Dennita Sewell has been Curator of Fashion Design at the Phoenix Art Museum since January 2000. Her latest exhibition, “Fashioned in America,” was inspired by the 2014 documentary Make It in America: Empowering Global Fashion, directed by James Belzer (now available on iTunes). Sewell met Belzer when he screened his 2012 fashion documentary The Tents at the museum, and the exhibition developed in tandem with the film; Sewell even appears on camera. As a special director’s cut played in the background, I talked to Sewell in the museum’s Ellman Fashion Design Gallery, amidst ensembles by designers who produce at least seventy-five percent of their collections in the United States. They range from newcomers like Rosie Assoulin, Misha Nonoo and Daniel Silverstein to established names like Anna Sui, Nanette Lepore, Monique Lhuillier, and Oscar de la Renta.
Maryland to Murano. Neckpieces and Sculptures
by Joyce J. Scott
The question of how stories come into being is not something we tend to consider; indeed, our predilection is for enjoying them, not questioning how they came about. But the DNA strands of the narrative wind themselves together from happenstance and memory, chance encounters and relationships between people, objects and ideas. If one were to see this ephemeral process translated into physical form, there is no need to look any further than the complicated web of connections created by master beadworker Joyce J. Scott.
Sara Owens: Inspiring Wonder
At first glance, Sara Owens’s island studio appears to be the private study of a naturalist with a taste for the mysterious. A large vitrine displays half a dozen objects that seem to come from the natural world, though not a world most of us have seen. Some of the palm-sized objects are bulbous, metallic forms attached at odd angles to bits of bone. Others look like tiny meteorites mated to decaying seedpods. Nearby a wooly brown lifeform of some kind—moss? bacteria?—has settled comfortably into the center of a metal mesh saucer.
If the objects make you think about what they might be and how they came to look the way they do, Owens, who made them all, would be pleased. Above all, she says, “I want my work to inspire wonder.” Owens is a jewelrymaker and every one of the objects is a brooch. The pieces represent her fascination with the idea that in the natural world, design follows function. They are also testament to her enthusiastic exploration of materials, particularly nontraditional materials. One of the hallmarks of her work is an ability to coax evocative texture and shape out of materials as mundane as paper coffee filters and hardware-store sink drains.
A life in jewelry for Cara Romano is lively and multifaceted, after visiting her studio-gallery in Ellsworth, Maine, one is left amazed by the breadth of her activities. She conducts a whirlwind run of shows and fairs: CraftBoston, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s biennial Treasures Sale and Show in Philadelphia, and the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York. As board president of the Maine Crafts Association, she is helping to shape the future of this vibrant organization. She is also sponsoring her first intern and, last but not least, designing new work.
Experiments with Lighting Sources
As a photographer, I constantly think of how I can improve my photography or how to better utilize my equipment. While waiting for my new book, The Photography of Personal Adornment (Liu 2014), to land in California, I realized that I had not used some of my older equipment for a long time, perhaps not since I switched from shooting primarily film to digital. Knowing that this year I have to travel to photograph out of the studio, I wanted to know what was the minimum of equipment I needed to carry, yet be capable of taking macro images that were of good reproduction quality.
Death Becomes Her. A Century of Mourning Attire
Surprisingly, and surprisingly not surprising, the recent fall costume exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art refashioned appreciation for mourning garments, a form of dress that no longer dominates world traditions. In “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire,” visitors noticeably crowded around the soberly dressed mannequins housed in the confining space of the basement gallery. The gallery has recently been renamed the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Wintour is the celebrity editor-in-chief of Vogue and the museum’s chair for its annual fundraising gala, since 1995.
Attendees seemingly took as long to experience this unusual and smaller thematic display as the earlier expansive main floor blockbuster in the spring for couturier Charles James. Perhaps some necessary self-reflection and identification took place, as its subject is one that touches us all. This exhibition dealt not in bursts of color and iconoclastic design but rather the important subtleties of black and gray, the shadow colors that honor life’s end and our final rite of passage.
Just as the Charles James exhibition illuminated a portion of cultural history through fashion during the twentieth century, so did this display of clothing from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. For most of history, death struck humans early and often. Rituals developed over the world, and every culture has its way of marking the life cycles from which we all partake. Birth, marriage and death rituals purposely concentrate our minds on the significance of transiting the arc of life and memorialize the universality of human experience.
But within the costume center’s darkened space, the time frame was specific and its thirty spectral mannequins were tokens of a past that evinced an almost obsessive devotion to the many rules attached to public and private mourning and how these were woven into the fabric of everyday life. We have nothing remotely prescriptive
like it today. While one tradition has not been entirely dismantled—black is still the favored color of mourning—in other aspects of funerary occasions, dress has become so casual and colorful that T-shirts/shorts/and flip flops are considered to be just fine and not disrespectful to the departed.
“Death Becomes Her” follows the period from the 1830s to 1915. Average life expectancy was less then fifty and death in childbirth or as a child was common. Infant mortality was so ubiquitous that some parents did not name their children until their first year was reached. Disease and the Civil War only added greatly to grieving periods. A woman could always be in mourning clothes for her child, husband, parents, grandparents, and more distant family members. A husband, though, could leave mourning and remarry in as short as a month and was much less likely to be censured for doing so.
Not only her comportment demonstrated familial grief but also what a woman wore in public. Various societal conventions dictated what was appropriate during the grieving process. First, one wore all black, and then over time some white detailing was allowed; as more time passed, gray gained entry to the mourning palette. The final distinction was still visually somber but could flash something a bit more luxe, such as the exhibit’s silk dress embroidered with mauve sequins worn by Queen Alexandra when in half-mourning for Queen Victoria.
During deepest mourning, the cloth consisted of a light gauzed crinkled crepe with a matte finish. Later a bit more sparkle and sheen with silks, taffeta and moiré could be introduced. Bombazine was often used (a combination of wool and silk) as it kept black dyes the best. The dresses could be very beautiful and becoming with an elegance that also showed both dignified feminine grace as well as sexual appeal. Not yet among the dead and very much alive, women had to balance the difficult performance of combining decorous restraint with seductive allure to show themselves as available to males. Remarriage would secure their financial protection, a vital necessity for survival in the Victorian/Edwardian eras, as with most of human history.
While mourning dress was a visual symbol of grief and respect for the deceased, it also gave clues to the woman’s status and taste. Wealthy women could commission apparel from the House of Worth while those less fortunate took an existing dress and dyed it black. The few menswear showed the degree to which males of the time mostly dressed in dark, uniformly subdued fabrics anyway, so their attire in mourning scarcely changed.
The ensembles were fitted with gloves, hats, veils, and jewelry and illustrated how mourning progressed through its various prescribed phases. It was, of course, Queen Victoria who contributed so mightily to mourning practices. So over-the-top upset by her beloved husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861 the queen basically retired from all public life and wore black from that day forward to the end of her long reign and life. The exhibition showed one of her silk taffeta evening dresses, and unlike the other dresses which showed the fashionable tucked wasp waists, hers has none, an acknowledgment to her corsetless zaftig figure.
Black mourning dress may have been the color of sadness but when you wear something for two full years, as expected of a woman grieving the death of her husband, the concept has to take into account just how long you can tolerate keeping the visual performance static, especially since the times are always changing. They inevitably spawned sartorial nuances and the basic fashions could still be imitated and not abandoned. Women’s journals, like Harper’s Bazaar, reassured as to what to wear from head to toe. Therein were found what hairstyles were acceptable, which cloth to buy, where to find mourning rings and lockets, pins made of jet, onyx necklaces, handkerchiefs edged in black lace, and lovely black parasols. Stores arose catering to the death demand and some developed solely for the purpose of selling mourning textiles, bonnets, shawls, veils, and gloves.
The simplicity, starkness really, of the exhibition’s environment actually stimulated a lean-in experience. Closer examination revealed the variety and detail that black could bring to fabric, texture and patterning. It was a valuable lesson in how a severe limitation can be a guide leading to creative diversity. Exhilarating in its own way, it helped to sharpen and focus the senses, just as observing ritual, in this instance the expression of public and personal grief, was meant to achieve in practice. Communicating their sorrow without speaking of it, the silent mannequins eloquently demonstrated this profound emotion. Somehow cathartic, one leaves behind the somber basement gallery, its poignant symbols of mortality, and takes the stairway to the Met’s main floor, feeling happy to be alive and eager to meet a new day.
Daniel DiCaprio. With and Against The Grain
Wood seems never to have been a favored material for jewelrymaking, even in those regions of the world where its scarcity might reasonably have given it connotations of preciousness. At any rate, precious few examples survive to form a historical record. Perhaps the long practice of treating wood as fuel to be expended for cooking and heating or as material to form the sturdy hafts of workaday farming tools made it seem as common as clay, another material that has never been widely exploited in wearable ornament. Even for Daniel DiCaprio, whose work for the past six years has consisted almost exclusively of carved brooches and earrings, wood has not been a mainstay for its inherent aesthetic qualities or the ease with which it can be turned into jewelry. On the contrary, some of the very properties of wood that can make it a recalcitrant medium have appealed to DiCaprio. “If wood isn’t carved right, if you’re not working with its natural characteristics,” he observes, “it will break. If it gets wet and you haven’t sealed it properly, it will crack. I’ve enjoyed it because I’ve liked some of those limitations.”
Intact Ancient Jewelry. Precolumbian Ingenuity
Strung ancient jewelry is rarely found intact, unless climatic conditions or well-protected burials prevent the rotting of the organic fibers used in assembling the jewelry. Two geographic regions, parts of the Middle East, especially Egypt, and the arid north coast of Peru are known to yield finds of intact jewelry, as well as the prehistoric American Southwest and northern Mexico (Liu 2008). The most spectacular of such finds is the faience broadcollar of Wah (Liu 2005: 57) but much intact precolumbian jewelry, especially necklaces or their fragments (Gessler 1988; Liu 2008) come from the north coast of Peru. In this article, I show some amazing Wari jewelry, that may date to circa A.D. 700 - 1000, which is strung in ways not usually employed in assembling beads/components into necklaces and are among the most intact precolumbian jewelry I have seen. In fact, the ingenious ways employed by ancient Peruvians to string jewelry may very well make us re-think how necklace components can be used, not-considered by either modern necklace designers nor archaeologists.
Peruvian precolumbian jewelry can be massive, as in the beaded pectorals of Moche royalty at Sipan, measuring sixty centimeters wide (Donnan 1993), or can have large individual elements, as in the inlaid shell components of Tiahuanaco-Wari necklaces (Gessler 1988: 50-51). However, most intact jewelry fragments I have seen are modest in scale and not complex, except possibly in their construction, sometimes involving braiding (Gessler 1988). The fragments of the Wari influenced necklace differ in both the delicacy of their components and in the intricacy of how these elements were assembled with cord. Just like how ancient Peruvian beaders at Chancay employed simple disk beads as spacers, as well as real spacers with multiple perforations (Liu 2008: 52), I do not think contemporary necklace designers, with our linear thinking, would have been able to put together this necklace like their original stringers did some one thousand to thirteen hundred years ago, using the ingenuity of stringing via grooves or knotting together thin elements into broader masses.
WARI MOTHER-OF-PEARL CARVED/INLAID BIRD COMPONENTS AND STAIRCASE SPONDYLUS AND MOP NECKLACE ELEMENTS, OBVERSE AND REVERSE; all these beads have two perforations and are drilled on the reverse side with edge perforations, except at one narrow end of the staircase beads. This type of drilling is easier than trying to drill through such thin pieces of material. Staircase elements are approximately 1.6 centimeters wide while the bird beads are 1.3 to 1.6 centimeters wide, with the latter having inlaid spondylus or turquoise eyes. The staircase strand stringing is contemporary but the method is ancient, as the same use of edge perforations is seen in an intact strand fragment (Liu 2008: 51). Most modern necklace makers would not want to have exposed thread showing on the reverse side, subject possibly to the most wear.
DETAILS OF WARI INFLUENCE NECKLACE, showing unique ways of stringing; note spun cotton cord has multiple threads. If all these elements were loose, most likely no modern restorer would have deduced how they were used, especially the way the x-shaped components are tied to either the drilled bars or to the drilled or zig-zag vertical elements. The vertically-oriented elements are strung like the two intact bracelets, by the cord being wound around the end grooves. They differ in that there is no knot in-between the bracelet elements, as there is in the necklace. The closeup at the bottom of the page is approximately 60.1 centimeters wide. The practice of knotting in-between elements can be seen in many portions of the necklace fragments, like contemporary pearls are treated. Note on facing page how this very delicate necklace has very different designs on the front and back portions. This delicacy of structure and stringing contrasts greatly with intact prehistoric Southwest jewelry (Liu 2009, 2011).
Smithsonian Craft Show 2015
The history of contemporary craft, dating from the mid-twentieth century, early on included the craft show. Part of a post-World War II renaissance of our cultural and artistic life, these shows served as a conduit for the rediscovery and reminder of the critical role artisans have played in the nation’s development and to its material and spiritual progress. The Smithsonian Craft Show has been an important participant in this history. Since 1983 and located in the nation’s capital, it has hosted one of the nation’s best shows, where each spring it celebrates the creative spirit of America. Held at the National Building Museum, some one hundred twenty artists gather to present their handmade crafts, demonstrating with each piece the strong and enduring currents of innovation and creation native to this country. In 2015 the Smithsonian Craft Show sponsors its thirty-third annual event and its commitment to selecting the very best in craft is once more reaffirmed and validated by the talented artists who showcase their works. Here are some of them.
Mingling classical formality with contemporary design, Mina Norton’s coats and jackets beautifully enhance the female form. Her forte while refined is also very spirited, strengthening and deepening over her career. With a fine art training background initially in Iran, her native country, Norton’s prior instruction extended to the study of design in London, before she moved to the United States and settled in New York City where she makes her home. Her art is also her business and it is important to Norton that each customer receives something unique; so in large measure her garments are improvisational one-of-a-kind productions. Her palette stems from a temperate black or gray, but then suddenly, wonderful color shifts in ochre, moss, teal, and burgundy enliven the overall atmosphere.
Claudia Grau hails from Los Angeles. In the late 1970s at twenty-one she started her own company Grau Design and since that time has maintained an independent profile in L.A.’s fashion scene. Her work attracts performers like Cher, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler. Early on, her deconstructed and collaged clothing caught public attention and today she stills uses primarily recycled materials in bright eye-catching simple forms suitable for different sizes. An energetic entrepreneur, Grau has had shops on trendy L.A. streets, from Melrose to Sunset Boulevard where her own eclectic clothing is currently featured along with other artisans specializing in the handmade.
First known for the application of beads to painted surfaces for additional decoration, Betsy Youngquist went on to challenge herself even further with beaded sculptures. This format has moved her into a singular niche in which to explore the intricacies of beaded embellishment. No one on the art scene is quite like her. Youngquist’s works take on an in-your-face assertive presence no matter the height, width or girth of her imaginative creatures. Fanciful, enchantingly strange even, the surfaces are mosaically bejeweled with beads and found objects resulting in figures born of magical worlds, far beyond our comprehension. A resident of Illinois, she is one of many this year who are previous entrants in the Smithsonian Craft Show. Youngquist has also exhibited at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, VIDA Museum in Borgholm, Sweden, and the International Doll Show in Kiev, Ukraine.
Working with his son Shawn in the studio and on the show circuit, Horace Thomas is an award-winning leather artisan from Belton, Texas. Together they make handsomely crafted bags, belts, backpacks, and briefcases. Thomas’s work is not only of high quality, but also shows a sophisticated design sense that takes leather construction to a more intriguing level, such as with his more unusual pyramidal shapes. An asymmetrical bag, looking like a building in a state of collapse, is a clever trompe l’oeil. Thomas, who has been working for over three decades, is joined at the craft show by other dedicated leather artists, Mary Ellen Sisulak, Molly Grant and Libby Lane. The beauty and detailing in their work is far preferable to branded names like Fendi and Gucci.
From Missouri, Michael Bauermeister’s domestic adornments harken from the land, its color, rhythms and patterns, and he is endlessly inspired by its variety and possibilities. He says, “Wood has become my voice and my language. Over years spent making things both useful and useless out of wood, the physical work of sawing, carving, turning, and polishing has become my contemplation. The real effort is in figuring out what to make next.” To push himself into the creative realm of making his sculptural wooden vessels and wall panels, Bauermeister initially draws from the tools and processes learned from years spent as a furniture maker. His training as a sculptor brings forth his carving, shaping, painting, and finishing skills. Adding to the result is what he calls the “traditional and not so traditional lathe techniques” from wood-turning that he also uses to shape his vessels.
While Lucrezia Bieler calls Tallahassee, Florida, home, she brings an essential universal quality to her paper art (Scherenschnitte) that transcends any state, region or country. Her exquisite paper artistry, characterized by the extraordinary precision it takes to execute the pieces, is breathtaking anytime anywhere it is seen. The process, she states is “like woodcutting or sculpting, in that you start with a blank resource and create the art by simply cutting parts of it away.” Bieler’s works are from a single sheet of paper utilizing a pair of small scissors and profoundly dramatic in their intrinsic delicacy. The black and white paper cuttings heighten the visual effect in a counterpoint of light versus dark.
Holly Tornheim, like Michael Bauermeister, Janel Jacobson, Norm Sartorius, Mike Shuler, and Archie Smith, is another experienced entrant in the wood category. Tornheim has exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, American Craft Council Baltimore and San Francisco shows as well as at the Fuller Craft Museum and Wharton Esherick Museum. Residing in Nevada City, California, Tornheim is self-taught and for many years worked as a finish carpenter and has built and carved custom wood doors. Exceedingly graceful and fluid, her wood sculptures evince particularly naturalistic and tactile auras that beckon the beholder to touch and explore their surfaces.
Other categories in the Smithsonian Craft Show include ceramics, basketry and furniture. From a large pool of twenty-eight, Marvin Blackmore, Bennett Bean, Sandra Byers, Fong Choo, and Melissa Greene show exciting and original ceramics. Among the far smaller group of basketmakers, there is no overlooking the superb skills of Debora Muhl and Mary Jackson, who both utilize sweet grass to very different ends. Christine Adcock chooses from a multiplicity of materials—including cottonwood, eucalyptus bark, torrey pine needles, and jacaranda seed pods. Stephen Zeh stays within the state of Maine where he lives and concentrates on the formal beauty that the Maine brown ash casts over his medium.
John Cameron, from Massachusetts, makes elegant cabinets and other fine furniture on commission in his one-person shop in East Gloucester. Cameron began his career in 1984 as a boat builder’s apprentice, a solid foundation leading to the quality and strength of his work today. He expresses deep regard for wood and work when he says, “Each piece of stock is carefully chosen and sometimes resawn, exposing its best face. Boards are often from the same tree, providing a unity of color and hue.” In addition, all of his handles, pulls and hinges are also made in the shop and are vital components to the totality of his furniture.
With thirty-four artists representing jewelry, it is one of the more formidable of mediums from which to collect. There are many superlative artists like Namu Cho, Steven Ford and David Forlano, Valerie Hector, Reiko Ishiyama, John Iversen, Ken Loeber and Dona Look, Gustav Reyes, Myung Urso, and Roberta and David Williamson.
Born in Saarlouis, Germany, jeweler Klaus Spies first learned about the art of goldsmithing in Mexico during his travels. His home is now in the mountains of North Carolina where he has a studio and showroom in Asheville’s downtown. Spies utilizes many of the traditional goldsmithing techniques—chasing, fabrication, wax carving, casting—but translates them into collections for a more modern audience. Spies favors complex surfaces with matte, brushed or hammered finishes and he prefers sterling silver and eighteen karat gold, adding stunning gemstones, like rutilated quartz, to bring sparkle to his jewelry.
Donald Friedlich makes luminescent jewelry in glass and gold and his beautiful artwork has been sought after by museums throughout the world. His jewelry resides in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Schmuckmuseum, Pforzheim, Germany; and Corning Museum of Glass, New York, just to name a few. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, Friedlich in 2003 was the first jeweler to be named Artist-in-Residence at The Studio of the Corning Museum of Glass. His awards have been many and among them is recipient of the Ornament Magazine Award for
Excellence at the 2012 Smithsonian Craft Show.
Glass artist Raj Kommineni, from Massachusetts, focuses on vessels, sculptures, marbles, and paperweights. In 2003, after graduating from the University of Massachusetts, he established Kommineni Art Glass for the sole production of his small objects. His work is published in The Encyclopedia of Modern Marbles, Spheres & Orbs by Mark Block and Glass Line. Other glass artists at this year’s show include Brian Becher, Matthew Fine, Carrie Gustafson, Michael Schunke and Josie Gluck, Fred Kaemmer, Amber Marshall, Joyce Roessler, and Boyd Sugiki.
Decorative fiber is a difficult practice and until recently not well recognized, but New Mexico artist Mical Aloni creates astonishing embroidered wall pieces. Visually hypnotic, her work seemingly draws from dreamscapes that remain well hidden from our daily life experiences. She learned embroidery as a young girl living on an agricultural kibbutz in Israel, where girls were expected to sew and make traditional embroidery. Vicki Essig, Leah Evans, Meg Little, Wence Martinez, and Claudia Mills are also artists in this category.
Part of the importance of shows like the Smithsonian is the degree to which artists still honor their historical antecedents. Even though the contemporary craft movement places a high value on self-expression and individuality, it also references the long ancient tradition of the handcrafted object. It is an artform that transmits itself directly and immediately, with an inherent simplicity and purity inherent to its grounding in functionality. To attend the Smithsonian Craft Show is to share in the vital connections made between the hand, the heart and the mind. The handmade art found here is beautiful not despite its usefulness but because of it.
Rebecca Myers. Branching Out From The
For the past two decades, Rebecca Myers has been steadily producing an impressive line of jewelry that has evolved from the clean, minimalist lines of contemporary design toward more open, sinuous and organic forms, many of them derived from motifs in nature. Her path has been one of constant experimentation with materials and techniques, while always striving to keep the essential elements in balance: symmetry and asymmetry, light and dark, abstraction and representation.
In the Baltimore-based artist’s own words, “The collection is about contrasts in texture, color and materials.” Many recent pieces, such as the Pod Earrings, feature a heavily textured surface of oxidized iron on which different alloys of gold have been overlaid. Tiny diamonds, which she calls “fairy dust,” shine from the blackened iron-like stars in a turbulent night sky. “The sparkle of white fairy dust against dark and rough metal is a contrast that is very intriguing to me,” she says. “This yin/yang exists perfectly in nature. Getting that perfect/imperfection in my work is my goal for the collection.”
The earrings, as well as a related seed pod necklace, can be traced directly to a transformative trip that Myers took with her then-fiancé to Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park in 2003. “We hiked through the forest there, and I picked up seed pods and brought them back. Out of a whim, I put them in the kiln and burned them out and cast them.* And I just started experimenting with them.” The success of these early experiments led her to push further in this direction.
In addition to the pods, you will also find butterfly wings, cactus leaves, magnolia buds, and star anise, among many other forms, cleverly integrated into her designs. Some of these elements remain very much what they are, like the tiny bees that appear on many pieces, looking like they have just landed to extract some nectar from the glistening stones and precious metals. Other forms are more abstracted, as in the Monarch Necklace, on which the elegant butterfly-wing patterns are inlaid in twenty-two karat gold into sections of smooth oxidized silver, the contours of their joining accentuated with constellations of small diamonds.
Sometimes a stone takes center stage, as in the Ruby Cuff, which features a bold ruby in an oval frame of lustrous twenty-two karat gold studded with diamonds. This is set atop a cuff of oxidized silver with the abstracted monarch-wing pattern inlaid in eighteen karat gold. A moonstone ring, meanwhile, features a milky-white orb set in a thick, diamond-strewn eighteen karat gold overlay that seems to flow like lava over the grooved patterns in the oxidized silver below.
In the radiant Mexican Fire Opal Necklace, the deep vermilion gem appears to erupt from within its setting, like a glowing sun captured in a delicate frame of silver twigs and flowers. “This piece has more of a Victorian flavor than most of the line,” notes Myers. “I carved the branches. I will often take natural elements, manipulate them, cast them and include them. However, these branches were modeled in wax after bamboo. Oftentimes natural forms are too heavy to be wearable or comfortable. This was the case in this piece.”
The ubiquitous bees in Myers’s recent work seem like an apt mascot for the industrious artist herself. But they also carry a more ecological message: An avid gardener, she is aware of the crucial role these delicate creatures play in our survival. “There would be no garden without bees,” she says. “Beekeeping is a prescient issue these days. I have a client who is a beekeeper. She tells me stories of hives failing and how delicate a balance it is to keep a healthy hive.” For Myers, the bees serve as a reminder of “our need to appreciate and care for the natural world and our connection to/dependence on it.”
Myers credits her deepening appreciation for the natural world with opening her work over the past decade. Before the Corcovado trip, she says, “the work was very tight—it was very geometric, because the inlay process really demanded that. It wouldn’t allow me to be organic in my approach.” These earlier designs often featured alternating bands of gold and silver or platinum, with one metal either overlaid on the other or inlaid into channels cut into the mold, a technique Myers developed on her own. She still deploys these skills to great advantage, but her work has literally branched out in recent years, as she continues to incorporate forms from the natural world into her repertoire.
For Myers, the artistic journey began early and has proceeded without interruption. “I remember my parents and teachers asking me what I wanted to be, and I always said I wanted to be an artist,” she recalls. The family started out in Philadelphia, where her father was a journalist for the Jewelers’ Circular Keystone (a trade publication, and, it turns out, harbinger of her later career) and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Even after they relocated to the more rural Lehigh Valley, some sixty miles north of the city, Myers still felt connected to the larger world of art. It was the 1980s, and artists like Keith Haring and Jeff Koons, both of whom hailed from nearby towns, were making a big splash in New York. “There was a connection to people in Pennsylvania who had actually crossed the line into the big art world in New York, and that was a huge inspiration to me,” she says.
While still in junior high school, Myers earned a scholarship to take classes at the Allentown Museum of Art’s Baum School. “I had some really cool teachers there,” she recalls. “They were working artists, and they were also people who let me know what was going on.” She credits them with instilling in her the idea that “just because you don’t live in New York or Philadelphia doesn’t mean that you can’t do this.” She also studied with a local artist named Myron Barnstone. “He has a really intense program for high schoolers and professionals on drafting and rendering. It’s all very classical—the Golden Section,” she says. By the time she graduated high school, Myers had an extensive portfolio of two-dimensional works, on the strength of which she was admitted to Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.
The shift toward jewelry came during her second year at Tyler. “In sophomore year they make you take something in every medium, and I had to fulfill a craft requirement,” she says. “I picked jewelry—it was kind of the path of least resistance.” Myers quickly discovered that, unlike many fellow students, she had an aptitude for the medium. “People were burning their hair, and setting their clothes on fire, and melting things, and I was making stuff! So I thought, alright, I’ll continue making stuff,” she says. By the time she graduated in 1991, she had already sold her first line of work to
Myers was accepted into the graduate program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but she decided that she did not want to teach—she wanted to launch her own business. She moved to Milwaukee, where her boyfriend had a teaching position, and went to work for the Parkinson Company, a local commercial jeweler. “We did all the custom work for jewelers in the city, so I carved every wax that went through that place for about five years,” she says. “I got a lot of schooling on how business works. I got a lot of stone contacts. The diamond source I got from that position, I still use. There was a lot of hands-on experience that really was helpful. It was kind of graduate school for business.”
Myers remained at Parkinson for five years, even as she worked tirelessly to launch her own line of jewelry. “I worked all day and then I came home and I would take a nap, and I would work for as long as I could,” she recalls. “I would apply to shows, and if I got in I would try to do them.”
One key to Myers’s success is that her passion in pursuing her dreams is wedded to a practical, pragmatic side that has helped her to make the most of opportunities. Her first major venue was the American Craft Council show in Atlanta in 1993. From then on, she aimed to do four shows per year. She also set herself a goal for independence: “In order to quit my job, I wanted to have three months of orders and a schedule filled with shows.”
A breakthrough came in 1996, when Myers was named Best New Talent by the Jewelry Design Council. At the urging of a friend, she had applied at the very last minute. “I remember putting those pieces in the box. I went out to the all-night post office in Milwaukee and got it postmarked, literally, five minutes before midnight!” she recalls. “It was a surprise when I got a letter
from Michael Bondanza, who was head of the Design Council at that point.”
The award helped Myers turn the corner. “It seemed like the floodgates opened after that,” she says. “I got introduced to Cindy Edelstein, Alex Sepkus, and that whole world, which is very different from the commercial, boutique world. Everybody was very encouraging. It made me feel like I could take the leap.” Even so, she waited another six months, quitting her job only after a show in Baltimore later that year put her beyond her goal of three months’ worth of new orders.
Myers moved back east in 1997, setting up shop in Allentown, Pennsylvania, near where she grew up. “I remember thinking, ‘I really wish I was in Philly or New York,” she says. “But I had fantastic clients in the Lehigh Valley. I still have wonderful clients there. It was a really great incubator. It was a great place for me to be able to afford to live and work and make what I wanted without worrying too much about it.”
Myers remained in the Lehigh Valley until 2003. It was there that she met her future husband, Troy Juliar, who was then an editor at the health-and-wellness publisher Rodale Press. When he took a position with Recorded Books, Inc., in Maryland, they moved south and Myers opened a studio and gallery in the quaint village of West Annapolis. In 2005, the couple was married at the American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore’s spectacular venue for “outsider” art situated just off the Inner Harbor. They now live in Roland Park, just north of the city, and have a son in kindergarten.
Since 2009 Myers’s studio and gallery have been located at Clipper Mill in Baltimore’s Hampden section, nestled between the Johns Hopkins campus and Druid Hill Park. The former site of the Poole & Hunt Iron Works, where steam engines, railroad cars, water-wheels, and other large components of the industrial age were manufactured, Clipper Mill is now home to a dynamic community of artisans and entrepreneurs, including the Corradetti Glass Studio, Gutierrez Studios (custom furniture), Mandala Creations (hand-forged metalwork), and Woodberry Kitchen, rated one of the finest restaurants on the East Coast.
“There’s a lot of great energy here,” says Myers. She points to the “fire pit,” a community hangout just outside the restaurant, where a few glassblowers are taking a break around the funnel-shaped fireplace, some fifteen feet high, welded from large scraps of metal and anchored to a circular platform bolted into the ground. “This was built in honor of the former owner of Gutierrez, John Gutierrez, who died,” she says. “Everybody in the community pitched in.” Across the street, in a sunken area adjacent to the massive old foundry building that now serves as an indoor parking lot, white marble steps lead to a swimming pool surrounded by tall classical columns. “In the summertime, this looks like Vegas,” says Myers. “The lanterns at the top of the columns light up, so there’s fire coming out of them.” If there’s such thing as a post-industrial paradise, this comes pretty close to the mark.
Her studio, a high-ceilinged space with exposed beams and ducts, is subdivided into three sections. In the front is a gallery with glass cases displaying perhaps a hundred examples of Myers’s works across a range of styles. Behind the gallery, separated by a six-foot-high divider wall, is a fabrication room with three benches at which Myers and her two assistants assemble pieces, as well as a computer station and a laser welder. The third compartment houses the raw materials for casting (seeds, rocks, shells, branches, a nest with a robin’s egg still in it) and equipment for wax-injection molding, sand-blasting, and electroplating. Each space has windows that look out over the narrow walkway to an embankment covered with dense foliage.
Except for some pavé setting, which she sends out, everything is done here in the studio. “It’s not for puritanical reasons,” says Myers. “It’s because I really like to experiment. We change our work all the time. And the only reason that happens as quickly and efficiently as it does is because we do our own casting. So if we want to try something new, we try it.”
When not in the studio, Myers is generally on the road, keeping up a busy show schedule that, in a given year, might include Art Palm Beach, SOFA in Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, and American Craft Council shows in Baltimore,
San Francisco, and other cities, as well as numerous trunk shows and other smaller events.
When asked about her influences, Myers cites a few familiar names in the jewelry world who have impacted her work at different times, including Michael Zobel and Steven Kretchmer, along with some lesser-known figures, such as metalsmith and fellow Tyler graduate Robert Farrell. But as her personal role model she cites Peggy Guggenheim, whose collection of modern art she first came across on a trip to Venice in 2000, and whose autobiography Out of This Century she rereads every few years. “I love her story,” says Myers. “She just was really self-possessed and did her own thing. She did not conform in the least.” Words to live by, as this artist clearly does.
*Editorial comment: The seed pod is invested in plaster; when it is burned into ashes in the kiln, the resulting mold is filled with wax. These are used to cast metal replicas of the pod.