Linda MacNeil Volume 40.3

LUCENT LINES SERIES NO. 09 NECKLACE of polished clear and neodymium glass, fourteen karat yellow gold-tubing, twenty-four karat yellow gold plated, 17.8 centimeters diameter, 1994.  Photographs by Bill Truslow except where noted.

LUCENT LINES SERIES NO. 09 NECKLACE of polished clear and neodymium glass, fourteen karat yellow gold-tubing, twenty-four karat yellow gold plated, 17.8 centimeters diameter, 1994. Photographs by Bill Truslow except where noted.

Monumentality in art, as André Malraux famously implied through his concept of the musée imaginaire, is an effect of form that, despite its associations with strength, imperviousness to change and dominance over surrounding space, is not necessarily dependent upon the actual size of an object. The effect of monumentality produced by a given artwork can arise in the mind of the viewer entirely through comparison of the features of that work with the formal characteristics of others in the dimensionless space of memory—or, more mundanely, through comparison of such formal characteristics in the printed or digital-media images through which we experience the vast majority of art today. To describe the brooches and necklaces of New Hampshire artist Linda MacNeil as monumental, therefore, is to classify their visual effects with those of Egyptian obelisks, the Chrysler Building’s mammoth steel gargoyles, or the towering Guardians of Traffic on Cleveland’s Hope Memorial Bridge without ever denying their physical compatibility with the intimacy of the body. The monumentality of MacNeil’s work, in other words, arises from associations with a certain kind of art that is often colossal but ultimately not restricted to any absolute scale in relation to the human form.

NECK COLLAR SERIES NO. 28. AJDC Theme Project “Stripes” of acid polished clear mirrored glass, polished ivory and black Vitrolite glass, chrome plate, 21.0 x 14.0 x 1.3 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Robert Weldon.

BROOCH SERIES NO. 34 of polished cream and black Vitrolite, acid polished mirrored clear glass, rubies, polished fourteen karat white gold, 7.0 x 1.3 x 1.3 centimeters, 2005.

NECK COLLAR SERIES NO. 26 of acid polished blue transparent and clear mirrored glass, ivory and black acid polished Vitrolite glass, twenty-four karat gold plated, 21.3 x 15.2 x 1.9 centimeters, 2017.

      Every artist has at times walked the halls of the musée imaginaire, developing affinities for certain historical styles or other conventions of form. For MacNeil, ancient Egyptian art, with its assertive planarity, basaltic strength and blocky opposition to the influence of time has been of particular interest. Any search for specific references in her work to carved sarcophagi, pharaonic portraiture or funereal amulets would be fruitless however, since traces of Egyptian art can be discerned in her forms only to the degree that they are also embodied by some Art Deco design of the 1920s. There, too, monumentality is pervasive as an effect of smooth planes uninterrupted by superfluous ornament, an overall tendency toward symmetry within an immediately graspable logic of composition, and an underlying sense of strength and durability. Egyptian art and Art Deco design—despite the historical distance between them, the disparate cultural contexts in which they developed, and the distinct associations they carry today of mystery, transcendence and eternity on the one hand and modernity, machinery and the optimism of innovation on the other—clearly share design principles conducive to the effect of abstract and universal monumentality. “Perhaps,” MacNeil speculates, “that’s why both of them attract me.”

I don’t work in a linear manner,” MacNeil explains. “I develop several series, and occasionally pieces that aren’t part of a series, simultaneously. A map of my thinking and work is like a flight path of a hummingbird going after the nectar from blossom to blossom.

      Historical art has been only one of the influences on MacNeil’s work over the forty-one years that she has been exploring design issues through her jewelry. “I’m a deliberate collector of influences through observation,” she says. “I study nature and use details of plant growth as the basis for some drawings. I go to museums often and look carefully at works of art and objects of antiquity or natural history and come away often with thoughts that generate drawings in my sketchbooks.” These drawings are crucial, not only because they help MacNeil to visualize combinations of shapes that might produce effective compositions but also because they help in planning the specific stages necessary to realizing the works materially. Occasionally, through the steps from observation to sketch to final work, representational elements, particularly plant or animal forms, persist, but more important are the relationships of color, shape, contrast, repetition, and other compositional characteristics. Even these are not slavishly copied however. Although MacNeil describes herself as “methodical,” her process of generating designs involves a degree of flexibility that precludes absolute predictability. Neither influences from observation nor her own initial ideas exert complete control over her works. “Most of the time,” she asserts, “I am just thinking things out as I create them.”

While ad hoc solutions to design problems are not the rule at all points in MacNeil’s practice, which tends to rely more on familiar routes to results, those that occur are crucial to the achievement of one-of-a-kind works. Consequently, her method maintains structure while intentionally incorporating two primary opportunities to disrupt lines of thought and thereby reap the innovation arising from sudden challenges. The first of these comes with MacNeil’s practice of shifting attention from one design to another. This is a common practice among artists, especially those who work in series or are particularly concerned with formal problems. Matisse, for example, habitually migrated back and forth between paintings and sculptures whenever he felt that his aesthetic probing had hit a wall. “I don’t work in a linear manner,” MacNeil explains. “I develop several series, and occasionally pieces that aren’t part of a series, simultaneously. A map of my thinking and work is like a flight path of a hummingbird going after the nectar from blossom to blossom.”

DOUBLE DECO, BROOCH SERIES NO. 47 of acid polished light brown and clear glass, acid polished and polished black and cream Vitrolite, white diamonds, polished fourteen karat white gold, 7.6 x 7.0 x 1.0 centimeters, 2009.

MIRRORED, BROOCH SERIES NO. 91 of polished clear, chartreuse mirrored glass, yellow Vitrolite glass, linear striped surface detail, rhodium plated fourteen karat white gold, white diamond, 7.6 x 6.4 x 1.3 centimeters, 2015.

      The other strategy through which MacNeil encourages innovation consists of presenting herself with multiple variables from which to select. As her designs progress from the drawing stage into three-dimensional forms that will ultimately be adapted to functional formats, she maximizes the need for choice. “I have hundreds of parts laid out in my studio,” she says, “so I can constantly see them as a palette for the works I imagine. These are forms in plaster and in glass that I have created from raw materials, usually taking advantage of some phenomenon unique to glass. I cast glass with fading and changing color, with thousands of bubbles or perfectly clear, and often use mirror backing to emphasize certain visual effects.” 

Glass has been the signature material in MacNeil’s work since the early 1970s, when she was introduced to the medium at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design shortly before transferring to the Rhode Island School of Design to complete her undergraduate degree. Rather than exploiting the thin and fragile clarity of blown glass, she has gravitated toward a gemlike solidity and a range of effects from faceted translucency to textured or polished opacity. The sleek and monumental Art Deco designs of René Lalique, such as his celebrated car mascot Spirit of the Wind—Victoire, have been particularly inspirational, but Lalique’s earlier, more delicate floral-inspired Art Nouveau designs have also had their impact. “The many ways in which glass and metal have been combined in the decorative arts in general, from hood ornaments to architectural elements, lighting and vases have been a powerful influence,” MacNeil states. “Lalique’s stylization of natural form and the use of glass as an elegant, almost precious material is very compelling to me, although my work stylistically is quite different.” 

Elements SERIES NO. 40 NECKPIECE of polished multicolored mirror and acid polished clear glass, diamond details, fourteen karat yellow gold, 16.5 centimeters diameter, 2005.

      Regardless of its particular inspiration, each of MacNeil’s works tends to be a one-of-a-kind piece but with the notable familial traits that arise from seriality. “By working through series,” she explains,” I am developing a concept in a repeated way. I often have many ideas for the way it can go, so each piece in the series is a new version of the original concept.” That concept, both a unifying idea and a descriptor of traits that link individual works to one another, ultimately provides the name for the series. The Elements series, for example, “refers to distinct repeated forms within a necklace, usually emphasizing the mechanical connections and making them a feature in the design. This sets off the individual ‘elements’ as they are presented by the structure of the necklace.” Incorporating cut, shaped and drilled plate glass, gold-tubing and sheet stock, the necklaces of this series have since the 1980s provided MacNeil with the opportunity to nudge the often rigid character of geometry toward “a free-flowing orbit of elements.” Geometry, particularly as it defines the bright, flat planes of primary and secondary colors in De Stijl design, has always appealed to MacNeil, but her Elements series seems to arise from the kind of musing in which Alexander Calder indulged when he visited Mondrian’s studio and thought, “how fine it would be if everything there moved.” The quality of motion in the necklaces is not only literal—as a wearer’s movements cause the elements to pivot like links in a chain—but metaphorical as well: elements that repeat, but in different colors, or two different kinds of elements that alternate around the necklace create rhythmic implied motion.

LUCENT LINES SERIES NO. 20 NECKLACE of polished clear optical, black and cream Vitrolite glass, ruby details, fourteen karat yellow gold, 16.5 centimeters diameter, 2004.

      Closely related to the Elements series, the works of the Lucent Lines series display a similar structural logic of elements dispersed in repetition around circular neckpieces. The series title refers to the opaque parallel lines resulting from holes drilled through the glass elements, some merely for visual effect and some as conduits for gold-tube connectors but all of them “punctuating the pure clarity of the geometric form.” Each of the elements—composed of commercially manufactured plate glass, lead crystal or colored transparent glass—is carefully cut, shaped and drilled to identical specifications then either acid-finished for a satiny texture or polished to a high luster. The elements of the Lucent Lines series often channel the bold monumentality of Art Deco architectural or decorative art designs. Necklace, Lucent Lines Series no. 20, 2004, for example, vaguely recalls the mechanical fluting and sleek industrial associations of massive Art Deco cornices on portals of skyscrapers, while Necklace, Lucent Lines Series, no. 09, 1994 conveys the impression of pink-stoppered Lalique perfume bottles strung like faceted beads on gold-tubing.

 
 

MESH SERIES NO. 119 NECKLACE of polished red, purple and yellow Vitrolite glass, polished black and cream Vitrolite glass, gold plated, 6.4 x 5.7 x 1.9 centimeters, 2009.

MESH SERIES NO. 145 NECKLACE of acid polished cast mirrored glass, polished Vitrolite glass, twenty-four karat gold plated, 9.5 x 5.7 x 1.6 centimeters, 2017.

 

      A similar monumentality of form characterizes the pendants of the Mesh series, which evolved from aspects of the Elements and Lucent Lines necklaces in the mid 1990s and is still proving a rich source of possibilities for exploration today. MacNeil describes the introduction of the series as liberating because she no longer felt “bound to such a labor-intensive, complicated task as I had in the Elements series” and because it helped in dispensing with “the notion that the use of commercial chain was inappropriate for my work.” Each of the unique glass and metal pendants hangs upon a flexible mesh tube capped at the ends by a catch. 

“The wearability is extremely important to the owners of my necklaces,” MacNeil notes, but the arrangement of a pendant on a simple mesh chain has also allowed for development of a broad range of concepts not possible in the Elements series format.

 

NECK COLLAR SERIES NO. 19 of blue mirror laminated glass, polished cream, black, red, and yellow Vitrolite glass, polished, mirrored cabochons, gold plated, 15.9 centimeters, pendant 14.0 x 3.2 x 1.3 centimeters, 2010. NECK COLLAR SERIES NO. 24 of acid polished blues, orange and clear mirrored transparent/orange ivory Vitrolite, twenty-four karat gold plated brass, 22.9 x 14.3 x 2.2 centimeters, 2016. NECK COLLAR SERIES NO. 18 of acid polished clear glass, mirror laminated yellow glass, polished cream and black Vitrolite glass, gold plated, 15.9 centimeters diameter, pendant 14.0 x 8.9 x 1.9 centimeters, 2010.

 

      Another group that has evolved around a specific physical format with myriad possibilities for design is the Neck Collar series. Eschewing the flexibility of a linked necklace, the Neck Collars are among the most sculptural of MacNeil’s works. Some incorporate pendants, some do not, and some, like Collar, Neck Collar Series no. 29, 2017 seem to dissolve distinctions, merging collar and pendant into a single form, as in the perfect integration of pedestal and sculpture in Brancusi’s Endless Column. MacNeil’s works, however, are always emphatically oriented toward the human frame. “Usually I focus on the center of the chest,” she explains, “and symmetrical details of the colored glass and gold relate to the form of the body. My strong interest in geometry has guided me in many of the designs, however I try to balance this approach with some organic softness of the form.” 

 

BOUQUET EDITION, FLORAL SERIES NO. 84 NECKLACE of acid polished red, orange, amber, pink, maroon transparent glass, laminated to mirrored glass, polished eighteen karat yellow gold, 20.3 centimeters diameter, 2009.

BOUQUET EDITION, FLORAL SERIES NO. 85 NECKLACE of acid polished transparent shades of blue, and clear glass laminated to mirrored glass, polished eighteen karat gold, 15.2 centimeters diameter, 2009.

 

PRIMAVERA NECKLACE, FLORAL SERIES NO. 98 of acid polished, light yellow, green, red, mirrored glass, eighteen karat yellow gold, white diamond detail, 15.2 centimeters diameter, pendant 7.6 x 2.5 x 1.3 centimeters, 2015.

      While monumental forms in MacNeil’s work can frequently be linked to inspiration in architectural elements or decorative art, the influence of nature has also exerted a significant impact. “A pod or a flower in full bloom is an irresistible beginning for a jewelry design,” she says. “Nature has already mastered the mechanics. My challenge is to interpret that plant life and to make a piece of jewelry. What is so interesting to me is that plant life can be extremely complex and feminine and also simple and quite masculine.” This compatibility of complexity and simplicity is reflected in Primavera Necklace, Floral Series no. 98, 2015, in which green-glass leaves and discrete white blossoms recall the monumental forms of Lalique’s Art Deco period while the looped tendrils and tiny faceted inset gems invoke his intricate and organically graceful Art Nouveau designs.

Such historical associations are natural for the viewer to note. MacNeil does not deny their relevance but is quick to point out that her work reflects the monumentality of Art Deco or the organicity of Art Nouveau largely because these styles convey universal principles of design equally applicable to the contemporary context. Her intention, in fact, is to reflect the character of the present while observing time-honored conventions of design and technical mastery: to communicate something both universal and particular. In this respect, the word monumental is relevant for its implications of commemoration, preservation and persistence of meaning across time. “I hope that my work is worthy of being in museums because people find it meaningful,” MacNeil states. “I know many artists who think this way. It’s basically a hope that my work is as interesting and important to others as it is to me.”


SUGGESTED READING
Taragin, Davira S. and Ursula Ilse-Neuman.
Linda MacNeil: Jewels of Glass. Tacoma, WA and Stuttgart: Museum of Glass and Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2017.
Arial, Kate Dobbs. “Sculptural Radiance: The Jewelry and Objects of Linda MacNeil.” Metalsmith: 24:3, Summer 2004.
Byrd, Joan Falconer. “Linda MacNeil: Mint Museum of Craft + Design, Charlotte, NC.” American Craft: 64:1, Feb/March 2004.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Glen R. Brown, a professor of art history at Kansas State University and a specialist on contemporary and historical craft media, takes particular note of jewelry that elevates ordinarily nonprecious materials to functional and aesthetic equivalency with gold or gems. He found in the necklaces of Linda MacNeil an especially interesting use of glass, not for its fragile translucence but rather for the strength and even monumentality that it can convey when cast or worked into simple geometric forms. MacNeil’s inspiration in Art Deco design also appealed to him. Brown is currently completing a book on the aesthetics of ceramic sculptor, painter and glass artist Jun Kaneko.

Smithsonian Craft Show 2018 Volume 40.3

JIYOUNG CHUNG

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National Building Museum
April 26-29, Preview Night April 25
www.SmithsonianCraftShow.org

In the Navajo tradition, master weavers would often weave a thin thread of a contrasting color in the outer corner. Called the ch’ihónít’i, this “spirit line” extended out to the edge of the piece. The Navajo believed that the weaver’s being became part of the woven cloth in the process of making, their soul forever entwined with the piece itself. The spirit line allowed a path for the artist to disentangle herself and move on to create even more works of beauty.

IRINA OKULA

      This notion of a maker’s spirit being encapsulated in their work lies at the heart of the contemporary craft movement. For those who dedicate their lives to craft, making is about more than the practice itself, more than selling work for a living. It is an act of divine creation, linking heart, hand and spirit. It is also an act of vulnerability. Sharing your work opens you to criticism, extending the conversation beyond you and your materials to an outside audience. For makers, there’s arguably nothing better than when viewers appreciate and are moved by your work.

The artists participating in the 2018 Smithsonian Craft Show are well poised for this kind of exchange between maker, object and viewer. Now in its thirty-sixth year, the annual show presents one hundred twenty of the country’s premier craftspeople, and welcomes an educated and seasoned audience of craft lovers each year. Presented by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, jurors make careful selections, choosing from some one thousand artists working in twelve different media—basketry, ceramics, decorative fiber, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, wearable art, and wood—making this one of the most influential craft events in the nation. For many artists, acceptance in the show is a big moment in their career. Having the chance to exhibit here inspires them to push boundaries, to explore new bodies of work, and to bring their very best to show.

Paper artist Jiyoung Chung relies on tradition, making her painterly, deconstructed paper works using the joomchi method—a Korean artform mixing hanji, or mulberry paper, with water and agitating it to break down and combine layers into one strong, fabric-like entity. It is akin to felting, and over time it ages to an almost leather-like texture. In Chung’s floating sculptures, the paper is layered, with holes like portals to the worlds below, and loose strands, frayed edges and furrowed surfaces. It draws the viewer in and feels both natural and otherworldly. Each piece is one of a kind, and some are large in scale. “It gives me more ground to explore and develop my ideas, as well as challenging my physical limitations,” Chung says of her play with size. “It opens new doors and possibilities for me to discover more about joomchi—what it can do and how far I can push it.”

LAUREN MARKLEY

      In Chung’s eyes her work is driven as much from her own creativity as it is from joomchi itself. She credits much of her design sensibility to a sort of collaboration with it. “I usually have a concept to start with. However, the process has surprising characteristics. It wants to be certain ways. I don’t feel like I am dealing with material, but with a person. So I often negotiate between my original thought and what joomchi wants to do.”

For ceramist Irina Okula, acceptance to her first Smithsonian Craft Show in 2015 was “almost like a dream.” Okula’s fragmented vessels have a quiet, emotive quality, with landscape imagery, text and abstract markings pieced together in simple, pleasing forms. Black bird silhouettes soar alongside snowy hillsides, repeating patterns, excerpts of text and a soft color palette. Her signature technique of piecing together broken clay shards came about by accident, after a pot she was working on broke into several pieces. Rather than mourn the piece, Okula fired the fragments separately and later epoxied them together to reform the original shape. Intrigued by the results, Okula began to break her work on purpose. Each shard is decorated with different surface treatments—using slip, stamps, copper tape, wire, and words—then packed into saggars, or covered clay containers, and fired with combustible materials soaked in solutions of salt, iron, cobalt, or copper oxides. 

The element of chaos brings a narrative quality to the vessels, fragmented like the memories and stories that make up one’s life. “My work emphasizes the relationships of the pieces to each other and to the whole,” Okula says. She welcomes the randomness of her process, each result pushing her to explore further. “There is an unpredictable quality to the breaks and the firing, which play a critical role in the outcome. I like the surprises. After I break the pieces, I tape them back together in the original form and do a drawing, front and back. I love how the pieces contrast and complement each other. They help me tell a story, often my story.”

MEGHAN PATRICE RILEY

      Impulsivity and disassembly are also central to jeweler Lauren Markley’s creative practice. In addition to sterling silver and brass, Markley works with reclaimed wood, textiles and enamel, constructing jewelry inspired by architecture, plans and schematics, spaces and structures. A pair of earrings is made from intersecting bits of sterling silver, reminiscent of angled steel. A brooch of layered wood has metal bars extending out like askew scaffolding. Segments of blackened silver overlap like roof tiles, an accent of golden yellow silk thread adding a touch of softness. “I get asked a lot if I’m a frustrated architect—I’m not!” Markley jokes. “Someone once looked at one of my big, chunky, geometric rings and said ‘Oh! I want to live in there!’ It’s still one of my favorite comments.”

Markley’s jewelry starts in sketch form. “Very loose and gestural, just getting an idea of an appealing shape,” she explains. “From there, I cut the material into smaller pieces and spend time figuring out how to reassemble it to achieve the shape I’m aiming for. It’s fairly improvisational, and I don’t have a clear plan or pattern for how I’m going to solder the metal or glue the wood back together.” Like sculpture or architecture, the “site” of her pieces is just as important. “I want my clients to be comfortable with their pieces. There is always a negotiation with weight, proportion, depth, scale, when figuring this out.”

Jeweler Meghan Patrice Riley also enjoys this relation of jewelry to the body. “I love the idea of the body as site—meaning that jewelry is fashion, art, design, and everything in between. A piece that looks like non-wearable art that belongs on the wall comes to life on the body. And I love the idea of people taking a personal approach; they can play with wearing my pieces in traditional ways or push their own ideas.” Her Blanc and Noir lines are made from steel cable cord and aluminum connectors or crimp beads—typically used in beaded necklaces to secure the stringing material to the clasp. But in Riley’s work, the cord, connectors and crimps take center stage; the stones, when used, are secondary, almost like jewelry turned inside out.

 
This notion of a maker’s spirit being encapsulated in their work lies at the heart of the contemporary craft movement. For those who dedicate their lives to craft, making is about more than the practice itself, more than selling work for a living.

The two-dimensional, line drawing feel to her work is not accidental. Some of her pieces almost read as blueprints for other complex structures. “It’s definitely jewelry about jewelry, which can be pretty meta,” Riley explains. “I have always loved all of the mechanisms, small parts, connectors that go into the making of jewelry. I love what I can create with this paired down process. I think of all of the crimps as stars in a larger constellation, creating order amidst chaos.”

CHIE HITCHNER

      Riley often starts with sketches derived from physics and mathematical concepts. She then translates them into her materials, often incorporating new items like the industrial ball chain interwoven with stones and pearls in her Gris line. A result of her obsession with ball chain and safety pins in her “grungy-goth-punk” teenage years, the series demonstrates Riley’s ability to turn traditional jewelry concepts on their head. The line was featured in a runway collaboration with Mariana Valentina, and caught the eye of large retailer Free People, who picked up Riley’s work. Riley designed epaulettes, arm and hand chains for the collection. 

Color is an important factor for Chie Hitchner, who uses natural dyes in her loom-woven fabrics. Working with raw fibers such as silk, wool and linen, Hitchner dyes the threads in small batches in her studio, often using materials she finds nearby. “There is something special about discovering the dyeing properties of plants that are right around you,” says Hitchner. “Fig leaves make a brilliant yellow. Camellia blossoms become a steely gray. Japanese maple leaves usually give me a beautiful gray, but last fall they gave me a beautiful green. Depending on the time of year and location, the color can be different.”

While part of the show’s Decorative Fiber category, Hitchner also creates wearables. This lends versatility to her design process. She imagines the pieces displayed cleanly and flat on the wall or a table, and also considers how they will bunch and flow with the curves of the body. Worn or flat, Hitchner’s firm grasp on design and technique and her debt to Japanese traditions is evident. Her patterns are crisp and exact, in calming neutral tones and soothing repetitive patterns one can get lost in.

Hitchner learned to weave at eighteen and attended a Japanese university that placed a heavy emphasis on technique and methodology. “My work is deeply influenced by Japanese craft techniques,” Hitchner explains. “I like to use kasuri, the Japanese form of ikat, in both warp and weft. I also use sukui-ori, which is a technique of pick-and-weave, where I use manual techniques to insert additional colors and threads into the weft. These techniques broaden the range of the designs that I can produce using a simple four-harness floor loom.” 

MARY JAEGER

      Understanding one’s work in the larger picture of the fashion and commercial market is an important part of survival as a craft artist. Clothing designer Mary Jaeger has been sewing since just four years old, and recognizes the complexities of the fashion, craft and couture worlds. In her NYC atelier, she creates everything from dramatic scarves, shawls and jackets that play with proportion, pattern and shape, to classic cut, shibori-dyed indigo tank tops, hoodies and tees that are perfect for everyday wear. The latter are made to touch a broader client base, but the goal of Jaeger’s garments is the same: to empower the wearer. “My couture garments address the need for thoughtfully designed and beautifully constructed clothing to communicate individuality in our culture currently exploding with fast fashion,” Jaeger reflects. “Fashion design incorporates multiple aspects of today’s culture and can foreshadow the future through the use of colors, shapes, materials, make, fit, and styles. In turn, fashion communicates messages we individually interpret and consciously or unconsciously adapt to make our own style of dress.”

Jaeger’s Accordion Bonbons do feel a bit like a glimpse into the future. Part of her Unfolding series, multiple colors of silk dupioni are pieced, pleated, dyed, and edge-stitched to drape around the neck and shoulders. Their smart construction folds compactly like a fan for traveling, like something out of The Jetsons. Made from repurposed silks, they combine her love for the visual transformation between flat patterns that become three-dimensional when worn, reducing waste, and using color as an accent to her neutral black, gray, white, and indigo palette.  

TREFNY DIX AND BENGT HOKANSON

      Collaboration is key to Trefny Dix and Bengt Hokanson’s blown glass vessels. Working together since 1996, the duo is inspired by everything from 1920s purses, to graffiti and computer circuits. Their work is varied, calling on Italian methods like the use of murrine and canes for pattern, and Swedish influences in their employment of thick, clear glass and large spots of color to frame and offset their colorful murrine.

Their designing works in stages—often starting with discussion of a new murrine or surface texture they want to explore; then moving on to color choice; what form expresses the pattern best; and finally how to achieve the design in mind. “We work out issues with the size, form, surface application, blowing, and shaping techniques, trying to achieve the concept behind the piece,” Dix explains. “Sometimes the piece goes through such a transformation from the idea one of us started with that it becomes a true collaborative effort.” Skilled colorists, their glass has an energetic movement and fluidity, and the heavy use of color demonstrates their skill in the glassblowing. Like all the artists in the show, Dix and Hokanson are thrilled to be returning this year. “We consider exhibiting in the Smithsonian Craft Show to be a high career achievement. The artists have been selected because their work represents a high standard of creativity and technical mastery within their mediums. It is an honor to show our work with the other artists.”

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Jill DeDominicis is a former Ornament staff writer and editor whose love for wearable art and all things craft remains strong. She works at Mingei International Museum, a craft, folk art and design museum in lovely Balboa Park in San Diego, California. DeDominicis is delighted to be covering this year’s Smithsonian Craft Show held in the nation’s capital at the National Building Museum. With its one hundred twenty artists in all craft media, the show provided an ample opportunity to write and learn more about some of her favorite contemporary artists who are showing their work.

Wiley Sanderson Volume 40.3

WILEY SANDERSON PAGE in a promotional packet for the University of Georgia’s art department, circa 1955. Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries.

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Τhe stories about photographer Wiley Sanderson (1918–2011) are legendary and sometimes shocking. Most of them come from his students and colleagues at the University of Georgia and involve his insistence that the darkroom be spotless (did he really make students lick the floor to prove its cleanliness?), his raging diatribes and his inclination to pop out his glass eye to show the custom “WS” logo painted on it. When his work was included recently in a craft history exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, visitors who knew him were surprised to learn that this single-minded, unyielding pioneer in bringing pinhole cameras to university classrooms was also an accomplished mid-century jeweler, metalsmith and weaver. Few people, even within his own community, were aware that for two decades, from the late 1940s through the late 1960s, he investigated the possibilities of materials and techniques in modern jewelry.

 
It’s up to today’s craftsmen to make tomorrow’s heirlooms... Machines can’t shape metal, blend threads or mold clay like a pair of loving hands.
— Wiley D. Sanderson
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      Wiley Devere Sanderson, Jr., was born in Detroit, Michigan, to a mother who became head of the home economics department at Wayne State University and a father who was an electrical engineer. He took an early interest in photography and soon developed an awareness of craft and design as well. He attended Olivet College in Michigan, and studied at the Mills College Summer Session of 1940 in Oakland, California, with Bauhaus artists László Moholy-Nagy and György Kepes. Then, from 1941 to 1945, he served as an instrument flying instructor in the United States Army Air Corps, teaching pilots how to use the complex instruments on cockpit panels. He married Rosella “Roz” Nagle (1926–2010) in 1944, and they had three daughters.

Following World War II, Sanderson returned to school on the G. I. Bill and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in industrial design and crafts, with distinction in metalsmithing, from Detroit’s Wayne State University in 1948; there he studied traditional methods under Arthur Nevill Kirk, a prominent English-born silversmith. Next, Sanderson attended Cranbrook Academy of Art, near Detroit, and obtained his Master of Fine Arts degree in metalsmithing and design in 1949. He arrived at Cranbrook just as metals classes resumed following an erratic period of operation due to the Depression, materials shortages during the war and staffing changes. Richard Thomas, who had just graduated from the program, became the new metals teacher in 1948, when Sanderson arrived, and taught there until 1984.(1) Sanderson excelled and received a Silver Medal for Metalsmithing from the faculty upon graduation.(2)

      Sanderson wrote in his thesis, “Metal Expression by Centrifugal Casting,” that centrifugal casting (in which he used the lost-wax method to create a mold that he then put in a machine that spun the mold, forcing metal into the cavity) had “grown in stature through industrial research,” and described its value to craft as “its directness of fabrication.” He added, “My enthusiasm over this new-found technique was spurred on by the freedom and inspiration of Cranbrook.” The centrifugal casting technique was developed in England in the early nineteenth century, revived by dentists in the early twentieth century, then, according to Janet Koplos and Bruce Metcalf in Makers: A History of American Studio Craft, was adopted by jewelry manufacturers in the 1930s, with studio jewelers following close behind. Marbeth Schon, in Form & Function: American Modernist Jewelry, 1940-1970, credits Bob Winston as the first to incorporate the process into courses at an institution of higher learning, the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, in the mid-1940s. So, when Sanderson focused on the technique at Cranbrook, it was a relatively new skill for a studio craftsman and he was helping to expand and refine the process. Mickey Story, an instructor in the Applied Arts Department at Texas Technical College, referenced Sanderson’s thesis when she wrote Centrifugal Casting as a Jewelry Process in 1963, which indicates that his research was considered informative and important within the field.

Illustrations of Sanderson’s work from his time at Cranbrook appear in a jewelry textbook from 1953 by D. Kenneth Winebrenner, Jewelry Making as an Art Expression, and include a brooch consisting of a cast silver biomorphic shape pierced by a hammered gold wire suggesting a facial profile, cast silver earrings of abstract human figures, a silver ring with a rounded hollow box formed around a pearl, and a cast and enameled brooch with a reclining stick figure. Sanderson revealed his practical approach when noting of the ring that the box would protect the pearl from wear, and of the brooch that casting the raised lines of the stick figure avoided “troublesome solder joints in enameling.”

 

BROOCH of sterling silver and rhinestones, 6.4 x 4.8 x 2.5 centimeters. Collection of Janet Sanderson Johnson. Photograph by Demitra Thomloudis.

 

      Shortly following his graduation in 1949, Sanderson moved to Athens, Georgia, to teach craft at the University of Georgia, and remained there for the rest of his career. Like other programs around the country, the art department at UGA expanded rapidly in the years following World War II with returning servicemen attending school on the G. I. Bill. As the craft instructor, Sanderson covered topics in metals and textiles; the other craft area taught there, ceramics, had its own faculty. A description of the skills covered in one of Sanderson’s jewelry and metalwork classes, listed in the university’s 1950-51 catalogue, reads, “a thorough grounding in the techniques necessary to execute well-designed objects in metal; including forming, chain-making, chasing, repoussé, stone setting, tool making, metal finishing, enameling, and centrifugal casting,” reflecting Sanderson’s broad knowledge of techniques. 

In 1950, Sanderson received a prestigious scholarship to attend a silversmithing workshop conference, the fourth of five annual conferences organized by Handy & Harman, a New York City–based company that refined and sold precious metals. Organized by the artist and educator Margret Craver, these four-week summer workshops were important in promoting metalsmithing in the United States and establishing a network among modern educators in this field.(3

In an interview with the Detroit News, Sanderson extolled the importance of the workshop: “It’s up to today’s craftsmen to make tomorrow’s heirlooms... Machines can’t shape metal, blend threads or mold clay like a pair of loving hands.”(4) He described silversmithing as “almost a lost art” in the United States until the workshops began. Sanderson acknowledged that the objects created by silversmiths were expensive because they required so much labor but proposed that, with more opportunities to see such work, the public would realize that “hand-wrought metal has more individuality, more warmth than machine-made products.” Sanderson created a modern coffee pot during the workshop that was included in a traveling exhibition of works completed by the participants.

 

BROOCH of sterling silver and rhinestone, 2.5 x 4.8 x 1.6 centimeters. Collection of Janet Sanderson Johnson. Photograph by Demitra Thomloudis.

 

      Sanderson’s research during his first two decades at UGA included woven and printed textiles, and, increasingly, photography, but throughout the 1950s and well into the 1960s jewelry and metals remained important. The university required departments to submit annual reports with highlights of each faculty member’s activities and requested regular updates from professors for their personnel files. Though Sanderson’s submissions generally were cursory, they are essential in documenting his accomplishments. In his annual report for 1952-53 he listed his research as “experimental process in centrifugal casting,” and by 1955-56 he was working on developing “a silver-bronze alloy suitable for centrifugal casting,” while “designing and making jewelry for an average of two to three hours per week.” In 1958-59 he specifically noted making jewelry using cire perdue (the lost wax method) and rhinestones; the following year he again highlighted that he used “rhinestones in well-designed contemporary jewelry.”(5) Most modern jewelers at the time used gemstones, so his focus on rhinestones was an atypical, even a radical, choice for an artist of the era. Sanderson also created numerous modern pickle forks, a focus he noted in his 1959-60 materials. (His daughter Janet recalls that he liked pickles, especially the watermelon rind pickles his wife made and canned each summer.)

 
VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of cast silver brooch made to suggest a martini glass.  Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson.

VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of cast silver brooch made to suggest a martini glass. Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson.

 

      The majority of Sanderson’s known surviving jewelry, and much of what is recorded in period photographs he took of his jewelry, is silver, often cast. Several brooches, with colorful rhinestones, have rough textures that create strong contrasts between light and dark. Some works feature small gold accents, such as a gold wire squiggle hanging within an elongated crescent pendant or as round “eyeballs” in an undulating creature-like pendant. One set of cufflinks features lowercase “a”s and belonged to a former president of UGA, while another set of cufflinks with buttons as well features an abstract pattern with roughly radiating lines resembling orange slices; a set of buttons with a brooch, recorded in a photograph, had high relief designs suggesting martini glasses with olives. He marked much of his work with an abstract image of a horned figure, that may, according to his second wife, Mary Sayer Hammond, whom he married in 1983 (he and Roz had divorced around 1970), relate to a portrait a visiting artist did of him titled Satan Sanderson, suggesting an embrace of his reputation for being difficult.

VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of a silver and cocobolo pickle fork. Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson.

      The most unusual area of Sanderson’s jewelry research involved using steel-loaded epoxy to form jewelry, which he first listed as an activity in 1964-65. He also invented a pigment-loaded epoxy to embellish the epoxy/steel-formed pieces, and he noted that it was “a means of ‘enameling’ metals that could not heretofore be enameled by conventional methods.” Unfortunately, no detailed accounts of this research are known. One surviving example of this jewelry is a cone-shaped pendant with bright red “enamel” on the outside and rhinestones affixed randomly to its dark interior. According to his family, he called the material he used “plastic steel,” which is the trade name of a metal-filled epoxy putty used for automotive, plumbing and similar repairs—Devcon’s Plastic Steel was introduced around 1956. His daughter Janet, who sometimes watched him work at home, believes he enjoyed the material because it was easy to use, allowed for freeform creations, and did not require a heat source when applying backs to brooches. Sanderson’s adaptation of this industrial material, and his interest in unconventional and nonprecious materials, was very forward thinking. According to Hammond, Sanderson repeatedly submitted the plastic steel work to competitions and shows, but it was regularly rejected because it was not traditional metal. It was not until several decades later that artists embraced a related modeling-clay-like, metal-infused material, Precious Metal Clay, which emphasizes how ahead of his time Sanderson was.

VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of a cast silver pendant with ebony bead. Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson.

      Sanderson showed his work nationally in the 1950s, including in the First State Fair of Texas Invitational Craft Show, a contemporary jewelry exhibition at the University of Nebraska, and the Third Art Center Invitational Craft Show in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1954, the High Museum of Art, in Atlanta, presented his “unusual and distinctive jewelry,” along with the work of several of his students, in the exhibition “Contemporary Jewelry and Metal.”(6) Later, the exhibition “Craftsmen of the Southeastern States,” the last in a series of regional surveys organized by the American Craftsmen’s Council [ACC (Now known as the American Craft Council)], included a cast silver pendant with an aquamarine, titled The Gemologist, and a cast and forged silver and gold pickle fork by Sanderson. This show traveled during 1963–64 to the Atlanta Art Association, the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City.

Like many university art faculty, Sanderson also gave lectures and led workshops outside of his classroom, and these reflected his interests in contemporary design and jewelry. He presented a survey of contemporary design in metalwork to the Athens Home Demonstration Club in 1952; in 1957 he led a five-day workshop sponsored by the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild at the Atlanta Art Institute on handwoven rugs, emphasizing Scandinavian flossa and rya methods; in 1959 he spoke to the Art Center Association in Louisville, Kentucky, about “Jewelry Design Today.” He addressed the National Art Education Association in Tampa, Florida, in 1960, about “Design for Today’s Craftsman.” In 1963 he gave a lecture on centrifugal casting at the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair and Conference in Tennessee; and in 1967 he spoke about contemporary design to the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild. He led two workshops for southeastern regional conferences of the ACC, one on centrifugal casting in 1963 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and one titled “Photography for the Craftsmen” in 1966 in Athens, and was a founding member and early president of the Georgia Designer-Craftsmen group, which was organized in 1959 in Atlanta and affiliated with the ACC. 

PENDANT of metal-loaded epoxy and rhinestones, 7.0 x 3.8 x 0.6 centimeters.  Collection of Janet Sanderson Johnson. Photograph by Demitra Thomloudis.

PENDANT of metal-loaded epoxy and rhinestones, 7.0 x 3.8 x 0.6 centimeters. Collection of Janet Sanderson Johnson. Photograph by Demitra Thomloudis.

      As skilled as Sanderson was in crafts, his primary passion was photography. He introduced photography classes at UGA in 1953 and worked to incorporate photography in the craft program by, for example, investigating ways to use it to assist with the teaching of textile design. In 1967 the art department restructured its offerings, and Sanderson focused exclusively on photography, which became its own area, while additional faculty, Glen Kaufman and Robert Ebendorf, were hired to teach in the newly formed areas of fabric design and jewelry and metalwork—Sanderson took pride in having to be replaced, as he saw it, by multiple professors. The transition, though, was not seamless. Space was limited, and the studio that had housed all of craft now needed to accommodate both photography and jewelry and metalwork (fabric design settled in a nearby building), which he viewed as an encroachment into his territory. Indeed, there were arguments over space for years, until jewelry and metalwork moved to a different location on campus.

Sanderson retired in 1989. Though he spent almost half of his teaching career in craft, that area is overshadowed by his time in photography—more than twenty years worth of students have memories of making pinhole cameras with him. In addition to his focus on photography in the later decades of his career, several other factors contribute to the lack of recognition of his role as a mid-century modern jeweler: he rarely talked about his earlier work; his mark is not easy to read nor well known, hampering identification; and, as he was not bound by any need to make a profit from his creations and worked in multiple fields, the volume of his production of jewelry was limited. However, Sanderson created a body of innovative, distinctive work that presents an addition to the canon of mid-century American modern silversmiths, especially in the Southeast, and reflects the spread of modern jewelry techniques and styles in the post-war years.

VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of a design for a sapphire engagement ring in gold (in progress). Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson. PHOTOGRAPH OF WILEY SANDERSON, Detroit News, September 1, 1950. Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries.


1—For more on the history of metalwork at Cranbrook, see J. David Farmer, “Metalwork and Bookbinding,” in Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision, 1925-1950, New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 145-171.
2—Martin Magid, “When I become a man I would like to be an artist,” Photographica World 156: 50, 2017. 
3—Jeannine Falino and Yvonne Markowitz, “Margret Craver: A Foremost 20th Century Jeweler and Educator,” Jewelry, The Journal of the American Society of Jewelry Historians 1: 15, 1996-97. 
4—Joy Hakanson, “Detroit Silversmith Shapes Tomorrow’s Heirlooms,” Detroit News, September 1, 1950. 
5—Annual reports and faculty files are in the collection of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries. 
6—“Surrealistic Touch Marks Baker Show,” Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution, April 25, 1954. The students were Marion Davidson, Dan Berry and Aubrey Henley.

SUGGESTED READING
Ashley Callahan, Annelies Mondi and Mary Hallam Pears
e. Crafting History: Textiles, Metals, and Ceramics at the University of Georgia. Athens: Georgia Museum of Art, 2018.
Jeannine Falino, ed. Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design. New York: Abrams in association with the Museum of Arts and Design, 2011. 
Martin Magid. “When I become a man I would like to be an artist,” Photographica World 15: 48-55, 2017. 
Marbeth Schon. Modernist Jewelry 1930-1960, The Wearable Art Movement. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2004.
     —. Form & Function: American Modernist Jewelry, 1940-1970. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2008.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Ashley-Callahan-Contributor2017.jpg

Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. Together with Annelies Mondi, deputy director at the Georgia Museum of Art, and Mary Hallam Pearse, she recently co-curated an exhibition at the museum titled “Crafting History: Textiles, Metals, and Ceramics at the University of Georgia” that included works by Wiley Sanderson. She was pleased to have a chance to expand the research from that project and appreciated the assistance she received from Sanderson’s daughter, Janet Johnson, scholar Martin Magid who recently wrote about him for Photographica World, his widow Mary Sayer Hammond, and everyone at the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries. 

Checha Sokolovic Volume 40.3

SEARCHING BROOCH of sponge, blackened steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and concrete, 7.0 x 8.0 x 2.0 centimeters, 2015.  Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

SEARCHING BROOCH of sponge, blackened steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and concrete, 7.0 x 8.0 x 2.0 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

The rose-colored slice of cement has the look of a particularly appealing piece of industrial fabrication. Perhaps it is a fixture for a designer kitchen. At 4.5 inches across and about 1/3-inch thick, it is solid and sturdy looking, but also sleek. Slim stainless steel bands encase the outer and inner edges of this pink wheel, and if you pick it up you know exactly what to do with it: slide it over your wrist.

      The cement, stainless and aluminum bangle Pretty in Pink was made by Checha Sokolovic, a Seattle jewelrymaker with an architect’s eye for bold, unfussy design and a builder’s fondness for industrial materials. Besides cement, Sokolovic works with concrete, commercial quality vinyl, brass washers meant for plumbing, egg cartons, kitchen sponges, and hunks of charcoal and pumice. To make backings and armatures she mostly chooses stainless steel. When she gets fancy, she adds a little sterling silver.

RING OF THE RISING SUN of sterling silver, concrete and PVC, 6.0 x 1.5 x 5.0 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

PRETTY IN PINK BANGLE of stainless steel, aluminum and concrete, 11.4 centimeters diameter, 2012. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

      Creating jewelry out of humble materials is one of the hallmarks of contemporary artist-made jewelry. Gold and diamonds are lovely, of course, but beauty can also be coaxed out of far less precious materials—an idea that resonates perfectly with Sokolovic’s modernist aesthetic and her reverence for the common materials of our everyday lives. She whips up batches of concrete and cement in her kitchen, pouring them into molds, sometimes including ice cube trays, and browses hardware stores for small shiny bits that catch her eye, such as washers and screws. The effects she achieves are remarkable. Her neckpiece The Dark Side of the Moon is a four-inch disc of concrete raised in the center and pocked as though pummeled by geological forces. To make the piece, Sokolovic dyed the concrete black, framed it in a stainless steel armature and hung it on black rubber tubing. The Dark Side of the Moon is an evocative bit of cosmic poetry, expressed in the most quotidian of materials. 

 

DARK SIDE OF THE MOON NECKPIECE of stainless steel, concrete, dye, and rubber, pendant 10.0 x 4.0 centimeters, rubber cord 107.0 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

 

      A lifelong collector of big, bold jewelry, Sokolovic didn’t start making jewelry until 2010, when she took her first jewelrymaking class at Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle. “My first idea was to make big silver jewelry. I’ve been wearing very big silver jewelry all my life, and I thought I’d make something I liked,” Sokolovic says. “But I saw how expensive it would be to buy that much silver. Then I took a class in alternative materials. Up until then I didn’t realize people made jewelry out of plastic bags and other stuff that might be thought of as trash. What really blows my mind is finding the beauty in all this stuff, including pieces of charcoal I find on the beach.”

Despite her background in building design, Sokolovic had never mixed cement or concrete. On the other hand, she understood their physical properties, and she admired the solid heft and strength of construction materials. “I was inspired to work with cement. You can get all these wonderful textures with cement and one of my first ideas was to try to get the look of a polished concrete floor. Also I thought because I started making jewelry kind of late, I wanted to make something different, something that not many others are doing.” 

 

CEMENT BEADS NECKLACE of cement, rubber, sterling silver clasp, stainless steel cord, 50 centimeters long, each bead approximately 2.5 centimeters, 2013. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

ICE BEAD GAME NECKLACE of ice, sterling silver, 45 centimeters long, each bead approximately 2.5 centimeters, 2012. Photograph by Sean Airhart.

 

      Sokolovic uses Rockite, a mixture of Portland cement and gypsum cement. The resulting material doesn’t shrink as it dries and she can control it when she casts it in her stainless steel metal frames. It is also relatively light to wear compared with concrete, and it has a smoother surface than concrete. Since there are not stones, sand or other materials added, however, her cement mixture can be somewhat brittle. She seals her cement pieces with wax to protect them from water. She points out that cement is not as tough a material as most people believe. “I always make sure to mention that even though cement might sound like a very durable and hard material, these pieces are, in fact quite delicate and need to be handled with care and love.”

Sokolovic says she is a ‘sun freak,’ and that the Sun Goddess jewelry is an antidote to the gray winters of the Pacific Northwest. ‘As soon as I finish making something I always wear it. I want to see how it feels. With the Sun Goddess necklace you put it on and go outside and you feel warmer.’

SUN GODDESS NECKPIECE of PVC, stainless steel and sterling silver rivets, 30.0 centimeters diameter, 2018. SUN GODDESS EARRINGS of PVC, stainless steel and sterling silver. 7.5 centimeters diameter, 2018. SUN GODDESS RING of PVC and sterling silver, 5.0 x 3.0 x 0.5 centimeters, 2018. Photographs by Noel O’Connell.

      Concrete is tougher, and one of her recipes is a mixture of Portland cement and sand. The surfaces of her concrete pieces are rougher since you can see the sand, and the pieces are tougher in that they are less likely to chip. She seals them with a concrete sealant to protect them from water. For The Dark Side of the Moon, she used pre-mixed concrete paste applied over a wire mesh frame.

Her love of charcoal, concrete and stainless steel means that much of Sokolovic’s work is a monochromatic landscape of black, nearly neutral shades of dyed cement, and metal. But in the last year Sokolovic has started working with vivid color thanks to her new enthusiasm for candy-colored polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, the material most of us simply call vinyl. “A friend gave me samples of PVC,” Sokolovic says, displaying place-mat-sized sheets of fire engine red and cobalt blue. “And I find mats in kitchen stores made out of it.” Her new Sun Goddess Collection is a dramatic marriage of brilliant yellow vinyl and riveted stainless steel. The collection includes earrings, bracelet, ring, and neckpiece that resemble golden rays fanning out from a blazing sun. Sokolovic says she is a “sun freak,” and that the Sun Goddess jewelry is an antidote to the gray winters of the Pacific Northwest. “As soon as I finish making something I always wear it. I want to see how it feels. With the Sun Goddess Neckpiece you put it on and go outside and you feel warmer.” If there’s a hint of sunshine, the sun refracts off the golden vinyl tossing bits of yellow light around like the darting choreography of fireflies.

Sokolovic grew up in Sarajevo, in what was then called Yugoslavia. “I loved growing up there, but Sarajevo really had a small town mentality. If you’re a little bit different, you’re made fun of. So wearing big jewelry in the 1980s was my way to rebel a little. It made me a little different. I didn’t want to blend in.” She bought jewelry whenever she could. As a young woman she spent time on a Greek island that she still thinks of as idyllic. But besides the turquoise waters and sunny climate, one attraction was a small jewelry store where on every vacation she bought something. She talks about a silver bracelet that called to her like a siren’s song. 

“I had never seen anything like the bracelet. I think it is probably from Asia. I had to have it. It was as much as my rent for the next month, but I bought it and didn’t eat for weeks.” Sokolovic still has the bracelet, which is a simple though elegant silver-hinged bangle with a clasp closure and a little decorative pattern work. Though she never wears it anymore, she says her reaction to the bracelet a couple of decades ago was a telling sign of her lifelong passion for jewelry.

In 1990 Sokolovic earned her college degree in architectural engineering and urban planning at the University of Sarajevo. When war broke out a few years later she, her mother and sister fled, eventually settling in Vancouver, Canada, where she picked up whatever work she could find. In 1998 she got a job offer from a Seattle architecture firm and relocated to Seattle. A decade later she was laid off and suddenly had free time. At the urging of a friend who noticed her love of jewelry, she signed up for a class at Pratt. Although she comes from a family of artists, and her sister is a self-supporting artist in Canada, Sokolovic says, “I always thought that I’m not that good with my hands, so it took me a long time to finally try. But when I came to class here I was inspired by the idea that I could make exactly what I want. I express myself through wearing jewelry.” And compared to the precise work she does as an interior designer, her current employment, making jewelry is freedom.

 

THE ORIGIN RING of stainless steel, blackened steel, cement, 3.5 x 4.5 x 0.7 centimeters, 2013. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

METEORITE LANDING RING of sterling silver, patina, charcoal, cement, dye, and resin, 7.0 x 3.0 x 5.0 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

 

      Rings are Sokolovic’s favorite jewelry. She likes to wear them and make them. Meteorite Landing is certainly one of her most distinctive. Made at the same time as The Dark Side of the Moon, Meteorite Landing is a hunk of charcoal attached to a cement base, both dyed black and stabilized with resin. To accompany Meteorite Landing, Sokolovic made Meteorite Earrings, also with charcoal. The pieces are a reminder that our little planet spins in a big galaxy where something as random as a meteorite could seriously disrupt our world. Other recent rings include Ring of the Rising Sun, a two-inch-wide sterling silver oblong bisected by a red vinyl half sphere. Though Sokolovic’s cement and charcoal pieces often suggest ancient geology and timelessness, her vinyl and stainless steel jewelry is about light, weightlessness and moods elicited by colors. The Ring of the Rising Sun is dramatic and bold, a ring for an adventurer to wear into the future. Like some of her other work, her vinyl and steel jewelry has a futuristic look. Another newer ring is Tickle Me, which is a tuft of white fur sprouting from a single cardboard cup of an egg carton. There is a sly surrealist humor about it given the image of fur emerging from an egg carton. “Tickle Me is for special occasions,” Sokolovic says. “It’s big, and not very practical. But I like it, and I like the idea that you can tickle yourself.”

 

TICKLE ME RING of sterling silver, egg carton, latex paint, fur, 10.0 x 4.0 x 3.5 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

WINTER BLOOM RING of sterling silver, egg carton, latex paint, rubber,10.0 x 4.0 x 3.5 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

 

      Partly because of her use of geometric shapes, Sokolovic’s work frequently has a space-age minimalism about it. Her vinyl and stainless jewelry would look terrific with any Star Trek outfit. Her looping earrings and bracelets made of thin-gauge stainless steel ribbon also have a futuristic appeal. Atomic Bracelet is a set of three connected stainless steel orbits pivoting around each other thanks to a rivet at the base of the bracelet. A pair of earrings called Twisted suggests a gravity-defying trajectory through space.

Checha Sokolovic wearing her jewelry. Photograph by Krista Welch.

      Outgoing, with a quick smile and dry sense of humor, Sokolovic says she has never had any interest in using gemstones or other precious materials. “I’m not interested in cars. I shop at thrift stores. Maybe it was being raised in a communist, or socialist, country. But I never thought of expressing myself through expensive things. What interests me is making jewelry, wearing it, and seeing other people wear it. Definitely my biggest satisfaction is when I see people wearing my jewelry.” 

Her jewelry isn’t for everyone. It can be heavy. A black and gray cement necklace that she created by pouring cement into ice cube trays and fashioning cement beads demands a sturdy neck and collarbone from anyone wishing to wear it. Sokolovic intended it to be dramatic. “It was inspired by African beads which are similar in shape to my cement beads. It is my homage to all those big, heavy bead necklaces that I like and that kind of hug you when you’re wearing them. I know my jewelry is big, and that everything has weight to it. But that’s part of my idea. The size and weight of my jewelry means that when you put it on, you don’t forget you’re wearing it. It’s a connection between the jewelry and the wearer. You always know it’s there.”

 

PEARLS IN LAVA EARRINGS of sterling silver, stainless steel, concrete, dye, pearls, 1.0 X 7.0 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Nenad Stevanovic.

 

ZEN GARDEN RING of sterling silver, blackened steel, stainless steel, cement, and floral pin frog magnetic attachment, 4.0 x 4.0 centimeters, 2012. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Robin Updike is a Seattle-based arts writer who has followed the Pacific Northwest’s vibrant jewelrymaking scene for nearly thirty years and interviewed many of the region’s jewelry makers. But interviewing Checha Sokolovic for this edition of Ornament was the first time she has met a jewelry artist whose primary materials are cement, concrete and stainless steel. Sokolovic started making jewelry after a couple of decades working in architecture and design, so while her choice of materials may be unorthodox, it makes perfect sense for her. The result is eye-catching jewelry that tweaks our ideas about beauty and preciousness.

Tuareg Jewelry Volume 40.3

ANTIQUE  TCHEROT  AMULETS/ KITABS  FROM MAURITANIA. Not all of these may have been made by Tuaregs, as the workmanship is quite similar between Tuareg and Mauritanian smiths, although the latter usually have better equipped workshops and tools. The square tcherot amulets are of either silver, or silver and copper, with fine crafting, especially the engraving. Because silver wears easily, many of the engravings are now barely visible. Whether the metal is precious, like silver, or base, like copper or brass, does not determine how well it is worked. An intricately and beautifully engraved tcherot from Niger is entirely of brass (Benesh-Liu and Liu 2007: 71). Often, the silver panels are sweated onto the copper, and most are cold-constructed, with bezels holding the front in place. The use of decorative silver balls is also seen in tcherots from Niger (Gabus 1982). Among my favorites are those inspired by and shaped like a stylized  gerba  or their traditional goatskin water containers (Schienerl 1986). Most are made of steel, onto which are sweated panels of silver, copper or bronze, with copper wire loops. Some may have been covered with leather, with cutouts for the metal, decorative panels; one on this page, which is new, has this leather treatment. These range from 3.0 to 6.6 cm long.  Courtesy of Brinley Thomas (small gerba shape in silver and copper) and Jürgen Busch.

ANTIQUE TCHEROT AMULETS/KITABS FROM MAURITANIA. Not all of these may have been made by Tuaregs, as the workmanship is quite similar between Tuareg and Mauritanian smiths, although the latter usually have better equipped workshops and tools. The square tcherot amulets are of either silver, or silver and copper, with fine crafting, especially the engraving. Because silver wears easily, many of the engravings are now barely visible. Whether the metal is precious, like silver, or base, like copper or brass, does not determine how well it is worked. An intricately and beautifully engraved tcherot from Niger is entirely of brass (Benesh-Liu and Liu 2007: 71). Often, the silver panels are sweated onto the copper, and most are cold-constructed, with bezels holding the front in place. The use of decorative silver balls is also seen in tcherots from Niger (Gabus 1982). Among my favorites are those inspired by and shaped like a stylized gerba or their traditional goatskin water containers (Schienerl 1986). Most are made of steel, onto which are sweated panels of silver, copper or bronze, with copper wire loops. Some may have been covered with leather, with cutouts for the metal, decorative panels; one on this page, which is new, has this leather treatment. These range from 3.0 to 6.6 cm long. Courtesy of Brinley Thomas (small gerba shape in silver and copper) and Jürgen Busch.

The Tuareg are a nomadic, Berber or Tamazight/Tamasheq speaking people, most of whom live in the Saharan and Sahelian regions—southern Algeria, western Libya, eastern Mali, northern Niger, and northeastern Burkina Faso (www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/anthropology-and-archaeology/people/tuareg). Gabus (1982) adds Mauritania, confirmed by Hillary and Abdou Louarti (pers. comm.) for eastern Mauritania and a bit of Nigeria. With the current African diaspora, Tuareg now also live in Europe and the United States.

 

SQUARE, CROPPED TRIANGLE AND TRIANGLE TCHEROT AMULETS FROM MAURITANIA. Two are of steel, one of tin (?) and copper/silver and one of brass, copper and silver. All are finely engraved and have engraved geometric plaques, many triangular, sweated onto their bases and cold-assembled via bezels. Note the rolled tube, used for holding the bent wire copper loops. Again, there is the dual role of the amulet shape and its decorations offering protection, especially regarding the triangular shapes. These are 3.3 to 5.1 cm high.

THREE GERBA AND ONE TRIANGULAR TCHEROT AMULETS. Largest gerba-shaped one is new, of copper covered with leather, with cutouts revealing the white metal/brass panels, poorly engraved, with copper tube and large copper/white metal balls at the tips of the stylized goatskin form, 9.5 cm high and smallest 4.4 cm high. Lower ones are antique, of steel, silver, copper, and/or brass.

THREE VINTAGE CROSSES OF AGADEZ AND IFERWANE. Mauritanian, of cast silver alloy, then tooled; note that engraving is worn on right-hand specimen, which is engraved on reverse/obverse, as is middle one. One to left newer, only engraved on obverse; 7.0 to 8.4 cm high. According to Creyaufmüller (1983), the upper and lower portions of such crosses have at least 20 and 28 variations respectively. Courtesy of J. Busch.

THREE CROSSES OF AGADEZ OR INARANGANAK. Strung on wool; traditionally worn with 3 - 5 crosses, also on cotton or synthetic fibers, according to Ethnic Embellishments. Courtesy of J. Busch.

Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament Magazine and Ethnic Embellishments, where noted.

Tuareg smiths utilize great hand and mental skills, and with a few simple tools produce wonderful ornaments. Truly, while their work is small, their skills and vision are large.

      For a nomadic people, the Tuareg have a large and varied assortment of jewelry, worn from head to ankle,  as well as perhaps the most diverse use of materials and techniques among African jewelers. Unlike jewelers of the Mahgreb, Tuareg smiths or inadan wan-tizol (makers of weapons and jewelry) have a very simple tool kit, suited for an itinerant life and reminiscent of early Native American jewelers. Tuareg jewelers are now very active in Africa and abroad (Benesh-Liu and Liu 2007, Cheminée 2014, Liu 2017). Jewelry or jewelry components often attributed to the Tuareg are also worn by other tribal groups, such as the Bella, Fulani, Moors, and Wodaabe, as shown in photographs by Fisher (1984), as well as Mauritanians (Gabus 1984; Hillary and Abdou Louarti, pers. comm.). Berber and Mauritanian metal jewelry can also be confused with Tuareg adornment, although the latter are usually with less embellishment. While Tuareg jewelry is prominent in the marketplace and their smiths have high visibility (Benesh-Liu and Liu 2007, Bernasek 2008, Cheminée 2014, Liu 2017), their work has been largely ignored in the excellent French literature on Maghreb jewelry. Camps-Fabrer (1990) shows only one page of Tuareg jewelry, while others in the Édisud series have no coverage, and the recent extensive collection of North African jewelry (Chakour et. al. 2016) also does not include Tuareg work. This article only covers amulets/tcherots/kitabs, crosses and some rings, a very limited representation of the Tuareg jewelry repertoire and examples made by Mauritanians or other Berber peoples.

TRADITIONAL OLD TUAREG SHELL AND LEATHER HAMSAS. Niger, one has been embellished with green-dyed leather and red vinyl threads and strung into a contemporary-designed necklace of coral, stone beads and carved conus shell disks. One of the hamsa pendants has grooves on each of the five shell pieces; hard to determine if these are natural features or carved. Other shell squares are ridged in middle. The five geometric shell pieces are an abstraction of the five fingers or hamsa. Fisher’s photo (1984: 206) demonstrates their ubiquity among Niger Tuareg women. Courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

TRADITIONAL TUAREG SHELL AND LEATHER HAMSA OR KHOMESSA. Algeria, acquired in 1994: of shell and leather, it is strung on a thick cord wrapped with glass seed beads and leather. A very similar example is shown in Leurquin (2003: 54). The pendant is 10.2 cm wide and the shell has not been identified, possibly Arca? This type of pendant is also made in metal, of a silver alloy; Bernasek (2008: 11) states they are worn by Tuareg women in the Algerian Sahara. There are also pendants where a triangle is joined to a modified hamsa, both antique (Leurquin 2003: 54) and new, as seen on the last page of this article. The making of a popular form of an object in various materials is known as transposition (Liu 1995b). Courtesy of J. Busch.

      Angela Fisher (1984: 194) perhaps best summarized how intensely Tuareg smiths feel about their work, while referring to a padlock one had decorated: “For you this is as small as my thumbnail, for me it is huge. Look—there is the ant, the hyena, the jackal, the horse’s hoof, the moon, the stars and the sun, the good eye, the woman... the devil’s eyebrows, the laughter... that’s our life.” In many ways, she expresses well the conundrum when someone outside of a culture looks at their material goods, whether it is ancient, ethnographic or contemporary jewelry. The observer brings her or his knowledge and aesthetics to understand and evaluate, but usually lacks enough information to truly understand all the symbolism and the deep meaning that the jewelry imparts to that culture. This is especially true in cultures, like the Chinese, where not only the motifs all have symbolic meaning, but their combinations also become phonetic rebuses, further adding to the difficulty in deciphering for outsiders (Bartholomew 2006).

LARGE BOGHDAD CROSS PENDANT AND SMALL MOROCCAN BERBER BOGHDAD. The former are old and most likely from central Mali, Tuareg territory; not soldered but riveted silver. The Berber boghdad is also silver, old and from southern Morocco. Both of these antique crosses are very similar to the Trarza examples shown, although neither have wood backing. NEW BOGHDAD CROSS PENDANT. Niger, of brass and leather, showing mix of traditional Tuareg jewelry with modern appeal. Obverse and reverse: reverse has hallmark/signature of the maker. Courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

OLD SILVER PENDANTS. Niger, open-work/pierced pieces, these were normally sewn onto the front of a leather kitab or amulet, holding verses for the Qur’an and/or other protective writings, and worn as a necklace. Small tisek rings at top middle with agate or carnelian made in Idar-Oberstein: these were woven into women’s hair as ornaments: old, Niger, also Mali. Small silver and metal hair ornaments on a string are mostly from Niger. Many of these are a stylized form seen in North African jewelry of the Punic goddess Tanit, with a triangular shape topped by a circle, sometimes with a horizontal line where the circle and triangle meet, like arms. Courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

      Gabus (1982) and Cheminée (2014) provide excellent comparisons and contrasts of how Tuareg smiths work in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, through the former’s wonderful sketches by Hans Ernie and the latter’s photographs and interviews. Tuareg smiths have changed very little in their work processes or their tools and equipment. All still work while seated on the ground, often using a forked piece of wood as the work surface, with a square anvil (in contrast to horned anvils used by other North/West African jewelers) pounded into the ground. Both hands and feet are used, the latter to hold or steady the work. A leather bellows is still used to increase the heat and all their tools usually fit into a small box. They cast (lost wax or sand molds), forge, solder, pierce, surface decorate with gravers/punches and cold-connect. Their forging, filing, engraving and punching (with home-made tools) are superb, as well as their ingenious cold-connecting and use of a very large assortment of metals, wood, leather, and plastic. All the engraving is freehand, without an engraver’s block. Their forging skills, utilizing only the small, square anvil and a typical short-handled, heavy hammer, produce impeccable results, especially in older pieces. If one looked closely at the knobs and bosses on their tcherot or crosses, they all are uniform and finely varied. Some are slightly flattened, others pointed or filed into precise, geometric shapes. While silver is the preferred metal, copper, brass, white metal and steel are all utilized, to add color and vitality, much like how Western jewelers use colored golds. Whether precious or base metal, one does not see a difference in the level of workmanship. Their practice of combining different aspects of their design motifs and components into countless variations adds greatly to their vitality. Perhaps unique among African jewelers, Tuareg use imported Idar-Oberstein agate ornaments in an innovative and pragmatic manner, utilizing damaged or broken portions of talhakimt/talhatana, set in metal rings and pendants, as seen in examples on this and opposite page.

Tuareg smiths utilize great hand and mental skills, and with a few simple tools produce wonderful ornaments. Truly, while their work is small, their skills and vision are large.

 

OLD CROSSES FROM NIGER. Silver on top with colored vinyl underneath, backed by aluminum. These demonstrate the Boghdad cross motif that ranges from Morocco to Mauritania and east to Niger. While some of the shapes are similar, these differ considerably from the Mauritanian crosses of Trarza shown. Note the use of red and/or green on these crosses, as well as those on the Crosses of Trarza and the Hamsa necklaces. Photograph by and courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments private collection.

CROSSES OF TRARZA. Mauritanian, of silver/silver alloy, on ebony backing, with suspension loops of copper wire or the wood backing drilled width-wise. Wood is prized in Mauritania (Leurquin 2003: 57). Some crosses are inlaid with plastic or have additional shaped elements of plastic. The cross with filed geometric red plastic element also has beautifully worked pyramidal elements, besides the round balls. The engraved silver is attached to the ebony via rivets, the heads of which are the silver balls. Some of these may have been made in Boutilimit Province but Gabus (1984: 102-103) shows similar examples from Medérdra, Mauritania. The crosses are either strung on cord, twisted leather or multiple strands of leather/cord. These range from 3.9 to 6.1 cm high, excluding loops. Courtesy of J. Busch.

 

TUAREG AND MAURITANIAN JEWELRY, INCORPORATING EUROPEAN IMPORTS. Upper left shows assortment of Tuareg rings and pendants that incorporate broken or damaged Idar-Oberstein carnelian talhakimt, as well as an undamaged example, to show which portions are utilized when broken or damaged. Two can be used as rings, while the others are often seen strung on necklaces. The largest example is made as a pendant and is beautiful metalsmithing, with layers of copper/silver on the geometric bosses and finely punched decoration, 14.2 cm long. The small silver ring utilizing the broken top of a talhakimt is known as a tisek ring. The seemingly intact carnelian pendant wrapped in metal is actually cracked; it is similar to the two strung as pendants on the Mauritanian necklace to the right. The elaborately set talhakimt in the center, shown in reflected/transilluminated light, is very unusual; it appears to have a second hole drilled into the stone portion, with both openings ringed by silver. The Mauritanian necklace to the right is a very rare example of using human hair for a necklace; it has carved conus disks and Idar agate pendants, heat-treated red and dyed green ones, with a pendant of Mauritanian gilded metal beads, amber (?), Idar agate drop pendants and an Engina shell dangle. The carved conus shell disks are used by Tuaregs for their tcherots (Leurqin 2003: 55) and by Mauritanian Moors (Gabus 1982, Liu 2008). The silver transposition is also seen in aluminum. Further information can be found in Liu (1995a, 2002, 2008). Courtesy of the late Rita Okrent, Elizabeth J. Harris; David Spetka of Niger Bend, Brinley Thomas, J. Busch/G. Kerschna, Joe Loux, and Frontiers.

 
 

TUAREG AMULET OR TCHEROT WITH IMAGE OF THE CATHOLIC SAINT, ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX. An older piece of silver, white metal and copper; the image is original to the piece, so it was probably custom-made. She is a patron saint of missionaries, and there were Catholic missionaries in Southern Algeria and probably in Niger as well. OLD AXE-SHAPED AMULETS. Most likely from the Mauritanian/Mali border region. Silver alloy or white metal, copper and brass, with bail or loop riveted to the amulet, also done with amber beads in Mauritania. Neither of these amulet types have previously been published. Photographs by and courtesy of the private collection of Ethnic Embellishments.

 
 
 

CONTEMPORARY VERSION OF TRADITIONAL TUAREG HAMSA/KHOMESSA. Niger, fabricated, of brass, copper and leather. It is the melding of a triangular amulet and a doubled hamsa, although with two more elements, so as to make the design symmetrical. Both the triangle and hamsa offer protection. While this pendant is new and in base metals, there is still a good level of crafting. Courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

OLD TUAREG RINGS. The left is a talismanic ring from Niger, the center is a “mosque ring” from Mali; the right is a Fulani playing card motif fused with a Tuareg tisek ring and lastly a man’s tisek ring in the middle. Compare to the tisek ring on top left of opposite page; these all use broken portions of Idar-Oberstein agate talhakimt. Note inlay of copper in right-hand ring. Photograph by and courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

 
 
 

AGATE AND MOLDED GLASS TALHAKIMT, TALHATANA AND TURMRINGS. 1.7 - 7.5 cm long: the oldest are the Indian made agate/carnelian talhakimt (the tall triangular type in pale agate) and talhatana (short triangular type) on the bottom right-hand row, from an ex-museum collection. While these reached West Africa via Mecca (Fisher 1984), and have been discussed by Gabus (1982) and Liu (1977) as to their being the prototypes of European copies in stone and glass, they have never been found in a Tuareg jewelry context, nor the much later German celluloid example, second from right top row or the German agate turmring type (1960s) next to it. Most used are the large agate talhakimt (white pre-1960, red 1960s) and the shorter talhatana types, also on right-hand side of top row. See Kaspers (2018 this issue on dating such agate ornaments) on the Idar-Oberstein industry that made these ornaments. German and English terminology for these ornaments differ (Kaspers 2018, Liu 1977). The smaller talhatana, in either heat-treated or dyed forms are usually worn in the hair, but not by Tuareg, as are the small, molded Czech/Bohemian glass ones. Large Idar talhakimt are also worn by the Dogon, and the larger glass ones in Malian necklaces. Courtesy of the late J. L. Malter, R. Okrent, P.W. Schienerl; Abrima, the Picards, T. Stricker, L. Wataghani, and the Heimat Museum, Idar-Oberstein.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I thank Hillary and Abdou Louarti of Ethnic Embellishments for their informative identifications and comments about Tuareg jewelry, as well as permission to use images of pieces from their inventory and unique private collection and for their excellent photographs. Our study collection of Tuareg jewelry purchased in 1994-95 from Jürgen Busch and Gudrun Kerschna, as well as their gifts, have enabled me to more closely study the personal adornment of this culture. The jewelry shown in this article were documented from the mid-1970s to now. I am very grateful to Dr. Jan Fahey for obtaining a copy of Gabus’s superb 1982 reference on the Sahara for our library; it remains the definitive work on Tuareg jewelry and techniques, covering mid-to-late twentieth century French expeditions.

REFERENCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bartholomew, T.T. 2006 Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art. San Francisco, Asian Art Museum: 352 p.
Benesh-Liu, P.R. and R.K. Liu. 2007 Museum News: The Art of Being Tuareg. Ornament 30 (3): 70-72. 
Bernasek, L. 2008 Artistry of the Everyday. Beauty and Craftsmanship in Berber Art. Peabody Museum Press, Harvard University: 125 p.
Camps-Fabrer, H. 1990 Bijoux Berbères D’Algérie. grande Kbylie-Aurès. La Calade, Édisud: 139 p.
Chakour, D. et. al. 2016 Des Trésors à Porter. Bijoux et Parures du Maghreb. Collection J.-F. et M.-L. Bouvier. Paris, Institute du monde arabe: 160 p.
Cheminée, M. 2014 Legacy. Jewelry Techniques of West Africa. Brunswick, Brynmorgen Press: 232 p.
Creyaufmüller, W. 1983 Agades cross pendants. Structural components & their modifications. Part I. Ornament 7(2): 16-21, 60-61.
     — 1984 Agades cross pendants. Structural components & their modifications. Part II. Ornament 7(3): 37-39.
Fisher, A. 1984 Africa Adorned. New York, Harry N. Abrams: 304 p.
Gabus, J. 1982 Sahara. bijoux et techniques. Neuchâtel, A la Baconnièré: 508 p.
Kalter, J. 1976 Schmuck aus Nordafrika. Stuttgart, Linden-Museum Stuttgart and Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde: 120 p.
Leurquin, A. 2003 A World of Necklaces. Africa, Asia, Oceania, America from the Ghysels Collection. Milan, Skira, Skira Editore S.p.A.: 464 p.
Liu, R. K. 1977 T’alhakimt (Talhatana), a Tuareg Ornament: Its Origins, Derivatives, Copies and Distribution. The Bead Journal 3 (2): 18-22.
     —1987 India, Idar-Oberstein and Czechoslovakia. Imitators And Competitors. Ornament 10 (4): 56-61.
     —1995a Collectibles: Mauritanian Amulets and Crosses. Ornament 19(1): 28-29.
     —1995b Collectible Beads. A Universal Aesthetic. Vista, Ornament, Inc.: 256 p.
     —2002 Rings from the Sahara and Sahel. Ornament 25 (4): 86-87.
     —2008 Mauritanian Conus Shell Disks. A comparison of Ancient and Ethnographic Ornaments. Ornament 32 (1): 56-59.
     —2017 Ethnographic Arts: Jewelers at the International Folk Art Market. Ornament 40 (1): 62-64.
Loughran, K. and C. Becker. 2008 Desert Jewels. North African Jewelry and Photography from the Xavier Guerrand-Hermès Collection. New York, Museum for African Art: 95 p.
Schienerl, P.W. 1986 The Twofold Roots of Tuareg Charm-cases. Ornament 9(4): 54-57.
Van Cutsem, A. 2000 A World of Rings. Africa, Asia, America. Milan, Skira: 230 p.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament, for many years its in-house photographer, as well as a jeweler using alternative materials like bamboo and polyester. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty-plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. A frequent lecturer, some of his topics include precolumbian jewelry, prehistoric Southwest jewelry, ancient Egyptian jewelry, and the worldwide trade in beads. In this issue Liu discusses some aspects of Tuareg jewelry, based in part on the inventory and private collection of Ethnic Embellishments.

Stepping Out Volume 40.3

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SQUARE TOE, SQUARE HEEL, TWINED CHILD’S SANDAL WITH BOLSTER TOE (Ancestral Pueblo) of yucca, leather, ochre, B.C. 500–A.D. 500. The wearer’s second and third toe slipped under the leather strap below the “fringe” that decorates the toe-end of the sandal. A doubled cord then went over the top of the foot and was tied to the ankle and heel straps on either side of the ankle. This sandal is decorated with a red stripe below the leather bolster. Others were more elaborately decorated with red and black geometric designs. Photographs by Chris Dorantes, courtesy of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, except where noted.

BOY’S MOCCASINS (Northern Cheyenne) of buckskin, rawhide, glass beads, sinew, 1875-80. The small and somewhat irregular white beads on these moccasins help date them.

Most of us are acquainted with moccasins: think of kids’ Halloween costumes or old movies; “driving mocs” for the car; high-tech mocs for rock climbing. The eye-opening exhibit “Stepping Out: 10,000 Years of Walking the West,” at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe through December 31, 2018, tells a much bigger story, that dramatically shifts how to see and appreciate traditional handmade Native American footwear. Gorgeous examples, helped by the museum’s especially strong American Southwest and Plains holdings, look as bright and as prepossessing as the day they were made. Excellent wall texts, three full outfits and three videos that demonstrate construction and beading techniques and discuss heritage and innovation, combine to explain the depths of meanings and identity associated with moccasins. Displayed in four regional groups corresponding to historic tribal homelands, they represent millennia of artistry, design and complex cultural significance. “Stepping Out” offers a rich and satisfying understanding of their role in the lives of indigenous people, past and present.

BOY’S MOCCASINS by Santiago Romero (Jemez) of leather, sinew, vegetal dye, 1950s.

      A chronological arrangement begins with prehistoric sandals made of yucca leaves and fibers, and sweeps around the gallery to today. The dry climate of the American Southwest preserved the three-thousand-year-old sandals found in rock shelters far and wide. In a video, archaeologist Mary Weahkee (Comanche/Santa Clara) makes a Mogollon-style pair of yucca sandals, which are surprisingly tough and sturdy. Although simple at first glance, sandals served as exposés. Just like moccasins, they were intended to announce as much about the wearer as about their world. Made by myriad different finger-weave techniques of plaiting, twining or wrapping, some had tiny painted decorative details; in one unworn example, an impossibly intricate raised pattern covers the soles. They all testify to identity and belonging. If you saw a sandal’s imprint in the dust, you not only knew someone had passed by, but you also knew their culture. Whether friend or foe, they also told you whose territory you were in—virtually a GPS system for navigating.

Sandals disappeared in the Southwest around seven hundred years ago, and moccasins appeared. Then as now, moccasins are built of brain-tanned deer, buffalo, elk or moose hides, with thicker rawhide soles, depending on the tribe. Men’s moccasins are usually around ankle height, while women’s rise to the knee. Tall women’s moccasins from Taos Pueblo look almost demure: plain leather falls in soft folds, covered in matte white kaolin clay and fastened with a single concha-style button. In the old days moccasins were sewn by a relative or close friend, and given as a gift; everything anyone wore was acquired one piece at a time. A more recent trend toward designing and making everything as a set at once is seen in a magnificent full outfit made by Jerry Ingram (Blackfeet) around 1991-92, using brain-tanned, smoked elk and deerskin lavishly decorated with porcupine quills, glass beads, feathers, ermine skins, and sinew. 

MAN’S MOCCASINS (Mescalero Apache) of buckskin, rawhide, dye, glass beads, tin tinklers, early 1900s. The heel and vamp fringes on this pair of moccasins share a similar style to men’s moccasins from southern Great Plains tribes.

WOMAN’S MOCCASINS (Shoshone Bannock) of brain tanned elk hide, rawhide, glass beads, brass buttons, sinew, cotton thread, commercial ribbon, 1920–1940. The floral patterns on these Great Basin moccasins were inspired by designs on European and European-styled goods. The Shoshone became famous for their beautifully executed beaded flowers, especially roses.

WOMAN’S MOCCASINS (Comanche) of brain tanned buckskin, rawhide, pollen pigment, glass beads, nickel-plated brass buttons, early 1900s. These tall moccasins protected the wearer’s legs while riding horseback.

      Once European traders arrived with glass beads, the distinctiveness of many tribes’ moccasins grew even more pronounced. Moccasins can be dated by their beads, because the cut, size and colors available changed over time. A mounted board shows the range of bead sizes, starting with miniscule #15 seed beads seen in Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho moccasins. Northwest tribes fell for extravagant beaded florals, like the famous “Shoshone rose,” of which there are several different ones on view. Big, exuberant blossoms could not be sewn using the common lane or hump stitch, in which short lengths of beads are laid down side-by-side to create a solid surface. Instead, as renowned beadwork artist Teri Greeves (Kiowa/Comanche) shows in a nearby video, the two-needle stitch technique was invented to tack down beads in curves. One of the stellar accomplishments of the exhibit is how it helps distinguish between, say, Sioux and Blackfeet—in the designs, the materials and in how they were built. Others are more recognizable: White Mountain Apache moccasins feature a stubby, fuzzy “cactus-kicker” toe; the Shawnee, Kiowa and Comanche favored embellishments of rows of tin cones, or lush heel and side fringes, which happen to cascade gracefully riding on horseback (and made a nice status symbol, too, letting everyone know you owned horses).

MOCCASINS (Hidatsa and Cree) of buckskin, rawhide, quills, glass beads, sinew, brass beads, circa 1880. The quillwork technique on this pair of moccasins is indicative of Hidatsa origins, but the beadwork looks Cree. These may have been made by someone whose background included both tribal traditions or made for someone who descended from both tribes.

BOY’S MOCCASINS (Southern Cheyenne) of buckskin, rawhide, glass beads, sinew, paint, late 1800s. The narrow sole on these shoes is a hallmark of Cheyenne moccasins made for Cheyenne use. The heel and side fringes are often seen on men’s moccasins from the southern Plains.

BEADED CONVERSE ALL-STARS SNEAKERS by Teri Greeves (Kiowa/Comanche) of commercial shoes, glass beads, 1999.

      A properly made moccasin had the patterns and colors signifying the tribe. Bead workers carried over much older geometric, abstract designs that symbolized sacred landscape elements, or important animals, or reminded the wearer of the shared stories and beliefs of the tribe. Among the Plains tribes, beadwork was mixed with quillwork, made from flattened, dyed and sewn porcupine quills, which continued in use for a long time. In a pair of circa 1910 Sioux moccasins, branching, narrow-leaf shapes in quillwork meander across a red field on the vamps (tops). But the wearer, looking down, sees the ears and antlers of a deer’s head: the connotations were personal and spiritual. In the later nineteenth century, when tribes were forced together onto reservations, there was much swapping of designs and techniques, like in the circa 1870-1880s moccasins joining Hidatsa and Cree elements. At dance competitions today at inter-tribal pow-wows, hand-beaded regalia often looks like a mashup of designs from several tribes, prized for its showy elaborateness as much as for the fine quality of the work. 

MOCCASINS WITH BEADED SOLES (Sioux) of cowhide, glass beads, sinew, tin tinklers, cow tail hair, prior to 1890. Commonly thought to be for use in burials, moccasins with beaded soles were in actuality a way to honor living people. They were used in ceremonies, to recognize individual achievement and to show status. Some have wear on the soles, confirming that they were worn to walk on.

      Modesty was not an issue out on the Plains. Possibly the moccasins of the Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho are the most flamboyant in the exhibit. Certainly showstoppers, they are absolutely blazing with bold colors and exquisitely beaded designs. A side text happily blows up a popular myth about fully beaded soles, shown in a handsome pair of Sioux moccasins with two neat rows of yellow hoof prints crossing the bottoms. They were never intended only for burials, as is commonly thought: beaded-sole moccasins were conduits of honor and respect. Old photographs display them worn on horseback for ceremonials, and now they are essential for a celebration or special event.

Moccasins are vital to Native American life. In 2012, Jessica “Jaylyn” Atsye of Laguna Pueblo launched “Rock Your Mocs” day as a way of affirming Native identity. Held the week of November 15, it has grown into a movement across the country (see facebook.com/RockYourMocs). Following in the steps of all Native footwear, where you use whatever materials you have available, some contemporary Native artists have brilliantly integrated mainstream cultural artifacts with beadwork traditions. A pair of Steve Madden high-heel sneakers stands in mid-stride near a child’s high-tops, both fully beaded by Teri Greeves. She explains in an accompanying video that sneakers are “familiar across the planet,” and perfect for telling the story of the Kiowa. Christian Louboutin stiletto heels beaded by Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Sioux) look ravishing and recognizably Native. Native Americans are finding more ways to say who they are. “Stepping Out” jubilantly declares, in the words of the Navajo prayer: “In beauty all day I walk.”

BEADED STEVE MADDEN SHOES by Teri Greeves (Kiowa/Comanche) of commercial shoes, glass beads, 2017. Among the Kiowa, the men were traditionally the pictorial artists. In contrast, Kiowa women created abstract patterns to encode their knowledge of the world. These shoes celebrate those female artists. Each pair of images shows an abstract pattern drawn from Kiowa parfleches (hide containers) or from the beadwork on moccasins, cradleboards, and other items, and pairs that design with the woman who may have created that pattern and its meaning. Photograph by Stephen Lang.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Leslie Clark, a writer and editor with a mad affinity for textiles, is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She was captivated by the exhibition of Native American moccasins at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, not least because of its presentation. “Curator Maxine McBrinn draws you in with stories and commentary that bring alive the personal meanings of moccasins. Tribal cultures and traditions are not trapped in the past; instead the lore and legacy of moccasins seem to make them walk beside us now. Showing through December 2018, it’s a do-not-miss exhibit.”

Iris van Herpen Volume 40.3

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IRIS VAN HERPEN. Photograph courtesy of Jean Baptiste Mondino, Iris van Herpen and the Phoenix Art Museum.

A great deal of passion must reside within Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen. An initial stroll through the capacious Steele Gallery, turned over to van Herpen’s “Transforming Fashion” at the Phoenix Art Museum, makes an immediate visceral jolt that gathers strength visually. Instead of succumbing to an ambiguous desire to flee what appears to be a disturbing alien command center, time begins to slow and the exhibition increasingly captivates, exercising upon one a more cerebral curiosity over the installation. Fifteen distinct collections of forty-five ensembles, dating between 2008 and 2015, are arranged mostly along two very long rows staged with vocalless sentinels garbed in the astonishing, unsettling aesthetic that physically transforms them. But the real experience takes place internally, as the world van Herpen has created is housed in a phantasma of dreams, revelations, nightmares, hallucinations, visions. It is unlikely that many will embrace it; observe it yes, willingly enter it, probably not.

      Since the young designer’s first collection in 2007, at the age of twenty-three, her work has transcended the shock value she is known for in the “gowns” designed for celebrities like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Björk, and Tilda Swinton. Her works are designed for the female form of which we are accustomed, but the body is really a springboard for sculptural compositions that serve her drive for incorporating modern discoveries and innovations into her collections. They have become an important vehicle for arriving at a place where her experimentations reveal something seminal and descriptive about the nature of the human body through the power of dress. A dialogue considered necessary, she has described, as being “between our inside and our outside.”

      Science and technology are her muse and the primary stimulus to her creations. And it is here that van Herpen’s evolving aesthetic vision is most consistent, reflecting a personal desire to plunge into and plumb the depths of what modern technology offers the human experience, positively and negatively. We have been living in such a world for some time; so van Herpen’s work is a venture in making sense of our quickly changing temporal landscape. It is one that no longer quantifies life in futuristic imaginings but in the daily here and now, whether we embrace it or endeavor to escape.

MICRO DRESS from 2012 collection of metallic coated stripes, tulle and cotton. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

      “Looking around me,” she has written, “I consider what I can’t see as much as what I can see, and that transformative focus creates freedom in my work. Each garment and every collection is an embodiment to new understanding and discovery, on the conceptual level, on the level of materiality and on the level of femininity. It’s my search for new forms of femininity through organic silhouettes, delicate craftsmanship, innovation and the collaboration with other artists, architects and scientists.”

In her collections, van Herpen uses 3D printing for garment construction and materials such as laser-cut acrylic mesh and resin. More recently in Lucid, from 2016, one of her more fascinating iterations, she chose lucid dreaming as the subject, where the dreamer, while exercising some sense of control, is aware of dreaming. “When I design,” she says, “the draping process most of the time happens to me unconsciously. I see lucid dreams as a microscope with which I can look into my unconsciousness.” In a collaboration with architect Philip Beesley, Lucid manifests what van Herpen terms “the fine line between reality and unreality,” a useful theme that can be drawn throughout her collections. Astonishingly, one of the dresses was composed of five thousand TPU-92A-1 transparent hexagonal laser-cut elements, a thermoplastic polyurethane. This use on a grand scale of a modern material inspires some sense of awe.

From 2012, Micro is a collection inspired by scientific photographer Steve Gschmeissner’s works. Gschmeissner uses Scanning Electron Microscope  (SEM) technology to reveal the plastic universe of microorganisms and how beautiful they are in their infinite diversity. With this collection van Herpen set about trying to make visible a world unseen by us but still an equally vital one, inhabiting and sharing the same plane as our own.

Gschmeissner’s photographs are taken of specimens that are chemically fixed to preserve their inherent structures, but van Herpen veered in a different direction, interested in taking another path, desiring rather to create more imaginative organisms than ones that actually exist. It too is a plastic world and the forms swirl, grow and change, bulge, encapsulate, shoot off into space. Whatever the collection, the overarching theme is repetition and reiteration. It is everywhere in van Herpen’s work and sharpens her desire to exalt and honor the inner and exterior movement that all living organisms possess.

 

RADIATION INVASION DRESS from 2009 collection of faux leather, gold foil, cotton, and tulle. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

 

      2009’s Radiation Invasion marked the beginning of the challenging themes that resonate throughout her annual collections and van Herpen’s grappling with some understanding of technology’s role in society (and perhaps, rule thereof) and how it inevitably affects the physical body and spirit. The idea seemed to stem from an intercontinental phone conversation that caused van Herpen to question the unimaginable flow of digital information that takes place and how it is everywhere, ubiquitous in its presence, drowning us, but also lifting us to spheres we cannot possibly anticipate. She began to develop more thoroughly a simple concept based on repetition, endless repetition, communicating energy and powerful forces, both fascinating and repulsive. It has dominated her work ever since, possessing her, driving her passions.

How can humanity possibly survive in such an environment? Van Herpen’s answer seems not to be reticent: survive we must; just make it work for you in the best way creatively possible.

“Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion,” shows at the Phoenix Art Museum,
Phoenix, Arizona, through May 13, 2018.

INSTALLATION VIEWS. Photographs by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and our in-house expert on contemporary wearable art. As Ornament’s resident itinerant, she moves to and fro across the USA in search of inspiring craft, great experiences and, of course, excellent food. Benesh reviewed the astonishing Iris van Herpen show at the Phoenix Art Museum this March, during a stay in the city to attend the Heard Museum Indian Fair. Both museums have fascinating and probing permanent collections as well as temporary, such as the van Herpen show at PAM and the jewelry of Richard Chavez at the Heard.

Tattoo Exhibition Volume 40.3

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In Moby Dick, Herman Melville bemoaned the ephemerality of tattoos: “These mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed.” How does one display—much less demystify—this “living parchment” in a museum setting? A touring exhibition organized by the Musée du quai Branly in Paris—and most recently seen at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (November 19, 2017 - April 15, 2018) —offers a novel solution: silicone torsos, arms and bottoms decorated with tattoos commissioned for the show from prominent contemporary tattoo artists like Chuey Quintanar, who was born in Mexico but moved to Long Beach, California, as a child, and Leo Zulueta, who grew up in Hawaii and draws inspiration from traditional Micronesian tattooing. (Zulueta refuses to copy traditional tribal designs faithfully, however, considering it disrespectful.) The Los Angeles installation highlights the city’s own rich tattooing history and contemporary skin art scene. Today, Southern California is known for the black-and-gray style of finely detailed, single-needle tattoos, which spread from East Los Angeles via the U.S. prison system.

      Some of these tattoos offer so much coverage that they resemble clothes more than ink. Tattoo traditions have much in common with textile production. Needles “embroider” the skin; carved tattoo blocks recall those used to block-print textiles. The Ainu women of northern Japan wear textiles embroidered with patterns similar to those used in their tattoos; a gorgeous embroidered robe is on display. The show privileges full-limb or full-body tattoos over the more familiar Pokemon characters, roses, or “tramp stamps.” One Ed Hardy design on display is a single giant squid covering the entire body, except the lower arms; it was created for a surgeon, who wanted to be able to roll up his sleeves to scrub in without revealing his tattoo. Japan, in particular, is associated with “bodysuit” tattoos; though they were outlawed in the late 1800s, they remained in favor with the yakuza, perpetuating the link between tattoos and crime that persists in Japan (and elsewhere) today. 

      As trendy as tattoos may be, they have a five-thousand-year history, covering almost every continent and every time period. The oldest known tattoo was discovered on the body of a fifty-three-hundred-year-old mummy found in the Alps. Tattoos have been used to identify, beautify, mark rites of passage or physical maturity, and confer protection, fertility, or healing. England’s National Maritime Museum has mounted excellent exhibitions on the seafaring history of tattoos, but this show’s anthropological approach allows for a broader geographic, thematic and temporal scope. It reminds us that “tattoo” is both a noun and a verb; if there is one thing these disparate global tattooing traditions have in common, it is that the process is as important as the end result. 

Tattoos have always been made and worn by men and women alike. In some tribes in Borneo, men carve tattoo blocks but women are responsible for the tattooing. Among the Ainu, tattooing is performed exclusively by and on women, including around the mouth. Indigenous Arctic women acquire chin stripes to indicate that they are ready to marry. Jessie Knight became the first full-time, professional female tattooist in the U.K. in 1921; she took several years off after she got married, returning in the late 1930s just in time to ink the men and women fighting World War II. 

Tattoos have functioned as signs of status as well as brands of shame, combining physical and psychological pain. In the nineteenth century, criminals were branded with tattoos. Simple pictures inked on the hands of prisoners in the Russian gulag told their life stories: their crimes, their years behind bars, their number of convictions. Victims of the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust were tattooed, for identification as well as humiliation. A haunting photo shows twelve-year-old concentration camp survivor Aljoscha Lebedew displaying his tattoo, a mutilation he would bear for the rest of his life. But many of these painful reminders have now been appropriated as badges of honor. Prison tattoos are a thriving and respected subgenre. Grandchildren of concentration camp survivors have voluntarily had their grandparents’ identification numbers inked on their arms as indelible memorials.

YONYUK WATCHIYA “SUA.” An exhibition print, from Bangkok, Thailand, 2008-2011. Photograph by Cedric Arnold, courtesy of Galerie Olivier Waltman. KORURU OR PARATA (gable mask) of carved wood, white pigment, paua shell, Maori, New Zealand, nineteenth century. Photograph by Thierry Olivier and Michel Urtado. WHANG-OD OGGAY. An exhibition print, from the Philippines, 2011. Photograph by Jake Verzosa.

TATTOOED SILICONE TORSO. Leo Zulueta, 2013. Photograph by Thomas Duvall.

      If tattoos seem to be everywhere today, they are also under threat. Several indigenous tattooing traditions were outlawed or erased by missionaries in the aftermath of the so-called “Age of Discovery,” when Western explorers and traders first encountered tattoos. In 1876, Thomas Edison patented an electric steel pencil that inspired some of the first electric tattoo machines, which were advertised as being faster and less painful than tattooing by hand. This technology—quickly adopted worldwide—popularized tattoos and paved the way for intricate new pictorial styles, but also led to the demise of time-honored techniques. Many artists working today have gone back to the old-fashioned methods. Traditional Maori tattooing—an exceptionally painful blend of tattooing and scarification, using chisels to cut channels into the skin, including the face—is enjoying a renaissance in modern-day New Zealand, a “so old it’s new” expression of cultural pride. But new technology is continually revolutionizing tattoo art. The show ends with a silicone arm sheathed in a glow-in-the-dark “sleeve” tattoo that can only be seen under black light in a nightclub.

The exhibition is wonderfully varied in its materials; in addition to silicone forms, video and photography, there is a wealth of historic tattoo-making equipment, from needles and blocks to small sculptures made of the compressed ashes of cremated monks or burnt religious manuscripts, used for making ink in Myanmar. If there is a fault to this otherwise extravagant display, it is of being too big; one can only look at so many electric needles before one’s skin begins crawling with revulsion—or itching for a tattoo of one’s very own.

     Get Inspired!

 
 

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Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles. 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. Chrisman-Campbell was recently honored by the Costume Society of America, receiving an award for the Betty Kirk Excellence in Research Award. For this issue, she gets under the skin of the “Tattoo” exhibition at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.

Freehand Jewelry Show Volume 40.3

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ROBERTA AND DAVID WILLIAMSON

An unassuming storefront along Los Angeles’s bustling West Third Street is a creative way-station for those in the know. Freehand Gallery has been in business since 1980, the carefully stewarded brainchild of Carol Sauvion. Its longevity is a remarkable tribute to the enduring power of craft as an aesthetic and cultural force. As you step through the door, a welcoming sanctuary of handmade contemporary craft offers a respite from the turbulence of life outside its walls. Large windows, in which ceramics, sculpture and other fine works reside on a temporary basis, let in the soft Southern California light. It is an unassuming, unpretentious space and one that invites you to enjoy its offerings in a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere. One can slow down here and take time to enjoy the creative endeavors of artists from all over the country. Throughout the year handmade objects spill over shelves, tables, counters, and displays—a rich tapestry of all the craft media—ceramics, metalwork, decorative fiber, glass, and jewelry. However, each spring, Freehand is devoted to jewelry and the pace of the gallery quickens. From April 21 through June 2, 2018, this year’s annual jewelry show, entitled “Back Again, Forever,” focuses on the way jewelry evokes memories, even imagined ones, of times long past, inducing reflection on possibilities yet to come.

      The eleven jewelers and one clothing maker who were selected create a synthesis between the traditional and the contemporary, each with their own way of paying homage to artists of earlier eras. Roberta and David Williamson, who have been making jewelry together since the 1970s, have a strong and familiar connection with memory. Their work often includes lithographs, a moment frozen in time, harkening to a bygone age. Yet their intent is not to be held back by the past, to dwell in an imagined history that is frozen and unchanging. Rather, their jewelry seeks to connect the past and present, reminding us of those perfect moments that existed then, and still exist now.

RAÏSSA BUMP

The connection between past and present can be interpreted in many ways, some more abstract than others. Raïssa Bump is fascinated by texture. Miniature pearls and seed beads are woven into or adorn the surfaces of many of her brooches, necklaces and earrings. This constant finds itself expressed through many variations, and the results often find a way to echo our primeval beginnings. A bracelet, featuring half-moons of silver and a loose chainmail of wire strung with golden beads, calls to mind European filigree. Nevermind that the method she employs deviates in some important ways to that ancient technique—memory is a strange animal, a carnival hall of mirrors that even though refracted recalls an impression of the original.

MARU LOPEZ

Traditional culture is also a method of remembering. Puerto Rican Maru Lopez moved to the mainland and now resides in San Diego. She takes inspiration from ancient Central American jewelry, using primarily nonprecious metals such as brass to provide the golden glitter that was so prized among precolumbian peoples. Her own contribution to that creative lineage is the use of hand-dyed resin, self-made gemstones as it were. The work she does is both preservation, and play.

Kathlean Gahagan also honors the past through her jewelry. As the daughter of Jewish and Irish parents, she fuses together both heritages in her brooches and pendants. Incorporating Celtic runes, Hebrew script and other symbols native to the two cultures, her interpretative work has kinship with ethnic jewelers for whom these emblems make up a visual lexicon. Each speaks to the viewer in a similar fashion, by employing a common tongue which stirs feelings of belonging and shadows of understanding.

As curators of craft, galleries are a stage upon which the artists being featured are the actors. But the setting can be equally important. Galleries are more than just entrepreneurial exercises, when managed correctly, and Freehand is an example of that. They provide a human connection that elevates the artwork being sold, allowing you to interact with the work, and with the gallery staff who can relate the history behind each piece. Freehand has embodied these qualities, honoring craft with its roots in function and purposeful making, throughout its thirty-eight-year presence in the craft field.

The “Back Again, Forever” show illustrates this by being both venue, experience and source. The gallery’s openness (except when filled with jewelry enthusiasts and onlookers) and receptive environment are an invitation to take pleasure in just observing. And perhaps, buying, if what you see calls to mind a memory, whether of the past, or something subtler still.

CARLY WRIGHT

MARY FILAPEK AND LOU ANN TOWNSEND

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. As a former resident of Los Angeles (albeit only as a toddler), the City of Angels holds a certain sense of nostalgia, in particular one of its oldest purveyors of fine craft, Freehand Gallery. This issue he takes the reader through its annual jewelry show, where an eclectic assortment from the bright and bubbly, to the sedate and contemplative, brings the world of studio art jewelry to Southern California. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft.

Idar-Oberstein Volume 40.3

GEBRÜDER WILD COMPANY BEAD SAMPLE CARD, showing a wide range of Idar-Oberstein agate ornaments, including some rarely seen in the African trade. The top row displays talhakimt, turmrings and simulations of feline claws.

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Beads from Idar-Oberstein are easy to spot. Whether they are part of a Mauritanian headdress, prayer beads from Mecca or a strand from a West African market, they have a standard set of characteristics—striped dark brown, black or orange stones, cut in a variety of distinct shapes and made with great skill and precision.

      A German town of about thirty thousand people, Idar-Oberstein has been known throughout history as a place of stones, with local deposits of mostly low grade agate, jasper and other semiprecious stones. When it comes to bead history specifically, the town is almost synonymous with a wide array of agate beads that were traded to African and Arab countries. Though these stones were probably used since Roman times, the first documented proof of stonecutting in Idar-Oberstein dates from the fifteenth century. This was not a source of much income though. Due to economic hardship in the 1800s, growing numbers of Germans from this region settled in Brazil searching for opportunities. In 1827, a group of stonecutters from Idar who had settled in Brazil found local Brazilian agate deposits. The first shipment of rough stones arrived in Idar-Oberstein in 1834 and led to the very successful production and trade of Idar-Oberstein agates. 

STONECUTTER AT WORK. Stonecutting was hard work, abetted by having to lie down and push against the grindstone. Young workers risked a deformed chest. In general, the lifespan of the workers was short. Photograph from early 1900s. ROUGH BRAZILIAN AGATE STONE BOULDERS brought into Idar-Oberstein, from early 1900s. Photographs courtesy of Floor Kaspers.

 
 

      The rough stones from Brazil were auctioned in Idar-Oberstein. They were sorted, weighed and small pieces were cut off to show the natural color and banding. At first, a lot of the stones were cut and set in gold jewelry; later on, they were mostly made into loose agate objects, like beads and pendants for a foreign market. The agate from Brazil proved tough competition for the Indian agate. As a result, the agate trade from India slowed down and production and wealth in Idar-Oberstein grew quickly.

NEWER PRODUCTION TALHAKIMTS, TALHATANAS AND TURMRINGS, IMPEXCO COMPANY. Germans call these turmrings, although English terminology distinguishes them as three types. The rounded “soft” edges indicate tumble polishing and therefore are newer pendants, dating from the 1960s.

      Trade companies were set up in the mid-1800s to serve the market for stone beads. An example is Gebrüder Wild, a company established in 1858—the firm was known around the world for their production of African jewelry. Harald Wild, from the company, in describing the process says, “The traders brought all the craftsmen together. Before the arrival of Brazilian agate, there really was not much of a professional industry. The traders managed to get the cutters, drillers, polishers, and the women stringing the beads working together. Companies like Gebrüder Wild would give orders to the different craftsmen to produce certain goods, which would then be exported in bulk.”

The traders brought examples of designs in agate to Cairo, even though it was not real carnelian; but the color was good, and so it was held in high regard (Spittler, 2002). In the second half of the twentieth century, the trade was more and more done by the Africans themselves.

BEAD SAMPLE CARD FROM THE GEBRÜDER WILD COMPANY, of hand-polished talhakimt, with sharp edges, thus pre-1960s. The blue agate examples have not been seen in the African trade.

Many of the bead merchants traded in a great variety of items, and they cooperated with other European beadmaking places. For example, they would let the people in Gablonz (Bohemia, now the Czech Republic) make glass copies of the agate beads. These copies were sent to Idar-Oberstein and traded together with the agate beads. Examples are the talhakimt pendants. Their design was patented by German cutters, and then the makers in Gablonz were given permission to make the same designs in glass. Since the 1980s, the demand for stone beads in Africa has declined.

The coloring is what really set the beads apart from those coming from India. The rough material, agate, is a striped or banded version of chalcedony. In nature, different metals produce different colors, and the resulting agates are called sardonyx, chrysoprase, carnelian, or onyx, depending on their color. 

Artificial coloring techniques were already used in antiquity, but the Germans managed to perfect it. Brown was made by soaking the stone in a sugar solution and then heating it, turning the sugar into a dark brown caramel with white stripes. Black “onyx” was made by putting the stone in sulfuric acid and sugar and then heating it (Francis, 1994). The sugar would get carbonized. Each color had its own recipe. As Si Frazier referenced in Beads (1999): “It was found that certain types of Brazilian agate were eminently suited for staining. The agate could be turned red, white, blue, green, black, or yellow using inorganic chemicals, colors which would not fade in the harsh sunlight of Africa or the Middle East. The recipes were regarded as highly important trade secrets.”

The people from Idar-Oberstein refer to the coloring techniques as brennen (heating or burning), färben (coloring or dyeing) and beitzen (often translated as staining, but a different, more permanent, technique). Different processes produce different colors. Most of these techniques were developed in Idar-Oberstein between 1813 and 1879 (Trebbin, 1985).

The stones would be cut into smaller pieces, and these pieces were pre-cut into the basic shapes. For this first step, it was easier and cheaper to use a hammer and chisel to shape the stone, because grinding is more time-consuming. For big beads and other products, the stone was shaped directly on the wheel. Smaller pieces, like cabochons, would be stuck onto a wooden handle so they could be ground against the wheel. 

Idar-Oberstein cutters used large stone wheels that could be up to two meters wide and weigh up to three hundred kilos. Generally, two people would work on a wheel powered by a water mill. Some of the wheels had grooves to make specific shapes like round, oval and bicone roughs. Stonecutting was not an easy or a healthy profession. The cutters would lie on a wooden bench, pushing the stone against the wheel (Frazier, 1999). 

The final step on the wheels was the polishing which was done on beechwood cylinders, with earth as the abrasive agent. From the 1960s onwards, most of the polishing, especially on beads with simple shapes, was by tumbling. Instead of individually polishing the stone they were tumbled together, which is a much more efficient but a less precise process. It is also a way to distinguish the older beads from the newer ones. The beads with sharp edges are most likely made before 1960.

 
 

Left to right: BARREL OF ROUGH UNTREATED AGATE at the Impexco Company in Idar-Oberstein. HEATING A POTFUL OF AGATE BEAD ROUGHS on the stove, part of small scale treatment of agate to arrive at the orange/carnelian color, at the Impexco Company. UNTREATED AGATE with pieces core-drilled for bead blanks. Note the gray color versus that of the treated bead blanks in right-hand photograph. HALF-FINISHED BEAD BLANKS from Idar-Oberstein, ready to be drilled, cut or polished, already treated to reveal the intricate banding patterns. Courtesy of Floor Kaspers Collection.

 
 

BULK STRAND OF AGATE TALHAKIMT PENDANTS, as well as other stone and glass beads from the African trade, from a West-African vendor at a recent African Art Village Show, Tucson, Arizona. These talhakimt appear to be pre-1960s, as indicated by the series of small cuts or nicks along their edges.

      The trade and production of agate beads in Idar-Oberstein took off once the companies discovered a Brazilian agate source. The skill of the craftsmen, the quality of the stone, the use of international trade routes, and adapting to the world market was how Idar-Oberstein became a very successful beadmaking town.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Much help in the research of stone beadmaking in Idar-Oberstein has come from Harald and Julia Wild, Wolfgang Weinz and Wolfgang Kley. Support has come from the Bead Society of Los Angeles.


REFERENCES
Dalarozière, Marie-Françoise. 1994 Perles d’Afrique. Édisud, Aix-en-Provence, France.
Dubin, Lois Sherr. 1987 The history of beads, from 30,000 BC to the present. Harry N. Abrams Inc, New York, USA.
Francis, Peter Jr. 1994 Beads of the world, a collector’s guide with price reference. Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, USA.
     —2001 The stone bead industry of southern India. Beads, Volume 12-13.
Frazier, Si. 1999 A history of gem beadmaking in Idar-Oberstein. Beads, Volume 10-11.
Kaspers, Floor. 2016 Beads from Germany, Idar-Oberstein, Lauscha, Neugablonz. Marblings Publishing, Netherlands.
Liu, Robert K. 1982 Amira Francoise: Living with beads in the Sudan. Ornament 5 (4): 24-27. 
     — 1987 Imitators and Competitors, India, Idar-Oberstein and Czechoslovakia. Ornament 10 (4): 56-61.
     —1995 Collectible beads, A Universal Aesthetic. Ornament, Vista, USA.
Spittler, Gerd. 1999 Der Weg des Achats zu den Tuareg-eine Reise um die halbe Welt. Geographische Rundschau, Jahrgang 54, Heft 10.
Trebbin, C. 1985 Achate, geschliffen in Idar-Oberstein – Amulette, Schmuck und Zahlungsmittel in Afrika. Die Heimatfreunde Oberstein e.V., Idar-Oberstein.
Wild, Julia. 2016 Afrikanisches Geld aus Idar-Oberstein. Simurg, Kulturzeitschrift, Heft 6.

 

BEAD SAMPLES FROM THE GEBRÜDER WILD COMPANY traded to Mecca at the turn of twentieth century. Many were used in the Sudan, some repaired with silver caps when the ends broke (Liu 1982).

 
 

    Get Inspired!

 
 

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Floor Kaspers is an independent bead researcher and artist from the Netherlands. She has been exploring European bead history through her travels. By going to factories, old dump sites, shops and museums, she collects not just beads, but the stories connected to beads. After learning more about bead history, she also started making her own beadwork and glass art as a new way to explore the medium of beads and glass. Kaspers has written several books, including Beads from Germany which describes the development and production of beads in three German bead towns: Lauscha, Idar-Oberstein and Neugablonz. In the article on stone beads from Idar-Oberstein she explains the origin of the stones, the designs and the techniques of these typical agate trade beads.