Haystack Components Volume 38.4 Preview

Haystack Components
Metals and Jewelry

 
RED FLORAL CONSTELLATION NECKLACE by Kristina Logan of glass and sterling silver, 2015.  Photographs courtesy of the Fuller Craft Museum.

RED FLORAL CONSTELLATION NECKLACE by Kristina Logan of glass and sterling silver, 2015. Photographs courtesy of the Fuller Craft Museum.

The Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts, recently presented “Haystack Components: Metals and Jewelry” (May 16 to November 8, 2015). This engaging and provocative exhibition featured the work of twenty-three craft artists from across the United States, all of them with strong ties to the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.

     Chief curator Claire Sanford, an artist and member of the Haystack board, was not given any restrictions or parameters, other than the size of the exhibition space, which is in a prominent place in the museum. She began by seeking individual craft artists who had a longtime connection to Haystack: board, staff, teachers who have taught multiple times, and teaching and summer assistants. “I wanted it to be a cross-section of life at Haystack rather than just big names,” she explained...

 

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Carl Little caught up with Donna D’Aquino in Portland, Maine, last spring and later met her at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts where she was teaching for the first time. “It is such an incredible place,” she noted, “filled with so much history and the marks left from all the wonderful folks who have passed there before me.” Little served as judge of the 2015 Maine Crafts Association’s Master Craft Artist Award; this year’s recipients were jeweler Sam Shaw and book artist Rebecca Goodale. His latest book is Jeffery Becton: The Farthest House. He helped produce the video Imber’s Left Hand about painter Jon Imber’s courageous battle with ALS.

Glittering World Volume 38.4

Glittering World
Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family

 

BRACELET by Raymond C. Yazzie of silver, coral, turquoise, lapis lazuli, fourteen karat gold, 6.03 x 2.54 centimeters, 2005. Collection of Mark and Martha Alexander. Photograph by Michael S. Waddell. Photographs courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Entering into the exhibition hall of “Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family” was a carefully cultivated experience. Guest curated by Lois Sherr Dubin, author of North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment, assisted by associate curator Kathleen Ash-Milby (Navajo) and put together by assistant director of exhibitions and programs Peter Brill, “Glittering World” was an example of elements considerately placed to both educate and lead the viewer through a tightly woven visual narrative. The exhibition, not only a repository for some of the best contemporary Native American jewelry, was also a work of art in its own right.

      The Yazzie family is composed of sixth-generation silversmiths from Gallup, New Mexico. Born to Chee and Elsie Yazzie, both of whom worked with silver, nine of the twelve Yazzie children became jewelers. The recent exhibit featured jewelry from the whole family, with most of the focus on the work of two brothers, Raymond and Lee Yazzie. Raymond and Lee have created superb jewelry from their earliest years, some examples of which were on display. But most of all, their recent body of work was gloriously present for the public.

Taking place at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, in the noble facade of the Alexander Hamilton Customs House, the exhibition was a sensorial journey. From the entrance, one was guided through two rooms—the first put into perspective Navajo and Indian symbolism, motifs and culture, while the second introduced the background of the artists and the environment in which they grew up. These portions of the exhibition set the tone for the rest, while subtly informing the viewer as to the visual alphabet behind what they were about to see.

BELT BUCKLE by Lee A. Yazzie of Lone Mountain turquoise, sterling silver, 6.03 centimeters long, 2000. Collection of Gene and Ann Waddell. Photograph by Kiyoshi Togashi.

Native American art is founded on an aesthetic and spiritual tradition where nearly everything represents some element of the world, of the spirits, and of nature. The exhibit explored several of these motifs, such as the Yei, or Holy People, and the vital essence of corn, the food crop which nourishes the Navajo. The Yei are divine beings that live within the mountain mists, and like many entities in the Native pantheon bear similarity to other spirits, such as the Hopi Katsinas. Some might call them different faces of the same thing, aspects of nature and life who play instrumental roles in how the world is governed and blessed. Panels were devoted to giving a brief and instructive summary of each symbol and paired with a piece of Navajo art that depicted it.

A side-room presented a taxonomy on the various types of turquoise. A piece of jewelry made by a member of the Yazzie family was partnered with a raw nugget of a specific type: Lone Mountain, Blue Gem, Lander Blue, New Lander Royal Web, Bisbee, Kingman. This overview of the different specimens of turquoise continued to weave the threads of the exhibition into one pattern, a larger picture which would transform the work in the final room from simply being pieces of jewelry into treasures.

In the last gallery, the exhibit seemed to open up into a world of awe. Jewelry laden with semiprecious stones dwelled in brightly lit display cases set into the floor and walls of the chamber, and each work a masterpiece. Festooned with colors that contrast and complement each other in coordination, layered and augmented to form graceful shapes and beautiful configurations, these bracelets, necklaces, rings and belt buckles are a living reflection of nature’s myriad incarnations.

BLUE CORN BRACELET by Lee A. Yazzie of Bisbee and Royal Web turquoise, lapis lazuli, coral, opal, fourteen karat gold, 9.53 centimeters long, 1980. Collection of Joe and Cindy Tanner. Photograph by Kiyoshi Togashi.

      It is the intention behind every piece which distinguishes them from other contemporary American art jewelers. One can see that a narrative is being strongly woven, from start to finish, encapsulated neatly and entirely in materials that titillate the senses. A bracelet by Lee Yazzie entitled Blue Corn uses Bisbee and Royal Web turquoise, opal and coral with gold to subtly emulate one of the staples of the Navajo diet. It is an homage to Mother Nature and the blessing she bestows upon the people of the earth. The bracelet is at once reminiscent of an ear of corn, and yet also transcends it, like a physical manifestation of a perfect essence. The jeweled form seems somehow to loom larger than the sacred plant itself.

Other pieces are like paintings in miniature, stories rendered in abstract by carved stone and hand-wrought metal. Raymond Yazzie’s Blessings bracelet is a riotous panoply of colors and shapes, as if a great spirit’s pouch of wonders was upended and strewn across a crystal blue sky. However, upon closer inspection one saw figures adorned with jewelry, faces, stars interpreted by gold crosses, and other imagery, many from a vocabulary of symbols that are part of the tradition of Navajo art and spirituality. Others are inspired by the work of Hopi artist Dan Namingha’s abstract paintings of katsinas. Raymond has taken Namingha’s two-dimensional art and interpreted it his way, with a palette of stones. All of this is accomplished with impeccable technique which winds the whole ensemble into one tightly wrapped package, a gift for the wearer.

Lee’s specialty is silverwork, while Raymond’s preferred route of artistic expression is inlay. However, both jewelers are well-practiced in a broad range of techniques. Lee is known for having pioneered the Mosaic Turquoise technique where he takes multiple pieces of turquoise, and cuts them just so, such that one magnificent, unbroken expanse of stone is made from several separate parts. The method requires a careful eye, to see the pattern within the turquoise and to cut portions so that the veins that run within match up approximately. It also needs a steady hand to set each stone into the metal framework so that no seam can be seen.

BLESSINGS BRACELET by Raymond C. Yazzie of Water Web Kingman and other turquoise, black onyx, Australian opal, lapis lazuli, sugilite, coral, gaspeite, and fourteen karat gold, 2002-2003. This piece is made from four hundred eighty-five stones. Collection of Daniel Hidding. Photograph by Gregory R. Lucier, Windsong Studio, L.L.C.

Raymond’s use of color and tightly compacted stone inlay is his strong suite. A ring he crafted in 2012 presents all these elements in a richly detailed package. Drawing again from the wellspring of Navajo symbolism that forms the underpinnings of the Yazzies’ work, deep bluish slabs of turquoise are married to bold pieces of coral. Gold elements are interspersed throughout the rim of the ring, speckled with opal and sugilite. It is in the study of contrasts—the judicious arrangement of bright and dark, primary and secondary, with complex motifs arising from the miniature protrusions of semiprecious stones from the matrix—that such a satisfying and attractive ensemble is realized.

Both Lee and Raymond began silversmithing at a young age, and gained many accolades as they began their path through life as jewelry artists. Sometimes the early work is just as fascinating as their more recent pieces. A squash blossom necklace fabricated by Lee in 1975 takes a traditional Navajo form and tweaks it slightly, making something graceful, simple, elegant, and utterly modern. Native work has to adhere to certain rules and guidelines for it to resonate, for the path back to the old ways to be clear, for the form to be recognizable and for the symbolism to be true, but finding the middle way, where that traditional imagery is properly represented yet something new, fresh and alive is imbued within it, is magic. As Lee says of the piece, “I just wanted something a little more streamlined, a little bit more select. So I just combined my experience as a lapidarist with my traditional upbringing. That’s the way we progress. We’re taught something and then we learn new things and incorporate them.” The result is something both new and old.

The rest of the nine siblings who make jewelry were also given their due. Mary Marie Yazzie takes delicious, large chunks of turquoise and rings them with silver; one particularly unusual piece is a squash blossom necklace where raw, veined Lone Mountain turquoise ovalettes are overlaid on twin strands of silver beads, with an upended U or horseshoe shape of the ovalettes forming the flower-like pendant. Silver squash blossom buds peek out laterally from each ovalette. Cindy, Lillie, Lola, Marie, and Shirley Yazzie are all gifted in the art of making traditional silver beads, also known as “Navajo pearls” for how they resemble that gem from the ocean depths, and their work was shown as well.

The exhibition was accompanied by a fifteen minute video whose prelude is a repeating segment filming a train on the tracks, passing through Gallup. Once the video itself began, viewers were treated to an interview of Lee and Raymond, shepherded by the commentary of curator Lois Sherr Dubin and Vivian Arviso, a Navajo educator and former Chair of the Southwest Association for Indian Arts. In this cinematic complement, the artists are humanized and made real, rather than bodiless entities existing behind the curtain of their jewelry. Imperfect, striving to better themselves with each piece they create, and ultimately modest about their capabilities, the two brothers reveal the immense human effort required to create these seemingly flawless works of art.

Dubin herself sums up this family of craftspeople with her own characteristically insightful observation. “I do not see a difference between the way they live, the way they think and what they create. So, it’s all of a piece,” she explains. In this way, then, the jewelry of the Yazzies is a beautiful metaphor for the path of life tread by those who are makers.

“Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family” showed from November 13, 2014 through January 10, 2016, and was accompanied by a catalogue, written by Lois Sherr Dubin. The Glittering World video can be seen on Youtube, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=myfjje5ej1s.

 

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

Immortal Beauty Volume 38.4 Preview

Immortal Beauty
Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox
Historic Costume Collection

 

“ZODIAC” EVENING DRESS and detail by Elsa Schiaparelli, Winter 1938–39. Gift of Mrs. Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee. All photographs by Michael J. Shepherd, courtesy of Drexel University.

In a sense, “Immortal Beauty” marked a debut more than a century in the making. As the first full-scale retrospective drawn from Drexel University’s Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection (FHCC), the exhibition and its catalogue showcased the depth of this remarkable assemblage of more than fourteen thousand garments, accessories and textiles.

      Seventy-five objects were selected by FHCC curator Clare Sauro “both for their historical significance and their aesthetic beauty,” as well as to give an “overview of more than two hundred fifty years of fashion change.” Indeed, the offerings ranged from an Italian textile fragment of about 1550 to a pair of heel-less platform leopard-print “booties” designed by Giuseppe Zanotti in 2012–13, but the focus was primarily on international haute couture of the twentieth century, including garments by fashion luminaries such as Cristobal Balenciaga, Gabrielle Chanel, Halston, Mary Quant, Oscar de la Renta, and Elsa Schiaparelli...

 

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David Updike is an editor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which makes use of his incisive writing for exhibition catalogues and other publications relating to the museum. A frequent contributor to Ornament, he recently gave his observations of jewelers Rebecca Myers and Holly Lee, residents of Maryland and Pennsylvania respectively. This issue David covers the “Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection” from Drexel University, where he gives a blow by blow of each gorgeous dress from the university’s extensive holdings.

Signs of Life 2015 Volume 38.4

Signs of Life 2015

 

OWL BROOCH by Kathleen Faulkner of sterling silver, paper, gouache, mica, 10.48 x 6.67 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Larry Bullis.

Now in its eleventh year, Karen Lorene’s annual “Signs of Life” project remains a unicorn. There is nothing else like it in the world of contemporary art jewelry. Lorene, a longtime champion of art jewelry, each year selects jewelry artists to create pieces to serve as inspiration for writers. As the matchmaker, Lorene decides which writer to pair with which piece of jewelry. The writers and jewelrymakers do not meet or talk before the show. It is a long-distance affair in which writers offer up poems, essays and short stories based on what they see in the jewelry. The journal Lorene publishes to document each show is a literary and visual treat. This year is no exception.

      The jewelry made for “Signs of Life 2015” was on display during October at Facèré, Lorene’s Seattle gallery. One of the most arresting was from Kat Cole, a Dallas-based artist whose necklace Oil and Water works as a reference to current politics, environmental concerns and personal relationships. It is also a handsome piece with its glossy black enamel and steel sections that mimic the luster of black crude oil on rock or concrete. Polly Buckingham’s short story Honey was inspired by Oil and Water, and it is a page-long tone poem about the barely noticed death of a dog in a seedy trailer park. In one of the most complementary matchups in the journal, Honey suggests an unhappy landscape where dreams evaporate in the dust. Or, to put it another way, a place where dreams and reality—like oil and water—never mix.

BLACK GOLD BROOCH by Kat Cole of steel, enamel, twenty-three karat gold, brass, 10.16 x 10.16 x .254 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Kat Cole.

      Like all the artists in the show, Cole sent additional pieces and many of hers were inspired by the teardown of a building near her studio. An ambitious necklace called Pile is a steel and enamel pick-up-sticks heap of construction refuse that seems to comment on our society’s never-ending chase for something bigger and newer. Other work referred to our unquenchable thirst for fossil fuels. One of Cole’s Black Gold brooches includes the image of an oilrig pumping over a black substratum of oil, or black gold. Though generally abstract, Cole’s work suggests a remarkable sense of place—whether that place is desolate oil country or a frenetic urban cityscape.

Jim Bové’s sterling, rubber cord and industrial paint necklace is an elegant abstraction that could refer to architecture or geometry, though to writer Christine Hemp the piece looks like a blade. The result is Hemp’s celebratory poem, called A Body Severed from the Head, which, despite its grisly imagery, is about the need to abandon logic and rationality in the pursuit of beauty and art. Another particularly resonant matchup was Eileen Walsh Duncan’s poem Engineers with Paulette J. Werger’s Honey Comb Chain necklace. The minimalist sterling and eighteen karat gold necklace has a graceful repetition that mimics the look of a honeycomb. Duncan’s poem is an homage to the industriousness of honeybees and the exquisitely fine-tuned physiology that makes them such efficient workers.

FOLD 1 NECKLACE by Jim Bové of sterling silver, rubber cord, industrial auto paint on copper, 10.8 x 10.16 x 1.27 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Jim Bové.

      For pure beauty, Judith Kinghorn’s Overall Ascending Spiral is unmatched. The sterling and twenty-four karat gold brooch is regal yet organic, perhaps a golden nautilus shell to be worn by a queen. Chrysanthemum and Fiddlehead Fern, both pendants, were also gorgeous, intricately fashioned sterling and gold haikus to the natural world. Kinghorn’s jewelry is realism presented with drama and sophistication.

Jewelrymaker Kathleen Faulkner is also an observer of the natural world. The brooch/pendant she made for “Signs of Life” is the image of an owl, which she expertly painted on paper, gazing from between sterling silver branches. Faulkner is a painter and a jeweler, and the other brooches, pendants and earrings she made for the show are faithful renditions of the flowers, birds and fish of the northwestern Washington State, where she lives. You can easily imagine her trekking through woods and along shorelines, sketchbook and pencil in hand. Hers is very literal work, yet much of it is charming, like a rare leaf or flower bud pressed between the pages of a notebook for further study.

Seattle artist Nadine Kariya made some of the most narrative work in the show. Though Lorene in the past has stressed to her “Signs of Life” jewelrymakers that their work for the show should be narrative to help inspire the writers, it appears that Lorene places less emphasis on that now, as shown by the more abstract work of Bové and Werger, for example. Yet the brooch Kariya created for the exhibition is a reminder of just how much powerful storytelling a smart artist can pack into a small piece. Last Salute to the Camp Bird Generation: Medallion is a brooch that pays tribute to the generation of Japanese-Americans shamefully interned in camps on American soil during WWII. The brooch includes a small life preserver, a tiny silver telephone, and the red demon face of an evil character from traditional Japanese theater, all carried by a bird. Kariya notes that carving wooden birds pins became a popular pastime in the camps, where people uprooted from their civic and professional lives, had little to do. Unlike the birds that inspired their carving, the internees were unable to escape the camps.

FIDDLEHEAD FERN BROOCH by Judith Kinghorn of sterling silver, twenty-four karat gold, approximately 15.24 long x 4.76 centimeters wide, 2015. Photograph by Stuart Lorenz. LAST SALUTE TO THE CAMP BIRD GENERATION: MEDALLION BROOCH by Nadine Kariya of carved and painted oak and cedar, sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, shibuichi, shakudo, mixed metal backing, vintage Japanese glass buttons, circa 1950 (Noh Theater female demon and bunch of grapes), vintage sterling silver whistle and telephone, steel, nylon, and vintage green cord, 15.24 x 6.35 x 1.91 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Daniel Fox, Lumina Studio.

“Signs of Life” seemed a quixotic project when Lorene started it more than a decade ago. In its early years, for instance, she sometimes had difficulty convincing writers to participate. The idea that jewelry had any connection to the literary arts seemed too far-fetched to some writers and even a few jewelrymakers. But in creating an annual jewelry and literary event, she has thrust art jewelry into a broader cultural arena, and everyone has benefited.

 

Robin Updike is an arts writer based in Seattle, Washington, who also has a background in fashion reporting. As someone who herself brings together the literary and the visual arts, Updike is a perfect match for Karen Lorene’s Signs of Life. In her role as scribe, she unveils the magic alchemy that goes between jeweler and writer in this most interesting creative experiment. Updike is a longtime contributor to Ornament with her many features drawn from the Pacific Northwest.

Cochineal Volume 38.4

Cochineal
The Red That Colored the World

 

FIREFIGHTER’S CEREMONIAL COAT of wool with gold- and silk-thread, Japan, eighteenth-nineteenth century, Edo period. Photograph by John Bigelow Taylor. All photographs provided by Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A first-class exhibition stirs up a sensation like jumping off into the unknown. “The Red That Colored the World,” originally at the Santa Fe Museum of International Folk Art, did that and more, taking the novel approach of investigating the long-lost legend of a color. Called “an epic story of art, culture, science, and trade” by Camilla Padilla, exhibition co-curator with Dr. Barbara Anderson, it led one, like going through the Narnia closet, on a great adventure to seize upon marvels of red.

The essential marvel is cochineal: a tiny bug that lives and breeds on prickly pear cactus in the Americas. The female stores in her body enormous quantities of carminic acid, which produces a deep crimson-red dye. For close to two thousand years in Mesoamerica it was cultivated as an ideal colorant for protein fibers like silk and wool. Not until the arrival of the Spanish in the 1520s in Mexico did cochineal pass into recorded existence and become an invaluable dyestuff in global trade. As an archetype of a brilliant collaboration between nature and human ingenuity, cochineal was and still is applied to almost everything conceivable: textiles and clothing, books, murals, sculpture, furniture, oil paintings, as a varnish on violins, and in cosmetics, food and candy.

PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG WOMAN WITH A HARPSICHORD, artist unknown, Mexico, early eighteenth century. Photograph courtesy of Denver Art Museum.

It took six years to locate and organize around one hundred and twenty-five magnificent examples of art with cochineal, loaned from museums and collections in London, New York, Denver, and Austin, and from Mexico, Peru, Spain, and Italy. The exceptional quality and craftsmanship of the selection celebrates how much red mattered. Whatever the culture or the epoch, red connoted rank and wealth and symbolized the sacred. It was hard to produce. The exhibition included samples of other natural sources of red dye—vermilion, cinnabar, lac, kermes, madder, even Polish and Armenian cochineal. They were expensive, toxic to extract, and not very stable. By comparison, cochineal was a dream, because of its super-saturation, its colorfastness and its ability, combined with mordants like lime or alum, to create an amazing spectrum of colors, from pink and salmon to apricot, magenta, scarlet, and a rich plum purple. A gilded beech armchair, upholstered in warm red wool dyed with cochineal, came from Napoleon’s council room at Malmaison. Cochineal was so coveted (and everyone was forking over such a fortune to the Spanish to buy it) that Napoleon offered a hefty “prize of 20,000 livres to the person who will find how to give wool by means of madder a solid vivid color… which most closely resembles cochineal scarlet.”

Maybe to stymie competitors, the Spanish claimed it was a grana, a little seed. Europeans never realized it was an insect until the invention of the microscope in the late seventeenth century. By the same token, everything in the exhibition was tested. Mark MacKenzie, head of the museum’s conservation department, did approximately twenty-five hundred analysis runs using primarily HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) technology to confirm wherever American cochineal was present. The point was not for viewers to figure out that a particular red comes from cochineal, like finding Waldo in a crowd, but to amplify our appreciation for its singular and inexplicable beauty. 

THE SAVIOR by El Greco, from the Apostles series, Toledo, Spain, circa 1608-1614. Photograph by Tomas Antelo, Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España

Cochineal travelled everywhere. A sixteenth-century painting by El Greco of El Salvador in a red robe, and a Van Gogh picture from 1888 of a pair of worn boots both contain it. Spanish colonial artists lavished cochineal red, called carmine lake by pigment makers, on sumptuous rococo-inflected devotional art. Cochineal turns an eighteenth-century Japanese ceremonial firefighter’s coat bright red, and animates embroidered silk flowers with a vivacious wine red in an early nineteenth-century valance from Samarkand in Central Asia. From Mexico, the pièce de résistance is an eighteenth-century lacquerware papelera (writing chest) made in Michoacán and intricately painted with mythological figures, flowers and landscape views containing a soft berry red.

Once synthetic dyes came along in the late nineteenth century, red went into decline as a precious color. But since the 1970s, a revival of interest in natural dyes has steadily grown. Today Peru produces over eighty-five percent of the cochineal on the market, with the Canary Islands close behind. Fashion and textile artists especially favor cochineal. Two dresses from designer Mariano Fortuny were one of the crowning glories of the exhibition. Fortuny had a passion for color and experimented with cochineal to produce a palette of superb reds. To see an iconic pleated-silk Delphos gown up close is to realize just why he was called the Magician of Venice.

“The Red That Colored the World,” an integral part of Santa Fe’s 2015 Summer of Color, has now closed. Fortunately, there is still an opportunity to see this thematic presentation in another venue. It is showing at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, through March 21, 2016. 

PAPELERA, writing desk of pine, lacquer and iron, Mexico, eighteenth century. Photograph courtesy of Museo Franz Mayer.

 
 

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

Donna D'Aquino Volume 38.4

Donna D'Aquino
Drawing With Wire

 

RED/BLACK CIRCLES NECKLACE of sterling silver, steel, powder-coated, hand-fabricated, 45.72 x 7.62 X 2.54 centimeters, 2012.

Donna D’Aquino describes her early work as labor intensive, about technique and technical virtuosity. She did a lot of casting, stone setting and fabrication, and would make painstaking models and drawings of what the individual piece would look like. Then, in a graduate school workshop, master metalsmith Robert Ebendorf handed her wire and told her to draw. D’Aquino looks back at that interaction as the moment when things started to come together for her as an artist of the ornament.

      The pieces D’Aquino now makes have become her drawings. She uses steel wire to develop her ornaments, making sketches afterward to document the result. Each piece is approached with a sense of what its eventual shape will be, and then she arranges layers and layers of elements, exploring various compositions. “It’s mostly in my head now, what I do,” she explains. “I have an idea and I just start to put it together.”

FORGED OVALS NECKLACE of steel, eighteen karat gold, PVC, forged, 30.48 x 12.7 x 1.27 centimeters, 2002.

      The designer focuses on the repetition of shape and form, and the way elements interact with each other. Her newest works underscore this aesthetic. Necklaces feature an array of circles and ovals within and atop and alongside each other—wonderfully orchestrated tangles of dangling pieces. Steel, D’Aquino says, is probably her favorite material. She traces her love of this medium to the binding wire Ebendorf handed her years ago. She loves its structural quality. “It’s really strong,” she notes, “and allows me to get really nice crisp lines.” Those lines can be seen in her structural steel earrings with their precise layered geometries.

The soft carbon steel wire she uses is a throwaway material in jewelry, employed when fabricating something large like a hollow form object. The wire is soldered to hold the piece in place and then cut off and discarded because it cannot be pickled. D’Aquino loves the idea of giving this utilitarian material a preciousness and value it never had. While she often combines it with eighteen karat gold or sterling silver, she is also comfortable letting it stand on its own.

D’Aquino adds color sparingly to her pieces. She uses Plasti Dip, the rubbery material that covers the handles of pliers, once again drawn to integrating something that is nonprecious into her work. She likes the material’s webbing effect and how it “closes in” some of the lines in her work. Her Plasti Dip palette is mainly red, black and white. While the Plasti Dip is durable, D’Aquino has found its colors to be a little dull when dried. Wanting slightly shinier surfaces for her work she has added powder-coating to her repertoire. The powder is sprayed on with an electrostatic current that adheres it to the metal; the piece is then cured and baked. The colors are extremely hard-wearing.

At the same time, the artist embraces simplicity, remembering the admonitions she received early on from a design teacher: “Less, less, less, take it down, take it down, pare it down.” That simplicity can be found in a recent set of steel and sterling oval earrings and in a double circle steel brooch. Instead of writing riotous lines with wire, she reduces forms down to their bare, abstracted bones.

WIRE BRACELET #59 of steel, Plasti-Dip, 13.97 x 13.97 x 3.81 centimeters, 2002.

      Asked about influences, D’Aquino refers to that master of the linear, sculptor Alexander Calder, as her hero. She is also a big fan of the Swiss jewelry designer Otto Künzli and more broadly, admires the movement in Europe in the 1970s that challenged the wearer through nontraditional materials, scale and concept. Geometry inspires her, as does architecture and math—“formulas for putting things together.” D’Aquino loves the structures of buildings, what holds them together but also their exterior lines. She is also an aficionado of bridges, telephone towers and all sorts of scaffolding. Among her favorite designs: the airship base near Akron, Ohio, where the Goodyear blimp is housed.

Born in 1965, D’Aquino grew up in Newburgh, New York, in the lower Hudson River Valley, about seventy miles north of New York City. She attended a small local high school. When she told her teachers she wanted to go into the arts, they advised her to try graphic design. So she did. D’Aquino attended the State University of New York at Buffalo as an undergraduate, majoring in graphic design; her ultimate dream at the time was to be an illustrator. In those pre-computer days, design work was done by hand. She has never lost a passion for a hands-on approach.

Steve Saracino, a young 3-D design professor, encouraged her to take his jewelry class, which she did, albeit reluctantly. While not entirely pulled into the field, D’Aquino ended up pursuing a concentration in jewelry as part of her design degree. “There were seven of us,” she recalls; “it was really us and Tim McCreight’s book The Complete Metalsmith.” The design work was lo-tech, but she received a strong foundation and developed basic hand skills.

With no idea what to do upon graduation, D’Aquino “went out into the world.” She worked as a bench jeweler for a few years and then did a two-year stint as service manager for Aaron Faber in Manhattan. From there she went into the furniture business for about five years.

SQUARE STOCK BRACELETS WITH OVALS AND CIRCLES of sterling silver, 5.08 x 7.62 x 2.54 centimeters, 2013.

      In 1996, at something of a crossroads, D’Aquino decided to go to graduate school. She looked for guidance from some of her professors at SUNY Buffalo. Saracino had attended Kent State and encouraged his former student to “go, go, go,” to which she replied, “To Ohio?” She remembers driving into town and falling in love with it.

Kathleen Browne was head of the jewelry-metals program at the time. D’Aquino found her to be “amazing” as was the work that was being done at the school. “You’d go into that studio and it just sang,” she recalls. She had a full teaching assistant position for the three-year program, where she taught undergraduates and took care of the studio. 

 Following graduation in 1999, D'Aquino would continue to teach for four years at the university level. Although she enjoyed teaching, she wanted to start selling her work. She started a low-end line of jewelry while at Kent State and developed a taste of the craft show world through the annual holiday sale put on by the students. Over a span of three or four days they would make as much as seven thousand dollars as a group. They returned twenty-five percent of the proceeds to the studio and could choose what they wanted to spend it on: tools, lectures, visiting artists, or travel to the Society of North American Goldsmiths conference.

In an attempt to push herself forward in the market, D’Aquino scheduled her first craft show appearance for three weeks after completing her thesis. She quickly joined the circuit and eventually decided to stop teaching and focus on producing and selling her own work. She has been successfully doing just that now for over fifteen years.

D’Aquino moved to Maine after her “partner in crime” built a home in Bethel in western Maine. She loves the town and finds herself wishing she did not have to spend weeks at a time on the road (she drives to many of her shows). In the past year she has attended events in St. Paul, Washington, D.C., Des Moines, Denver, and Boston, among other locales.

RED CIRCLES CLUSTER BROOCH of brass, powder-coated, 11.43 x 11.43 x 6.35 centimeters, 2015.

      D’Aquino’s visit to the American Craft Council’s Baltimore Craft Show in February 2015 is the subject of a post on jeweler Emily Shaffer’s blog site, American Craft Forward. Shaffer, who assisted her at the show, offers a detailed account of the trip, from packing up D’Aquino’s Honda Element (“It was like a puzzle!”) to setting up the booth.

Before moving to Bethel, D’Aquino had felt like a moving target, having started out at Kent, relocating to Toledo to teach, and then onward to Maryland to join an artist live-work space. In 2006, she returned home to Plattekill, a small town about half way between New Paltz and Newburgh, New York. Her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that year; D’Aquino stayed there till her passing in March 2011. Part-time assistant, Erin Seegers, from Farmington, Maine, helps with finishing pieces. “Erin kept me afloat when my mother was ill,” D’Aquino says. “Never in a million years could I have been able to keep up.” They work by mail.

After her mother’s death, D’Aquino wanted to create something that she could sell that would help raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. A friend told her about the bracelets that were made during the Vietnam War that were inscribed with a soldier’s name and were a way to honor the soldier and keep him or her in one’s thoughts and prayers. She designed a keychain with TIME printed on one side and the name of the person with cancer on the other. “I decided to have the names printed on the inside of the keychain because pancreatic cancer is often called a ‘hidden disease,’ ” D’Aquino states on her website.

This past May, D’Aquino taught her first workshop at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine (her workshop assistant was Cara Romano—see Ornament, 38.1). She decided to focus on cocktail rings, bringing major changes on the traditional large and elaborate costume jewelry. Her students used wire to create three-dimensional structures as the basis for their “baubles.” These structures were then transformed into rings, with color added using Plasti Dip.

WIRE BRACELET #88 of steel, 15.24 x 17.78 x 7.62 centimeters, 2008.

Although D’Aquino has lived in Maine for four years now, she has not been able to connect to the jewelry community as much as she would like. “I come home from a show, I work, I leave town, I come home, I work,” she explains. The visit to Haystack helped expand her ties to fellow artists in the state. Most recently there has been an exciting development which indicates her desire to set down roots in her neighborhood. D’Aquino, in collaboration with fellow artist Lauren Head, has opened Art@57MAINe, a space currently being transformed into a gallery, studio and place for classes.

In 2007 D’Aquino was selected to be included in the traveling show and the book that accompanied the Craft in America PBS series Craft in America: Celebrating Two Centuries of Artists and Objects. Her jewelry was recently donated to the permanent collection of the Charles A. Wustum Museum of Fine Arts in Racine, Wisconsin.

As she reflects on her situation, D’Aquino sees changes in the future. She would like to travel less. She is also retrieving her work from some of the galleries that have represented her, wishing to have more control of her inventory. She is trying hard to get away from production and to pay more attention to the collector who wants one-of-a-kind.

D’Aquino also dreams of sculpture. She started making sculptural work in 2005, excited by the potential of increasing the scale of some of her jewelry design ideas; “Good design works on any scale,” she avers. Without the proper space to fabricate the sculptures, she searched for a partner to help create them. Recently, she has been working with blacksmith Steve Bronstein at the Blackthorne Forge in Marshfield, Vermont. She has been pleased with the arrangement—“He really understands what I’m trying to do,” she says. 

D’Aquino wants to make pieces eight feet tall that could be installed in public spaces, and she has had a lot of encouragement from friends and clients. She has been taking some of the small sculptures with her to shows and has had a positive reaction. Sculpture, new jewelry designs, places to go—it is a creative and rewarding life.

FORGED CIRCLES NECKLACE of steel, eighteen karat gold, PVC, forged, 10.16 x 9.53 x 1.27 centimeters, 2002.

 

Carl Little caught up with Donna D’Aquino in Portland, Maine, last spring and later met her at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts where she was teaching for the first time. “It is such an incredible place,” she noted, “filled with so much history and the marks left from all the wonderful folks who have passed there before me.” Little served as judge of the 2015 Maine Crafts Association’s Master Craft Artist Award; this year’s recipients were jeweler Sam Shaw and book artist Rebecca Goodale. His latest book is Jeffery Becton: The Farthest House. He helped produce the video Imber’s Left Hand about painter Jon Imber’s courageous battle with ALS.

Orientalism Volume 38.4 Preview

Orientalism
Where East Met West in the Court of Versailles

 

MADAME D’AGUESSEAU DE FRESNES by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-LeBrun, 1789. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Samuel H. Kress Collection (1946.7.16). 

"Fashion victim” is a very modern term for a very old phenomenon. In eighteenth-century France, petite-maîtresse—meaning “little mistress”—was the preferred term for someone who followed fashion for its own sake, regardless of how arbitrary, expensive, ugly, or unflattering it might be. Like today’s “fashion victim,” it could be an insult or a compliment, depending on your perspective; after all, you had to be fashionable in order to be called a fashion victim. It was even said that Marie-Antoinette—perhaps the ultimate fashion victim—was “prouder of the title ‘petite-maîtresse’ than ‘Queen of France.’ ” The petite-maîtresse and her male equivalent, the petit-maître, may have been fashion victims, but they were also fashion role models, appearing in fashion magazines and fashion plates...

 

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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. This issue she investigates the surprisingly extensive impact of the Orient on European culture... and most importantly, clothes. Though refracted, interpreted, and distorted through the prism of the West, the styles of East Asian and Middle Eastern fashion had an indelible effect on Parisian couture. 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.

Eveli Sabatie Volume 38.4

Eveli Sabatie
Between Worlds and Time

 

ORCHARDS OF LOVE BRACELET of silver, fossilized ivory, red jasper, chrysoprase, and turquoise, fabricated, 7.62 centimeters diameter, circa 1975. Photographs by Addison Doty except where noted. Private Collection.

Jewelry in the American Southwest evolved through a series of unlikely collaborations that resulted in a distinct regional style, combining Native American, European and North African elements. When colonists from Spain arrived in the Americas in the sixteenth century, they brought with them metalworking traditions grounded in seven centuries of Muslim occupation. These remain visible today in familiar forms of Navajo and Pueblo Indian silverwork. In 1969 North Africa returned to the Southwest in the person of a talented young artist named Evelyn Sabatie. Known today as Eveli—the Hopi pronunciation of her given name—she is one of only two jewelers acknowledged as protégés by the great Charles Loloma (the other is his niece Verma Nequatewa). Between about 1970 and 1996, Eveli created a body of work of marked originality, and one that fits well into the collaborative history of jewelrymaking in the Southwest.

Eveli Sabatie was born in eastern Algeria in 1940, to parents of French, Spanish and “who-knows-what” ancestry.1 Her childhood was characterized by turmoil and instability. The North African campaigns of the Second World War were just beginning, and her father was among those assisting Allied forces fighting in Libya. With no other options, Eveli and her mother followed him from post to post, living in everything “from tents to huts to cardboard boxes, moving by foot, donkey, camel, or military trucks.” In about 1946, the war at an end, the family settled in Oujda, a Moroccan town near the Algerian border. However as Morocco and then Algeria struggled for independence from France, violence once again became a common occurrence. “The breach between European and Arab populations increased,” she recalls. “I was in my early teens, but very aware of what was taking place. We lived very close to the border and shooting was a daily affair.”2

     Unhappy at home and refusing to buy into the notion that “if you were French and Christian you had to be superior,” she found solace in drawing and in playing the violin, giving performances for patients at a local hospital. Teachers at the French schools she attended singled her out for her artistic abilities, assigning special projects and at one point awarding her a prize. When a beloved high-school teacher made preparations to return to France, she convinced Sabatie to accompany her and to pursue University studies. “I was always attracted to languages,” she says. “They represented communication and understanding.” Once again she excelled, earning scholarships at the Sorbonne in Paris and the Freie Universität in Berlin. She studied German language, literature and philosophy, her choice motivated by the idea that “sharing a language was like sharing food. I thought that if we could understand the ‘enemy’s’ language and appreciate the ‘enemy’s’ food, we would not so easily go to war.”3

BLUE REEDS AND PURPLE NIGHTS BRACELET of eighteen karat gold, turquoise and sugilite, fabricated, 7.62 centimeters wide, circa 1990. Private Collection.

      Eveli’s early experiences gave her an abiding respect and admiration for teachers, and a sense of gratitude for those who took her “under their wings.” She describes herself as being “of the old school—the old traditional societies where the teacher is really so important. It says something sacred about a teacher, that I always felt.”4 But after her graduation she discovered that teaching students was not her calling. When her life was disrupted once again—first by the sudden deaths of her mother and of a lover, and then by a serious illness—she returned to art.5

She explored various media, including watercolors and fiber arts, and made a large tapestry as a gesture of thanks for the teacher who had brought her to Europe. Eveli recalls “she had it in her apartment covering a wall for many, many years until she died.” She traveled to Toulouse where she learned puppetry, “making those great big huge puppets that take three or four people to manipulate.” When the director of the puppet theater wanted to retire, he asked her to take over—“But you know, I was in my twenties and I was not about to take on that responsibility, so I let it go.” She studied enameling, and remembers “I was wearing a lot of jewelry at the time. So I was thinking of probably making jewelry, but that never happened. It was just an idea. So you never know how all of these ideas and desires work or where they lead you.”6

After her illness, and with the increasing political unrest of late-1960s Paris, Sabatie began to think about leaving Europe. She was focused on the possibility of traveling to Tibet, but one morning experienced what she describes as “an audible vision—if that makes any sense,” compelling her to go instead to the United States and to connect with Native Americans. She does not remember having been aware of Native American issues prior to that time, nevertheless she felt as though “a mighty foot had lodged itself into my lower back, pushing me toward a very frightening journey. I had no choice.”7

FLYING SERPENTS PENDANT of fossilized ivory, turquoise and silver on heishi purchased at Santo Domingo Pueblo, 8.89 x 30.48 centimeters, 1974. Private Collection.

      When she arrived in San Francisco in October 1968, she spoke little English and knew only that Native people lived on reservations. When she asked where those reservations were, she was met with suspicion and skepticism: “Of course people were kind of surprised at my questions, and were asking me, ‘Well, do you work for the government? Why do you have to find out about reservations?’ ”8 Then at a Grateful Dead concert at the Fillmore West, Eveli was drawn into a group of people discussing the upcoming trial of Donald Bitsie, a young Navajo man charged with refusing to be inducted into the United States army.9 The trial was scheduled to take place at the Federal Building later that week, and Eveli, like many others, decided to attend. When she pressed the button for an elevator to take her to the courtroom, “two huge doors opened to reveal a space packed with Native people in their full regalia.”10 She joined them, and learned they were representatives of southwestern tribes.

Among the tribal representatives on the elevator was Thomas Banyacya, a Hopi traditional leader whose mission included communicating Hopi prophecies about the consequences of environmental degradation. During World War II, Banyacya served seven years in jail for refusing to register for the draft, and later helped to secure the right of Hopis to declare conscientious objector status on religious grounds.11 Eveli spent the day with the group, later attending an event at the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland. Banyacya invited her to attend the Powamuya (Bean Dance) ceremony in the coming spring.

She arrived at Hopi two weeks early for the ceremony. “At the very instant I touched Hopi soil and got a glimpse into its ceremonial life,” she wrote, “my searching stopped: this was the authenticity of the human heart which I had been looking for. I longed for that way of life.”12 Her words echo the tenor of the times. Sabatie was in some regards like many young people of the late 1960s who, in the words of historian Sherry L. Smith, “believed that in Indians they had found an important, American based, alternative way of living. . . True, their reflections did not represent years of careful study or deep knowledge. These were, after all, young people just getting to know the world, seeking answers about how to live a life of substance and meaning.”13 It is also likely that she felt she had discovered a desert home that offered the peace and security she had been denied as a child.

Shortly after the Powamuya ceremony, Eveli met Charles Loloma at the local laundromat. He later recalled that “I was happy someone was speaking French,”14 and she describes their conversation: “He said ‘what are you doing here’ and ‘what have you done,’ and I was telling him and he said ‘well, do you want to learn how to make jewelry?’ and I said ‘Sure, I’d never say no!’ ” She began visiting his studio, each day walking the seven miles from her place in Kykotsmovi to his in Hotevilla.15

THE SIGNIFICANCE BOOK of silver and gold with turquoise, lapis lazuli, fossilized ivory, wood, coral, and other stones, fabricated, tufa-cast, 10.16 centimeters tall, circa 1980. Private Collection

      Eveli joined Charles Loloma’s studio as his focus was moving away from cast jewelry and he was becoming interested in mosaic inlay. From 1947-1949 Loloma attended the School for American Craftsmen at Alfred University, where first Philip Morton and then John Prip ran the jewelry program.16 Charles and his wife Otellie were studying ceramics, but Charles was also interested in jewelry. In an interview published in 1976 he maintained that at Alfred he “was working in pottery and silver,” and that after opening their ceramics studio at Scottdale’s Kiva Craft Center he began “doing more jewelry than pottery.”17 Loloma’s friend and mentor Lloyd Kiva New, owner of the Kiva Craft Center, characterized his switch from pottery to jewelry as “abrupt,” and wrote that he first worked “in sand-stone cast silver, and then in centrifugally cast gold works.”18 In a conversation with Sabatie recorded in the early 1990s New said, “I was there the day he did the cast piece,” and New and Sabatie discussed the fact that Loloma sought instruction from Bob Winston.19

However by 1969 Loloma had become interested in the idea that at Hopi, jewelry traditions had more to do with stone and shell than with silversmithing, which was introduced late in the nineteenth century and had not matured into a characteristic Hopi style. He began to draw inspiration from an ancient type of mosaic earring that was still important in Pueblo Indian ceremonial dress, from a photograph of an abalone-encrusted Northwest Coast mask, and from an illustrated book about ancient Egyptian jewelry.20

HOPI EARRINGS by unknown artist of wood, turquoise, abalone, pitch, circa 1900. Among other influences, Charles Loloma was inspired by an ancient style of mosaic earring important to Pueblo Indians. Gift of Jim and Lauris Phillips. Courtesy of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.

Eveli brought to the mix a familiarity with Moroccan mosaic—“the turquoise blues, the blue-greens, the lapis blues of tiles laid into the walls of mosques and fountains”— as well as an insatiable curiosity that made her a willing pupil.21 Loloma did not teach as much as encourage her to look on and experiment. “Charles was busy doing his thing,” she says, “and he was not about to sit down and teach me, so I just watched around and tried to do things.”22

She returned to the Bay Area to learn soldering and basic jewelrymaking. Her first piece was a carved, silver-mounted box made from fossil ivory and a steak bone that “I wrestled away from dogs I was walking in Mill Valley.”23 Friends there presented her with an intact deer skeleton that they had discovered on a hike, and in 1971 they hosted her first exhibition in their home.24 The work consisted largely of carved deer bone, silver and leather.


When Sabatie returned to Hopi she brought with her a number of pieces she had made, including a ring for Charles. She assisted in the studio, cutting stone and making turquoise and coral inlay. “It was not great quality turquoise,” she says, “but it was fun and I just loved being there.” After a few months Verma Nequatewa joined the studio as well. “And so the two of us started training together. We got so close to each other, the three of us working together, that twelve years later you couldn’t tell who had made what. It was a really beautiful experience.”25

SNAKE PENDANT of silver and gold with fossilized ivory, citrine, lapis lazuli, fabricated, textured, 8.89 centimeters high, circa 1990. Private Collection.

      Eveli left the Loloma studio in 1972 and moved to Santa Fe. She had one thousand dollars (her share of the proceeds from bracelets she had helped produce), and the bench that had been hers at the studio. Loloma gave her a handful of turquoise stones and a torch. She rented an apartment in Santa Fe’s Acequia Madre neighborhood at the back of a house near what was then the property of Forrest Fenn’s gallery. She purchased silver and went to work, continuing to use bone until she could afford other materials. In order to introduce herself to people in the neighborhood, she distributed baskets of homemade bread, and carried the jewelry she hoped to sell in a paper sack. In 1976, after a series of tiny live-work spaces had proved impractical, she moved to a small house in Tucson and built a well-equipped studio in the large backyard.26

Although she learned casting in Loloma’s studio, and used it with great artistry in works like The Significance, Eveli preferred to fabricate jewelry that accentuates stone and ivory in combination with exotic woods, coral and other materials. Her love of carving and of stone is evident in works that highlight lavish, organic shapes and crystal cabochons in open back settings. She made imaginative use of a technique most often associated with Loloma, placing inlay on the interior of a bracelet or ring. However while Loloma’s inlay consists primarily of blocks of color, Eveli uses it to expand complex themes: the inside of a bracelet titled Blue Reeds and Purple Nights depicts a meandering turquoise stream bordered by a path of textured and overlaid gold. Although stones predominate, the metal surrounding them is heavily textured and stamped, rarely left plain. As she developed her own style, her work became known for its opulence and wit, and for the fact that she does not repeat herself: “Every moment of every day is different!” she says, “So how can you repeat? The moment you repeat you kill something. You’re not really in what’s happening right now. Every material is different, every hour is different, my mood is different every day.”27

Eveli Sabatie stopped making jewelry in 1998 when her hands and her eyesight would no longer support her work. Almost immediately she returned to her roots in French puppet-theater, making enormous sculptures of paper and fabric.28 Today at age seventy-five, she makes her living teaching yoga and Sanskrit, her former jewelry studio now converted to that purpose. She maintains the vitality and drive that have sustained her throughout her life, and she makes a mean green chile stew.

 

Cheri Falkenstien-Doyle is the Marcia Docter Curator of Native American Jewelry at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her most recent project involved collaborating with an exceptional team of designers, preparators, interns, and museum staff on the Wheelwright’s new Jim and Lauris Phillips Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry, which opened to the public in June 2015. She is currently conducting research for a book whose working title is Plateros: The Shared History of Southwestern Silversmithing.

Zhou Dynasty Glass Volume 38.4 Preview

Zhou Dynasty Glass and Silicate Jewelry

 

Since I began studying the faience, glass and other silicate ornaments of the Zhou Dynasty in 1975, this field has undergone a sharp dichotomy. While previously mostly foreign scientists or Chinese outside of China researched their chemical makeup, age and stylistics, in the past decades Chinese themselves have begun to intensively study their composition, through sophisticated non-destructive techniques like XRF and Raman spectroscopy, but with little attention to their typology, chronology or how they were made or used, despite the enormous increase in number of excavated sites bearing such beads (Gan 2009; Kwan 2001, 2013; Lankton and Dussubieux 2006, 2013; Li et al., 2015; Liu 1975, 1991, 2005, 2013; Yang et al., 2013; Zhu 2013). Now regarded as important cultural relics, beads of the Zhou/Han times were widely sold since at least the 1990s on the world antiquities markets, often sourced by looting, and which are still available (Murphy 1995; Liu 1996-1997).

      Faience, composite silicates and glass came late to China, lagging behind the Near East; faience about 1000 B.C. and composite silicates, frit and glass in the Spring and Autumn/Warring States (W.S.) periods of the Zhou dynasty. By then, bronze and stone industries were well established, with the former using sophisticated piece-mold and core-casting, while the latter employed similarly advanced lapidary technology. Even in the 1970s, I realized that these early Chinese glassworkers had adapted some of these same techniques for fabricating their glass ornaments, as seen in mold-cast, press-molded and lapidary-finished Zhou and Han glass artifacts. My own research on composite beads also implicates the role of early ceramics.

 

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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. In this issue he writes about the extraordinary crafting of Zhou Dynasty/Warring States faience, glass and other silicate ornaments, as well as their complexity.

Tucson Gem & Mineral Show Volume 38.4

The Tucson Shows
Meeting Ground for the World

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His new book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. In this issue he writes about the extraordinary crafting of Zhou Dynasty/Warring States faience, glass and other silicate ornaments, as well as their complexity. He and Patrick Benesh-Liu also cover the lively spectacle of the Tucson Gem Shows.


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