Saul Bell Design Award 2015 Volume 38.3

Saul Bell Design Award 2015

KENT RAIBLE. From The Deep Necklace of eighteen karat yellow and twenty karat pink gold, platinum, indicolite tourmaline, tsavorite, garnets, rubies, and diamonds, First Place: Gold/Platinum.

KENT RAIBLE. From The Deep Necklace of eighteen karat yellow and twenty karat pink gold, platinum, indicolite tourmaline, tsavorite, garnets, rubies, and diamonds, First Place: Gold/Platinum.

Given the diversity of its categories, the Saul Bell Design Award competition is always fascinating to observe after its winners have been announced, as they now have for 2015. The competition never fails to serve up a rich potpourri of decorative and functional objects, from the classically inspired to the forward-looking avant garde. Since 2001 the competition has celebrated the art of jewelry and more. In an age when competitions continue to steadily decline, the Saul Bell Design Award is a supportive outreach to artists creating beautiful and challenging works and for public recognition of their achievements.

     Sponsored annually by Rio Grande of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Saul Bell Design Award receives its name in homage to founder Saul Bell who began the company in 1944 during one of the more perilous times in the twentieth century. Bell grew it from modest beginnings on historic Route 66, the Mother Road, (passing through the heart of downtown Albuquerque), to a jewelry leviathan which later encompassed many of the sizable Bell family as active participants in the enterprise. It morphed ever larger from a company of one to over three hundred, and through changing locations, now residing on Albuquerque’s Bluewater Road. By 2013 Rio Grande had merged its rich resources with The Richline Group, a Berkshire Hathaway Company, perhaps its last permutation. Paterfamilias Bell died in 1996 at the age of ninety-six, still working, but the jewelry legacy of this fearless innovator moves forward into yet another transformative age.

ANDY LUCAS. Constrained Timelessness Pendant of gold, sterling silver, aquamarine, citrine, amethyst, sapphire, tsavorite, and black and white cognac diamonds, First Place: Silver/Argentium® Silver.  SANDRA MCEWEN. Empress Theodora Pendant of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold bezel wire, twenty gauge gold wire, enamel, citrine, Second Place: Enamel.  HOLLY GAGE. Je T’aime—Dual Flame Necklace of precious metal clay, pearls, peach sunstone, faceted hematite beads, Second Place: Metal Clay.

ANDY LUCAS. Constrained Timelessness Pendant of gold, sterling silver, aquamarine, citrine, amethyst, sapphire, tsavorite, and black and white cognac diamonds, First Place: Silver/Argentium® Silver.

SANDRA MCEWEN. Empress Theodora Pendant of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold bezel wire, twenty gauge gold wire, enamel, citrine, Second Place: Enamel.

HOLLY GAGE. Je T’aime—Dual Flame Necklace of precious metal clay, pearls, peach sunstone, faceted hematite beads, Second Place: Metal Clay.

In a first for the competition, Kent Raible of Mossyrock, Washington, secured both First Place in the Gold & Platinum and the Hollowware categories with tour de forces in From the Deep Necklace and The Pregnant Chalice, which honors “a holding place or womb for the sacred or for creative potential.” Raible’s development seems to have destined him early for the life of a goldsmith beginning with his first jewelry class while in high school to his relatively straightforward trajectory as a recognized exemplar of granulation.

Basically self taught, propinquity intervened when a six-month bicycling tour of Europe in 1980 (which lasted for two years) took Raible to Germany, where he studied at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd and could pursue a deepening passion for granulation. This ancient decorative element from the dawn of classical antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, is worked anew in the hands of goldsmith Raible. His lifelong concentration on this most precise of jewelry techniques has taken him to fresh, unexplored and rewarding challenges, and now to ultimate recognition with the Saul Bell Design Award.

How do you take a diverse mixture of gold, sterling silver, aquamarine, citrine, amethyst, sapphire, tsavorite, and black and white cognac diamonds and make them work as a coherent whole? Well, Andy Lucas, of Klamath Falls, Oregon, has in an extraordinary pendant which won him first place in the Silver/Argentium® Silver category. Endlessly fascinated by these jewels of the earth, gemstones are a major source of stimulation and fundamental to his complex compositions. Nature’s perfect geometry is another avenue to the successful actualization of his work, and the amazing intersection and interaction of multiple planes and lines, which he interprets and re-interprets in his jewelry, take him into astonishing explorations of the mysteries that lie at the heart of creation.

Hailing from Oak Park, Michigan, Ivy Solomon utilizes a combination of metal clay, pigmented epoxy resin and sterling silver to make her colorful, spirited jewelry. Solomon’s ability to finesse metal clay has gained her Saul Bell Design Awards in 2004, 2006 and now 2015. Inspired by a Japanese artistic motif called noshi, her First Place in Metal Clay for 2015 is for a brooch entitled Good Fortune. Dating from early Japan, and originally using only noshita awabi (dried abalone strips), noshi evolved into an origami fold of white paper and with the dried abalone were attached to gifts as an expression of good wishes to the recipient. Solomon’s lovely interpretation is an instructive reminder of how the creative act takes inspiration from the world around us and from time immemorial.

KATE HUBLEY. MagiSphere Concept Pendant of sterling silver, fourteen karat rose gold, black diamonds, Second Place: Silver/Argentium® Silver.  GENEVIEVE FLYNN. Ssssssumtuous Tea Vessel of sterling silver, Second Place: Hollowware/Art Objects.  IVY SOLOMON. Good Fortune Brooch of sterling silver square wire, sterling silver sheet, precious metal clay, and colored epoxy resin, First Place: Metal Clay.

KATE HUBLEY. MagiSphere Concept Pendant of sterling silver, fourteen karat rose gold, black diamonds, Second Place: Silver/Argentium® Silver.

GENEVIEVE FLYNN. Ssssssumtuous Tea Vessel of sterling silver, Second Place: Hollowware/Art Objects.

IVY SOLOMON. Good Fortune Brooch of sterling silver square wire, sterling silver sheet, precious metal clay, and colored epoxy resin, First Place: Metal Clay.

For those familiar with the jewelry of Kathleen Nowak Tucci, her award for Alternative Metals/Materials is welcome acknowledgment of her innovative recycled jewelry. Tucci’s eye and hand have special receptors for objects that get thrown into the landfill, building the mountains of waste that bedevil the modern world, endangering our survival. Her compositions derive from bicycle and motorcycle inner tubes to the bright metallic colors of Nespresso coffee capsules. Her Hummingbird Necklace which took First Place, while notable for the idiosyncratic use of a well-known commercial product, was also elevated and transfigured by Tucci’s knowledge of color theory and design, her singular artistic expression and a healthy respect for the importance of wearability no matter how unlikely the material. Tucci resides in Atmore, Alabama.

From Budd Lake, New Jersey, Jennifer Park took First Place in Enamel with her Streaming Turquoise Brooch, an exquisite image of an idyllic Edenesque landscape. A turquoise-colored cloisonné river flows around a center-set stunning piece of turquoise with touches of golden mountains receding in the distance. It is a wonderful meditation on Mother Earth and its life sustaining properties. Like Raible, her brooch also incorporates granulation. Park uses transparent colored enamels on fine silver to capture the many moods she seeks to conceive. Primary among them is honoring the awe-inspiring ability of nature to help us respect the world as a sacred space. Formerly a graphic designer, she received her bachelor of fine arts from the University of Tennessee and a master’s degree in jewelry and metals from New Jersey City University. In addition to the Saul Bell Design Award, Park has been honored by the Niche Awards, MJSA Vision Awards and the Halstead Bead Jewelry Design Business Development Grant.

It takes hard work and dedication to become a successful jewelry artist, and it was to honor that commitment that Rio Grande established its Emerging Jewelry Artist Award for those twenty-one years of age or younger. Lisa Krulasik, from Glendale, New York, took First Place, followed by Elly Cernohorsky of Halls Head, Western Australia, and Ella Calas of Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. Krulasik’s Hollow Brooch, a model of structured simplicity, shows the work of someone already demonstrably talented. Currently working on her bachelor of fine arts jewelry thesis, she is preparing for her spring 2016 show with a presentation of fifteen major pieces. She also is planning to enter another Saul Bell competition, and wants the committee to keep “an eye out” for her submission. More than the Rio Grande group will be keeping on eye out on Krulasik’s progress.

 
JENNIFER PARK. Streaming Turquoise Brooch of sterling silver, twenty-two and eighteen karat gold, twenty-four karat gold foil and cloisonné wire, enamel, turquoise, and diamonds, First Place: Enamel.

JENNIFER PARK. Streaming Turquoise Brooch of sterling silver, twenty-two and eighteen karat gold, twenty-four karat gold foil and cloisonné wire, enamel, turquoise, and diamonds, First Place: Enamel.

 

Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and the magazine’s resident expert on contemporary wearable art. She gives her personal view on what is taking place in the current issue in Postscript on page 64. Benesh also writes about the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show, one of her favorite craft events, where each year Ornament sponsors and selects the Award for Excellence in Art-to-Wear. She includes a report on the Saul Bell Design Award for 2015. The competition never fails to serve up a rich potpourri of decorative and functional objects, from the classically inspired to the avant garde.

African Textiles at LACMA Volume 38.3 Preview

African Textiles and Adornment
Selections from the Marcel and Zaira Mis Collection

BAMUM ROBE from Grasslands, Cameroon, 1925-1950.  Collection of Marcel and Zaira Mis.   Photograph by Mauro Magliani, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

BAMUM ROBE from Grasslands, Cameroon, 1925-1950. Collection of Marcel and Zaira Mis. Photograph by Mauro Magliani, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has been actively building its collection of African art in recent years, with a new, dedicated gallery and some splashy acquisitions, both ancient and contemporary. But LACMA’s African costume and textile collection remains weak for an encyclopedic museum. Its exhibition “African Textiles and Adornment: Selections from the Marcel and Zaira Mis Collection” was an important step towards righting the balance. The thirty-five objects—all from a single private collection—spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and they were drawn from all over the African continent, with a high concentration of material from central Africa.

 

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Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is a fashion historian specializing in fashion and textiles, and a frequent contributor to Ornament. She has worked as a curator, consultant and educator for museums and universities around the world. Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette published by Yale University Press this year. In this issue she reviews the lush and exuberant textiles of Africa from a recent exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show Volume 38.3

Each autumn as the days turn crisp freshened by the new season on the East Coast, one of the nation’s most treasured craft shows debuts in Philadelphia with thousands of attendees flooding Hall F inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Nearing four decades of presenting contemporary craft to both neophyte and connoisseur, the show is one of the primary fundraisers for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Purchases from the nearly two hundred exhibitors, whether a lustrous ceramic vessel by Cliff Lee, a breathtaking brooch by Judith Kinghorn or elegant handpainted garments by Kay Riley, not only help support the artist directly but also benefit the museum. Since its inception in 1977, the Women’s Committee who sponsors the show has contributed almost eleven million dollars to the museum in the form of educational programs, exhibitions and acquisitions for its permanent collection.

     The show is a panoramic example of the healthy, ever blossoming state of craft in America today and of artist contributions to the cultural innovations of this country. Artists prize the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show, valuing not only its standards, quality and excellent reputation but for its encouragement and steady nurturance of contemporary craft in the United States.

FRANCESCA VITALI Rochester, New York

FRANCESCA VITALI
Rochester, New York

     In May of this year five jurors met to determine who of a thousand entrants would be admitted into the plentiful fourteen categories as defined by the committee—basketry, ceramics, emerging, fiber decorative, fiber wearable, furniture, glass, jewelry/precious, jewelry/semiprecious, metal, mixed media, paper, and wood. The one hundred ninety-five artists for 2015 were selected by invited jurors Lola Brooks, metalsmith; Sam Harvey, Co-Owner of the Harvey Meadows Gallery; Ronald Labaco, the Marcia Docter Curator of the Museum of Arts and Design; Don Miller, associate professor of The University of the Arts; and Tina Oldknow, senior curator of the Corning Museum of Glass. Work was judged according to an agreed upon assessment of the artist’s originality and innovation in a medium; the prominence of personal expression and creativity; by technical expertise and consistency of quality; and being of one-of-a kind or limited edition pieces in order to qualify.

One of the artists to this year’s show is Amy Nguyen. An award-winning textile artist, Nguyen has perfected her use of shibori in beautifully flowing silk organza coats and kimonos, ever graceful and always sensual. Her work rises to seemingly spiritual levels—an abstracted form of reverence and tribute to the world within us and to that which exists beyond. She is one who perhaps could not create without such a serene recognition, perhaps acceptance, of the indeterminate forces that drive us all. Otherwise her handwork would visibly lack the deliberative care and prayerful attitude brought to her cloth. Additionally, Nguyen’s painting of fiber is demonstratively compelling, another testament to her mastery. The dedication she brings to expressing her craft and the difficult bar set and met with each piece defines her as among the very best in the field.

JAMES PEARCE Peoria, Illinois

JAMES PEARCE
Peoria, Illinois

One of fourteen in the furniture category, James Pearce takes another path to functionality. Part of a fourth generation woodworking family, Pearce continues to explore the nature of wood through his inventive designs, while relying on traditional hand tools to aid their emergence in his custom fabrications. Fascinated by their grain, color and texture, he chooses not to stain his pieces to alter their natural state, preferring a wood’s natural warmth and color. Pearce’s wood is milled locally where he lives in Illinois, and he also uses local hardwood, like walnut, maple, cherry, and hickory. Alert to the advantage of propinquity, he sometimes gathers wood from trees that have been downed by storms in area fields. Pearce goes even further by making his own varnishes and applying a clear coat finish, a mixture of oil and varnish, to sustain the durability of a work and to bring out its particular glow.

Mary Jaeger’s rich repertoire of techniques do not reveal their diversity in her finished garments. Jaeger dyes, stitches, prints, pieces, shrinks, deconstructs—whatever it takes to arrive at what she envisions. It is critical to Jaeger that her textiles maintain their unique quality. Many of her coats employ quilting as part of the process. Jaeger has an inspired instinct for how the layering of cloth makes for warmth and comfort in wearing, and also how in its arrangement through interesting patterns and various textures there arises from within the garment a wholistic aesthetic and sophisticated sense of composing for the human form. She is in addition guided by a fluid sense of the possibilities of shaping and how color appears throughout a piece—that they can take many directions, not just the usual conventional path.

THOMAS HARRIS Bloomington, Indiana

THOMAS HARRIS
Bloomington, Indiana

Ceramist Thomas Harris lives on twenty wooded acres near Bloomington, Indiana, but it is in Bloomington itself where he keeps his studio and there uses wheelthrowing, handbuilding and slip casting to make his fascinating functional and nonfunctional works. Harris was educated in Arizona, receiving a bachelor of fine arts at Northern Arizona University and a master’s degree from the University of Arizona. Deconstructivist in ideation, his bowls, cups and teapots are brilliantly colored exercises in surface decoration—painterly splashes of bold in-your-face blues, yellows, greens, oranges. Harris says that he “looks for the unique in utilitarian forms, often misshaping the form after having thrown it.” Set off by a luminescent glow or polish, they appear to be some type of primeval, mysterious fruit or groves of extravagant wildflowers unfolding in the heat of the mid-day sun.

Another ceramist was born in Taiwan to a family that encouraged his artistic inclinations, and credits his Rhode Island School of Design education to introducing the possibilities of working in clay. “Clay is a very forgiving medium,” says Dwo Wen Chen. “For an undisciplined artist such as myself, it suits me perfectly. I can translate almost anything within my imagination using my hands and clay.” Chen has remained in Providence where he operates Three Wheel Studio, a gallery and studio showing his work and that of others. “I have become more comfortable in calling myself a studio potter,” says the artist. “It started one day when I opened my kiln and found an almost perfect little tea bowl with just the right glaze. To a potter, that was a perfect day.”

Honors, awards, grants, solo and group exhibitions, private and public collections, an author to boot (The Art of Basketry)—Kari Lonning’s resume is a prolific document of this successful working artist over a lifetime, in her instance dating to the early 1970s. Lonning weaves her baskets with natural rattan reed that is dyed by her with commercial, colorfast textile dyes to reach the depth of color so critical to their presentation (and to maintain their long life). Lonning is known for her “hairy” technique, a complex weaving process, where short pieces of reed are woven into the walls of the basket. They astonish the eye with their graphic complexity. She also favors spiral and vertical patterns in her designs and their distinctive coloration varies from bold to subtle. Her influences date from college days: she minored in textiles with a major in ceramics, and basketry, she says, became “the natural union of the two.” A favorite relaxation for Lonning, and a time of important inspiration for later creations, is to work in her Connecticut garden, usually assisted by her canine companion, an Old English Sheepdog named Emma.

PETRA CLASS San Francisco, California

PETRA CLASS
San Francisco, California

San Francisco artist Petra Class makes stunning jewelry in high karat golds and luscious gemstones—tourmalines, aquamarines, natural diamonds, lapis, sapphires, and more. Originally classically trained as a goldsmith in Germany, her techniques and aesthetics have been honed over her productive career. While the work employs methods and techniques she was taught, her jewelry is anything but formal and traditionally inspired. Rather it is emotive, jazzy, idiosyncratic, totally contemporary. The stone-set circles, squares, ovals, and rectangles appear to be improvisational collaged arrangements, but are in fact carefully designed for a unified effect. Class also brings bezel-setting to an impeccable new level and it brings as much to the overall composition as the beautiful stones.

Karen McCreary’s jewelry is a sensitive juxtaposition of color, transparency, light, mood, and illusion suffusing throughout her pendants, bangles and earrings. McCreary primarily uses transparent acrylic which she carves by hand and then layers with colored lacquer and twenty-two karat gold leaf. Her designs are influenced by a deep interest in science and technology and a passion for science fiction. In an earlier Ornament feature (Vol. 29, No. 3), McCreary related how much she strives to make jewelry that is “a reflection of me and the time I live in but has a timeless quality. I try to have a certain amount of balance between designs I can imagine and pieces that can actually be worn and comfortable on the body. For me that’s the reason to make jewelry.”

SCOTT AMRHEIN Sherwood, Wisconsin

SCOTT AMRHEIN
Sherwood, Wisconsin

Another completely alternative way of harnessing light is practiced by Sherwood, Wisconsin, artist Scott Amrhein. His slumped, kiln-formed glass vessels are extraordinary examples demonstrating how the reflective surfaces of glass are unique to the experience by which they are engaged: for example, time of day, whether morning or evening; seasonality, summer or winter; light source, natural or fluorescent. No two pieces of Amrhein’s are exactly alike but they all visually communicate a quietude and transcendence that is almost religious. Amrhein places his forms on pedestals, such as wood, copper and concrete, for support and to further emphasize their singular shape, but they also serve to draw one into the pieces, focusing the observer’s attention on his expert use of color, pattern and texture.

ANNINA KING Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

ANNINA KING
Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania native Annina King lives in Huntingdon Valley, near Philadelphia where the craft show takes place, and where she received a master’s degree in fashion design from Philly’s Drexel University in 2005. In 2013 she opened Granaté Prêt, an artisanal clothing line also located in the city. King utilizes all kinds of materials: silk, wool, leather, linen, cotton, as well as some synthetic fibers. Her collections, based on a philosophy of making clothing for women that is graceful and feminine, evinces a personal confidence born through the unique quality of her designs. Drawing from the past as well as imagining the future, her sources include history, costume, illustration, and literature. “Structural Organic is a term I often think of,” King says, “as I strive to capture the spirit and forms in nature: leaf veins, branches and especially trees.” She integrates hand embellishment, intricate seaming, vintage techniques, and quirky hardware in her separates, coats, dresses, and tunics. Soft to the touch layers of hand-dyed silk chiffon, a long-romantic legacy of fashion, might be shocked into a startling modernistic lift with a visibly exposed zipper. Part of a welcome new generation of wearable artists, King’s explorations are refreshing re-interpretations of how it is possible to decorate ourselves.

During times like ours artists and their works help point the way to a more ennobling worldview of creation. It is helpful to remember the legacy passed on by artists of other times and places, and how contemporary makers challenge the status quo and memes of the day by their innovations and inspirations, just as their forbearers put forth. The handmade object is inextricably linked through the critical interrelationship of its form (through the way in which something is made) to its meaning (the purpose for which it is made), and from which an aesthetic arises. Craft transmits itself directly and immediately with timeless, inherent simplicity—the handmade object is beautiful not despite its usefulness but because of it.

 

Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and the magazine’s resident expert on contemporary wearable art. She gives her personal view on what is taking place in the current issue in Postscript on page 64. Benesh also writes about the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show, one of her favorite craft events, where each year Ornament sponsors and selects the Award for Excellence in Art-to-Wear. She includes a report on the Saul Bell Design Award for 2015. The competition never fails to serve up a rich potpourri of decorative and functional objects, from the classically inspired to the avant garde.

Susie Ganch Volume 38.3 Preview

Susie Ganch. Systems, Cycles and Ethics

Photograph by Meg Roberts.

Photograph by Meg Roberts.

The path from routine perception to the insight characteristic of innovative art tends to be followed intuitively and, in the best of circumstances, to culminate in epiphany: a sudden realization that one’s sense of the ordinary has changed and that, consequently, the possibility of revising perspectives on some aspect of experience has opened like a gate to another dimension. For the artist, such realization fuels creativity, but, just as important, it can provide clear direction and purpose to an activity that might otherwise seem as tentative as a sleepwalker’s groping. At the very least it stimulates further thought and can be a source of new enthusiasm in the studio. At its most productive, it gives rise not only to the work and the series but also to an entire conceptual framework within which to justify art as an endeavor.

      For Susie Ganch, one such moment of realization came a decade ago while on her way to work in San Francisco, where she taught at Academy of Art University until joining the faculty in the Department of Craft and Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2005. Commuting on her familiar route spawned the kind of desultory thought that drifts so easily through the medium of the mundane. “I was wondering what it would be like to drive to work if I were an electron,” she remembers. “Would I just go right through things because I was so small that I couldn’t be blocked? I thought if I were an electron and I could move through the car, then where would I end and the car begin, and where would the car end and I begin? That made me start thinking about the sameness of everything. We’re really all the same stuff, and, if you take that idea further, the whole universe is just stuff, interconnected stuff. We’re all in a system on a large scale: a huge ecosystem.”

 

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Glen R. Brown, an art historian and critic of craft, finds that an interest in environmental issues is fairly common in contemporary craft discourse. In too few cases, however, does he see it influencing actual practice. For this reason, he admires Susie Ganch’s work, both in the studio and through the project Radical Jewelry Makeover. “She provides an excellent example of what you can accomplish when you turn from discussion of environmental concerns to committed action on those concerns,” he says. ‘The craft fields still have much to learn from that kind of lesson.”

Patricia Palson Volume 38.3 Preview

PATRICIA PALSON. THE WARP AND WEFT OF FASHION.

KABOOM JACKET of silk, merino wool, bamboo, rayon, cotton, letters cut out of variegated handwoven fabric and appliquéd, 2015.  Model: Tamara Chapman. Photograph by Bruce Preston.

KABOOM JACKET of silk, merino wool, bamboo, rayon, cotton, letters cut out of variegated handwoven fabric and appliquéd, 2015. Model: Tamara Chapman. Photograph by Bruce Preston.

Patricia Palson works in a home studio designed by her architect husband Eric as an addition to their handcrafted log home in Contoocook, New Hampshire. The big windows and woodland setting make the high-ceiling, second-story space feel like it is in the treetops. The bright walls, each a different color, red trim and spotlighted shelves of multi-hued yarns make the room look like the heart of a rainbow. A patterned rug, striped upholstery and a crazy painted table only add to the atmosphere. “I can’t get enough of pattern and color!” For Palson, who favors her bright blue glasses with golden rhinestones, this riot of color is soothing; color makes her happy. While she appreciates neutrals for certain garments and particular patrons, she is most content weaving at her loom when it is threaded with a highly saturated tone.

      Palson is a handweaver who makes garments and a fashion designer who weaves her own fabrics. For almost thirty years she has created jackets, scarves and dresses of handwoven materials. She has garnered numerous honors, including Awards of Excellence from the American Craft Council, CraftBoston and Smithsonian Craft2Wear, and was named a Remarkable Woman of New Hampshire by New Hampshire Magazine in 2012. She clearly enjoys her work and has created an ideal studio practice that early on gave her the flexibility to build a career while raising three children and now presents regular opportunities to attend craft shows with her husband, giving them a chance to travel together and see fellow artist friends: “It’s more than just a job, it’s a social life as well.”

 

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Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. Her book Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion will be published by the University of Georgia Press in December. Patricia Palson told Callahan that she often is asked how she finds the time to weave, to which she responds, “How do I find the time to do the other things?” The sheer joy Palson finds in weaving, in fashion, and in the world of craft is infectious and Callahan is pleased to be able to share her story here. 

Jennifer Merchant Volume 38.3 Preview

JENNIFER MERCHANT. ACRYLIC RAZZMATAZZ

LICHTENSTEIN BEVELED CUFF BRACELET (profile view) of acrylic, paper, 8.3 x 10.8 x 3.2 centimeters, 2014.  Photograph by Jennifer Merchant.

LICHTENSTEIN BEVELED CUFF BRACELET (profile view) of acrylic, paper, 8.3 x 10.8 x 3.2 centimeters, 2014. Photograph by Jennifer Merchant.

Beware. Jennifer Merchant’s big, bold Opulent Illusions Collection may cause sudden longings for a vintage Mary Quant shift or a Yves St. Laurent caftan. That is because the stream-lined, rule-breaking fashions of the 1960s would be perfect backdrops for Merchant’s sleek acrylic jewelry, the newest of which is her mesmerizing black, white and gold leaf Opulent Illusions necklace, bracelet, brooch, earrings, and ring. The collection was inspired by the Op Art movement, which reached its zenith in the mid-1960s. And like Op Art, or optical art, Merchant’s Opulent Illusions jewelry plays tricks with the eye by offering up optical effects that seem to make the jewelry pulsate and flicker. Turn your wrist a bit as you wear Merchant’s Vortex Bracelet and the refracted light makes the handsome bracelet—which is about the size of an extra-large bagel—appear to spin like a top. Start examining the poker chip-sized “beads” of the Illusions Necklace and the repeated graphic patterns may cause a momentary shift in depth perception. The earrings in this collection are called Distortion Earrings, which sums up their impact on the eye quite nicely.

      At thirty-two Merchant is far too young to have experienced the Op Art movement in its heyday. And she is not trying to make retro jewelry that harkens back to any particular period. But the hard-edged, highly graphic aesthetics of Op Art and the later Pop Art movements appeal to her design sense. Using a labor intensive process she developed since she left art school a decade ago, Merchant imbeds imagery cut from art books between layers of acrylic, which she cuts, sculpts, glues, sands, and polishes into jewelry. Before exploring Op Art, she made jewelry using iconic images from the works of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Warhol’s aqua-lidded Marilyn Monroe is enshrined in one of Merchant’s cuffs. Another bracelet shows snippets of Lichtenstein’s comic book parodies of damsels in distress and rocket ship adventure.

 

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Robin Updike is an arts writer based in Seattle who also has a background in fashion reporting. Encountering Jennifer Merchant’s big, good-looking, witty jewelry for the first time was therefore a happy homecoming for Updike. “Jennifer makes jewelry that’s smart but also joyful. I don’t know how else to put it. You look at it and you want to put it on. Jennifer has a lifetime interest in fashion and that comes out in her jewelry, which has aspects both of high concept European art jewelry and over-the-top bling. It’s seductive.”

Pat Tseng. Hidden Crafting Volume 38.3 Preview

The Hidden Crafting of Pat Tseng

PAT TSENG NECKLACE PENDANT of small jade disk, larger  bi  and jade cicada, with two beads made from seeds, assembled with dyed silk-wrapped cords and hand-tied Chinese knots; length of pendant to end of knot is 14.0 centimeters. Right-hand image shows three necklaces in process of being designed, of silk, jade and coral components (all usually antique).  Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

PAT TSENG NECKLACE PENDANT of small jade disk, larger bi and jade cicada, with two beads made from seeds, assembled with dyed silk-wrapped cords and hand-tied Chinese knots; length of pendant to end of knot is 14.0 centimeters. Right-hand image shows three necklaces in process of being designed, of silk, jade and coral components (all usually antique). Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

Handmade ornaments can be very deceptive, especially those that are well made and appear straightforward. How an artist designs a piece of jewelry usually cannot be deduced from the finished piece, unless one is aware of the artist’s mode of creating. But how that ornament is executed is often also hidden. Such is the work of Pat Tseng, a well-known California jewelry designer of exquisite simplicity (Bullis 1993; Liu 1995).

 

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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. He will start teaching photography classes at the Ornament office in December 2015 and in January 2016. In this issue he reveals his astonishment at how little he knew about the intricateness of jeweler Pat Tseng’s methods, despite decades of writing and photographing her work, which encompasses both textile and jewelry techniques. Her hand-dyed, stuffed and meticulously sewn fabric tubes are especially challenging.

Chris Francis Volume 38.3

CHRIS FRANCIS: TINKER, TAILOR, SHOEMAKER

Photograph by Vanessa Gonzalez.

Photograph by Vanessa Gonzalez.

With every dawning day, that rockstar glamour emerges from a robust shower of hair. Creator Chris Francis bears the resemblance of a raucous musician, of treble-decibel proportions. Deliciously satisfying to meet in person, the shine does not wear off even upon discovering that he is actually a shoemaker.

      Born in Kokomo, Indiana, Francis has forged a trail through life, managing that seemingly-impossible task of remaining one hundred percent on. Having migrated from job to job, from working on film sets to skyscraper abseiler, Francis has made his way in the world led by an attitude of embracing the experience and the present moment.

He is no less passionately engaged in his current occupation of shoemaker as his other walks of life. In four years, he has plunged wholesale into a demanding craft, and found room for personal expression that literally overflows like water burbling out the sides of a boiling soup pot.

Francis has been showing in “Chris Francis: Shoe Designer” at the Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, and in an agreement with the museum he transported his entire studio into its front window. This arrangement allowed guests direct access to the maker himself as he crafts his shoes. A friend came with me to the museum to meet with Francis for an interview and a lively discussion and debate ensued. Originally from May 24 through September 5, the exhibition, while downsized, has been extended through January 3, 2016, with his studio in the museum window still receiving visitors.

With a background as a carpenter and a clothing maker, among his other occupations, these experiences of working with his hands were integral steps before his current stint in creating shoes. There is a high degree of competence in their construction that no fresh amateur could achieve. It is the seasoning of life experience that provided the grounding to move on to this new stage.

 Francis’s journey has been a story of going with the flow in a conscious, and conscientious, direction. One of his comments refers to his making a curriculum for himself, a curriculum of life. 

Francis attended the Art Institute of Maryland for over a year, but he found prevailing attitudes about types of art and their value in relation to each other stifling. Francis values learning, whatever the source, and he attributes the class in color theory at the Art Institute as being foundational for his sense of shoe design.

Catching the freight train express, Francis traveled, worked and lived across the country for five years. The diverse occupations he took on all played a role in broadening his skillset—“I worked as a tree topper which taught me perseverance,” he reports. “I was a street side shoe shiner in Chicago and in New York, which proved to be a street level business course that taught me humility, and sparked my fascination for shoes. I worked on fishing ships in the Atlantic and the Pacific where I learned knot work and developed a deep understanding for life.” Seeing the vast nets of fish being reeled in, with hundreds to thousands of gasping, dying animals, made Francis consider the world more carefully and compassionately.

 
LAMINATE HEELS of leather, found plywood, paper, canvas, rubber, screws, washers, 2015.   Photographs by Noel Bass except where noted; courtesy of Craft & Folk Art Museum.

LAMINATE HEELS of leather, found plywood, paper, canvas, rubber, screws, washers, 2015. Photographs by Noel Bass except where noted; courtesy of Craft & Folk Art Museum.

 

      When he made the decision to become a shoemaker, Francis threw himself into the effort with both feet first. He went to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising’s bookstore and studied all the pattern making books until he memorized the formulas. Francis is a dog lover. With his terrier Schnoopy (a beloved family member, source of inspiration and continuoustrickster), he would go to the dog park to sew his first shoes. Lacking a leather sewing machine, Francis had to do all the work by hand, and in the beginning there were no proper shoe lasts, so he carved them himself on the dog park bench. He picked up tools where he could, often from other makers in the Hollywood area. “They all have a great deal of attached history,” he murmurs fondly. His big find came in an attic two blocks away from Salvatore Ferragamo’s first shop in Hollywood. The majority of the lasts he now owns came from that discovery.

CLOG of found wood, found canvas, leather, 2014. This shoe was made almost entirely from materials Francis recovered from the dumpster behind the Mack Sennett Studios in Silver Lake, a Los Angeles neighborhood. Only the leather insole was found elsewhere. MOBILE STREET COBBLER set up during the time that the artist was making shoes on the streetside.  Photographs by Chris Francis.  CHRIS FRANCIS in the “Second floor underground,” his first workshop.  Photograph by Betsy Winchell.

CLOG of found wood, found canvas, leather, 2014. This shoe was made almost entirely from materials Francis recovered from the dumpster behind the Mack Sennett Studios in Silver Lake, a Los Angeles neighborhood. Only the leather insole was found elsewhere. MOBILE STREET COBBLER set up during the time that the artist was making shoes on the streetside. Photographs by Chris Francis. CHRIS FRANCIS in the “Second floor underground,” his first workshop. Photograph by Betsy Winchell.

      This road of self-choice has not been easy. Francis has had to surmount many obstacles, from technical issues to lack of tools, equipment and materials. However, knowing this was the road he wanted to tread made matters rather simple. When asked about how he managed, Francis responds, “I just think it was determination. Just not giving in at all. I was told, so many times, what you’re doing is absolutely crazy. One guy told me I’m building a Spruce Goose—he’s like, ‘Quit, you’re building a Spruce Goose doing that.’ See I’ve always had this running joke with Howard Hughes, you know, over that, and all I can say is, ‘The Spruce Goose flew man! And it went to a museum!’ ”

HOMESICK of wood, cotton batting, steel, rubber, leather, paint, 2015. Both Homesick and Comfortable Shoe, Size 7 were made during Francis’s residency at CAFAM.

HOMESICK of wood, cotton batting, steel, rubber, leather, paint, 2015. Both Homesick and Comfortable Shoe, Size 7 were made during Francis’s residency at CAFAM.

      Francis comes from Kokomo, a small town in Indiana, a factory town, with white steam billowing from the ghostly forest of chimneys. It is the inspiration behind one of his shoes, a logical anomaly where the shoes’ sole is a fluffy white cloud, and the heel and platform the factory buildings, multicolored in greenish-blue hues, with slanted roofs, backed by the exhaust pipe exhaling its deep, vaporous breath. In fact, it is a shoe sitting on a shoe, or rather, clouds floating above the factories. Their name is Homesick, and they are composed of cotton, wood, batting, steel, rubber, leather, and paint.

Like Detroit, which thrived and fell on the rise and fall of the car industry, Kokomo was home to many steel and car manufacturing plants. The 1980s rendered those factories into an industrial mausoleum, and Francis grew up in this steel and concrete graveyard. “As a kid I played in the abandoned factories, the interiors of blast furnaces became time machines or other imaginary scenarios. I was fascinated by these giant machines. My environment shaped me, and gave me a social conscience at a very early age,” he relates. As he became older, his uncle introduced the young Francis to punk, taking him to shows in Chicago and Kokomo, and this  
musical movement provided a social refuge.

Music plays a fundamental role in Francis’s life. Sounds literally are colors in his mind’s eye; listening to music is as putting paintbrush to canvas. Music becomes visions, visions become paintings, and that ethereal conduit from energy to physicality takes place because of sonic inspiration. One wonders if, despite punk influences, jazz blazes in his soul. The quick paintings that Francis creates as his model for a pair of shoes is like the abstract play between trumpet blare and saxophone flair. They are what happens when musical notes become visual notes. Protoforms lurk within the curves and sharp angles of Francis’s paintings, an effort, as he describes it, to portray the blueprint for transforming something from the first dimension to the third dimension.

FIRST ATTEMPT OF TATLIN’S TOWER BOOT, handpainted and handmade, hanging among sketches.

FIRST ATTEMPT OF TATLIN’S TOWER BOOT, handpainted and handmade, hanging among sketches.

      Francis’s perspective of the multiple dimensions, as is his knowledge regarding a number of different subjects, is homegrown—he is a person who tries to figure out the world for himself. “I guess the way I thought we defined one dimension was when it’s just a line like this, and a line that has no shading, no illusion of depth, is what I always considered the first dimension, in the sense of drawing. Then once you shade it and add a point of light, and that sort of depth reference, that’s the second dimension, and then once you bring that to the next level, to the ‘third’ dimension, you expand it into the reality. That’s just how I’ve always broken it down.”

This way of viewing the world extends to his method of making as well. “I basically start by attempting to break as many rules as I can possibly get away with. Every shoe is different and involves new sets of probabilities, each with unique structural challenges and material variables. If the shoe is for a client I am usually pretty hand-tied to tradition and I have to follow more of the known techniques of shoemaking,” he explains.

And what shoes does he make? If you were to take someone who absorbed influences from all over the world, and provided him a vast canvas to methodically paint interpretations, variations and experiments, this is what his oeuvre would be. Francis seeks to stretch us beyond labels, and his shoes, although eventually identifiable, do their best in one way or another to undermine our concept of what a shoe should be or is. At least, the successful ones are. He ruefully acknowledges there are a lot of failures among his “babies.”

 
SHOE of woven textile, vegetable-tanned leather, wood, hand-brogued leather, linen, cheesecloth, leather, nails, natural glue, 2014.

SHOE of woven textile, vegetable-tanned leather, wood, hand-brogued leather, linen, cheesecloth, leather, nails, natural glue, 2014.

 

      How to describe one? A Pinocchio’s nose elongated Thousand and One Nights/Scheherazade style into footwear? Or perhaps something fit for an Arabian Jack and the Beanstalk? Reusing textile samples from carpets and wall hangings, the interior is sumptuous gold, with some glittering golden faux snake leather adorning the heel. The divergence between observer and maker can be quite pronounced, however, as we find that Francis’s muse for this piece is the novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759-1767). The characters residing within have various“hobby horses” in their lives, bringing color and that peculiarity of behavior which lead to individuality in their personalities. Francis felt himself relating to the concept of an activity or occupation that helped define one’s identity, and from there these fairy tale shoes took shape. However, it is this diversity of response from his audience which titillates him.

DADA TEPEPA of cotton mud cloth from Mali, hand-dyed silk, printed fabric, linen, muslin, canvas, wood, leather, 2015.  Photograph by Chris Francis.

DADA TEPEPA of cotton mud cloth from Mali, hand-dyed silk, printed fabric, linen, muslin, canvas, wood, leather, 2015. Photograph by Chris Francis.

Two rather stately and bold ivory-white, purple, yellow, and red high heels come accented with a deep blue-gray platform that keeps the eye winding from contrast to contrast, all the way up the shoe. Its spiralling sinuous shape wends its way towards the heavens. They belong to the clean, sleek world of modern royalty. However, in a democratized fashion, anyone who can afford them could wear these graceful pumps. There are no court artisans here.

When he really succeeds at breaking “as many rules as he can possibly get away with,” the results barely look like footwear. “So this one, is called Dada Tepepa, and this one’s kind of far out. This was me being very bored with shoemaking, and not wanting to play by the rules of shoemaking. That thought was really absurd, but I started feeling absurd being a shoemaker in the modern world. When I’m making these objects, but you can just go to the store and buy them for twenty dollars, why make these things at all? So I thought, if I’m going to be that absurd, why not make really absurd objects altogether?

“I was watching this spaghetti Western movie called Tepepa, and it was about this Mexican revolutionary single-handedly fighting the government, and I thought that was fantastic. I sort of felt I was like that with shoemaking a bit. I don’t want to make brogues, I didn’t make brogues yesterday, I didn’t wake up making them today and I’ve got no plans to make them tomorrow, and I’m going to make teepees.” He gesticulates towards them—they are like giant, primeval tents encasing the foot. He says with obvious pride, and a slight touch of awe: “They’re wearable. They’re all handstitched. I sat there and handstitched them for hours. That was sort of the insanity of it all. And then doing it twice, that was the ultimate act of insanity. Making a ridiculous object twice.”

COMFORTABLE SHOE, SIZE 7 of wood, foam, cotton, upholstery fabric, 2015. Francis sourced the fabric for this pair from a chair he found on a Hollywood street.  Photograph by Chris Francis.

COMFORTABLE SHOE, SIZE 7 of wood, foam, cotton, upholstery fabric, 2015. Francis sourced the fabric for this pair from a chair he found on a Hollywood street. Photograph by Chris Francis.

However, there are rather wonderful reasons why Francis makes ridiculous objects. “I make the objects I make because they are in the most reasonable format I’ve found to express myself in the world. They have become a true extension of myself and my personality, sharing my awkwardness and whimsical outlook. I often exist more comfortably in my own imagination—most of my creations make sense there. Sometimes I make designs only because they make me laugh and I’m okay with them being laughed at when they arrive in reality—it becomes the function of the object!”

On his ride through time, with multiple stops along the road, Francis has pretty well exemplified his own preachings. Now that he has become a shoemaker, he explains why this particular occupation is fulfilling. “The shoe challenges me and inspires my imagination more than anything else. I see the shoe as a sculptural object capable of infinite possibility, an outlet for invention and a way to be a structural engineer and architect on a small scale. The shoe has also become my means of expression and my format for relaying my interpretations of life, history, sound, and social commentary. Every shoe is a unique situation with changing variables, the odds for failure make for an exciting gamble.”

Although Francis would perhaps revel in being called an iconoclast, he is in fact accepting of all types, from the corporate marketing world to blue collar workers to the urbanites of Los Angeles. What he dislikes is the result of a corporate system: its environmental and cultural impact, and its effect on us as individuals and human beings rather than consumers. His work, and
his dedication to the handmade, is a manifestation of his philosophies and principles in action. “A tactile and interactive life is just the most peaceful way I’ve found to exist, so I prefer it. The best way to propagate anything is by example and by offering positive solutions. My positive solution is to be the person you want to be in the world, and live a life that doesn’t abuse others. Live your art or whatever your dreams may be and create a world that you love. Be yourself and let others be themselves and invent your own way of life.”

PUMPS of artist’s pants, broom bristles, Sex Pistols button, found fabric, dental floss, roofing tar, 2014. The broom bristles used for this piece come from Francis’s shop.  Photograph by Chris Francis.

PUMPS of artist’s pants, broom bristles, Sex Pistols button, found fabric, dental floss, roofing tar, 2014. The broom bristles used for this piece come from Francis’s shop. Photograph by Chris Francis.

 

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 issue, he is delighted to debut Chris Francis, shoemaker extraordinaire, currently parked in the front window of the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles. He found in Francis a patient and curious person who revels in the self-expression and exploration the artist achieves through crafting shoes. In addition to this report, he also 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.