Jewelers at the International Folk Art Market Volume 40.1

Jewelers at the International Folk Art Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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RKL_Contributor.jpg

Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty-plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. A frequent lecturer, some of his topics include precolumbian jewelry, prehistoric Southwest jewelry and ancient Egyptian jewelry. In this issue Liu writes about glass ornaments at The Israel Museum with Jocelyne Okrent, and documents five jewelers who attended the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Glass Ornaments at the Israel Museum Volume 40.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Jocelyene-Okrent-Contributor.jpg

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

RKL_Contributor.jpg

Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty-plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. A frequent lecturer, some of his topics include precolumbian jewelry, prehistoric Southwest jewelry and ancient Egyptian jewelry. In this issue Liu writes about glass ornaments at The Israel Museum with Jocelyne Okrent, and documents five jewelers who attended the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Smithsonian Craft Show 2017 Volume 39.4

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

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

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

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

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

ADAM PAULEK

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

REBECCA HUNGERFORD

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

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

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

ZACHARY JONAS

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

BEN STREAR

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

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

MARY JACKSON

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

LINDA KINDLER PRIEST

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

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

JUDITH KAUFMAN

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

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

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

MARIAN SCHOETTLE

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

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

STARR HAGENBRING

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

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

ROB & BARBARA MATHEWS

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

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

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

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

www.smithsoniancraftshow.org

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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

Comment

Leslie Clark

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

The Tucson Shows 2017 Volume 39.3

PETER VAN DE WIJNGAART, FLOOR KASPARS, ROBERT WILLIAMS, BERNIE LAWITZ, AND HIS DAUGHTER HANNAH LAWITZ at the Silk Road Gem & Jewelry Show off of Grant Road, in the former Grant Inn, now the Grand Luxe Hotel and Resort. Van de Wijngaart and Kaspars are Dutch bead lovers who visit Tucson every year. Lawitz is the former owner of recently closed Beads Galore.  Photographs by Robert K. Liu and Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

PETER VAN DE WIJNGAART, FLOOR KASPARS, ROBERT WILLIAMS, BERNIE LAWITZ, AND HIS DAUGHTER HANNAH LAWITZ at the Silk Road Gem & Jewelry Show off of Grant Road, in the former Grant Inn, now the Grand Luxe Hotel and Resort. Van de Wijngaart and Kaspars are Dutch bead lovers who visit Tucson every year. Lawitz is the former owner of recently closed Beads Galore. Photographs by Robert K. Liu and Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

There is a thrill to treasure-hunting that transcends the humdrum routine of everyday life. It is the feeling that comes from encountering the unknown, and even more alluringly, the ability to somehow take that home with you.

      There exists a place where that is possible. It is called the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, which is somewhat of a misnomer in that instead of being one, singular show, it is more like if one occupied a small city with tents, pop-up tables, booths, and mini-vans. During the months of January and February, Tucson undergoes just such a transformation. Roughly fifty shows, fairs and festivals spring up around the city, some featuring just a dozen exhibitors, others hosting hundreds of vendors. It is not just gems and minerals that are for sale. Tribal and ethnographic art, ancient artifacts, crafting tools and supplies, hand-blown glass beads, jewelry, clothing, baskets, purses, backpacks, fossils, giant sculptures—it really is easier to list what you will not find at the Tucson Shows. Which is to say you can find almost everything there.

To Read the Full Article

 
 

Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. This January he and Robert travel to Tucson to visit the Gem & Mineral Show, where they will see old friends, make new ones, and cover all the wonders of that worldly bazaar. In this issue he describes one small corner of the vast market, and encourages readers to indulge in their inner explorer and visit the show themselves. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft, where you can find out what is happening with art to wear in the global neighborhood.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show Volume 39.2

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show 2016


Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, Pennsylvania Convention Center, November 10 - 13, 2016. Visit pmacraftshow.org for more information.

CHRISTINA AND MICHAEL ADCOCK

Each November, Philadelphia becomes the epicenter of the nation’s craft world for four exhilarating days known as the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, as hundreds of artists and thousands of enthusiastic and discerning viewers flock to the city to immerse themselves in the best that American craft has to offer.

      This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the PMA Craft Show, and it promises to be a landmark exhibit. From more than a thousand applicants, the five jurors have selected one hundred ninety-five artists from thirty-four states. On display will be work representing every major craft medium, including baskets, jewelry (precious and semiprecious), metal, glass, fiber (wearable and decorative), leather, wood, furniture, paper, ceramics, and mixed-media creations. A separate category for “Emerging Artists” helps relative newcomers bring their work to a wider audience. Similarly, the special “Craft-U” section allows students and recent alumni from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, the Moore College of Art and Design, Kutztown University, and Savannah College of Art and Design to display and sell their work at one of the country’s premier venues for fine crafts.

PING WU

      The Craft Show is organized and presented each year by the Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a major fundraising event for the institution. Last year’s show generated around $845,000, and since the first show in 1977 more than $11.7 million in proceeds have been raised to fund every aspect of the museum’s mission, including education, acquisitions, exhibitions, programs, and renovations. As the first retail craft show to be organized by volunteers for the benefit of a nonprofit organization, the PMA Craft Show has become a highly successful model for others to follow. In the process, it has also done much to promote contemporary American craft.

Regular attendees will find many familiar faces in this year’s line-up, including ceramicists Cliff Lee and Bennett Bean; jewelrymakers Namu Cho, Rebecca Myers, and Steven Ford and David Forlano; fiber artists Elyse Allen, Andrea Handy, and Ping Wu (winner of last year’s Ornament Award for Excellence in Art to Wear); basketmakers Christine and Michael Adcock; and mixed-media artists Roberta and David Williamson, who will be participating in their thirty-fifth PMA Craft Show!

The show’s organizers, however, are proud to point out that more than a quarter of this year’s entrants are first-time exhibitors, a testament to the rising generation of skilled artisans. “This year we will have fifty new artists,” said Gwen Goodwill Bianchi, chair of the 2016 Craft Show. “It’s very exciting to have so much new work as we celebrate the show’s fortieth anniversary! That keeps contemporary craft fresh and moving forward.” Bianchi has been a member of the Craft Show Committee for ten years, and a member of the Women’s Committee for the past eight years, but this is her first time chairing the show. “The biggest surprise has been how the younger, tech-savvy generation continues to embrace the relevance and importance of handmade work,” she said. 

CLIFF LEE

      Juror Glenn Adamson, a respected author, curator and theorist of contemporary art and former director of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, was similarly encouraged about the future of craft in America. “I was surprised by the high quality of entrants in the ‘Emerging Artists’ category,” he told me. “Though craft is, as they say, ‘long to learn,’ there were many artists who had clearly hit the ground running and had a lot of mastery already.” Adamson notes that while technology has had an impact on these younger artists, its mark is seen more in the aesthetics of the works than in the processes employed in making them. “Certainly you can see the influence of digital technology here and there, not so much in the techniques used (which remain mainly traditional) but in the style of imagery.”

Fellow juror Laura Mays, an Irish-born furniture designer and maker now living in California where she directs the Fine Woodworking program at the College of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg, also noted the (perhaps ironic) influence of digital technologies on the aesthetics of handcrafted art. She sees “a move away from polychromatic patternmaking and exuberant surface, towards a clean-lined, materials-driven, neutral palette, very similar to a design-led approach. Maybe it’s the Apple influence—small radius corners, materials left unadorned though polished, visually tidy.” While acknowledging that “the entrants wish to be selected to show their work for sale,” she adds: “It really struck home that human beings are very driven towards the manipulation of material and to learn and exhibit manual and mental skill... I had a very palpable sense that the energy and commitment that the craftspeople put in is not commercially driven.”

ALEKSANDRA VALI

     Among the ten “Emerging Artists” selected for this year’s show is jewelrymaker Aleksandra Vali. Now based in Geneva, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago, Vali was trained as a sculptor and ceramicist in Russia and exhibited widely in her native country and abroad. After moving to the United States, she shifted her focus to metalsmithing and jewelry. “My work with clay has definitely affected my current works,” she said. “For me, metal provides a unique opportunity to create unusual, stylish pieces with fine details and very sharp and clear lines and shapes, something I was unable to do in ceramics.”

Vali’s training as a sculptor is evident in the Calendar from Atlantis/Bells series. These conical constructions of oxidized silver, each about four inches high, feature pitted and grooved surfaces to which the artist adds rune-like symbols and other motifs in electroplated twenty-four karat gold. As the title implies, the overall effect is one of an exquisitely preserved archaeological artifact recovered from an ancient civilization. (Vali notes that although each “bell” contains a clapper and is thus technically functional, they are not necessarily designed to produce a pleasing sound.) Her fascination with the material culture of the past also drives the Measures of Value collection, sleekly modern pendants whose designs incorporate antique elements, including Chinese coins, watchmakers’ tools and mini-calipers, in a clever play on the overlapping objective and subjective meanings that accrue to “value.”

MELODIE GRACE

      Other “Emerging Artists” this year include ceramicist Melodie Grace of Nashville, Tennessee, who, according to the artist’s statement, combines “wheel-thrown, handcarved and etched elements with both traditional and naked raku” to create pots whose textures often evoke natural materials such as pine cones. The surfaces of many of her vessels feature sharply defined images of trees, blossoms, leaves, and birds whose colors are created exclusively by smoke during the firing process.

ROBERT COBY

      Glass artist Robert Coby of Cleveland, Ohio, similarly evokes landscape in his handblown and carved vessels. His Topography series, for example, features egg-shaped vessels of molten glass in various hues, into whose surfaces the artist etches intricate patterns of concentric lines resembling the elevation markings on topographical maps. Coby then carves away portions, creating crevasse-like openings bounded by serrated crystalline edges, beneath which lie the exposed luminous interior surfaces. One could easily imagine each vessel as a globe-egg that incubated some fantastical creature, which has now hatched and left behind its multicolored shell for us to admire.

Another artist who evokes the fantastic in his work is first-time exhibitor David Winigrad of Penn Valley, Pennsylvania, who specializes in the wind-activated kinetic sculptures known as “whirligigs.” Winigrad earned a BFA in two-dimensional design from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and spent three decades working in advertising. His mother, Etta Winigrad, is a world-renowned ceramic sculptor, but David told me that he came to kinetic sculpture “almost by happenstance” when he got some woodworking tools from his brother and began experimenting.

“I was first drawn to traditional folk-art whirligigs by virtue of their very unlikeliness as objects of art,” he said. “Whirligigs, in essence, are machines.” As such, they share much in common with their more practical cousins such as combustion engines and electric motors, including the crankshafts, cams, pistons, and rotors that translate energy into motion. In this case, however, the driving force is wind, adding an element of chance to the machine’s performance. “It’s the mercurial nature of wind that makes the whirligig so captivating,” said Winigrad. “Like a marionette, they will suddenly come to life, spin madly, and then, just as suddenly, come to rest.”

DAVID WINIGRAD


      Winigrad’s inspiration for each whirligig “almost always comes from the wood. I gravitate to burls specifically, the deformed growths found on various species of trees... Each burl has a unique grain pattern and often contains voids, bark, spiky caps, and live edges.” These irregular features allow him “to contrast the eccentricities of the burl with the precise geometries I impose on the overall shape.” Along with the wooden elements, which range from ebony, maple, cherry, and walnut to osage orange and wild almond, he incorporates jade, stones, bone, feathers, crystals, coral, fossils, and other materials into these truly mixed-media creations.

EBEN BLANEY

      “My creative impetus is to amaze and delight the viewer through the variety of rotational movement and the beauty inherent in the materials,” explained Winigrad. “I also encourage people to interact with the whirligig through touch. In an incomprehensibly complex hi-tech world, viewers are able to fully understand how each whirligig works and enjoy the simple pleasure that comes with that realization.”

Participating in his second PMA Craft Show is Eben Blaney of Edgecomb, Maine, who has been making custom furniture for twenty years in the studio he built for himself in this small coastal town. Blaney, whose father was a boat-builder in nearby Boothbay Harbor, “resisted being a woodworker, anything to do with wood, for a long time,” he related to me during a studio visit in late August. After attending Hofstra University and the Portland School of Art (now the Maine College of Art), he went through a “soul-searching time” during which he “rolled around a lot.” This he did in a very literal way—by riding a bike all the way across the country. Eventually Blaney both found his way back home and embraced woodworking as his medium. The bike now hangs from the ceiling of the workshop, a reminder of his earlier nomadic life. He and his wife, a massage therapist, have their living quarters below the workshop, and she has a separate studio for her business nearby.

REBECCA MYERS

      Blaney’s first PMA Craft Show outing, in 2014, was “my best show ever, it was incredibly heartening,” he told me. He was particularly impressed by the “caliber of everybody else there,” but also by the sophistication of the viewers. “Philadelphia is a really well-educated population, in terms of furniture. They know what they’re looking for.” The city does indeed have a long historical connection to fine furniture-making, stretching from Colonial times through to more modern figures such as Wharton Esherick (1887–1970), a key inspiration for the resurgence of the craft following World War II. Echoes of Esherick’s aesthetic sensibility can be seen in many of Blaney’s elegant pieces, which combine the crisp geometries of mid-century modern design with a deep respect for the organic qualities of the materials.

An example is his Cormorant, a tall, slim hall table fashioned from walnut and ebonized tiger maple. “This felt very bird-like to me from the beginning,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite pieces because I was able to make it thinner than what you’re used to seeing.” On the in-progress version he showed me in the studio, the smooth, black surface of the elliptical tabletop was interrupted by the irregular edges of a knothole, a reminder of its origin in nature. Like many of Blaney’s pieces, the Cormorant also features exposed mortise-and-tenon joints. “I like to have some evidence that it was done by hand,” he said.

Nature has always been a primary inspiration for jewelrymaker Rebecca Myers of Baltimore, whose work features forms derived from seedpods, branches, flowers, and bees, among other motifs. “Most recently I’ve been working on an animal print collection of jewelry,” she told me in early September. “It’s made with layers of metals pierced to achieve the leopard and zebra patterns.”

Myers has done the PMA Craft Show “a handful of times” during her twenty-plus years as a jewelry designer and maker. “It’s always been a beautiful show and one of the most difficult to jury into,” she said. For Myers, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and attended Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, it is also something of a homecoming. “I have clients, family, teachers, and friends that I love visiting with at the show. Philadelphia is also such a great art and craft city. The public art is terrific. There’s a high interest due to the abundance of local art schools and museums.”

Like many of the participants, Myers finds hope for the future in an event that brings so many people together around the notion of putting beauty and creativity at the center of our everyday lives. “I think shows like the PMA Craft Show are cultural touchstones,” she said. “It’s so important to continue to educate a new generation of students and possible future collectors about incorporating art and craft into their lives. It’s very doable. To be an art collector you don’t need to go to a Sotheby’s auction. You can start at a show like PMA.” 

ROBERTA AND DAVID WILLIAMSON, BENNETT BEAN AND STEVE FORD AND DAVID FORLANO

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

David Updike is an editor and writer living in Philadelphia. A regular contributor to Ornament, he most recently reviewed the “Immortal Beauty” exhibition of garments and textiles from Drexel University’s Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection. In this issue, he previews the 2016 Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show, which celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year, and found in the process encouraging evidence for the continued relevance of fine, handcrafted objects in our increasingly digitized world. Updike has, in addition, contributed articles on jewelry artists Rebecca Myers, Namu Cho and Michael Manthey in past issues. 

International Folk Art Market Volume 39.1

International Folk Art Market

IDA BAGUS ANOM SURYAWAN, mask carver from Mas Village in Bali, Indonesia. Photograph © by Marc Romanelli.

If there was ever a riot of colors and sensations, rebelling against the staid bland urbanity of modern life, the International Folk Art Market, held annually in Santa Fe, New Mexico, would be it. Bringing together travelers from across the world, and pairing what is quintessentially local art with a meeting ground accessible by a global audience, this festival of human creativity is rather remarkable to say the least.

      The event began in 2003 as an effort to empower folk artists by providing them with a marketplace that they could never have accessed otherwise. The thought was many artists in first, second and third-world nations create beautiful work, but are limited to selling to their village, tribe or the occasional tourist. By providing a venue in the United States and assisting them in traveling to America, these folk artisans could experience a windfall in profits while giving visitors the opportunity to purchase unusual crafts and art to which they might never have been exposed. It was a win-win concept, similar to the idea of micro-loans, and it has been hugely successful...

 

      To Read The
  Complete Article


Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. This April he attended the Smithsonian Craft Show, always a favorite, where he was part of a panel led by Craft in America producer Carol Sauvion discussing the state of craft in the twenty-first century. He contributes to the current issue an exploration of the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a world bazaar if there ever was one. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest craft News, where you can find out what is happening with art-to-wear in the global neighborhood.

Beijing's Ethnic Costume Museum Volume 39.1

Beijing's Ethnic Costume Museum

CLOTHING GALLERY, with spinning fixtures and weaving looms in foreground. Such textile furniture has also been preserved in other museums. Photographs by Robert K. Liu and Patrick Benesh-Liu/Ornament; shot hand-held, with high-ISO and no flash, to prevent light damage.

China is a land rich in museums—by the end of 2013, there were almost twenty-seven hundred known institutions. We first covered exhibitions at Chinese museums in 1982, when my brother David and I co-wrote about Qing Dynasty jewelry in the Museum of Treasures, Beijing. This was shortly after China was opened to Americans, after President Nixon’s visit, when my brother was working for American television news. Since then, we have had occasional coverage of exhibitions there: in 2000, “Forbidden City” by Carolyn Benesh; in 2008, when Patrick Benesh-Liu made his first visit to China, and reviewed the Shanghai Museum of Art. In 2013, I returned to China after an absence of sixty-seven years. Having left Shanghai as a child of eight, China was so different, yet still so familiar in essence. During our whirlwind trip through Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, and Jinze, we visited museums in each city. Our review of the Warring States beads exhibition at the Shanghai Museum of Glass in 2013 was an example of such coverage.

 

      To Read The
  Complete Article


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. In this issue Liu writes about the Ethnic Costume Museum in Beijing, which he visited with Carolyn and Patrick in 2013, on a return to China after sixty-seven years in the United States. While going through the recent move of the Ornament office, he restudied some ancient stone beads in its study bead collection, marveling at both the skill of ancient and contemporary stone beadmakers, especially those who did replicas or imitations. 

Smithsonian Craft Show Volume 38.5

 

The first craft fair I ever encountered was in the early 1970s in Laguna Beach, a sun-kissed pearl of a beach town an hour or so south of Los Angeles. I was a suburban teenager brought to the fair by an aunt with a taste for art. I remember wandering wide-eyed through an outdoor maze of booths and tables displaying stoneware bowls and teapots, silver jewelry, botanical photographs, wood carvings, leather belts and bags, and a thousand other objects that I realized were not the same things available at the department and discount stores where my parents shopped. I was mesmerized, and I got the point. Everything on display had been handmade, probably by the person selling it.

      This seemed to me audacious, even a little subversive. Children make things with their hands. But the idea of adults in the mid-twentieth century choosing to make mugs and bracelets and blankets by hand was completely out of my sphere of understanding. Yet what I saw was compelling. Everything struck me as authentic and beautiful. After much deliberation, I bought a twenty-two dollar stoneware bowl made by a woman with a long black braid. The bowl was perhaps nine inches across and glazed in overlapping washes of azure and yellow. To my unformed aesthetic it was elegant and artistic. It became the centerpiece on whatever passed for my kitchen table for the next fifteen years as I moved from dorm rooms to starter apartments. I arranged fruit in it, and used it to serve food to guests. Though modest, it was a one-of-a-kind object that lent beauty and grace to any place I called home.

The upcoming Smithsonian Craft Show 2016 will be, as it always is, a celebration of just that transformative power of craft. Held at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C., April 21-24, the show includes one hundred and twenty-one craftspeople from around the United States. The annual show, first held in 1983, is one of the finest craft shows in the nation. For artists chosen to participate, it is a validation of their skill and creativity. This year eleven hundred craftspeople applied. The three distinguished jurors were charged with selecting artists who represent the best in their fields, whether the artists are mature masters or young innovators.

      At a time when it is easier than ever to acquire inexpensive, mass-produced clothing, jewelry, decorative and utilitarian household objets, the idea of making unique items from wood, clay, metal, fibers, glass, and other venerable craft materials can seem quaint. Manufacturers try hard to imitate real craft, though their machines can never really pull it off. No machine could ever imitate Lisa Sorrell’s skill and creativity at bootmaking. Sorrell, of Guthrie, Oklahoma, makes custom cowboy boots that no doubt will someday be in museums. She makes every bit of each boot from the colorful decorative designs on the shafts to the soles and heels. Like many artisans, she seems to have been born with gifted hands. She was making doll clothes at age twelve, and by fifteen was sewing professionally, making clothing for women in her church and prom dresses for high school girls.

“I find great satisfaction in creating functional objects,” says Sorrell. “Cowboy bootmaking appealed to me more than making clothing, because bootmaking is so physical and extremely complex. Every step in the process is a challenge, either physically or mentally.” She adds that she is “committed to the craft of cowboy bootmaking because I see myself as a link in a chain. Cowboy boots are a uniquely American craft, but it’s a craft that’s in grave danger of being lost. It has been passed along orally from bootmaker to apprentice. As I learned to make cowboy boots, I realized that I had a responsibility to learn the craft well and to pass it along to future generations.” Besides teaching and speaking on bootmaking, she produces instructional videos and is publishing a book.

If you know anything at all about the world of contemporary jewelry, Roberta and David Williamson need no introduction. The Ohio artists are among the most acclaimed jewelrymakers in the country, and their work is in the collections of major museums. In 2009 they were featured in the PBS series Craft in America. The Williamsons’ jewelry mixes a reverence for the natural world with poetic connections to home, garden and family. Crafted from found objects and antique images fabricated into sterling silver, their jewelry can conjure dreamy images of Emily Dickinson amidst the flora and fauna in her garden.

JULIE SHAW
 

Julie Shaw has been making and selling jewelry for most of her life. She grew up in Detroit and as a twelve-year-old had a job helping in the gift shop of the Cranbrook Institute of Science. She learned to polish the semiprecious stones sold there and was struck by their beauty. Soon she was making pendants out of rocks attached to chains. Remarkably, she talked the manager of her local dime store into offering her rock jewelry for sale. Later, in art colleges in Detroit and London, she studied painting and ceramics, and in her twenties supported herself selling paintings and beaded earrings at art fairs. When people started asking her to make wedding rings, she took a quick community center course in soldering and honed her skills on the job. In the thirty some years since then she has created production and one-of-a-kind jewelry, often based on her lifelong love of rocks and precious stones.

Shaw’s latest work is in enamel, which she learned to make a few years ago from her friend Barbara Minor, an enamelist and jewelrymaker. Shaw’s jewelry has an organic look that suggests the natural world. Yet her palette is brilliant and exuberant, as if she were looking at natural forms through a rainbow-tinted lens. “One reason I love the enamel is because I get to use color, and it takes me back to my days as a painter.”

K. Riley is another artisan who mixes formidable design and craft talents to create wearable art. Her jackets and coats are made of fabric she decorates with linoleum block prints of her own design. After decorating the cloth, she constructs the jackets. The sophisticated black, white and gray of her current collection suggests the graceful shape of traditional Japanese kimonos. The prints are inspired by botany and insects. Like many professional craftspeople, Riley started young. “I always loved making things,” Riley says. “My mother was a very talented dressmaker, I learned to sew from her. When I was a teenager I combined my love of sewing with my interest in printing and painting textiles. I’ve found joy in that same work all my life. I maintain a small studio with my sister as my assistant. I continue to make all the work myself, that’s where I find the joy.”

                                K. RILEY                                                      SUZYE OGAWA                                      BOYD SUGIKI AND LISA ZERKOWITZ

Riley is not daunted by competition from manufacturers. “Having more mass-produced things in the world makes it even more necessary for us to continue making well-considered, finely crafted items. The Arts and Craft Movement began in response to mass manufacturing. Everything from Etsy and the DIY movement to “slow foods” and “farm to table” has come from the need of people to find meaning in the products they use.”

Suzye Ogawa also knows something about mixing materials and techniques not often found in tandem. Her father owned a dental laboratory in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo when she was young, and she learned to cast metal in her father’s lab. She went on to a career as a public school speech pathologist, but in retirement returned to her interest in craft. Ogawa took a few basketmaking classes and “it was immediately clear that I wanted to combine lost wax castings with natural basketry materials and techniques. This work has evolved and now dominates and drives my creative spirit.”

My Laguna Beach bowl certainly had meaning in my life. I came from a family that set the table with the fancy dinnerware—which was grandmother’s porcelain from England—only for guests or holidays. The idea that everyday utilitarian things should be beautiful and well designed was completely foreign to me. In those days I would not have known what to make of Boyd Sugiki and Lisa Zerkowitz’s stream-lined, handblown glass goblets, martini glasses, vases, bowls, and cake plates. They make sorbet-colored glassware that nods to the modernist Italian and Scandinavian art glass of the mid-twentieth century. It is sleek, but gloriously cheerful. The couple met at the Rhode Island School of Design and established their studio and business in Seattle. They also make nonfunctional glass sculpture. One of their goals, they say, is “to produce beautiful handmade objects that people can live with each day and enjoy fully.”

MATT REPSHER

If Matt Repsher’s ceramics had been for sale at the Laguna craft fair forty-some years ago, I would have been intrigued. Repsher’s work is formal, structural and finished in muted, matte colors. He calls his current pieces “weed pots” because they are wide-bodied, narrow-necked ceramic vessels that could hold a single stem, a rose or a weed. That single stem would be without water, however. Like some of his other current forms the weed pots look composed of architectural elements that create the essential bones of a pot, rather than a fully fleshed out vessel. The pots are a contrast in the solidity of the clay and the adjacent open spaces. Repsher traces his fascination with ceramics to his father, who earned a master’s degree in ceramic art but later became a homebuilder. Repsher, soon to be based in Santa Fe, grew up surrounded by his dad’s ceramics, and says that his own work reflects an inherited interest in architecture and form.

SANDRA AND WENCE MARTINEZ

Sandra and Wence Martinez’s nearly thirty-year collaboration in art and in life is a fairy tale of what can happen when like-minded creative spirits join forces. Sandra was a young painter from Wisconsin whose small, abstract painting was carried to Oaxaca by a friend. The friend knew weavers in Oaxaca, and one of them, a young master weaver named Wence, translated the painting into a large weaving. When Sandra saw the weaving she was impressed. The rest is history. They arranged to meet, they fell in love, they married, and since 1994 the couple has maintained a workshop in Jacksonport, Wisconsin. Wence, who came from a Oaxacan family of master weavers, still translates Sandra’s artwork, which has references to plants, tribal art and myth, into weavings and tapestries made of hand-dyed, hand-spun wool. The Martinezes’ work is completely contemporary, yet grounded in tradition.

SARA DROWER

Contemporary craft has roots in traditional techniques, but it is by no means stuck in the past. Innovative craftmakers are using new technologies to expand the traditional craft idiom. Take Sara Drower, an Illinois printmaker and visual artist who started drawing and painting on fabric. She used those fabrics to make one-of-a-kind clothing for a while, then moved to quilts and wall hangings. Her latest work involves taking digital photos of urban scenes, transferring those images onto fabric via ink-jet printing, then quilting and beading the fabric. Her new works are small quilts, about a foot square. “I am fascinated by the quality of a photo that makes people look at it and want to know more about it,” says Drower. “So far, I have worked in a small format which requires a close look. I find that people are attracted to look at the images so I need to explain both the process and the thinking behind the work—all of which makes me try to understand what the creative process involves for both the viewer and the maker.”

My blue and yellow craft fair bowl was lost years ago during a cross-country move. But in the decades since I have tried to fill my life with handmade objects that reflect the creativity and skill of the artisans who make them—artisans such as the top talent assembled for the Smithsonian Craft Show. 

For more information on the Smithsonian Craft Show visit www.smithsoniancraftshow.org.

 

   GET INSPIRED!

 
 

Robin Updike is an arts writer and a longtime observer of the craft scene. Her preview of the Smithsonian Craft Show gave her the chance to interview some of the top-notch artisans selected for the show. Without exception, she was not only impressed with their work, but with their lifetime commitment to their craft and their ongoing efforts to fine-tune their skills. For instance, Julie Shaw began her life in art as a painter, then became a jewelrymaker whose work was in such demand that she started a production line and hired assistants. Well into middle age, Shaw decided to learn enameling, which she now uses to make gloriously colored jewelry. “I find that the best craftmakers are always looking for new ways to express themselves, regardless of the challenges involved,” says Updike. “It is inspiring.”

Tucson Gem & Mineral Show Volume 38.4

The Tucson Shows
Meeting Ground for the World

 

GUESTS OF WALKER QIN at the Azian Restaurant, mainly vendors from The Ethnographic Group at the Grand Luxe Hotel: Chaouki Daou (from Lebanon), Patrick R. Benesh-Liu, David and Marilyn Ebbinghouse, Bassem Elias, Thomas Stricker, Walker Qin (from Beijing), Jamey Allen, Robert K. Liu, and Lise Mousel. Photographs by Robert K. Liu and Patrick R. Benesh-Liu/Ornament except this image.

Downturns in global economies and the aging of collectors have seriously impacted the Tucson gem shows, especially for those dealing primarily in ancient and ethnographic ornaments. There has always been a certain amount of selling by visitors, which has probably increased, along with the disposal of collections by owners who have left the marketplace or died. Given the decreasing number of collectors and the changing demographics of buyers, the market for ancient and ethnographic jewelry is in considerable flux.

VISITORS AND VENDOR AT THE BALLROOM: Peter van der Wijngaart and Floor Kaspers (from Holland), vendor Thomas Stricker of TASART, Karen King and Kate Fowle Meleney, well-known American glass artist.

      The market for certain types of beads has shifted to China. Beads of natural materials that can be worn, such as amber, coral, stones, especially those with some relationship to Tibetan Buddhism, are sought after—none more than patterned stones such as dZi, other etched agates and pumtek. With etched agates and pumtek, there has been market manipulation with books containing information which may not be historically accurate. The Pyu culture of Burma may be the next to see such treatment (Qin, pers. comm.). Due to the savviness of many dealers, Africans and others have brought these desired ornaments to China, and many have turned their attention to this potentially lucrative market, especially if the Chinese begin to expand the number of collectors and their currently relatively restricted interests are broadened.

The Tucson Gem & Mineral Show (its popular moniker) is somewhat of a misnomer. It is better to think of the event as an umbrella, under which flourishes dozens of markets and fairs with different specialties. Some are purely for gem and stone buyers, including high-end vendors who target only the richest clients. Others have nothing to do with gems and minerals but sell tribal and ethnographic art, ancient beads and artifacts. Some shows focus on contemporary makers, with vendors selling supplies, tools, beads, and handmade jewelry to hobbyists and fashionistas seeking a little something special for their wardrobe, along with craft workshops catering to popular media like polymer, glass, metal, and beads.

DANNY LOPACKI AND ART SEYMOUR, good friends and respectively noted stone carver and chevron glass bead artist. Lopacki’s booth shows both of their work, as well as other beads.

In the Grand Luxe Hotel ballroom during 2015, as part of the Gem and Jewelry Show on Grant, six vendors made up The Ethnographic Group, including The Lindstrom Collection (Lise Mousel/Jamey Allen), David Ebbinghouse Fine Jewelry, Ancient Beads and Artifacts (Bassem Elias), Tasart LLC (Thomas Stricker), YoneSF (Sandra Fish), and the Indra Collection. Already known for the breadth and excellence of their offerings, the Lindstrom and Ebbinghouse booths added fine assembled jewelry from decades of collecting. This one room now shows ancient and ethnographic jewelry that is world class, a category that could be called hidden treasures. These are cultural goods of quality and rarity, deserving of serious study and efforts at preservation, but now are being or will be dispersed due to the passing of their owners or lack of institutions for housing and display. Also showing at the Grand Luxe was the work of many interesting dealers, like Pacific Artefacts, and including contemporary glass artist Art Seymour and stone carver Danny Lopacki.

PAULA RADKE ART GLASS AT THE RADISSON. She has long been associated with dichroic glass and is the developer of Art Glass Clay, a revolutionary way of making glass ornaments without the need of a torch.

To Bead True Blue and the Tucson Bead Show takes place at the Doubletree Reid Park and Radisson Suites Tucson, with the latter in the eastern outskirts of the city. Both shows are run under the auspices of Anna Johnson and her family, and host a wonderful mosaic of tool and supply vendors, ethnographic dealers, gem, mineral, and bead sellers, handmade glass bead artists, polymer artists like Klew, Christi Friesen and Yellow House Designs, and many workshops, like those by Kieu Pham Gray of Urban Beader and Paula Radke. During our visit, Radke demonstrated her Art Clay Glass, which can be fired in a microwave oven if placed in a ceramic fiber container, to enable a high heat buildup. Doug Baldwin taught photography; he has had many pupils in three and a half years. Workshops for popular media have been one of the fastest-growing areas of craft and vendor shows in the past decade, with To Bead True Blue and the Tucson Bead Show being no exception.

MIKA NISHIYAMA OF JAPAN, among a group of skilled Japanese glass beadmakers at the Tucson Glass Art and Bead Festival.

The Tucson Glass Art and Bead Festival had its first year in 2015, organized by Doug Harroun of Greymatter Glass. Those in the know are aware that the Festival basically picks up the reigns from noted boro artist and early bead show entrepreneur Lewis Wilson’s groundwork. Held now at the Sonoran Glass School, the show’s goal is to provide a marketplace for handmade glass artists in Tucson, and a number of bead artists signed onto the endeavor, including Bronwen Heilman, JC Herrell, Terri Caspary Schmidt, Patty Lakinsmith, and Donna Conklin. A group from Japan, spearheaded by Akihiro Okama and composed of glass bead and marble artists such as Takahiro Muto, an excellent crafter of fine borosilicate beads, and talented young artist Mika Nishiyama, was a welcome presence.

The Sonoran Glass School was also the venue for the Flame Off, a live competition for glass artists; exciting and fun to watch, augmented by good food and drink from food trucks on their grounds. Wilson was one such participant in the contest.

The Festival was also home to the Linda Sweeney Collection, an ambitious effort to create a contemporary glass bead museum based in Glorieta, New Mexico. Sweeney herself was present with several cases of the collection, which presented rather delightful examples from across the spectrum of contemporary bead designers.

Being in Tucson during the Gem & Mineral Show is like being in a city-wide carnival. One may see everything from treasures to trash, although one person’s trash may be another person’s treasure. If you have never visited, you owe it to yourself once in your life to attend this vast spectacle.


Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His new 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. In this issue he writes about the extraordinary crafting of Zhou Dynasty/Warring States faience, glass and other silicate ornaments, as well as their complexity. He and Patrick Benesh-Liu also cover the lively spectacle of the Tucson Gem Shows.


Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. Last year he attended “Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family” at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, and found it an enchanting and thoughtfully produced experience. His coverage of the exhibition explores the work of the Yazzies, as well as expressing his appreciation for its presentation. In addition, he contributes his own perspective on the Tucson Gem & Mineral show. As Ornament’s resident reporter, he provides a zesty compilation of the latest craft News, where you can find out what is happening with art-to-wear in your local corner of the world.