dependent upon the actual size of an object. The effect of monumentality produced by a given artwork can arise in the mind of the viewer entirely through comparison of the features of that work with the formal characteristics of others in the dimensionless space of memory—or, more mundanely, through comparison of such formal characteristics in the printed or digital-media images through which we experience the vast majority of art today. To describe the brooches and necklaces of New Hampshire artist Linda MacNeil as monumental, therefore, is to classify their visual effects with those of Egyptian obelisks, the Chrysler Building’s mammoth steel gargoyles, or the towering Guardians of Traffic on Cleveland’s Hope Memorial Bridge without ever denying their physical compatibility with the intimacy of the body. The monumentality of MacNeil’s work, in other words, arises from associations with a certain kind of art that is often colossal but ultimately not restricted to any absolute scale in relation to the human form.

NECK COLLAR SERIES NO. 28. AJDC Theme Project “Stripes” of acid polished clear mirrored glass, polished ivory and black Vitrolite glass, chrome plate, 21.0 x 14.0 x 1.3 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Robert Weldon.

BROOCH SERIES NO. 34 of polished cream and black Vitrolite, acid polished mirrored clear glass, rubies, polished fourteen karat white gold, 7.0 x 1.3 x 1.3 centimeters, 2005.

NECK COLLAR SERIES NO. 26 of acid polished blue transparent and clear mirrored glass, ivory and black acid polished Vitrolite glass, twenty-four karat gold plated, 21.3 x 15.2 x 1.9 centimeters, 2017.

      Every artist has at times walked the halls of the musée imaginaire, developing affinities for certain historical styles or other conventions of form. For MacNeil, ancient Egyptian art, with its assertive planarity, basaltic strength and blocky opposition to the influence of time has been of particular interest. Any search for specific references in her work to carved sarcophagi, pharaonic portraiture or funereal amulets would be fruitless however, since traces of Egyptian art can be discerned in her forms only to the degree that they are also embodied by some Art Deco design of the 1920s. There, too, monumentality is pervasive as an effect of smooth planes uninterrupted by superfluous ornament, an overall tendency toward symmetry within an immediately graspable logic of composition, and an underlying sense of strength and durability. Egyptian art and Art Deco design—despite the historical distance between them, the disparate cultural contexts in which they developed, and the distinct associations they carry today of mystery, transcendence and eternity on the one hand and modernity, machinery and the optimism of innovation on the other—clearly share design principles conducive to the effect of abstract and universal monumentality. “Perhaps,” MacNeil speculates, “that’s why both of them attract me.”

I don’t work in a linear manner,” MacNeil explains. “I develop several series, and occasionally pieces that aren’t part of a series, simultaneously. A map of my thinking and work is like a flight path of a hummingbird going after the nectar from blossom to blossom.

      Historical art has been only one of the influences on MacNeil’s work over the forty-one years that she has been exploring design issues through her jewelry. “I’m a deliberate collector of influences through observation,” she says. “I study nature and use details of plant growth as the basis for some drawings. I go to museums often and look carefully at works of art and objects of antiquity or natural history and come away often with thoughts that generate drawings in my sketchbooks.” These drawings are crucial, not only because they help MacNeil to visualize combinations of shapes that might produce effective compositions but also because they help in planning the specific stages necessary to realizing the works materially. Occasionally, through the steps from observation to sketch to final work, representational elements, particularly plant or animal forms, persist, but more important are the relationships of color, shape, contrast, repetition, and other compositional characteristics. Even these are not slavishly copied however. Although MacNeil describes herself as “methodical,” her process of generating designs involves a degree of flexibility that precludes absolute predictability. Neither influences from observation nor her own initial ideas exert complete control over her works. “Most of the time,” she asserts, “I am just thinking things out as I create them.”

While ad hoc solutions to design problems are not the rule at all points in MacNeil’s practice, which tends to rely more on familiar routes to results, those that occur are crucial to the achievement of one-of-a-kind works. Consequently, her method maintains structure while intentionally incorporating two primary opportunities to disrupt lines of thought and thereby reap the innovation arising from sudden challenges. The first of these comes with MacNeil’s practice of shifting attention from one design to another. This is a common practice among artists, especially those who work in series or are particularly concerned with formal problems. Matisse, for example, habitually migrated back and forth between paintings and sculptures whenever he felt that his aesthetic probing had hit a wall. “I don’t work in a linear manner,” MacNeil explains. “I develop several series, and occasionally pieces that aren’t part of a series, simultaneously. A map of my thinking and work is like a flight path of a hummingbird going after the nectar from blossom to blossom.”

DOUBLE DECO, BROOCH SERIES NO. 47 of acid polished light brown and clear glass, acid polished and polished black and cream Vitrolite, white diamonds, polished fourteen karat white gold, 7.6 x 7.0 x 1.0 centimeters, 2009.

MIRRORED, BROOCH SERIES NO. 91 of polished clear, chartreuse mirrored glass, yellow Vitrolite glass, linear striped surface detail, rhodium plated fourteen karat white gold, white diamond, 7.6 x 6.4 x 1.3 centimeters, 2015.

      The other strategy through which MacNeil encourages innovation consists of presenting herself with multiple variables from which to select. As her designs progress from the drawing stage into three-dimensional forms that will ultimately be adapted to functional formats, she maximizes the need for choice. “I have hundreds of parts laid out in my studio,” she says, “so I can constantly see them as a palette for the works I imagine. These are forms in plaster and in glass that I have created from raw materials, usually taking advantage of some phenomenon unique to glass. I cast glass with fading and changing color, with thousands of bubbles or perfectly clear, and often use mirror backing to emphasize certain visual effects.” 

Glass has been the signature material in MacNeil’s work since the early 1970s, when she was introduced to the medium at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design shortly before transferring to the Rhode Island School of Design to complete her undergraduate degree. Rather than exploiting the thin and fragile clarity of blown glass, she has gravitated toward a gemlike solidity and a range of effects from faceted translucency to textured or polished opacity. The sleek and monumental Art Deco designs of René Lalique, such as his celebrated car mascot Spirit of the Wind—Victoire, have been particularly inspirational, but Lalique’s earlier, more delicate floral-inspired Art Nouveau designs have also had their impact. “The many ways in which glass and metal have been combined in the decorative arts in general, from hood ornaments to architectural elements, lighting and vases have been a powerful influence,” MacNeil states. “Lalique’s stylization of natural form and the use of glass as an elegant, almost precious material is very compelling to me, although my work stylistically is quite different.” 

Elements SERIES NO. 40 NECKPIECE of polished multicolored mirror and acid polished clear glass, diamond details, fourteen karat yellow gold, 16.5 centimeters diameter, 2005.

      Regardless of its particular inspiration, each of MacNeil’s works tends to be a one-of-a-kind piece but with the notable familial traits that arise from seriality. “By working through series,” she explains,” I am developing a concept in a repeated way. I often have many ideas for the way it can go, so each piece in the series is a new version of the original concept.” That concept, both a unifying idea and a descriptor of traits that link individual works to one another, ultimately provides the name for the series. The Elements series, for example, “refers to distinct repeated forms within a necklace, usually emphasizing the mechanical connections and making them a feature in the design. This sets off the individual ‘elements’ as they are presented by the structure of the necklace.” Incorporating cut, shaped and drilled plate glass, gold-tubing and sheet stock, the necklaces of this series have since the 1980s provided MacNeil with the opportunity to nudge the often rigid character of geometry toward “a free-flowing orbit of elements.” Geometry, particularly as it defines the bright, flat planes of primary and secondary colors in De Stijl design, has always appealed to MacNeil, but her Elements series seems to arise from the kind of musing in which Alexander Calder indulged when he visited Mondrian’s studio and thought, “how fine it would be if everything there moved.” The quality of motion in the necklaces is not only literal—as a wearer’s movements cause the elements to pivot like links in a chain—but metaphorical as well: elements that repeat, but in different colors, or two different kinds of elements that alternate around the necklace create rhythmic implied motion.

LUCENT LINES SERIES NO. 20 NECKLACE of polished clear optical, black and cream Vitrolite glass, ruby details, fourteen karat yellow gold, 16.5 centimeters diameter, 2004.

      Closely related to the Elements series, the works of the Lucent Lines series display a similar structural logic of elements dispersed in repetition around circular neckpieces. The series title refers to the opaque parallel lines resulting from holes drilled through the glass elements, some merely for visual effect and some as conduits for gold-tube connectors but all of them “punctuating the pure clarity of the geometric form.” Each of the elements—composed of commercially manufactured plate glass, lead crystal or colored transparent glass—is carefully cut, shaped and drilled to identical specifications then either acid-finished for a satiny texture or polished to a high luster. The elements of the Lucent Lines series often channel the bold monumentality of Art Deco architectural or decorative art designs. Necklace, Lucent Lines Series no. 20, 2004, for example, vaguely recalls the mechanical fluting and sleek industrial associations of massive Art Deco cornices on portals of skyscrapers, while Necklace, Lucent Lines Series, no. 09, 1994 conveys the impression of pink-stoppered Lalique perfume bottles strung like faceted beads on gold-tubing.

 
 

MESH SERIES NO. 119 NECKLACE of polished red, purple and yellow Vitrolite glass, polished black and cream Vitrolite glass, gold plated, 6.4 x 5.7 x 1.9 centimeters, 2009.

MESH SERIES NO. 145 NECKLACE of acid polished cast mirrored glass, polished Vitrolite glass, twenty-four karat gold plated, 9.5 x 5.7 x 1.6 centimeters, 2017.

 

      A similar monumentality of form characterizes the pendants of the Mesh series, which evolved from aspects of the Elements and Lucent Lines necklaces in the mid 1990s and is still proving a rich source of possibilities for exploration today. MacNeil describes the introduction of the series as liberating because she no longer felt “bound to such a labor-intensive, complicated task as I had in the Elements series” and because it helped in dispensing with “the notion that the use of commercial chain was inappropriate for my work.” Each of the unique glass and metal pendants hangs upon a flexible mesh tube capped at the ends by a catch. 

“The wearability is extremely important to the owners of my necklaces,” MacNeil notes, but the arrangement of a pendant on a simple mesh chain has also allowed for development of a broad range of concepts not possible in the Elements series format.

 

NECK COLLAR SERIES NO. 19 of blue mirror laminated glass, polished cream, black, red, and yellow Vitrolite glass, polished, mirrored cabochons, gold plated, 15.9 centimeters, pendant 14.0 x 3.2 x 1.3 centimeters, 2010. NECK COLLAR SERIES NO. 24 of acid polished blues, orange and clear mirrored transparent/orange ivory Vitrolite, twenty-four karat gold plated brass, 22.9 x 14.3 x 2.2 centimeters, 2016. NECK COLLAR SERIES NO. 18 of acid polished clear glass, mirror laminated yellow glass, polished cream and black Vitrolite glass, gold plated, 15.9 centimeters diameter, pendant 14.0 x 8.9 x 1.9 centimeters, 2010.

 

      Another group that has evolved around a specific physical format with myriad possibilities for design is the Neck Collar series. Eschewing the flexibility of a linked necklace, the Neck Collars are among the most sculptural of MacNeil’s works. Some incorporate pendants, some do not, and some, like Collar, Neck Collar Series no. 29, 2017 seem to dissolve distinctions, merging collar and pendant into a single form, as in the perfect integration of pedestal and sculpture in Brancusi’s Endless Column. MacNeil’s works, however, are always emphatically oriented toward the human frame. “Usually I focus on the center of the chest,” she explains, “and symmetrical details of the colored glass and gold relate to the form of the body. My strong interest in geometry has guided me in many of the designs, however I try to balance this approach with some organic softness of the form.” 

 

BOUQUET EDITION, FLORAL SERIES NO. 84 NECKLACE of acid polished red, orange, amber, pink, maroon transparent glass, laminated to mirrored glass, polished eighteen karat yellow gold, 20.3 centimeters diameter, 2009.

BOUQUET EDITION, FLORAL SERIES NO. 85 NECKLACE of acid polished transparent shades of blue, and clear glass laminated to mirrored glass, polished eighteen karat gold, 15.2 centimeters diameter, 2009.

 

PRIMAVERA NECKLACE, FLORAL SERIES NO. 98 of acid polished, light yellow, green, red, mirrored glass, eighteen karat yellow gold, white diamond detail, 15.2 centimeters diameter, pendant 7.6 x 2.5 x 1.3 centimeters, 2015.

      While monumental forms in MacNeil’s work can frequently be linked to inspiration in architectural elements or decorative art, the influence of nature has also exerted a significant impact. “A pod or a flower in full bloom is an irresistible beginning for a jewelry design,” she says. “Nature has already mastered the mechanics. My challenge is to interpret that plant life and to make a piece of jewelry. What is so interesting to me is that plant life can be extremely complex and feminine and also simple and quite masculine.” This compatibility of complexity and simplicity is reflected in Primavera Necklace, Floral Series no. 98, 2015, in which green-glass leaves and discrete white blossoms recall the monumental forms of Lalique’s Art Deco period while the looped tendrils and tiny faceted inset gems invoke his intricate and organically graceful Art Nouveau designs.

Such historical associations are natural for the viewer to note. MacNeil does not deny their relevance but is quick to point out that her work reflects the monumentality of Art Deco or the organicity of Art Nouveau largely because these styles convey universal principles of design equally applicable to the contemporary context. Her intention, in fact, is to reflect the character of the present while observing time-honored conventions of design and technical mastery: to communicate something both universal and particular. In this respect, the word monumental is relevant for its implications of commemoration, preservation and persistence of meaning across time. “I hope that my work is worthy of being in museums because people find it meaningful,” MacNeil states. “I know many artists who think this way. It’s basically a hope that my work is as interesting and important to others as it is to me.”


SUGGESTED READING
Taragin, Davira S. and Ursula Ilse-Neuman.
Linda MacNeil: Jewels of Glass. Tacoma, WA and Stuttgart: Museum of Glass and Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2017.
Arial, Kate Dobbs. “Sculptural Radiance: The Jewelry and Objects of Linda MacNeil.” Metalsmith: 24:3, Summer 2004.
Byrd, Joan Falconer. “Linda MacNeil: Mint Museum of Craft + Design, Charlotte, NC.” American Craft: 64:1, Feb/March 2004.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Glen R. Brown, a professor of art history at Kansas State University and a specialist on contemporary and historical craft media, takes particular note of jewelry that elevates ordinarily nonprecious materials to functional and aesthetic equivalency with gold or gems. He found in the necklaces of Linda MacNeil an especially interesting use of glass, not for its fragile translucence but rather for the strength and even monumentality that it can convey when cast or worked into simple geometric forms. MacNeil’s inspiration in Art Deco design also appealed to him. Brown is currently completing a book on the aesthetics of ceramic sculptor, painter and glass artist Jun Kaneko.

Smithsonian Craft Show 2018 Volume 40.3

JIYOUNG CHUNG

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National Building Museum
April 26-29, Preview Night April 25
www.SmithsonianCraftShow.org

In the Navajo tradition, master weavers would often weave a thin thread of a contrasting color in the outer corner. Called the ch’ihónít’i, this “spirit line” extended out to the edge of the piece. The Navajo believed that the weaver’s being became part of the woven cloth in the process of making, their soul forever entwined with the piece itself. The spirit line allowed a path for the artist to disentangle herself and move on to create even more works of beauty.

IRINA OKULA

      This notion of a maker’s spirit being encapsulated in their work lies at the heart of the contemporary craft movement. For those who dedicate their lives to craft, making is about more than the practice itself, more than selling work for a living. It is an act of divine creation, linking heart, hand and spirit. It is also an act of vulnerability. Sharing your work opens you to criticism, extending the conversation beyond you and your materials to an outside audience. For makers, there’s arguably nothing better than when viewers appreciate and are moved by your work.

The artists participating in the 2018 Smithsonian Craft Show are well poised for this kind of exchange between maker, object and viewer. Now in its thirty-sixth year, the annual show presents one hundred twenty of the country’s premier craftspeople, and welcomes an educated and seasoned audience of craft lovers each year. Presented by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, jurors make careful selections, choosing from some one thousand artists working in twelve different media—basketry, ceramics, decorative fiber, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, wearable art, and wood—making this one of the most influential craft events in the nation. For many artists, acceptance in the show is a big moment in their career. Having the chance to exhibit here inspires them to push boundaries, to explore new bodies of work, and to bring their very best to show.

Paper artist Jiyoung Chung relies on tradition, making her painterly, deconstructed paper works using the joomchi method—a Korean artform mixing hanji, or mulberry paper, with water and agitating it to break down and combine layers into one strong, fabric-like entity. It is akin to felting, and over time it ages to an almost leather-like texture. In Chung’s floating sculptures, the paper is layered, with holes like portals to the worlds below, and loose strands, frayed edges and furrowed surfaces. It draws the viewer in and feels both natural and otherworldly. Each piece is one of a kind, and some are large in scale. “It gives me more ground to explore and develop my ideas, as well as challenging my physical limitations,” Chung says of her play with size. “It opens new doors and possibilities for me to discover more about joomchi—what it can do and how far I can push it.”

LAUREN MARKLEY

      In Chung’s eyes her work is driven as much from her own creativity as it is from joomchi itself. She credits much of her design sensibility to a sort of collaboration with it. “I usually have a concept to start with. However, the process has surprising characteristics. It wants to be certain ways. I don’t feel like I am dealing with material, but with a person. So I often negotiate between my original thought and what joomchi wants to do.”

For ceramist Irina Okula, acceptance to her first Smithsonian Craft Show in 2015 was “almost like a dream.” Okula’s fragmented vessels have a quiet, emotive quality, with landscape imagery, text and abstract markings pieced together in simple, pleasing forms. Black bird silhouettes soar alongside snowy hillsides, repeating patterns, excerpts of text and a soft color palette. Her signature technique of piecing together broken clay shards came about by accident, after a pot she was working on broke into several pieces. Rather than mourn the piece, Okula fired the fragments separately and later epoxied them together to reform the original shape. Intrigued by the results, Okula began to break her work on purpose. Each shard is decorated with different surface treatments—using slip, stamps, copper tape, wire, and words—then packed into saggars, or covered clay containers, and fired with combustible materials soaked in solutions of salt, iron, cobalt, or copper oxides. 

The element of chaos brings a narrative quality to the vessels, fragmented like the memories and stories that make up one’s life. “My work emphasizes the relationships of the pieces to each other and to the whole,” Okula says. She welcomes the randomness of her process, each result pushing her to explore further. “There is an unpredictable quality to the breaks and the firing, which play a critical role in the outcome. I like the surprises. After I break the pieces, I tape them back together in the original form and do a drawing, front and back. I love how the pieces contrast and complement each other. They help me tell a story, often my story.”

MEGHAN PATRICE RILEY

      Impulsivity and disassembly are also central to jeweler Lauren Markley’s creative practice. In addition to sterling silver and brass, Markley works with reclaimed wood, textiles and enamel, constructing jewelry inspired by architecture, plans and schematics, spaces and structures. A pair of earrings is made from intersecting bits of sterling silver, reminiscent of angled steel. A brooch of layered wood has metal bars extending out like askew scaffolding. Segments of blackened silver overlap like roof tiles, an accent of golden yellow silk thread adding a touch of softness. “I get asked a lot if I’m a frustrated architect—I’m not!” Markley jokes. “Someone once looked at one of my big, chunky, geometric rings and said ‘Oh! I want to live in there!’ It’s still one of my favorite comments.”

Markley’s jewelry starts in sketch form. “Very loose and gestural, just getting an idea of an appealing shape,” she explains. “From there, I cut the material into smaller pieces and spend time figuring out how to reassemble it to achieve the shape I’m aiming for. It’s fairly improvisational, and I don’t have a clear plan or pattern for how I’m going to solder the metal or glue the wood back together.” Like sculpture or architecture, the “site” of her pieces is just as important. “I want my clients to be comfortable with their pieces. There is always a negotiation with weight, proportion, depth, scale, when figuring this out.”

Jeweler Meghan Patrice Riley also enjoys this relation of jewelry to the body. “I love the idea of the body as site—meaning that jewelry is fashion, art, design, and everything in between. A piece that looks like non-wearable art that belongs on the wall comes to life on the body. And I love the idea of people taking a personal approach; they can play with wearing my pieces in traditional ways or push their own ideas.” Her Blanc and Noir lines are made from steel cable cord and aluminum connectors or crimp beads—typically used in beaded necklaces to secure the stringing material to the clasp. But in Riley’s work, the cord, connectors and crimps take center stage; the stones, when used, are secondary, almost like jewelry turned inside out.

 
This notion of a maker’s spirit being encapsulated in their work lies at the heart of the contemporary craft movement. For those who dedicate their lives to craft, making is about more than the practice itself, more than selling work for a living.

The two-dimensional, line drawing feel to her work is not accidental. Some of her pieces almost read as blueprints for other complex structures. “It’s definitely jewelry about jewelry, which can be pretty meta,” Riley explains. “I have always loved all of the mechanisms, small parts, connectors that go into the making of jewelry. I love what I can create with this paired down process. I think of all of the crimps as stars in a larger constellation, creating order amidst chaos.”

CHIE HITCHNER

      Riley often starts with sketches derived from physics and mathematical concepts. She then translates them into her materials, often incorporating new items like the industrial ball chain interwoven with stones and pearls in her Gris line. A result of her obsession with ball chain and safety pins in her “grungy-goth-punk” teenage years, the series demonstrates Riley’s ability to turn traditional jewelry concepts on their head. The line was featured in a runway collaboration with Mariana Valentina, and caught the eye of large retailer Free People, who picked up Riley’s work. Riley designed epaulettes, arm and hand chains for the collection. 

Color is an important factor for Chie Hitchner, who uses natural dyes in her loom-woven fabrics. Working with raw fibers such as silk, wool and linen, Hitchner dyes the threads in small batches in her studio, often using materials she finds nearby. “There is something special about discovering the dyeing properties of plants that are right around you,” says Hitchner. “Fig leaves make a brilliant yellow. Camellia blossoms become a steely gray. Japanese maple leaves usually give me a beautiful gray, but last fall they gave me a beautiful green. Depending on the time of year and location, the color can be different.”

While part of the show’s Decorative Fiber category, Hitchner also creates wearables. This lends versatility to her design process. She imagines the pieces displayed cleanly and flat on the wall or a table, and also considers how they will bunch and flow with the curves of the body. Worn or flat, Hitchner’s firm grasp on design and technique and her debt to Japanese traditions is evident. Her patterns are crisp and exact, in calming neutral tones and soothing repetitive patterns one can get lost in.

Hitchner learned to weave at eighteen and attended a Japanese university that placed a heavy emphasis on technique and methodology. “My work is deeply influenced by Japanese craft techniques,” Hitchner explains. “I like to use kasuri, the Japanese form of ikat, in both warp and weft. I also use sukui-ori, which is a technique of pick-and-weave, where I use manual techniques to insert additional colors and threads into the weft. These techniques broaden the range of the designs that I can produce using a simple four-harness floor loom.” 

MARY JAEGER

      Understanding one’s work in the larger picture of the fashion and commercial market is an important part of survival as a craft artist. Clothing designer Mary Jaeger has been sewing since just four years old, and recognizes the complexities of the fashion, craft and couture worlds. In her NYC atelier, she creates everything from dramatic scarves, shawls and jackets that play with proportion, pattern and shape, to classic cut, shibori-dyed indigo tank tops, hoodies and tees that are perfect for everyday wear. The latter are made to touch a broader client base, but the goal of Jaeger’s garments is the same: to empower the wearer. “My couture garments address the need for thoughtfully designed and beautifully constructed clothing to communicate individuality in our culture currently exploding with fast fashion,” Jaeger reflects. “Fashion design incorporates multiple aspects of today’s culture and can foreshadow the future through the use of colors, shapes, materials, make, fit, and styles. In turn, fashion communicates messages we individually interpret and consciously or unconsciously adapt to make our own style of dress.”

Jaeger’s Accordion Bonbons do feel a bit like a glimpse into the future. Part of her Unfolding series, multiple colors of silk dupioni are pieced, pleated, dyed, and edge-stitched to drape around the neck and shoulders. Their smart construction folds compactly like a fan for traveling, like something out of The Jetsons. Made from repurposed silks, they combine her love for the visual transformation between flat patterns that become three-dimensional when worn, reducing waste, and using color as an accent to her neutral black, gray, white, and indigo palette.  

TREFNY DIX AND BENGT HOKANSON

      Collaboration is key to Trefny Dix and Bengt Hokanson’s blown glass vessels. Working together since 1996, the duo is inspired by everything from 1920s purses, to graffiti and computer circuits. Their work is varied, calling on Italian methods like the use of murrine and canes for pattern, and Swedish influences in their employment of thick, clear glass and large spots of color to frame and offset their colorful murrine.

Their designing works in stages—often starting with discussion of a new murrine or surface texture they want to explore; then moving on to color choice; what form expresses the pattern best; and finally how to achieve the design in mind. “We work out issues with the size, form, surface application, blowing, and shaping techniques, trying to achieve the concept behind the piece,” Dix explains. “Sometimes the piece goes through such a transformation from the idea one of us started with that it becomes a true collaborative effort.” Skilled colorists, their glass has an energetic movement and fluidity, and the heavy use of color demonstrates their skill in the glassblowing. Like all the artists in the show, Dix and Hokanson are thrilled to be returning this year. “We consider exhibiting in the Smithsonian Craft Show to be a high career achievement. The artists have been selected because their work represents a high standard of creativity and technical mastery within their mediums. It is an honor to show our work with the other artists.”

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Jill DeDominicis is a former Ornament staff writer and editor whose love for wearable art and all things craft remains strong. She works at Mingei International Museum, a craft, folk art and design museum in lovely Balboa Park in San Diego, California. DeDominicis is delighted to be covering this year’s Smithsonian Craft Show held in the nation’s capital at the National Building Museum. With its one hundred twenty artists in all craft media, the show provided an ample opportunity to write and learn more about some of her favorite contemporary artists who are showing their work.

Wiley Sanderson Volume 40.3

WILEY SANDERSON PAGE in a promotional packet for the University of Georgia’s art department, circa 1955. Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries.

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Τhe stories about photographer Wiley Sanderson (1918–2011) are legendary and sometimes shocking. Most of them come from his students and colleagues at the University of Georgia and involve his insistence that the darkroom be spotless (did he really make students lick the floor to prove its cleanliness?), his raging diatribes and his inclination to pop out his glass eye to show the custom “WS” logo painted on it. When his work was included recently in a craft history exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, visitors who knew him were surprised to learn that this single-minded, unyielding pioneer in bringing pinhole cameras to university classrooms was also an accomplished mid-century jeweler, metalsmith and weaver. Few people, even within his own community, were aware that for two decades, from the late 1940s through the late 1960s, he investigated the possibilities of materials and techniques in modern jewelry.

 
It’s up to today’s craftsmen to make tomorrow’s heirlooms... Machines can’t shape metal, blend threads or mold clay like a pair of loving hands.
— Wiley D. Sanderson
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      Wiley Devere Sanderson, Jr., was born in Detroit, Michigan, to a mother who became head of the home economics department at Wayne State University and a father who was an electrical engineer. He took an early interest in photography and soon developed an awareness of craft and design as well. He attended Olivet College in Michigan, and studied at the Mills College Summer Session of 1940 in Oakland, California, with Bauhaus artists László Moholy-Nagy and György Kepes. Then, from 1941 to 1945, he served as an instrument flying instructor in the United States Army Air Corps, teaching pilots how to use the complex instruments on cockpit panels. He married Rosella “Roz” Nagle (1926–2010) in 1944, and they had three daughters.

Following World War II, Sanderson returned to school on the G. I. Bill and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in industrial design and crafts, with distinction in metalsmithing, from Detroit’s Wayne State University in 1948; there he studied traditional methods under Arthur Nevill Kirk, a prominent English-born silversmith. Next, Sanderson attended Cranbrook Academy of Art, near Detroit, and obtained his Master of Fine Arts degree in metalsmithing and design in 1949. He arrived at Cranbrook just as metals classes resumed following an erratic period of operation due to the Depression, materials shortages during the war and staffing changes. Richard Thomas, who had just graduated from the program, became the new metals teacher in 1948, when Sanderson arrived, and taught there until 1984.(1) Sanderson excelled and received a Silver Medal for Metalsmithing from the faculty upon graduation.(2)

      Sanderson wrote in his thesis, “Metal Expression by Centrifugal Casting,” that centrifugal casting (in which he used the lost-wax method to create a mold that he then put in a machine that spun the mold, forcing metal into the cavity) had “grown in stature through industrial research,” and described its value to craft as “its directness of fabrication.” He added, “My enthusiasm over this new-found technique was spurred on by the freedom and inspiration of Cranbrook.” The centrifugal casting technique was developed in England in the early nineteenth century, revived by dentists in the early twentieth century, then, according to Janet Koplos and Bruce Metcalf in Makers: A History of American Studio Craft, was adopted by jewelry manufacturers in the 1930s, with studio jewelers following close behind. Marbeth Schon, in Form & Function: American Modernist Jewelry, 1940-1970, credits Bob Winston as the first to incorporate the process into courses at an institution of higher learning, the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, in the mid-1940s. So, when Sanderson focused on the technique at Cranbrook, it was a relatively new skill for a studio craftsman and he was helping to expand and refine the process. Mickey Story, an instructor in the Applied Arts Department at Texas Technical College, referenced Sanderson’s thesis when she wrote Centrifugal Casting as a Jewelry Process in 1963, which indicates that his research was considered informative and important within the field.

Illustrations of Sanderson’s work from his time at Cranbrook appear in a jewelry textbook from 1953 by D. Kenneth Winebrenner, Jewelry Making as an Art Expression, and include a brooch consisting of a cast silver biomorphic shape pierced by a hammered gold wire suggesting a facial profile, cast silver earrings of abstract human figures, a silver ring with a rounded hollow box formed around a pearl, and a cast and enameled brooch with a reclining stick figure. Sanderson revealed his practical approach when noting of the ring that the box would protect the pearl from wear, and of the brooch that casting the raised lines of the stick figure avoided “troublesome solder joints in enameling.”

 

BROOCH of sterling silver and rhinestones, 6.4 x 4.8 x 2.5 centimeters. Collection of Janet Sanderson Johnson. Photograph by Demitra Thomloudis.

 

      Shortly following his graduation in 1949, Sanderson moved to Athens, Georgia, to teach craft at the University of Georgia, and remained there for the rest of his career. Like other programs around the country, the art department at UGA expanded rapidly in the years following World War II with returning servicemen attending school on the G. I. Bill. As the craft instructor, Sanderson covered topics in metals and textiles; the other craft area taught there, ceramics, had its own faculty. A description of the skills covered in one of Sanderson’s jewelry and metalwork classes, listed in the university’s 1950-51 catalogue, reads, “a thorough grounding in the techniques necessary to execute well-designed objects in metal; including forming, chain-making, chasing, repoussé, stone setting, tool making, metal finishing, enameling, and centrifugal casting,” reflecting Sanderson’s broad knowledge of techniques. 

In 1950, Sanderson received a prestigious scholarship to attend a silversmithing workshop conference, the fourth of five annual conferences organized by Handy & Harman, a New York City–based company that refined and sold precious metals. Organized by the artist and educator Margret Craver, these four-week summer workshops were important in promoting metalsmithing in the United States and establishing a network among modern educators in this field.(3

In an interview with the Detroit News, Sanderson extolled the importance of the workshop: “It’s up to today’s craftsmen to make tomorrow’s heirlooms... Machines can’t shape metal, blend threads or mold clay like a pair of loving hands.”(4) He described silversmithing as “almost a lost art” in the United States until the workshops began. Sanderson acknowledged that the objects created by silversmiths were expensive because they required so much labor but proposed that, with more opportunities to see such work, the public would realize that “hand-wrought metal has more individuality, more warmth than machine-made products.” Sanderson created a modern coffee pot during the workshop that was included in a traveling exhibition of works completed by the participants.

 

BROOCH of sterling silver and rhinestone, 2.5 x 4.8 x 1.6 centimeters. Collection of Janet Sanderson Johnson. Photograph by Demitra Thomloudis.

 

      Sanderson’s research during his first two decades at UGA included woven and printed textiles, and, increasingly, photography, but throughout the 1950s and well into the 1960s jewelry and metals remained important. The university required departments to submit annual reports with highlights of each faculty member’s activities and requested regular updates from professors for their personnel files. Though Sanderson’s submissions generally were cursory, they are essential in documenting his accomplishments. In his annual report for 1952-53 he listed his research as “experimental process in centrifugal casting,” and by 1955-56 he was working on developing “a silver-bronze alloy suitable for centrifugal casting,” while “designing and making jewelry for an average of two to three hours per week.” In 1958-59 he specifically noted making jewelry using cire perdue (the lost wax method) and rhinestones; the following year he again highlighted that he used “rhinestones in well-designed contemporary jewelry.”(5) Most modern jewelers at the time used gemstones, so his focus on rhinestones was an atypical, even a radical, choice for an artist of the era. Sanderson also created numerous modern pickle forks, a focus he noted in his 1959-60 materials. (His daughter Janet recalls that he liked pickles, especially the watermelon rind pickles his wife made and canned each summer.)

 
VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of cast silver brooch made to suggest a martini glass.  Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson.

VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of cast silver brooch made to suggest a martini glass. Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson.

 

      The majority of Sanderson’s known surviving jewelry, and much of what is recorded in period photographs he took of his jewelry, is silver, often cast. Several brooches, with colorful rhinestones, have rough textures that create strong contrasts between light and dark. Some works feature small gold accents, such as a gold wire squiggle hanging within an elongated crescent pendant or as round “eyeballs” in an undulating creature-like pendant. One set of cufflinks features lowercase “a”s and belonged to a former president of UGA, while another set of cufflinks with buttons as well features an abstract pattern with roughly radiating lines resembling orange slices; a set of buttons with a brooch, recorded in a photograph, had high relief designs suggesting martini glasses with olives. He marked much of his work with an abstract image of a horned figure, that may, according to his second wife, Mary Sayer Hammond, whom he married in 1983 (he and Roz had divorced around 1970), relate to a portrait a visiting artist did of him titled Satan Sanderson, suggesting an embrace of his reputation for being difficult.

VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of a silver and cocobolo pickle fork. Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson.

      The most unusual area of Sanderson’s jewelry research involved using steel-loaded epoxy to form jewelry, which he first listed as an activity in 1964-65. He also invented a pigment-loaded epoxy to embellish the epoxy/steel-formed pieces, and he noted that it was “a means of ‘enameling’ metals that could not heretofore be enameled by conventional methods.” Unfortunately, no detailed accounts of this research are known. One surviving example of this jewelry is a cone-shaped pendant with bright red “enamel” on the outside and rhinestones affixed randomly to its dark interior. According to his family, he called the material he used “plastic steel,” which is the trade name of a metal-filled epoxy putty used for automotive, plumbing and similar repairs—Devcon’s Plastic Steel was introduced around 1956. His daughter Janet, who sometimes watched him work at home, believes he enjoyed the material because it was easy to use, allowed for freeform creations, and did not require a heat source when applying backs to brooches. Sanderson’s adaptation of this industrial material, and his interest in unconventional and nonprecious materials, was very forward thinking. According to Hammond, Sanderson repeatedly submitted the plastic steel work to competitions and shows, but it was regularly rejected because it was not traditional metal. It was not until several decades later that artists embraced a related modeling-clay-like, metal-infused material, Precious Metal Clay, which emphasizes how ahead of his time Sanderson was.

VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of a cast silver pendant with ebony bead. Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson.

      Sanderson showed his work nationally in the 1950s, including in the First State Fair of Texas Invitational Craft Show, a contemporary jewelry exhibition at the University of Nebraska, and the Third Art Center Invitational Craft Show in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1954, the High Museum of Art, in Atlanta, presented his “unusual and distinctive jewelry,” along with the work of several of his students, in the exhibition “Contemporary Jewelry and Metal.”(6) Later, the exhibition “Craftsmen of the Southeastern States,” the last in a series of regional surveys organized by the American Craftsmen’s Council [ACC (Now known as the American Craft Council)], included a cast silver pendant with an aquamarine, titled The Gemologist, and a cast and forged silver and gold pickle fork by Sanderson. This show traveled during 1963–64 to the Atlanta Art Association, the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City.

Like many university art faculty, Sanderson also gave lectures and led workshops outside of his classroom, and these reflected his interests in contemporary design and jewelry. He presented a survey of contemporary design in metalwork to the Athens Home Demonstration Club in 1952; in 1957 he led a five-day workshop sponsored by the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild at the Atlanta Art Institute on handwoven rugs, emphasizing Scandinavian flossa and rya methods; in 1959 he spoke to the Art Center Association in Louisville, Kentucky, about “Jewelry Design Today.” He addressed the National Art Education Association in Tampa, Florida, in 1960, about “Design for Today’s Craftsman.” In 1963 he gave a lecture on centrifugal casting at the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair and Conference in Tennessee; and in 1967 he spoke about contemporary design to the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild. He led two workshops for southeastern regional conferences of the ACC, one on centrifugal casting in 1963 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and one titled “Photography for the Craftsmen” in 1966 in Athens, and was a founding member and early president of the Georgia Designer-Craftsmen group, which was organized in 1959 in Atlanta and affiliated with the ACC. 

PENDANT of metal-loaded epoxy and rhinestones, 7.0 x 3.8 x 0.6 centimeters.  Collection of Janet Sanderson Johnson. Photograph by Demitra Thomloudis.

PENDANT of metal-loaded epoxy and rhinestones, 7.0 x 3.8 x 0.6 centimeters. Collection of Janet Sanderson Johnson. Photograph by Demitra Thomloudis.

      As skilled as Sanderson was in crafts, his primary passion was photography. He introduced photography classes at UGA in 1953 and worked to incorporate photography in the craft program by, for example, investigating ways to use it to assist with the teaching of textile design. In 1967 the art department restructured its offerings, and Sanderson focused exclusively on photography, which became its own area, while additional faculty, Glen Kaufman and Robert Ebendorf, were hired to teach in the newly formed areas of fabric design and jewelry and metalwork—Sanderson took pride in having to be replaced, as he saw it, by multiple professors. The transition, though, was not seamless. Space was limited, and the studio that had housed all of craft now needed to accommodate both photography and jewelry and metalwork (fabric design settled in a nearby building), which he viewed as an encroachment into his territory. Indeed, there were arguments over space for years, until jewelry and metalwork moved to a different location on campus.

Sanderson retired in 1989. Though he spent almost half of his teaching career in craft, that area is overshadowed by his time in photography—more than twenty years worth of students have memories of making pinhole cameras with him. In addition to his focus on photography in the later decades of his career, several other factors contribute to the lack of recognition of his role as a mid-century modern jeweler: he rarely talked about his earlier work; his mark is not easy to read nor well known, hampering identification; and, as he was not bound by any need to make a profit from his creations and worked in multiple fields, the volume of his production of jewelry was limited. However, Sanderson created a body of innovative, distinctive work that presents an addition to the canon of mid-century American modern silversmiths, especially in the Southeast, and reflects the spread of modern jewelry techniques and styles in the post-war years.

VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of a design for a sapphire engagement ring in gold (in progress). Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson. PHOTOGRAPH OF WILEY SANDERSON, Detroit News, September 1, 1950. Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries.


1—For more on the history of metalwork at Cranbrook, see J. David Farmer, “Metalwork and Bookbinding,” in Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision, 1925-1950, New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 145-171.
2—Martin Magid, “When I become a man I would like to be an artist,” Photographica World 156: 50, 2017. 
3—Jeannine Falino and Yvonne Markowitz, “Margret Craver: A Foremost 20th Century Jeweler and Educator,” Jewelry, The Journal of the American Society of Jewelry Historians 1: 15, 1996-97. 
4—Joy Hakanson, “Detroit Silversmith Shapes Tomorrow’s Heirlooms,” Detroit News, September 1, 1950. 
5—Annual reports and faculty files are in the collection of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries. 
6—“Surrealistic Touch Marks Baker Show,” Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution, April 25, 1954. The students were Marion Davidson, Dan Berry and Aubrey Henley.

SUGGESTED READING
Ashley Callahan, Annelies Mondi and Mary Hallam Pears
e. Crafting History: Textiles, Metals, and Ceramics at the University of Georgia. Athens: Georgia Museum of Art, 2018.
Jeannine Falino, ed. Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design. New York: Abrams in association with the Museum of Arts and Design, 2011. 
Martin Magid. “When I become a man I would like to be an artist,” Photographica World 15: 48-55, 2017. 
Marbeth Schon. Modernist Jewelry 1930-1960, The Wearable Art Movement. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2004.
     —. Form & Function: American Modernist Jewelry, 1940-1970. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2008.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Ashley-Callahan-Contributor2017.jpg

Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. Together with Annelies Mondi, deputy director at the Georgia Museum of Art, and Mary Hallam Pearse, she recently co-curated an exhibition at the museum titled “Crafting History: Textiles, Metals, and Ceramics at the University of Georgia” that included works by Wiley Sanderson. She was pleased to have a chance to expand the research from that project and appreciated the assistance she received from Sanderson’s daughter, Janet Johnson, scholar Martin Magid who recently wrote about him for Photographica World, his widow Mary Sayer Hammond, and everyone at the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries. 

Checha Sokolovic Volume 40.3

SEARCHING BROOCH of sponge, blackened steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and concrete, 7.0 x 8.0 x 2.0 centimeters, 2015.  Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

SEARCHING BROOCH of sponge, blackened steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and concrete, 7.0 x 8.0 x 2.0 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

The rose-colored slice of cement has the look of a particularly appealing piece of industrial fabrication. Perhaps it is a fixture for a designer kitchen. At 4.5 inches across and about 1/3-inch thick, it is solid and sturdy looking, but also sleek. Slim stainless steel bands encase the outer and inner edges of this pink wheel, and if you pick it up you know exactly what to do with it: slide it over your wrist.

      The cement, stainless and aluminum bangle Pretty in Pink was made by Checha Sokolovic, a Seattle jewelrymaker with an architect’s eye for bold, unfussy design and a builder’s fondness for industrial materials. Besides cement, Sokolovic works with concrete, commercial quality vinyl, brass washers meant for plumbing, egg cartons, kitchen sponges, and hunks of charcoal and pumice. To make backings and armatures she mostly chooses stainless steel. When she gets fancy, she adds a little sterling silver.

RING OF THE RISING SUN of sterling silver, concrete and PVC, 6.0 x 1.5 x 5.0 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

PRETTY IN PINK BANGLE of stainless steel, aluminum and concrete, 11.4 centimeters diameter, 2012. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

      Creating jewelry out of humble materials is one of the hallmarks of contemporary artist-made jewelry. Gold and diamonds are lovely, of course, but beauty can also be coaxed out of far less precious materials—an idea that resonates perfectly with Sokolovic’s modernist aesthetic and her reverence for the common materials of our everyday lives. She whips up batches of concrete and cement in her kitchen, pouring them into molds, sometimes including ice cube trays, and browses hardware stores for small shiny bits that catch her eye, such as washers and screws. The effects she achieves are remarkable. Her neckpiece The Dark Side of the Moon is a four-inch disc of concrete raised in the center and pocked as though pummeled by geological forces. To make the piece, Sokolovic dyed the concrete black, framed it in a stainless steel armature and hung it on black rubber tubing. The Dark Side of the Moon is an evocative bit of cosmic poetry, expressed in the most quotidian of materials. 

 

DARK SIDE OF THE MOON NECKPIECE of stainless steel, concrete, dye, and rubber, pendant 10.0 x 4.0 centimeters, rubber cord 107.0 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

 

      A lifelong collector of big, bold jewelry, Sokolovic didn’t start making jewelry until 2010, when she took her first jewelrymaking class at Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle. “My first idea was to make big silver jewelry. I’ve been wearing very big silver jewelry all my life, and I thought I’d make something I liked,” Sokolovic says. “But I saw how expensive it would be to buy that much silver. Then I took a class in alternative materials. Up until then I didn’t realize people made jewelry out of plastic bags and other stuff that might be thought of as trash. What really blows my mind is finding the beauty in all this stuff, including pieces of charcoal I find on the beach.”

Despite her background in building design, Sokolovic had never mixed cement or concrete. On the other hand, she understood their physical properties, and she admired the solid heft and strength of construction materials. “I was inspired to work with cement. You can get all these wonderful textures with cement and one of my first ideas was to try to get the look of a polished concrete floor. Also I thought because I started making jewelry kind of late, I wanted to make something different, something that not many others are doing.” 

 

CEMENT BEADS NECKLACE of cement, rubber, sterling silver clasp, stainless steel cord, 50 centimeters long, each bead approximately 2.5 centimeters, 2013. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

ICE BEAD GAME NECKLACE of ice, sterling silver, 45 centimeters long, each bead approximately 2.5 centimeters, 2012. Photograph by Sean Airhart.

 

      Sokolovic uses Rockite, a mixture of Portland cement and gypsum cement. The resulting material doesn’t shrink as it dries and she can control it when she casts it in her stainless steel metal frames. It is also relatively light to wear compared with concrete, and it has a smoother surface than concrete. Since there are not stones, sand or other materials added, however, her cement mixture can be somewhat brittle. She seals her cement pieces with wax to protect them from water. She points out that cement is not as tough a material as most people believe. “I always make sure to mention that even though cement might sound like a very durable and hard material, these pieces are, in fact quite delicate and need to be handled with care and love.”

Sokolovic says she is a ‘sun freak,’ and that the Sun Goddess jewelry is an antidote to the gray winters of the Pacific Northwest. ‘As soon as I finish making something I always wear it. I want to see how it feels. With the Sun Goddess necklace you put it on and go outside and you feel warmer.’

SUN GODDESS NECKPIECE of PVC, stainless steel and sterling silver rivets, 30.0 centimeters diameter, 2018. SUN GODDESS EARRINGS of PVC, stainless steel and sterling silver. 7.5 centimeters diameter, 2018. SUN GODDESS RING of PVC and sterling silver, 5.0 x 3.0 x 0.5 centimeters, 2018. Photographs by Noel O’Connell.

      Concrete is tougher, and one of her recipes is a mixture of Portland cement and sand. The surfaces of her concrete pieces are rougher since you can see the sand, and the pieces are tougher in that they are less likely to chip. She seals them with a concrete sealant to protect them from water. For The Dark Side of the Moon, she used pre-mixed concrete paste applied over a wire mesh frame.

Her love of charcoal, concrete and stainless steel means that much of Sokolovic’s work is a monochromatic landscape of black, nearly neutral shades of dyed cement, and metal. But in the last year Sokolovic has started working with vivid color thanks to her new enthusiasm for candy-colored polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, the material most of us simply call vinyl. “A friend gave me samples of PVC,” Sokolovic says, displaying place-mat-sized sheets of fire engine red and cobalt blue. “And I find mats in kitchen stores made out of it.” Her new Sun Goddess Collection is a dramatic marriage of brilliant yellow vinyl and riveted stainless steel. The collection includes earrings, bracelet, ring, and neckpiece that resemble golden rays fanning out from a blazing sun. Sokolovic says she is a “sun freak,” and that the Sun Goddess jewelry is an antidote to the gray winters of the Pacific Northwest. “As soon as I finish making something I always wear it. I want to see how it feels. With the Sun Goddess Neckpiece you put it on and go outside and you feel warmer.” If there’s a hint of sunshine, the sun refracts off the golden vinyl tossing bits of yellow light around like the darting choreography of fireflies.

Sokolovic grew up in Sarajevo, in what was then called Yugoslavia. “I loved growing up there, but Sarajevo really had a small town mentality. If you’re a little bit different, you’re made fun of. So wearing big jewelry in the 1980s was my way to rebel a little. It made me a little different. I didn’t want to blend in.” She bought jewelry whenever she could. As a young woman she spent time on a Greek island that she still thinks of as idyllic. But besides the turquoise waters and sunny climate, one attraction was a small jewelry store where on every vacation she bought something. She talks about a silver bracelet that called to her like a siren’s song. 

“I had never seen anything like the bracelet. I think it is probably from Asia. I had to have it. It was as much as my rent for the next month, but I bought it and didn’t eat for weeks.” Sokolovic still has the bracelet, which is a simple though elegant silver-hinged bangle with a clasp closure and a little decorative pattern work. Though she never wears it anymore, she says her reaction to the bracelet a couple of decades ago was a telling sign of her lifelong passion for jewelry.

In 1990 Sokolovic earned her college degree in architectural engineering and urban planning at the University of Sarajevo. When war broke out a few years later she, her mother and sister fled, eventually settling in Vancouver, Canada, where she picked up whatever work she could find. In 1998 she got a job offer from a Seattle architecture firm and relocated to Seattle. A decade later she was laid off and suddenly had free time. At the urging of a friend who noticed her love of jewelry, she signed up for a class at Pratt. Although she comes from a family of artists, and her sister is a self-supporting artist in Canada, Sokolovic says, “I always thought that I’m not that good with my hands, so it took me a long time to finally try. But when I came to class here I was inspired by the idea that I could make exactly what I want. I express myself through wearing jewelry.” And compared to the precise work she does as an interior designer, her current employment, making jewelry is freedom.

 

THE ORIGIN RING of stainless steel, blackened steel, cement, 3.5 x 4.5 x 0.7 centimeters, 2013. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

METEORITE LANDING RING of sterling silver, patina, charcoal, cement, dye, and resin, 7.0 x 3.0 x 5.0 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

 

      Rings are Sokolovic’s favorite jewelry. She likes to wear them and make them. Meteorite Landing is certainly one of her most distinctive. Made at the same time as The Dark Side of the Moon, Meteorite Landing is a hunk of charcoal attached to a cement base, both dyed black and stabilized with resin. To accompany Meteorite Landing, Sokolovic made Meteorite Earrings, also with charcoal. The pieces are a reminder that our little planet spins in a big galaxy where something as random as a meteorite could seriously disrupt our world. Other recent rings include Ring of the Rising Sun, a two-inch-wide sterling silver oblong bisected by a red vinyl half sphere. Though Sokolovic’s cement and charcoal pieces often suggest ancient geology and timelessness, her vinyl and stainless steel jewelry is about light, weightlessness and moods elicited by colors. The Ring of the Rising Sun is dramatic and bold, a ring for an adventurer to wear into the future. Like some of her other work, her vinyl and steel jewelry has a futuristic look. Another newer ring is Tickle Me, which is a tuft of white fur sprouting from a single cardboard cup of an egg carton. There is a sly surrealist humor about it given the image of fur emerging from an egg carton. “Tickle Me is for special occasions,” Sokolovic says. “It’s big, and not very practical. But I like it, and I like the idea that you can tickle yourself.”

 

TICKLE ME RING of sterling silver, egg carton, latex paint, fur, 10.0 x 4.0 x 3.5 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

WINTER BLOOM RING of sterling silver, egg carton, latex paint, rubber,10.0 x 4.0 x 3.5 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

 

      Partly because of her use of geometric shapes, Sokolovic’s work frequently has a space-age minimalism about it. Her vinyl and stainless jewelry would look terrific with any Star Trek outfit. Her looping earrings and bracelets made of thin-gauge stainless steel ribbon also have a futuristic appeal. Atomic Bracelet is a set of three connected stainless steel orbits pivoting around each other thanks to a rivet at the base of the bracelet. A pair of earrings called Twisted suggests a gravity-defying trajectory through space.

Checha Sokolovic wearing her jewelry. Photograph by Krista Welch.

      Outgoing, with a quick smile and dry sense of humor, Sokolovic says she has never had any interest in using gemstones or other precious materials. “I’m not interested in cars. I shop at thrift stores. Maybe it was being raised in a communist, or socialist, country. But I never thought of expressing myself through expensive things. What interests me is making jewelry, wearing it, and seeing other people wear it. Definitely my biggest satisfaction is when I see people wearing my jewelry.” 

Her jewelry isn’t for everyone. It can be heavy. A black and gray cement necklace that she created by pouring cement into ice cube trays and fashioning cement beads demands a sturdy neck and collarbone from anyone wishing to wear it. Sokolovic intended it to be dramatic. “It was inspired by African beads which are similar in shape to my cement beads. It is my homage to all those big, heavy bead necklaces that I like and that kind of hug you when you’re wearing them. I know my jewelry is big, and that everything has weight to it. But that’s part of my idea. The size and weight of my jewelry means that when you put it on, you don’t forget you’re wearing it. It’s a connection between the jewelry and the wearer. You always know it’s there.”

 

PEARLS IN LAVA EARRINGS of sterling silver, stainless steel, concrete, dye, pearls, 1.0 X 7.0 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Nenad Stevanovic.

 

ZEN GARDEN RING of sterling silver, blackened steel, stainless steel, cement, and floral pin frog magnetic attachment, 4.0 x 4.0 centimeters, 2012. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Robin Updike is a Seattle-based arts writer who has followed the Pacific Northwest’s vibrant jewelrymaking scene for nearly thirty years and interviewed many of the region’s jewelry makers. But interviewing Checha Sokolovic for this edition of Ornament was the first time she has met a jewelry artist whose primary materials are cement, concrete and stainless steel. Sokolovic started making jewelry after a couple of decades working in architecture and design, so while her choice of materials may be unorthodox, it makes perfect sense for her. The result is eye-catching jewelry that tweaks our ideas about beauty and preciousness.

Tuareg Jewelry Volume 40.3

ANTIQUE  TCHEROT  AMULETS/ KITABS  FROM MAURITANIA. Not all of these may have been made by Tuaregs, as the workmanship is quite similar between Tuareg and Mauritanian smiths, although the latter usually have better equipped workshops and tools. The square tcherot amulets are of either silver, or silver and copper, with fine crafting, especially the engraving. Because silver wears easily, many of the engravings are now barely visible. Whether the metal is precious, like silver, or base, like copper or brass, does not determine how well it is worked. An intricately and beautifully engraved tcherot from Niger is entirely of brass (Benesh-Liu and Liu 2007: 71). Often, the silver panels are sweated onto the copper, and most are cold-constructed, with bezels holding the front in place. The use of decorative silver balls is also seen in tcherots from Niger (Gabus 1982). Among my favorites are those inspired by and shaped like a stylized  gerba  or their traditional goatskin water containers (Schienerl 1986). Most are made of steel, onto which are sweated panels of silver, copper or bronze, with copper wire loops. Some may have been covered with leather, with cutouts for the metal, decorative panels; one on this page, which is new, has this leather treatment. These range from 3.0 to 6.6 cm long.  Courtesy of Brinley Thomas (small gerba shape in silver and copper) and Jürgen Busch.

ANTIQUE TCHEROT AMULETS/KITABS FROM MAURITANIA. Not all of these may have been made by Tuaregs, as the workmanship is quite similar between Tuareg and Mauritanian smiths, although the latter usually have better equipped workshops and tools. The square tcherot amulets are of either silver, or silver and copper, with fine crafting, especially the engraving. Because silver wears easily, many of the engravings are now barely visible. Whether the metal is precious, like silver, or base, like copper or brass, does not determine how well it is worked. An intricately and beautifully engraved tcherot from Niger is entirely of brass (Benesh-Liu and Liu 2007: 71). Often, the silver panels are sweated onto the copper, and most are cold-constructed, with bezels holding the front in place. The use of decorative silver balls is also seen in tcherots from Niger (Gabus 1982). Among my favorites are those inspired by and shaped like a stylized gerba or their traditional goatskin water containers (Schienerl 1986). Most are made of steel, onto which are sweated panels of silver, copper or bronze, with copper wire loops. Some may have been covered with leather, with cutouts for the metal, decorative panels; one on this page, which is new, has this leather treatment. These range from 3.0 to 6.6 cm long. Courtesy of Brinley Thomas (small gerba shape in silver and copper) and Jürgen Busch.

The Tuareg are a nomadic, Berber or Tamazight/Tamasheq speaking people, most of whom live in the Saharan and Sahelian regions—southern Algeria, western Libya, eastern Mali, northern Niger, and northeastern Burkina Faso (www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/anthropology-and-archaeology/people/tuareg). Gabus (1982) adds Mauritania, confirmed by Hillary and Abdou Louarti (pers. comm.) for eastern Mauritania and a bit of Nigeria. With the current African diaspora, Tuareg now also live in Europe and the United States.

 

SQUARE, CROPPED TRIANGLE AND TRIANGLE TCHEROT AMULETS FROM MAURITANIA. Two are of steel, one of tin (?) and copper/silver and one of brass, copper and silver. All are finely engraved and have engraved geometric plaques, many triangular, sweated onto their bases and cold-assembled via bezels. Note the rolled tube, used for holding the bent wire copper loops. Again, there is the dual role of the amulet shape and its decorations offering protection, especially regarding the triangular shapes. These are 3.3 to 5.1 cm high.

THREE GERBA AND ONE TRIANGULAR TCHEROT AMULETS. Largest gerba-shaped one is new, of copper covered with leather, with cutouts revealing the white metal/brass panels, poorly engraved, with copper tube and large copper/white metal balls at the tips of the stylized goatskin form, 9.5 cm high and smallest 4.4 cm high. Lower ones are antique, of steel, silver, copper, and/or brass.

THREE VINTAGE CROSSES OF AGADEZ AND IFERWANE. Mauritanian, of cast silver alloy, then tooled; note that engraving is worn on right-hand specimen, which is engraved on reverse/obverse, as is middle one. One to left newer, only engraved on obverse; 7.0 to 8.4 cm high. According to Creyaufmüller (1983), the upper and lower portions of such crosses have at least 20 and 28 variations respectively. Courtesy of J. Busch.

THREE CROSSES OF AGADEZ OR INARANGANAK. Strung on wool; traditionally worn with 3 - 5 crosses, also on cotton or synthetic fibers, according to Ethnic Embellishments. Courtesy of J. Busch.

Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament Magazine and Ethnic Embellishments, where noted.

Tuareg smiths utilize great hand and mental skills, and with a few simple tools produce wonderful ornaments. Truly, while their work is small, their skills and vision are large.

      For a nomadic people, the Tuareg have a large and varied assortment of jewelry, worn from head to ankle,  as well as perhaps the most diverse use of materials and techniques among African jewelers. Unlike jewelers of the Mahgreb, Tuareg smiths or inadan wan-tizol (makers of weapons and jewelry) have a very simple tool kit, suited for an itinerant life and reminiscent of early Native American jewelers. Tuareg jewelers are now very active in Africa and abroad (Benesh-Liu and Liu 2007, Cheminée 2014, Liu 2017). Jewelry or jewelry components often attributed to the Tuareg are also worn by other tribal groups, such as the Bella, Fulani, Moors, and Wodaabe, as shown in photographs by Fisher (1984), as well as Mauritanians (Gabus 1984; Hillary and Abdou Louarti, pers. comm.). Berber and Mauritanian metal jewelry can also be confused with Tuareg adornment, although the latter are usually with less embellishment. While Tuareg jewelry is prominent in the marketplace and their smiths have high visibility (Benesh-Liu and Liu 2007, Bernasek 2008, Cheminée 2014, Liu 2017), their work has been largely ignored in the excellent French literature on Maghreb jewelry. Camps-Fabrer (1990) shows only one page of Tuareg jewelry, while others in the Édisud series have no coverage, and the recent extensive collection of North African jewelry (Chakour et. al. 2016) also does not include Tuareg work. This article only covers amulets/tcherots/kitabs, crosses and some rings, a very limited representation of the Tuareg jewelry repertoire and examples made by Mauritanians or other Berber peoples.

TRADITIONAL OLD TUAREG SHELL AND LEATHER HAMSAS. Niger, one has been embellished with green-dyed leather and red vinyl threads and strung into a contemporary-designed necklace of coral, stone beads and carved conus shell disks. One of the hamsa pendants has grooves on each of the five shell pieces; hard to determine if these are natural features or carved. Other shell squares are ridged in middle. The five geometric shell pieces are an abstraction of the five fingers or hamsa. Fisher’s photo (1984: 206) demonstrates their ubiquity among Niger Tuareg women. Courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

TRADITIONAL TUAREG SHELL AND LEATHER HAMSA OR KHOMESSA. Algeria, acquired in 1994: of shell and leather, it is strung on a thick cord wrapped with glass seed beads and leather. A very similar example is shown in Leurquin (2003: 54). The pendant is 10.2 cm wide and the shell has not been identified, possibly Arca? This type of pendant is also made in metal, of a silver alloy; Bernasek (2008: 11) states they are worn by Tuareg women in the Algerian Sahara. There are also pendants where a triangle is joined to a modified hamsa, both antique (Leurquin 2003: 54) and new, as seen on the last page of this article. The making of a popular form of an object in various materials is known as transposition (Liu 1995b). Courtesy of J. Busch.

      Angela Fisher (1984: 194) perhaps best summarized how intensely Tuareg smiths feel about their work, while referring to a padlock one had decorated: “For you this is as small as my thumbnail, for me it is huge. Look—there is the ant, the hyena, the jackal, the horse’s hoof, the moon, the stars and the sun, the good eye, the woman... the devil’s eyebrows, the laughter... that’s our life.” In many ways, she expresses well the conundrum when someone outside of a culture looks at their material goods, whether it is ancient, ethnographic or contemporary jewelry. The observer brings her or his knowledge and aesthetics to understand and evaluate, but usually lacks enough information to truly understand all the symbolism and the deep meaning that the jewelry imparts to that culture. This is especially true in cultures, like the Chinese, where not only the motifs all have symbolic meaning, but their combinations also become phonetic rebuses, further adding to the difficulty in deciphering for outsiders (Bartholomew 2006).

LARGE BOGHDAD CROSS PENDANT AND SMALL MOROCCAN BERBER BOGHDAD. The former are old and most likely from central Mali, Tuareg territory; not soldered but riveted silver. The Berber boghdad is also silver, old and from southern Morocco. Both of these antique crosses are very similar to the Trarza examples shown, although neither have wood backing. NEW BOGHDAD CROSS PENDANT. Niger, of brass and leather, showing mix of traditional Tuareg jewelry with modern appeal. Obverse and reverse: reverse has hallmark/signature of the maker. Courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

OLD SILVER PENDANTS. Niger, open-work/pierced pieces, these were normally sewn onto the front of a leather kitab or amulet, holding verses for the Qur’an and/or other protective writings, and worn as a necklace. Small tisek rings at top middle with agate or carnelian made in Idar-Oberstein: these were woven into women’s hair as ornaments: old, Niger, also Mali. Small silver and metal hair ornaments on a string are mostly from Niger. Many of these are a stylized form seen in North African jewelry of the Punic goddess Tanit, with a triangular shape topped by a circle, sometimes with a horizontal line where the circle and triangle meet, like arms. Courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

      Gabus (1982) and Cheminée (2014) provide excellent comparisons and contrasts of how Tuareg smiths work in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, through the former’s wonderful sketches by Hans Ernie and the latter’s photographs and interviews. Tuareg smiths have changed very little in their work processes or their tools and equipment. All still work while seated on the ground, often using a forked piece of wood as the work surface, with a square anvil (in contrast to horned anvils used by other North/West African jewelers) pounded into the ground. Both hands and feet are used, the latter to hold or steady the work. A leather bellows is still used to increase the heat and all their tools usually fit into a small box. They cast (lost wax or sand molds), forge, solder, pierce, surface decorate with gravers/punches and cold-connect. Their forging, filing, engraving and punching (with home-made tools) are superb, as well as their ingenious cold-connecting and use of a very large assortment of metals, wood, leather, and plastic. All the engraving is freehand, without an engraver’s block. Their forging skills, utilizing only the small, square anvil and a typical short-handled, heavy hammer, produce impeccable results, especially in older pieces. If one looked closely at the knobs and bosses on their tcherot or crosses, they all are uniform and finely varied. Some are slightly flattened, others pointed or filed into precise, geometric shapes. While silver is the preferred metal, copper, brass, white metal and steel are all utilized, to add color and vitality, much like how Western jewelers use colored golds. Whether precious or base metal, one does not see a difference in the level of workmanship. Their practice of combining different aspects of their design motifs and components into countless variations adds greatly to their vitality. Perhaps unique among African jewelers, Tuareg use imported Idar-Oberstein agate ornaments in an innovative and pragmatic manner, utilizing damaged or broken portions of talhakimt/talhatana, set in metal rings and pendants, as seen in examples on this and opposite page.

Tuareg smiths utilize great hand and mental skills, and with a few simple tools produce wonderful ornaments. Truly, while their work is small, their skills and vision are large.

 

OLD CROSSES FROM NIGER. Silver on top with colored vinyl underneath, backed by aluminum. These demonstrate the Boghdad cross motif that ranges from Morocco to Mauritania and east to Niger. While some of the shapes are similar, these differ considerably from the Mauritanian crosses of Trarza shown. Note the use of red and/or green on these crosses, as well as those on the Crosses of Trarza and the Hamsa necklaces. Photograph by and courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments private collection.

CROSSES OF TRARZA. Mauritanian, of silver/silver alloy, on ebony backing, with suspension loops of copper wire or the wood backing drilled width-wise. Wood is prized in Mauritania (Leurquin 2003: 57). Some crosses are inlaid with plastic or have additional shaped elements of plastic. The cross with filed geometric red plastic element also has beautifully worked pyramidal elements, besides the round balls. The engraved silver is attached to the ebony via rivets, the heads of which are the silver balls. Some of these may have been made in Boutilimit Province but Gabus (1984: 102-103) shows similar examples from Medérdra, Mauritania. The crosses are either strung on cord, twisted leather or multiple strands of leather/cord. These range from 3.9 to 6.1 cm high, excluding loops. Courtesy of J. Busch.

 

TUAREG AND MAURITANIAN JEWELRY, INCORPORATING EUROPEAN IMPORTS. Upper left shows assortment of Tuareg rings and pendants that incorporate broken or damaged Idar-Oberstein carnelian talhakimt, as well as an undamaged example, to show which portions are utilized when broken or damaged. Two can be used as rings, while the others are often seen strung on necklaces. The largest example is made as a pendant and is beautiful metalsmithing, with layers of copper/silver on the geometric bosses and finely punched decoration, 14.2 cm long. The small silver ring utilizing the broken top of a talhakimt is known as a tisek ring. The seemingly intact carnelian pendant wrapped in metal is actually cracked; it is similar to the two strung as pendants on the Mauritanian necklace to the right. The elaborately set talhakimt in the center, shown in reflected/transilluminated light, is very unusual; it appears to have a second hole drilled into the stone portion, with both openings ringed by silver. The Mauritanian necklace to the right is a very rare example of using human hair for a necklace; it has carved conus disks and Idar agate pendants, heat-treated red and dyed green ones, with a pendant of Mauritanian gilded metal beads, amber (?), Idar agate drop pendants and an Engina shell dangle. The carved conus shell disks are used by Tuaregs for their tcherots (Leurqin 2003: 55) and by Mauritanian Moors (Gabus 1982, Liu 2008). The silver transposition is also seen in aluminum. Further information can be found in Liu (1995a, 2002, 2008). Courtesy of the late Rita Okrent, Elizabeth J. Harris; David Spetka of Niger Bend, Brinley Thomas, J. Busch/G. Kerschna, Joe Loux, and Frontiers.

 
 

TUAREG AMULET OR TCHEROT WITH IMAGE OF THE CATHOLIC SAINT, ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX. An older piece of silver, white metal and copper; the image is original to the piece, so it was probably custom-made. She is a patron saint of missionaries, and there were Catholic missionaries in Southern Algeria and probably in Niger as well. OLD AXE-SHAPED AMULETS. Most likely from the Mauritanian/Mali border region. Silver alloy or white metal, copper and brass, with bail or loop riveted to the amulet, also done with amber beads in Mauritania. Neither of these amulet types have previously been published. Photographs by and courtesy of the private collection of Ethnic Embellishments.

 
 
 

CONTEMPORARY VERSION OF TRADITIONAL TUAREG HAMSA/KHOMESSA. Niger, fabricated, of brass, copper and leather. It is the melding of a triangular amulet and a doubled hamsa, although with two more elements, so as to make the design symmetrical. Both the triangle and hamsa offer protection. While this pendant is new and in base metals, there is still a good level of crafting. Courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

OLD TUAREG RINGS. The left is a talismanic ring from Niger, the center is a “mosque ring” from Mali; the right is a Fulani playing card motif fused with a Tuareg tisek ring and lastly a man’s tisek ring in the middle. Compare to the tisek ring on top left of opposite page; these all use broken portions of Idar-Oberstein agate talhakimt. Note inlay of copper in right-hand ring. Photograph by and courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

 
 
 

AGATE AND MOLDED GLASS TALHAKIMT, TALHATANA AND TURMRINGS. 1.7 - 7.5 cm long: the oldest are the Indian made agate/carnelian talhakimt (the tall triangular type in pale agate) and talhatana (short triangular type) on the bottom right-hand row, from an ex-museum collection. While these reached West Africa via Mecca (Fisher 1984), and have been discussed by Gabus (1982) and Liu (1977) as to their being the prototypes of European copies in stone and glass, they have never been found in a Tuareg jewelry context, nor the much later German celluloid example, second from right top row or the German agate turmring type (1960s) next to it. Most used are the large agate talhakimt (white pre-1960, red 1960s) and the shorter talhatana types, also on right-hand side of top row. See Kaspers (2018 this issue on dating such agate ornaments) on the Idar-Oberstein industry that made these ornaments. German and English terminology for these ornaments differ (Kaspers 2018, Liu 1977). The smaller talhatana, in either heat-treated or dyed forms are usually worn in the hair, but not by Tuareg, as are the small, molded Czech/Bohemian glass ones. Large Idar talhakimt are also worn by the Dogon, and the larger glass ones in Malian necklaces. Courtesy of the late J. L. Malter, R. Okrent, P.W. Schienerl; Abrima, the Picards, T. Stricker, L. Wataghani, and the Heimat Museum, Idar-Oberstein.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I thank Hillary and Abdou Louarti of Ethnic Embellishments for their informative identifications and comments about Tuareg jewelry, as well as permission to use images of pieces from their inventory and unique private collection and for their excellent photographs. Our study collection of Tuareg jewelry purchased in 1994-95 from Jürgen Busch and Gudrun Kerschna, as well as their gifts, have enabled me to more closely study the personal adornment of this culture. The jewelry shown in this article were documented from the mid-1970s to now. I am very grateful to Dr. Jan Fahey for obtaining a copy of Gabus’s superb 1982 reference on the Sahara for our library; it remains the definitive work on Tuareg jewelry and techniques, covering mid-to-late twentieth century French expeditions.

REFERENCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bartholomew, T.T. 2006 Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art. San Francisco, Asian Art Museum: 352 p.
Benesh-Liu, P.R. and R.K. Liu. 2007 Museum News: The Art of Being Tuareg. Ornament 30 (3): 70-72. 
Bernasek, L. 2008 Artistry of the Everyday. Beauty and Craftsmanship in Berber Art. Peabody Museum Press, Harvard University: 125 p.
Camps-Fabrer, H. 1990 Bijoux Berbères D’Algérie. grande Kbylie-Aurès. La Calade, Édisud: 139 p.
Chakour, D. et. al. 2016 Des Trésors à Porter. Bijoux et Parures du Maghreb. Collection J.-F. et M.-L. Bouvier. Paris, Institute du monde arabe: 160 p.
Cheminée, M. 2014 Legacy. Jewelry Techniques of West Africa. Brunswick, Brynmorgen Press: 232 p.
Creyaufmüller, W. 1983 Agades cross pendants. Structural components & their modifications. Part I. Ornament 7(2): 16-21, 60-61.
     — 1984 Agades cross pendants. Structural components & their modifications. Part II. Ornament 7(3): 37-39.
Fisher, A. 1984 Africa Adorned. New York, Harry N. Abrams: 304 p.
Gabus, J. 1982 Sahara. bijoux et techniques. Neuchâtel, A la Baconnièré: 508 p.
Kalter, J. 1976 Schmuck aus Nordafrika. Stuttgart, Linden-Museum Stuttgart and Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde: 120 p.
Leurquin, A. 2003 A World of Necklaces. Africa, Asia, Oceania, America from the Ghysels Collection. Milan, Skira, Skira Editore S.p.A.: 464 p.
Liu, R. K. 1977 T’alhakimt (Talhatana), a Tuareg Ornament: Its Origins, Derivatives, Copies and Distribution. The Bead Journal 3 (2): 18-22.
     —1987 India, Idar-Oberstein and Czechoslovakia. Imitators And Competitors. Ornament 10 (4): 56-61.
     —1995a Collectibles: Mauritanian Amulets and Crosses. Ornament 19(1): 28-29.
     —1995b Collectible Beads. A Universal Aesthetic. Vista, Ornament, Inc.: 256 p.
     —2002 Rings from the Sahara and Sahel. Ornament 25 (4): 86-87.
     —2008 Mauritanian Conus Shell Disks. A comparison of Ancient and Ethnographic Ornaments. Ornament 32 (1): 56-59.
     —2017 Ethnographic Arts: Jewelers at the International Folk Art Market. Ornament 40 (1): 62-64.
Loughran, K. and C. Becker. 2008 Desert Jewels. North African Jewelry and Photography from the Xavier Guerrand-Hermès Collection. New York, Museum for African Art: 95 p.
Schienerl, P.W. 1986 The Twofold Roots of Tuareg Charm-cases. Ornament 9(4): 54-57.
Van Cutsem, A. 2000 A World of Rings. Africa, Asia, America. Milan, Skira: 230 p.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament, for many years its in-house photographer, as well as a jeweler using alternative materials like bamboo and polyester. 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, ancient Egyptian jewelry, and the worldwide trade in beads. In this issue Liu discusses some aspects of Tuareg jewelry, based in part on the inventory and private collection of Ethnic Embellishments.

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.

 

Click Images for Captions

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

David-Updike-Contributor.jpg

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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Sarpellon, G. 1990 miniature di vetro. murrine 1838 1924. Venezia, arsenale editrice: 194 p.
Sidebotham, S.E., I. Zych, J. K. Radkowska and M. Woxniak. 2015 Egypt. The Harbor Temenos in the Southwestern Bay. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean. XXIV/1: 306-319.
Selling, D. 1942 Mosaikpärlor med ansiksmasker. Fornvännen: 23-48.
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.
Tempelmann-Maczynska, M. 1985 Die Perlen der römischen Kaiserzeit und der frühen Phase der Völkerwanderungszeit im mittereuropäischen Barbicum. Romisch-Germanische Forschungen 43: 339 p., 80 Tafe

 

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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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