Humans have always gazed at the heavens with wonder and awe. The sky, with its endless shifts in light and mood, inspires fear and faith, science and fantasy. The gods of nearly all religions dwell in the endless, unfathomable worlds beyond our little planet, as do the extraterrestrial civilizations described by science fiction writers. Even as astrophysicists study space and explain what they know, the celestial world remains tantalizingly mysterious to most of us. And thank goodness for that.
In times of personal or societal turmoil, we turn to the sky with its infinite possibility and dream of worlds beyond our own. The artists in “Celestial: Comets, Cupids, and Other Heavenly Bodies,” a recent exhibition (February 8 - 28, 2017) at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery, in Seattle, Washington, were inspired by shooting stars and blue moons, meteors and cloud patterns, origin myths and the zodiac, time traveling and communication with other worlds. The exhibition was a delightful antidote to the dark skies of mid winter and dark horizons everywhere.
The exhibition included the work of twenty-two artists mostly from the United States and Canada. With jewelry displayed on reproductions of celestial maps, the show looked like part of a stylish observatory display, as though the jewelry represented miniature solar systems for us to study. Jan Smith’s exquisitely crafted enamel and silver neckpieces suggest tranquil blue landscapes on other planets. Plants and animals could live on these welcoming orbs. At a time when our earth’s environment is increasingly fragile, Smith’s Oort Cloud and Once in a Blue Moon offer hope for worlds with still pristine blue waters and clear skies.
Cynthia Toops, noted for her work in polymer clay micro mosaic, created narrative pieces based on myths about the heavens. Her pendant Nu Wa, The Creator is named for a goddess from Chinese mythology with a human face and a snake’s body. Nu Wa is the goddess of order and she also created humans. One of her heroic acts was to stop the heavens from collapsing onto earth. Toops collaborated with metalsmith Nancy Bonnema to make the piece.
Checha Sokolovic’s work incorporates treated charcoal used as gemstones. Meteorite Landing is a sterling silver and cement ring with a hunk of treated charcoal displayed like treasure. Meteorites that land on earth are in fact treated like precious rocks, and Sokolovic’s work raises questions about beauty and exactly what makes a material precious. Jennifer Merchant’s acrylic-based necklace and ring included bits of space photography. Merchant excels at building layers of acrylic, fine silver leaf, silver, and glitter all in the service of creating depth. For these pieces she also used snippets of photographs taken through the Hubble Space Telescope. Her necklace and ring, both called Universe, are glimpses of infinity.
Some of the most striking work was abstract in design but rich with cosmic allusion. Carla Pennie McBride’s several pieces are studies in black and white, positive and negative space. Light and Dark Necklace is a translucent epoxy resin sphere held in place by a chain of beads made from black lava. It is an elegant piece of jewelry as well as a poetic reference to the interdependence of our rocky planet and the life-giving atmosphere that surrounds us.
Then there is Kirk Lang, who found a real meteorite to work into his brooches. Lang’s work is formal and well made and the hexagonal shape of his brooches suggests clusters of atoms and molecules, or other scientific phenomena made visible. Crafted of titanium, gold, diamonds, and meteorite, Lang’s work also refers to the preciousness of materials. In this case, shards of meteorites are as valuable and beautiful as diamonds and gold.
Nadine Kariya mined Greek mythology for inspiration, and made rings and neckpieces referring to Athena, Aphrodite and Ganymede, a Trojan prince who Zeus transformed into an eagle. Like heroes from all classical mythologies, the Greek gods travel between Earth and the heavens at will. With its classical grandeur, Kariya’s work could easily be worn by the gods of any culture.
There was work in the show representing shooting stars, the signs of the zodiac, and planets belted by outer rings, in the manner of Saturn. For wit, however, it is impossible to improve on pieces by Jana Brevick and emiko oye. Brevick has for many years made work about robotics, extraterrestrial communication and any number of other subjects sparked by her fascination with science and outer space. Her silver brooch/pendant Tracking Heartbeats resembles a miniature radio tower perched on a scooped out antennae dish. You can imagine it floating through space listening, perhaps indefinitely, for a message from another world.
Artist emiko oye infuses smart design with pop culture in a way that was perfectly apropos to this exhibition. Using purple and black LEGO pieces, she made brooches that resemble tiny space ships. Like the galaxy crossing space ships in Star Trek, her LEGO transporters are all right angles and diamond shapes. San Francisco-based oye is known for creating cheerful jewelry out of the bright plastic toy bricks. But for this show she also added song lyrics about the eternal appeal of looking beyond Earth for inspiration. On the backs of the brooches she inscribed lyrics from David Bowie, Prince, Depeche Mode and the character Hedwig, in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Bowie and Prince, who both died in 2016, sometimes presented themselves as messengers from other worlds. When times are tough on our planet, the musicians suggested, dream of better worlds far, far away. The jewelry in “Celestial” made it easy to dream.
Robin Updike, a Seattle-based arts writer and a regular contributor to Ornament, is a longtime observer of the craft scene. Over the course of more than two decades she has reviewed many exhibitions at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery in Seattle and has always been impressed with the gallery’s themed, group shows. In this edition of Ornament Updike reviews a Facèré exhibition in which twenty-two jewelry artists made work about celestial bodies, both real and metaphorical. She let us know that the resulting show was “dreamy.”