Uneasy Beauty Volume 41.1

 
UBIQUITOUS BONE CHAIN by Caitlin Skelcey of ABS plastic, stainless steel machine screws, 3D printing pen, implanted screws, 86.4 x 7.6 x 10.2 centimeters, 2016.

UBIQUITOUS BONE CHAIN by Caitlin Skelcey of ABS plastic, stainless steel machine screws, 3D printing pen, implanted screws, 86.4 x 7.6 x 10.2 centimeters, 2016.

 

As Beth McLaughlin, chief curator of exhibitions and collections at the Fuller Craft Museum, explained in her foreword to the catalogue for “Uneasy Beauty: Discomfort in Contemporary Adornment,” the forty-four artists in this remarkable show created wearables that “produce, rather than alleviate, tension.” Whether a spider brooch, a cumbersome collar, or an unsettling rosary, guest curator Suzanne Ramljak selected adornments that reflect what she calls a “no-pain-no-gain beauty ethos.”

The exhibition was divided into four parts: “Victim Fashion,” “Flesh and Blood,” “Natural Aversions,” and “On the Edge.” The work was consistently engaging, surprising—oftentimes provoking—from piece to piece and section to section.

One of the stand-outs in “Victim Fashion” was Protector Against Illness: Black Tamoxifen Bra, 1996. Mimi Smith affixed actual tamoxifen pills to an undergarment of nylon and lace, each pill surrounded by a decorative constellation of painted dots. Curator Ramljak called the piece “more breast cancer talisman than seductive lingerie.”

Daniel Jocz and Anika Smulovitz went the collar route in their exploration of the Victim Fashion theme. Jocz’s outsized shiny black-winged Crash Angel, 2007, from his Ruff series, was made of metals—aluminum, copper and chrome—painted with autobody lacquer. By contrast, Smulovitz repurposed men’s shirt collars to create the uncomfortable-looking White Collar, 2005. Apropos this piece, Ramljak reminds us that in the nineteenth century, starched collars sometimes proved “so unyielding that they actually choked wearers, earning them the nickname Vatermörder or ‘father killer.’ ”

 

HOLOCAUST NECKLACE by Joyce Scott of peyote-stitched glass beads, threads, 30.5 x 19.7 centimeters, 2013. Photograph by Emelee Van Zee. Photographs courtesy of Fuller Craft Museum.

 

“Flesh and Blood” explored the body as a good source for ornaments. Holland Houdek incorporates medical implants and prostheses into her jewelry. Asymmetrical Mammoplasty Double Breast Implant Necklace, 2005, featured silicone breast implants set within ornate patinaed copper filigree rondos accented with Swarovski crystals. To create her Botanical Fiction series, Heather White cast anatomical fragments, among them, navels, nipples and lips, and composed them into floral ornaments. Seven sets of oxidized silver lips encircled a center of pink pearls inset in eighteen karat gold in White’s Botanical Fiction: Murmuring brooch from 2015.

Phobias came to the fore in the “Natural Aversions” section. A spider brooch by Marta Mattson was part of her 2013 Wear Your Fear series. Less anxiety-inspiring were Mallory Weston’s two snake pieces, Python Hot Pants and Constrictor Choker #1, both 2016, constructed from gold-filled bronze, silver, copper, steel, leather, cotton, and thread. The simulation of serpent skin was stunning.

STUDY OF SNAPPING TURTLES by David Freda of fine silver, sterling silver, eighteen karat yellow gold, and enamel, 3. x 53.3 x 5.1 centimeters, 2000.

David Freda’s Study of Snapping Turtles necklace, 2000, made from silver, eighteen karat yellow gold and enamel, also was remarkable in its illusion. Sixteen off-white turtle eggs are arranged in a circle, with baby turtles crawling out from six of them and one snapper fully emerged. While among the most prehistoric-looking creatures, the snapper babies are somehow precious, even with their mouths open. Nonetheless, it’s a necklace, said Ramljak, which “takes gall to wear upon one’s jugular.”

The work in “On the Edge” dealt with political/social issues in a range of forceful ways. Several pieces took on violence. Jim Bassler’s Homeland Security jersey, 2015, overlaid what looks like medieval chain mail over a Boston Marathon singlet. This wool, linen and nylon vest will hardly protect one from bombings.

Child abuse in the Catholic Church was the subject of Angela Gleason’s Sins of Our Fathers necklace, 2006. From her Indulgences series, this five-foot-long “rosary” was made of small identical kneeling and praying children molded from silicone. Anchoring the necklace is a priest, also silicone. Like many pieces in the show, the point of Gleason’s necklace was quite obvious, but the takeaway is not immediate and reverberates as one considers where/why one might wear it.

The exhibition catalogue includes an essay by Valerie Steele, chief curator and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. “À la Mode, à la Mort” explored some of the historical precedents for “uneasy” —read torturous—adornments, from corsets to footbinding.

In conjunction with the show, students in the Fashion Design and Jewelry and Metalsmith departments at the Massachusetts College of Art were asked to create “uncomfortable” works. “Discomfort Zone: Fashion and Adornment from MassArt” featured objects that “hinder bodily movement, inflict corporal pain, and provoke emotional distress.” Part of Mass Fashion, a consortium of eight cultural institutions whose goal is to celebrate the Bay State’s fashion culture, the show ran October 13 - November 4, 2018.

 

LOST IN TIME BRACELET AND WATCH by Kim Lilot of eighteen karat and fourteen karat gold, Rolex watch, iron, steel, Tamahagane (Japanese metal for swordmaking), Rubellite, tourmaline, diamonds, urushi finish ,7.6 x 7.6 x 3.8 centimeters.

 

Like the artists in “Uneasy Beauty,” the students addressed personal, social and global issues in their work—and turned to a number of unconventional materials to do so: synthetic hair, nail polish, packing peanuts, insulation foam and Iranian Rial coins. “Beauty is not black and white,” writes senior/fourth year student Emma Scott in her statement, a sentiment that might serve as the rallying cry for many of the artists featured at the Fuller.

“Uneasy Beauty: Discomfort in Contemporary Adornment” showed at the Fuller Craft Museum, 455 Oak St., Brockton, Massachusetts 02301, October 6, 2018 – April 21, 2019. Visit their website at www.fullercraft.org.


SUGGESTED READING
RAMLJAK, SUZANNE.
Uneasy Beauty: Discomfort in Contemporary Adornment. Brockton, MA: Fuller Craft Museum, 2018.

 
 

BRAVE 4: BREAST PLATE by Boris Bally of gun-triggers, gun-bolts and gun-barrels (steel) and brass shells, mounted on stainless steel cord, .925 silver, 66 x 29.2 x 5.1 centimeters, 2013. Photograph by Aaron Usher III.

SNAKE BAG by Leah Aripotch of bronze, 30.5 x 15.2 x 17.8 centimeters, 2013.

 

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Maine-based writer Carl Little made his second trip to the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts, while on assignment for Ornament. Little marveled at the variety of work on display, from the remarkable pieces in “Uneasy Beauty: Discomfort in Contemporary Adornment,” reviewed in this issue to “Assembly: Recent Acquisitions,” which included one of John Bisbee’s nail sculptures, jewelry by Donna D’Aquino and that of the late Fred Woell. Little contributes reviews and profiles to Art New England and Hyperallergic. He lives and writes on Mount Desert Island. Little’s most recent book is Paintings of Portland, co-authored with his brother David. Look for his next feature in Ornament on San Francisco jeweler and designer Julia Turner.

Demitra Thomloudis Volume 40.5

HOUSTON YELLOW TAPE PROJECT: 4814 CHENEVERT STREET BROOCH of reclaimed stair spindle, nickel silver, steel, and paint, 15.9 x 3.2 x 1.0 centimeters, 2014. DEMITRA THOMLOUDIS in her studio, 2018.  Photographs by Demitra Thomloudis, except where noted.

HOUSTON YELLOW TAPE PROJECT: 4814 CHENEVERT STREET BROOCH of reclaimed stair spindle, nickel silver, steel, and paint, 15.9 x 3.2 x 1.0 centimeters, 2014. DEMITRA THOMLOUDIS in her studio, 2018. Photographs by Demitra Thomloudis, except where noted.

Demitra Thomloudis’s large workspace looks like part art studio, part construction office. Hung on the walls are posters for contemporary jewelry shows as well as photographs of building projects. Rolls of duct tape, pieces of GreenGuard insulation board, bits of plywood, cement forms, and tabbed strips of metal are abundant. It is unclear what she found or scavenged, what she bought at the hardware store, what she purchased from art suppliers, and what is adornment-in-progress. And she likes it that way. Thomloudis is excited by the aesthetics of the built environment and allows the processes and materials of construction (and sometimes demolition) to inform her jewelry.

Thomloudis, who grew up outside of Philadelphia, strongly identifies with her Greek heritage. Her father emigrated from Greece in his early thirties and her mother, an elementary school special education teacher and a Philadelphian of Italian descent, embraced his traditions. Regular summer visits to Athens, “the New York City of Greece,” helped shape her interest in urban settings. Thomloudis also identifies with her father’s passion for tinkering. He worked as an auto mechanic for much of her youth and, as “a self-proclaimed builder,” often engaged in “crazy remodels” to their house. During first grade she had to enter her house via an eight-foot-ladder when he decided to add a second floor to their home while they were living in it, and she recalls a constant series of projects restricting the use of various rooms or fixtures. The do-it-yourself quality, economic considerations and sheer creativity of this activity made a strong, and positive, impression.

CrossPASS, SITE #8 BROOCH of steel, brass, cement, resin, pigment, and fibers, by Demitra Thomloudis and Motoko Furuhashi, 8.9 x 7.0 x 1.0 centimeters, 2016.  Photograph by Motoko Furuhashi.

CrossPASS, SITE #8 BROOCH of steel, brass, cement, resin, pigment, and fibers, by Demitra Thomloudis and Motoko Furuhashi, 8.9 x 7.0 x 1.0 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Motoko Furuhashi.

She loved to draw growing up and, combining that with her interest in the human body—inspired in part by the popular “Body Worlds” exhibitions—decided to study medical illustration in college. Thomloudis attended Ohio’s Cleveland Institute of Art, one of the only schools at the time that offered a degree in medical (rather than scientific) illustration. She tells stories of class periods spent drawing cadavers at nearby Case Western University, sometimes with appendages strung to the ceiling to create the desired poses. “It was so wild! I never want to do that ever again, but I’m really glad that I had that opportunity.” While taking life drawing and painting courses at Cleveland, and pre-med courses at Case, she, on a whim, added an elective in jewelry and immediately realized, “this is exactly what I was looking for.” With jewelry she could work with the body, investigate an array of materials, and have greater opportunity for self-expression—“I didn’t want to follow anyone’s rules.”

Continuing her education at San Diego State University, Thomloudis earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in 2013 with an emphasis on jewelry and metalwork. Living so close to the United States’ southern border soon affected how she thought about her work. She took inspiration from the scenes she viewed in Mexico of neighborhoods created out of necessity, of architecture in flux, of materials combined in unexpected ways. She also studied the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and encountered Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture (1964), finding it a key guide when considering vernacular, indigenous and anonymous forms of building and how untrained architects can upend traditional uses of materials and conventional rules of architecture. One of the works she created in California, Reconstructed: Framed, a brooch composed of open rectilinear forms of cement, silver and steel with bits of duct tape and thread (combining elements influenced by both sides of the border fence), appeared in the exhibition “La Frontera” organized in 2013 by Lorena Lazard and Velvet da Vinci Gallery. It was also in the revised version of the exhibition (“La Frontera: Encounters Along the Border”) earlier this year at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.

HOUSTON YELLOW TAPE PROJECT: 4910 JACKSON STREET BROOCH of reclaimed upholstery, nickel silver and steel, 7.6 x 8.9 x 3.8 centimeters, 2014.

In the Houston Yellow Tape Project, Thomloudis collected materials—decorative wood trim, colorful foam from a couch, door knobs—from ten residential demolition sites within a two-block radius of her home and used this debris to make ten pieces of jewelry that ‘physically embodied a singular, discarded moment during the sprawling trajectory of the city.’
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Thomloudis next spent a year in Houston as the Artist-in-Residence at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. That “sprawling, overwhelming urban environment,” where new buildings appeared seemingly overnight, drew her attention to “the guts of buildings” and to “how things go up.” In Houston she observed more steel and more corrugated metal, and reflected those contemporary regional choices in her work. While there she participated in an exhibition on sprawl, creating jewelry out of cement, steel and distressed wood, and explained to Houston Public Media, “With my work I’m trying to extract those things we take for granted, like cracks in the sidewalk or some of the materials buildings are made out of, and kind of freeze those moments and preserve them as artifacts.” 

RECONSTRUCTED: FRAMED BROOCH of cement, sterling silver, resin, steel, pigment, thread, duct tape, powder coat, wood, and nickel silver, 10.2 x 7.6 x 5.1 centimeters, 2013. Photograph by Seth Papac.

Along with the omnipresent construction in Houston, there was constant destruction. In her Houston Yellow Tape Project, Thomloudis collected materials—decorative wood trim, colorful foam from a couch, door knobs—from ten residential demolition sites within a two-block radius of her home and used this debris to make ten pieces of jewelry that “physically embodied a singular, discarded moment during the sprawling trajectory of the city.” She presented them in an installation that mapped the locations of the former homes, and she intended the jewelry to “ignite conversations between wearer and viewer regarding connections to material, time and place.”

Then Thomloudis returned to the border region, this time moving to El Paso where she was a visiting assistant professor of Metals and Jewelry at the University of Texas at El Paso. From the parking lot she used every day, she could see a neighborhood called Anapra in Ciudad Juárez comprising a group of houses with stucco facades, some painted in bright colors, that encrusted the otherwise barren hillside like gemstones. Though realizing that the makeshift quality of construction that appealed to her was in part the result of the neighborhood’s poverty, she primarily responded to the sensory experiences of seeing the glistening colors and shifting light reflected from the sun. She explains, “I didn’t want to forget that. I felt like I needed to respond to that place,” so she created Over the Fence, a series of more than ninety cement brooches (with brass, steel and acrylic paint), squarish in shape like the squat homes, that make permanent the view’s ephemeral quality. She acknowledges that this collection documents her individual experience of a specific place, but believes that such work can spur related memories in other people of other places—“I think that jewelry can allow us to keep those memories.”

OVER THE FENCE BROOCHES of cement, brass, pigment, and resin, sizes vary, approximately 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 to
7.6 x 7.6 x 15.2 centimeters each, 2016-2017.

OVER THE FENCE BROOCH.

OVER THE FENCE BROOCH.

Over the Fence was part of a collaborative work with Motoko Furuhashi, who teaches Metalsmithing & Jewelry at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, titled CrossPASS. As they explained in an interview for Art Jewelry Forum, they were “colleagues in this very isolated location,” who wanted to foster a sense of community between their university programs and their cities, so they focused their “common fascination with the surrounding landscape” on the forty-six miles of Interstate 10 that connected them. Together they traveled back and forth along this frequently—and speedily—traveled route and created jewelry (individually and collaboratively), video, audio, and a website based on specific locations. For one site, they drove a couple of miles from the highway to walk barefoot up a sand-covered mountain. They made a video of a mound of shifting sand against a blue sky that eventually reveals a hand—playing with the viewer’s sense of scale and heightening the viewer’s tactile awareness. They also created a brooch with the rich beige sand on a rectangular block (shaped like the local farmlands) with steel, silver, shards of clear acrylic with a few light green lines suggesting the area’s dry grasses, and a rusty mesh to evoke the tumbleweeds.

Much of Thomloudis’s work is large and she knows that some people assume it is meant to be sculpture rather than jewelry, but wearability is a constant consideration of hers. “In my studio, my process is that I am always trying things on. I consider things when they are halfway done: ‘How is this sitting? How is this fitting? How is this framing me? Is this heavy? Is this going to bother me? Could I wear this out?’ ” And while she emphasizes that she is not making small sculptures, “one hundred percent not,” she is interested in how her jewelry exists when it is not being worn. In gallery settings, she sometimes presents work in groups, for example allowing the large number of brooches in Over the Fence to convey the immensity of the view she experienced, and she likes the idea of a cluster of small brooches in a personal collection sitting out as a sculpture when off the body. She adds, “I really don’t want my things to be hidden in drawers. I want them to be out. I want them just to be part of life, whether it’s on the body or off the body—like architecture is part of our everyday lives.”

SUBDIVIDED AND JOINED (HT) NECKPIECE of cement, nickel silver, resin, pigment, and silver, 45.7 x 25.4 x 1.9 centimeters, 2014.

Sometimes she uses standard construction techniques, but on a smaller scale, and sometimes she has to reinvent those techniques in order to make works that are light enough to wear. She often uses cement, either adding a thin layer of it to hollow or lightweight structures to produce an “essence of mass” without the heft, or mixing it with resin—which results in a lighter mixture than mixing it with water—and casting it in silicon molds. Her Subdivided and Joined (HT) neckpiece appears to be made of massive chunks of cement with blocks of yellow recalling caution tape or construction equipment, but she formed the rectangular shape with the arched opening out of thin layers of concrete over metal mesh boxes, rubbing away the surface in small patches to reveal the interior structure. 

The geometry, colors, construction, and materials in Thomloudis’s work all reflect her experience of architecture, but she stresses that the references are not direct—she is using the visual vocabulary of architecture, but not trying to make miniature versions of what she sees. She states, “I’m really interested in the framework of architecture and how our bodies are perpetually in the landscape of architecture and this environment, and I’m interested in reversing that. What does it mean when those things are then on the body? Can we find these smaller moments that otherwise are overwhelming or forgotten in some ways?” Through constructing palm-sized reflections of what can be monumental in scale, she raises questions about the relationship of the body to the buildings that surround it.

TILTFRAME BROOCH of brass, steel, powder coat, Sharpie marker, graphite pencil, paint, and clear coat, 12.7 x 10.1 x 5.1 centimeters, 2017.

After a year in El Paso, Thomloudis spent a year in Ohio as the assistant professor and head of the Jewelry/Metals/Enameling Program at Kent State University before settling in Athens, Georgia, where she is an assistant professor in Jewelry and Metalwork at the University of Georgia. Her most recent series of work, to be shown at JOYA Barcelona Art Jewellery & Objects, is tentatively titled Tiltframe and reflects her continued investigation of buildings and industrial materials. These works feature pops of neon colors and an increased amount of drawing. Currently, she is intrigued by the systems of marks made by construction and city workers as they note the locations (or future locations) of walls, cuts, water pipes, and gas or electric lines, using carpenter pencils, fluorescent spray paint and markers. She observes them with a designer’s eye, transforming them from functional notations within a building site or streetscape to decorative elements of personal adornment. “I’m fascinated with the markings; what they all mean, how they become an ornament within the landscape; and then transpose that into wearable objects.” The brooches and necklaces of Tiltframe are collections of open brass and steel rectangles, powder coated in white with layers of lines and arrows in pencil and Sharpie. Her husband, a building inspector, offers practical support by interpreting the symbols, and she plans to start making works with marks themed to specific individual utilities such as gas, electricity and water.

Thomloudis particularly is proud to be associated with Athens Jewelry Week in Greece, a new international celebration of contemporary jewelry. The organizers invited her to speak at the first event in 2016, and she has enjoyed developing personal connections with Greek jewelers. Next summer she will participate in a new jewelry artist residency program at the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, next to the Acropolis. She relishes the opportunity to develop a more immediate connection to Greece in her work, creating “jewelry inspired by the physical and cultural geography of Athens.” She believes that “relating to the aesthetics of architecture/landscape/place” through jewelry, has “the potential to connect us closer to the world we are surrounded by,” and next summer will use this approach to explore her own cultural heritage.

SUGGESTED READING
“5 Questions, Demitra Thomloudis,” Mother Makers Blog, November 8, 2017, mothermakersblog.wordpress.com/2017/11/08/demitra-thomloudis. 
Callahan, Ashley, Annelies Mondi and Mary Hallam Pearse. Crafting History: Textiles, Metals, and Ceramics at the University of Georgia. Athens, GA: Georgia Museum of Art, 2017.
Malev, Daniela. To the Point: Pin Mechanisms and Brooch Back Design. Leipzig: Edition Winterwork, 2017. 
Thomloudis, Demitra and Motoko Furuhashi. CrossPASS. San Francisco: Blurb Publishing Company, 2017. 
Townsend, Jen and Renée Zettle-Sterling. Cast: Art and Objects Made Using Humanity’s Most Transformational Process. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2017.

 
VIENTO BLOCK 1 & 2 BROOCHES of steel, powder coat, cement, paint, sterling silver, nickel silver, and resin, 8.9 x 7.6 x 5.1 centimeters (left), 10.1 x 8.9 x 5.1 centimeters (right), 2015.

VIENTO BLOCK 1 & 2 BROOCHES of steel, powder coat, cement, paint, sterling silver, nickel silver, and resin, 8.9 x 7.6 x 5.1 centimeters (left), 10.1 x 8.9 x 5.1 centimeters (right), 2015.

 
 

Get Inspired!


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Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. She recently co-authored, with Annelies Mondi and Mary Hallam Pearse, Crafting History: Textiles, Metals, and Ceramics at the University of Georgia, which included work by Demitra Thomloudis and benefited from her assistance with photography. She appreciated Thomloudis’s enthusiasm, optimism and articulateness in their discussion of jewelry, construction and children. Since visiting the artist’s studio, Callahan has enjoyed a heightened awareness of the textures of the sidewalks, walls and parking decks and of the bright pink and orange markings left by city workers on the edges of the streets.

Ben Dory Volume 40.4

PENDANT ROW of stainless steel, carbon steel, titanium, sterling silver, and freshwater pearls, 3.8 x 1.9 x 0.6 centimeters, 2017.  Photographs by Ben Dory, except where noted.

PENDANT ROW of stainless steel, carbon steel, titanium, sterling silver, and freshwater pearls, 3.8 x 1.9 x 0.6 centimeters, 2017. Photographs by Ben Dory, except where noted.

Fans of Ben Dory call him a “metal wizard” and a “mad scientist,” names that suggest speed and flair, but he approaches his work with an easy patience and is happy to let ideas evolve gradually. Many of his family members work with their hands—his grandfather, who had a farm in Nebraska, refinished antique furniture, his aunt paints, his father has a woodshop, and his mother sews—and he is used to seeing diligence and beauty combined in everyday life. He grew up on the Kansas side of Kansas City and attended the University of Kansas. Because of his interest in how things are structured, he considered majoring in linguistics or taxonomy, but settled on metals because it satisfied both a desire for research and his interest in making.

BEN DORY.  Photograph by Mercedes Jelinek.

BEN DORY. Photograph by Mercedes Jelinek.

TOPAZ RING of stainless steel and rainforest topaz, 2.9 centimeters diameter, size 7, 2018.

      A few years after graduating, Dory visited Penland School of Crafts for a summer workshop. He describes Penland as “a place where you meet your heroes on a regular basis,” and continues to relish being in its orbit with other metalsmiths. Encouraged by Penland’s immersive environment, he applied to graduate school at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. In his application he expressed a desire to “industrialize his process,” meaning that he wanted to use readily available and affordable materials as a practical way to “navigate this world of expense involved in traditional jewelry making.” He graduated in 2014, moved to Asheville, North Carolina, and then Savannah, Georgia, for a few years, and now is relocating to be the Metalsmithing & Jewelry Artist in Residence in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Arkansas Little Rock.

Technically challenging processes like damascene, mokume-gane, and salt (or electrolyte) etching attract Dory, and his current obsession is granulation, a technique closely associated with the Etruscans, but dating back about five thousand years. The technique was prominent in Dory’s educational experience because his teacher at Carbondale, Jon Havener, was a student of John Paul Miller, a jeweler renowned for his work with granulation. Typically, granulation involves pure gold or fine silver, and artists melt small bits of metal to form the tiny granules (surface tension pulls the molten metal into spheres) and bond them to a metal substrate. Dory likes the repetition of granulation, observing that you “see something new each time because there is so much visual texture.” 

CHALCEDONY PENDANT of stainless steel and chalcedony, 2.5 centimeters diameter, 2018.

      Dory’s twist on this ancient technique is to use machine-formed bearing balls of stainless steel. He emphasizes the importance in his work of “thinking in modules,” both for materials and process. At the moment, he has a set group of base shapes that he uses in combination with the balls. Much contemporary granulation appears as simple lines or jumbled mounds, and while Dory allows his granules to gather organically, their precise geometric forms naturally fall into regular patterns (like the molecules of a crystal) that impart an industrial aesthetic.

To create his granulated steel work, Dory micro welds the shiny bearing balls to the piece of jewelry or to each other. He uses a narrow, tube-shaped vacuum with custom silver tips to pick up the granules, and when he presses a pedal, electricity moves through the tip and ball. An arc forms where the ball is in contact with the working surface, and the focused application of heat causes the elements to fuse together. A slight miscalculation in the alignment, and the four-thousand-degree discharge can melt whole areas of work; Dory notes that the learning curve was painful, and he endured numerous shocks and tiny burns as he refined his technique and modified his tools.

Many of Dory’s recent works combine stones with the steel granulation, including a large, faceted amethyst set high in a ring, inverted green tourmalines in a three-lobed brooch, and, in a pair of earrings, pearls with a silky luster that interacts enticingly with the reflective surfaces of the metal orbs. He even uses granulation as a form of stonesetting, creating lattices around stones to hold them in place.

 

Dory appreciates the pervasive presence of digital technology in modern life and views his work as part of a cultural moment that emphasizes computational and parametric design. He also enjoys that we are surrounded by hidden technologies like welding that, while old and overlooked, still provide fertile ground for investigation. He plans to continue studying the possibilities of granulation with steel and maintaining the modular approach, methodical repetition and work ethic that lend his creations an air of scientific magic.

AMETHYST RING of stainless steel and tension-set amethyst, 3.2 x 4.1 x 1.9 centimeters, size 6, 2018.

PENLAND BROOCH of stainless steel, titanium, sterling silver, and nickel, 10.2 x 6.4 x .6 centimeters, 2017.

 
 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. She has written books and curated exhibitions on sisters Ilonka and Mariska Karasz, Hungarian-born modern designers based in New York; Henry Eugene Thomas, a Colonial Revival furniture craftsman from Athens; and a history of chenille fashion. In her exchange with Ben Dory, she appreciated his eagerness to explain the intricacies of welding and granulation, and Mary Hallam Pearse’s willingness to provide further technical consultation. Dory’s work is a surprising mix of industrial and organic and reflects an impressive amount of innovation in his use of materials and modification of his tools.

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!

 
 

Robin-Updike_Contributor.jpg

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.

Native Fashion Now Volume 40.1

DRESS, HEADPIECE AND CAPE by Orlando Dugi (Diné) of paint, silk, organza, feathers, beads, and twenty-four karat gold; porcupine quills and feathers; feathers, beads and silver, Desert Heat Collection, 2012. Model: Louisa Belian. Photograph by Thosh Collins.

Inset:
THE MESSENGER (THE OWL) CAPE AND HEADPIECE by Margaret Roach Wheeler of silk/wool yarn, metal, silver, glass beads, and peacock feathers, Mohatan Collection, 2014. Photograph by Greg Hall.
 

Fashion exists along an interesting spectrum—that of building personal and public identity. It is the overarching narrative, the sizzling, morphing cinematic of the mind’s eye that is constantly reinventing itself. While fashion as a concept exists universally, the institution’s birthplace, and the subsequent structure that was created from those beginnings, could fairly be ascribed to Paris. As such, fashion has been a European-dominated organism for most of its modern existence.

      As a sculptor of identity, then, it is perhaps most apropos that a people who have struggled with retaining and defining their identity have become the most recent insurgents within what has for the last century been a Western cultural enterprise. Represented in the exhibition “Native Fashion Now”, originating at the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts, and ending this September at New York’s National Museum of the American Indian, the work of sixty-seven Native American artists and designers reassesses the topic of fashion, and introduces exciting possibilities towards where it is traveling.

The exhibition is better viewed through the lens of perspective and context to achieve maximum impact. Fashion is ravenous, devouring and subsuming participants in a high stakes competition for fame, recognition and income. But the greatest fashion designers have always been subversives—Elsa Schiaparelli, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Yves St. Laurent, Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Rei Kawakubo, and Issey Miyake shared a mindset that flouted rules and sensibility to change how the game was played. In doing so, they shifted the boundaries of the masculine and feminine.

What modern Native fashion designers are doing, then, is more clear within this setting. Seen not as minor titillations in a leviathan oeuvre, but as poking holes and proffering jests that subtly undermine the status quo, these designers are introducing a radical concept, bringing the legitimacy of non-European aesthetics into the world of fashion. The exhibit, in covering a diverse range of work, examined the many directions from which this change can emanate. Take, for example, the striking ensemble Desert Heat by Orlando Dugi (Diné).

In this dress, Dugi has carefully aligned the shock value of most contemporary fashion with a cultural aesthetic grounded in his own tradition. Desert Heat’s long, shimmering dress, dyed shibori-style with ardent crimsons, blotches of black and coronas of orange, is topped with a mantle of feathers, draped over the wearer’s shoulders and locked around the throat with a beadwork collar. A headdress of porcupine quills and feathers surmounts the whole like a wild woman’s crown. All of these elements contain traces of Dugi’s native world, and to those in the know it is hard not to see his outfit for what it is—a ferociously graceful costume that transforms its wearer into a bird of prey. Paying homage to the dancer’s ensembles of Native American tribal rituals, it also respects the animals of the earth. Indeed, although not indigenous to North America, Dugi’s piece resembles the snake-slaying secretary bird of Africa.

POSTMODERN BOA of stainless steel, sterling silver, enamel paint, and feathers, by David and Wayne Nez Gaussoin (Picuris Pueblo/Diné), 2009. Model: Tazbah Gaussoin. Photograph by David Gaussoin; courtesy of Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

      While Western contemporary fashion appears to be a monolithic construct of fashion labels and major design firms, contributors to it have differing ideas of what fashion actually is. From those who consider themselves artists rather than fashion designers, to those who see no distinction between the two, and finally people who firmly see themselves as couturiers, the term, like art itself, is subject to interpretation. Native artists Wayne Nez and David Gaussoin (Picuris Pueblo/Diné) work in a variety of media, and their contribution to the exhibition is Postmodern Boa, a serpentine rising spiral of enameled steel festooned with feathers.

As an item of adornment both sleek and slinky, coquettishly hiding its wearer yet revealing glimpses through dark crimson, Postmodern Boa evokes an aura of pomp and mystique. Yet despite its allure, the origins of this crafted object are deeper. The community-focused nature of Native culture was what brought about its creation. The Gaussoin brothers had been collaborating for a series of fashion show fundraisers, with the aim of raising money for a nonprofit that enabled Native American youth to attend the Santa Fe Opera. “These early fashion shows took place in a night club. I think that idea of opera and night club together kind of explains that piece,” Wayne Nez recalls.

These hidden roots, which despite being unknown to the outside observer exist regardless, are an integral aspect of Native fashion. The undercurrents of family, tradition and community are present in many of the works displayed in the exhibition. Niio Perkins’s (Akwesasne Mohawk) pièce-de-résistance, a blue cotton and velvet dress with cuffs, collar and belt decorated with intricate beadwork, in the traditional Woodlands Indian style, is demure, understated and attractive. Its modest demeanor, in comparison to more contemporary styles, belies the lush embellishment of vines, flowers and leaves, vivid against a stark black background. Two white birds resembling doves, accented with small pearls, meet in the middle of her waistband, their green beaks almost touching. It is a symbol of both beauty and peace.

EMMA ENSEMBLE by Niio Perkins (Akwesasne Mohawk) of cotton, velvet, glass beads, and metal pins, 2010. Photograph by Ornament.

      All made by hand, Perkins’s ensemble could not have manifested without the influence and inspiration of her mother, Elizabeth. Perkins’s development as an artisan is strongly connected to the artistic environment of both family and tribal culture. “I learned to bead as a child in the lap of my mother,” she recollects. “She is a phenomenal seamstress and designer of traditional clothing in her own right. I was a needy baby; she had to hold me as she used the sewing machine. When I started to get in the way, she gave me a bowl of beads and taught me a few techniques to occupy my little hands. I grew up among families who beaded to supplement their income. It has always felt like a natural thing to do.”

A jacket embellished by Thomas Haukass (Sicangu Lakota) for his friend Kenneth Williams Jr. (Northern Arapaho/Seneca) is a statement on the importance of connections and relationships for Native Americans. While the cream-colored linen blazer is European in design and origin, it has been transformed into a canvas for ledger designs, an open book, as it were, that takes a quintessential Native expression of preserving identity in the face of assimilation and oppression. Each warrior on the jacket is a hero, a doer of mighty deeds and a collector of titles. The term “counting coup”, after the Native warrior tradition of striking an opponent with a coupstick, speaks to the recognition, and recollection, of courage. For Haukass, this garment was his way of honoring the accomplishments of his fellow artist.

Sometimes the roots of something mighty come from a single seed. Louis Gong is of the Nooksack tribe, who share the Northwest Coast of Washington with other Coast Salish peoples. He is also French, Scot and Chinese, and this unique mix has led to exploring his own identity through art.

The prelude to this story came from junior high. Sometimes what we lack can give rise to passionate desire later in life, and so it was with Gong. “I grew up poor, so in seventh and eighth grade, when everyone was wearing Vans, I wanted to own some but couldn’t afford them,” he explains. “Fast forward twenty years, I saw a coworker wearing a pair of Vans, and it brought back that sense of wanting to buy one.” Gong went to the store to search through rows of shoes, but nothing he found seemed to represent him, and who he was. He bought a blank, white pair, brought them home, and took a sharpie to the sneakers with gusto. As his hand put ink to canvas, formline designs grew and flourished until Gong was left with an elaborately decorated piece of footwear that spoke to his unusual and complex heritage.

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      These sneakers would be the seed for Gong’s business, Eighth Generation, a vehicle for empowering Native artists. A farseeing philosophy guides his vision for the company. Seven generations is an intertribal concept for making decisions, a framework of sorts that says every action should be considered for its impact on the next seven generations. The name Eighth Generation imparts Gong’s personal touch, relating both to his Cantonese background, where the number ‘8’ phonetically sounds like the word prosperity, and his gesture of respect to the preceding generations that laid the foundation for where he stands today. 

Giving back to the community, both national and local, is natural for him. “I’ve heard it referred to as a culture tax,” he says. This understanding, that we are part of the fabric of a creative world, is shared by most Native artists, and is perhaps the greatest disjunct from the world of contemporary fashion, where famous names and big labels, with commercialized products that have unknown makers, stands today. The real scoop is not only how Native artists will change the outward aesthetics of the fashion industry but its processes as well. In that, “Native Fashion Now” is a portent of things to come.

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      Get Inspired!

 
 

PBL_Contributor-2017.jpg

Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. Earlier in the year he made the trip to New York, where he visited the National Museum of the American Indian, a peaceful space for insightful exhibitions on Native art. There he had the chance to see “Native Fashion Now”, an enterprising and innovative show organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. That viewing laid the foundation for an exploration into Native art as it relates to contemporary fashion. Speaking with Native artists, he was amazed at the stories that lay underneath the surface of each piece. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft.

Saul Bell Design Award 2016 Volume 39.1

Saul Bell Design Award 2016

KATHLEEN NOWAK TUCCI. Secret Garden Necklace of recycled motorcycle and bicycle inner tubes and Nespresso coffee capsules, Second Place Alternative Metals/Materials.

 

Springtime is a special season for the Rio Grande company in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Each May there is cause for celebration as Rio Grande announces the recipients of the Saul Bell Design Award competition. 2016 marks its sixteenth year of honoring distinctive work in jewelry design. The Award invites artists to select from seven specific categories of materials to produce innovative works which are then juried in two rounds by accomplished experts in the field of jewelry. This year’s diverse blend of jurors for the final round included Teresa Frye, Jeffrey Herman, Karen Lorene, G. Phil Poirier, and Jim Tuttle. Final round judges examine each finalist’s piece by hand and as worn on a model. Teresa Frye is a leading expert on jewelry casting and president of TechForm Advanced Casting Technology. With an international reputation for quality craftsmanship, Herman began his life as a silversmith while still in high school, and went on to found the Society of American Silversmiths to preserve and promote this beautiful artform. Gallerist Karen Lorene heads Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery in Seattle, Washington, one of the few prominent galleries in the United States still showing original works by contemporary studio jewelers as well as antique jewelry, a passion of Lorene’s. A master gem-cutter and practicing artist, Poirier is owner of Bonny Doon Engineering where he develops hydraulic presses for the jewelry industry. Founder and president of Green Lake Jewelry Works, Tuttle’s company is one of the largest custom jewelry shops with over fifty jewelers in one location.

JUSTINE GAGNON. Monsieur Bracelet of sterling silver and plastic tube, Second Place Emerging Jewelry Artist.

     

Another public acknowledgment of her innovative recycled jewelry, this is the second consecutive year that Kathleen Nowak Tucci has placed in the Alternative Metals/Materials category, this time with her Secret Garden entry, whose secret is to be discovered on the back of the necklace.  Her materials range from bicycle and motorcycle inner tubes to the bright metallic colors of Nespresso coffee capsules.

Garen Garibian’s prize-winning piece The Queen must in some part be considered a labor of love—the ring took two years to make, a deliberately gradual process. Garibian’s interests reside not just with achieving some fabulous physical tour de force but also with setting personal challenges to resolve through the execution of his careful, exacting skill set.

Enamelist Amy Roper Lyons has secured a third Saul Bell Design Award with her beautiful celestial bejeweled celebration of the universe. Her Orbit #2 is part of an ongoing series inspired by photographs taken of deep space by the Hubble Telescope. A self-described perfectionist, Roper Lyons is all hands on, from her enameling knowledge and practice of cloisonné, plique-à-jour and basse taille to her metalsmithing repertoire of traditional goldsmithing techniques.

Patrik Kusek’s submission is centered around personal loss—his mother has dementia, and Memory Interrupted was designed for and dedicated to her. It is an extraordinarily lovely tribute to Kusek’s mother, and has a life beyond the personal as it quietly communicates to those responding to its poetic beauty. Kusek works in many materials, not just metal clay, and he cites Judith Kinghorn and Harold O’Connor as having been important to his professional development.

 

GAREN GARIBIAN. The Queen Ring of eighteen karat white and rose gold, including freshwater pearls, diamonds, sapphires, and moonstones,
First Place Gold/Platinum.
SAMANTHA FREEMAN. Peacock Pin of eighteen karat gold, Namibian tourmaline, diamonds, and sapphires, Second Place Gold/Platinum.
ZOLTAN DAVID. Moonshine Pendant of platinum, cobalt chromium steel, stainless steel, diamonds, and moonstone, First Place Alternative Metals/Materials.
AMY ROPER LYONS. Orbit #2 Pin/Pendant of eighteen and twenty-four karat gold, enamel, lapis, and diamonds, Second Place Enamel.

 

      For artist Wolfgang Vaatz, the inspiration for his award-winning neckpiece was the quartz crystal with natural tubes, carved by Tom Munsteiner, a noted German gem sculptor from the internationally renowned Munsteiner family of cutters. His jewelry inspiration is derived from the natural landscape and his experiences within it; Vaatz also utilizes asymmetry and color contrast to achieve a well-balanced composition, as he puts it, for a “calming zen-like effect.”

Because Samantha Freeman’s The Peacock Pin was so complicated to make, and entirely hand-fabricated, she first constructed a silver model before going on to actually make the piece in eighteen karat gold, Namibian tourmaline, diamonds, and sapphires. Her two biggest historical influences have been Fabergé and Lalique, but contemporaries, like studio jeweler Tom Herman, are also considered as important mentors, including Alan Revere who has been a major influence on decades of novice and professional jewelers through his Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts, in San Francisco.

 

SEUNG JEON PAIK. Unity Brooch of silver and eighteen karat gold, First Place Silver/Argentium® Silver.
TOM FERRERO. Mace of silver, twenty-four karat gold over sterling, copper, resin, enamel, Italian acetate, and over two hundred gems including diamonds, garnets, citrines, topaz, amber, and zircon, First Place Hollowware/Art Objects.
WOLFGANG VAATZ. Neckpiece of sterling/argentium® silver, unrefined placer gold, twenty-two karat gold, quartz crystal carved by Tom Munsteiner, Second Place Silver/Argentium® Silver.

 

      An MFA student at the Savannah College of Art and Design (many of its graduates go on to become prominent studio jewelers), Seung Jeon Paik secured First Place in the Silver/Argentium® Silver Category, a nice coup for this already accomplished young designer. This also is Paik’s first Saul Bell Design Award. “Everything in the universe is composed of particles,” is the statement that serves as the source for his inspiration. His Unity Brooch utilizes the technique of granulation to illustrate them. Paik uses thirty-two-gauge silverwire onto which eighteen karat gold granules are fused and employs Rhino 3D software to position the wires and the golden grains. “Mastery of skill is an important aspect of my work,” states Paik. “Artists obtain this mastery with deep understanding of the materials, tools, techniques, and possibilities of application.” He regards SCAD professor Jay Song as a mentor—one who encourages Paik to balance academics with life outside it—and the late artist Hermann Jünger, a pioneer in contemporary jewelry.

 
 
 
 

DEBBIE SHEEZEL. Silken Wing Neckpiece of eighteen, twenty-two, twenty-four karat gold, sterling silver, enamel, and blue quartz,
First Place Enamel.

      Debbie Sheezel, not only an accomplished enamelist but also painter, took First Place in Enamel. In making jewelry, her priority is with its wearability: “to me they are wearable art.” She points out that her creativity is “completely unpredictable. Anything can trigger it. Enamels are time-consuming and have rules that must be obeyed, but the outcome is so beautiful that the time spent is worth it.” She is one of a number of finalists who reside in countries other than the United States (in her case, Australia) who bring a global component to the Saul Bell Design Award, which increasingly has as one of its primary goals internationalization of the competition.

There is still time to enter for 2017. Registration is open until October 27, 2016, with its springtime salute to the winners on May 21, 2017 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Visit www.saulbellaward.com for more information about submitting applications.

 

PATRIK KUSEK. Memory Interrupted Necklace of pearls, simulated citrines, peridots, silver PMC, and twenty-two karat gold, Second Place Metal Clay.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and the magazine’s expert on contemporary wearable art. As Ornament resident itinerant, she moves to and fro across the United States in search of inspiring craft, great experiences, and of course, excellent food. Among her yearly stops are the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., and the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show in Pennsylvania, both occasions to meet old friends and make new acquaintances. This issue she gives her appreciation for the winners of Rio Grande’s Saul Bell Design Award, acknowledging the excellence in craft that the competition promotes.

James Thurman & Umut Demirgüç Thurman Volume 39.1

 

The ideals of marriage neatly conveyed by a triad of Cs—complementarity, collaboration and coexistence—are as relevant to the combination of two different art media as they are to the literal union of spouses. In both cases advantages come with the ability of each element of the relationship to enhance the inherent qualities of the other, the potential to combine these qualities in pursuit of mutual objectives, and, perhaps most important of all for the perpetuation of the relationship, the freedom to retain individual identities even while contributing to one that is jointly held. For James Thurman and Umut Demirgüç Thurman, the husband-and-wife team behind Denton, Texas-based UJ Design Studios, the exactitude of the parallel between an effective marriage of art media and success in matrimony is obviously more than just a matter of speculation.

 

LAYERED SYNERGY 12-0929 BROOCH by James Thurman of lathe-turned Thurmanite® and Damascus steel, 5.08 x 5.08 x 1.27 centimeters, 2012.
Photograph by James Thurman.
FRAMED PENÇ NECKLACE by UJ Design Studios of lathe-turned Thurmanite®, enamel, sterling silver, and copper, 5.08 x 3.81 x 0.64 centimeters, 2014. Photograph by Rafael Molina.
MAVI (BLUE) BROOCH by Umut Demirgüç Thurman of sterling silver and enamel, 4.0 x 5.0 centimeters, 2008. Photograph by Ufuk Demirgüç.

 

      To Read The
  Complete Article


“There’s never a break in the conversation,” comments Kansas State University Professor of Art History Glen R. Brown on the advantages of interviewing two artists at once.  “If one doesn’t recall the answer to a question, the other one will.” When Brown visited James Thurman and Umut Demirgüç Thurman, the husband-and-wife team behind UJ Design Studios in Denton, Texas, he was impressed by the degree to which the two artists seemed to understand each other’s personalities as well as their respective work in the studio. “It’s clearly a successful collaboration on two fronts,” he remarks. Brown will be reviewing “Glitterati, Portraits & Jewelry From Colonial Latin America,” at the Denver Art Museum, in the next issue.

Donna D'Aquino Volume 38.4

Donna D'Aquino
Drawing With Wire

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Susie Ganch Volume 38.3 Preview

Susie Ganch. Systems, Cycles and Ethics

Photograph by Meg Roberts.

Photograph by Meg Roberts.

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

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

 

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

Jennifer Merchant Volume 38.3 Preview

JENNIFER MERCHANT. ACRYLIC RAZZMATAZZ

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

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

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

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

 

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

Jana Brevick Volume 38.2

Jana Brevick: This Infinity Fits in My Hand

PUZZLEGUTS NECKPIECE of sterling silver, eighteen and twenty-four karat gold, nickel silver, steel snaps, plastic, polymer clay, fabricated and cast, 20.2 x 5.1 x 2.5 centimeters, 1999. Photograph by Doug Yaple.

PUZZLEGUTS NECKPIECE of sterling silver, eighteen and twenty-four karat gold, nickel silver, steel snaps, plastic, polymer clay, fabricated and cast, 20.2 x 5.1 x 2.5 centimeters, 1999. Photograph by Doug Yaple.

These days it is easy to be nervous about our ever-increasing interaction with science and technology. Hackers break into our financial accounts. Drivers text instead of looking at the road. Our children will not get off their iPads. Drones can photograph you at your backyard cookout. But if you happen to be in western Washington, there is a way to ease your apprehensions. Visit Jana Brevick’s smart, charming and often humorous retrospective showing at the Bellevue Arts Museum through August 16, 2015.

      Brevick is a Seattle jewelrymaker and sculptor with a life-long interest in math, science and technology. No doubt she could have been a tech wizard. Instead she earned degrees in metal arts and apparel design and became one of the region’s most engaging artists. Over the years she has made jewelry and sculpture inspired by geometrical equations, chemistry charts, astronomy, space travel, deep-sea research, electronics, and robotics, among other science fair worthy subjects. But as this exhibition of some eighty pieces demonstrates, in Brevick’s world science is cool. Math is elegant. Technology has history and style. The pieces were made from 1998 through 2015.

INTERMITTENT SERIES RINGS of vacuum tubes set in fabricated sterling silver, 9.3 x 3.4 centimeters, 2000. Photograph by Roger Schreiber.

INTERMITTENT SERIES RINGS of vacuum tubes set in fabricated sterling silver, 9.3 x 3.4 centimeters, 2000. Photograph by Roger Schreiber.

      The first display case as you enter the exhibition contains four robots on chains, wearable as necklaces. These helpful little guys and one robot gal are mostly sterling silver, punctuated with features of gold, plastic, gemstones, and found objects. At about eight inches long, they have loosey-goosey, articulated joints and benign expressions. They are miniature versions of what might happen if C-3PO and the Tin Man had offspring. Snackbot is especially endearing. Open the combination lock on his torso and out pops a tiny bag of chips, a chocolate bar, an apple, and some pop. Who would not want this android around the house?

Mathematically inspired pieces include silver earrings twisted into Mobius strips and a cleverly engineered ring representing a Venn diagram of overlapping discs of pure metals and alloys. There are silver neckpieces resembling three-dimensional geometric equations. Parallel, from the Intergalactic Parallax Series, is a sleek, chic, silver neckpiece that refers to the parallax principle. If you cannot quite recall parallax from high school physics, it is the effect that occurs when a stationary object appears to be in different locations depending on the angle from which you are viewing it. This is a useful principle when measuring the distance of stars from the earth, among other things.

You do not have to whip out your smart phone and look up the meaning of Brevick’s jewelry titles. But I often did, and it was enlightening. Her neckpiece called Moh’s Scratch Test Minerals is a string of aspirin-sized mineral samples on a sloping wire, all framed in a silver rectangle. There is a numeral 1 at the bottom left next to a droplet of talc. There is a numeral 10 at the top right side next to a tiny, uncut diamond. In between are samples of gypsum, quartz, topaz, and other minerals. Metalsmiths and geologists know exactly what this chart is, since it is a measure of the hardness of minerals, with talc being the softest and diamond the hardest. And now, thanks to this striking neckpiece, I know that too.

TRACE ELEMENTS 1 BROOCH of fabricated sterling silver set with aluminum, iron, nickel, copper, zinc, ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, silver, indium, tin, iridium, platinum, gold, 8.4 x 4.5 x 0.5 centimeters, 2000.

TRACE ELEMENTS 1 BROOCH of fabricated sterling silver set with aluminum, iron, nickel, copper, zinc, ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, silver, indium, tin, iridium, platinum, gold, 8.4 x 4.5 x 0.5 centimeters, 2000.

      Brevick has a historian’s soft spot for outdated technology. What was once cutting edge is now a footnote, a mere paving stone on the never-ending forward march of science. Her rings made of vacuum tubes from the 1940s—believe it or not these were used in early computers—honor that once state-of-the-art technology. Even her humorous 2001 wedding ring set made of an ethernet jack is starting to seem old fashioned now that Wi-Fi is the new normal. There are also plenty of sturdy black plastic knobs and dials in this show, all repurposed from mid-twentieth-century appliances into jewelry or small sculpture.

There are pieces about the immutable laws of physics and metallurgy and the highly mutable human heart. Included are some of Brevick’s Everchanging Rings, which are pure gold rings that she melts down and redesigns on a periodic basis for each buyer. The idea is conceptual; each redesign uses exactly the same materials as its former iteration. But the process is also a litmus test for owners of the rings, who must measure the passage of time and changes in their lives with the physical change in the ring. Over the years Brevick has discovered that some owners of Everchanging Rings become so attached to one design phase that they are reluctant to have the rings re-designed. Change can be tough. Also in the show are large necklaces made of such materials as thick black coiled electrical cord and eight-inch-long wooden floats that may have been harvested from crab traps. The large and cheerful pieces have a slightly ethnic look, as though taken from the jewelry box of a stylish Amazon.

EXHIBITION INSTALLATION for “Jana Brevick: This Infinity Fits in My Hand,” at the Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, Washington. Photograph by Bellevue Arts Museum.

EXHIBITION INSTALLATION for “Jana Brevick: This Infinity Fits in My Hand,” at the Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, Washington. Photograph by Bellevue Arts Museum.

      Finally, there is a spaceship. It is perhaps no great surprise given Brevick’s fascination with outer limits that she has built a life-sized passageway that visitors walk through as though approaching the Starship Enterprise command center. The best part of the installation, which she calls Atomic Exfiltrator Ship Seven, is the series of “portholes.” Peer through a porthole and you see the pitch black of infinite space. But you also get a peek at a tiny spacecraft, perhaps something NASA thrust into the heavens and forgot about. One of my favorites is Broadcast, a sterling silver, steel and fine gold saucer and tower that seems to be on a lonely, never-ending voyage, trying to communicate with whatever is out there.

Brevick’s intellectual curiosity is infectious. Science and technology give her entry into new worlds of discovery and constant delight. Spend a few minutes looking at her work and you, too, will likely find yourself cheerfully optimistic. We humans make many mistakes on a very grand scale. But Brevick’s work suggests that the adventurers among us will always seek solutions that extend the boundaries of our universe.

 

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Robin Updike is a Seattle writer who has followed the Pacific Northwest’s rich metal arts scene for several decades. She first spent time with Jana Brevick and her work in 2005, when Updike wrote a profile on Brevick for Ornament in Volume 29, No. 2. Now, a decade later, Updike is pleased to have the opportunity to consider Brevick’s first solo museum show, a retrospective organized and presented by the Bellevue Arts Museum. “Jana’s work is always compelling,” says Updike. “Her ability to blend intellectual exploration with humor and craftsmanship is no easy feat. Yet that particular alchemy is her signature as an artist.”

Workshop Experience Volume 38.2 Preview

The Workshop Experience
Making Bamboo Jewelry

STUDENTS HEATBENDING BAMBOO, from the Washington Guild of Goldsmiths workshop. They are using acetylene torches and have gloves on their dominant hand, for protection from the heated culm. Clamped to the workbenches are various sizes of round wood mandrels, used to bend the heat-softened bamboo. THE ALICIA BUCKLER-WHITE TORQUE OF BLACK BAMBOO, PMC/ART CLAY AND LAB RUBIES was completed at her home studio after a snowstorm prevented Buckler-White returning to the second day of the workshop in Laurel, Maryland, February 2014. Her plant motifs and the ability to conform silver elements to the bamboo are an excellent match of materials and style. Photograph by Alicia Buckler-White. ALICE ST. GERMAIN-GRAY is heating a culm with a propane torch, about four hundred degrees cooler than acetylene. By heating a section of the bamboo at a time and quickly bending around the wood mandrel on the table behind her, the bamboo is gradually formed into a curved torque. Not visible is a container of water for quickly cooling/setting the bent bamboo. Beside the propane canisters are black bamboo formed into torques. Most workshop photos taken with a Canon 7D, 17-55mm IS lens. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament, unless noted otherwise.

The teaching of craft has changed much in the time since Ornament began covering jewelry and artist-made clothing over four decades ago. Then, most workshops originated from colleges and universities where a professor, who was an expert in some technique, would teach this skill to invited instructors or artists (Liu 1980). As crafts spread beyond the traditional metals, ceramics and glass, to more and newer media such as polymer and PMC or popular jewelrymaking practices like beading, beadwork, wirework, and lampworking, knowledge became an important salable commodity (Liu 2013). Classes and workshops, as well as their tools and supplies, have become a sizeable industry and are an accompaniment to many venues. Organizations, private schools and individuals offer classes and workshops year-round, part of what we have come to call lifelong learning.

 

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Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His new book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to ornaments, both in and out of the Ornament studio. This issue he writes about his experiences teaching photography and black bamboo jewelrymaking workshops. Later this year, he plans to teach photography workshops at the Ornament studio. Liu also collaborates with Pam Najdowski about Chinese children’s hats, a disappearing folk art and now a sought after collectible. The images in the latter article were shot in an improvised hotel room studio, demonstrating another easy way to photograph textiles and fiber artifacts.

Eric Silva Volume 38.2 Preview

 
NECKLACE of shed deer antler, sterling, lava, 7.6 x 182.9 x 2.5 centimeters, hand-carved, hand-fabricated chain, 2014. Photograph by Shana Crawford.

NECKLACE of shed deer antler, sterling, lava, 7.6 x 182.9 x 2.5 centimeters, hand-carved, hand-fabricated chain, 2014. Photograph by Shana Crawford.

Eric Silva
The Mystery of Objects

Eric Silva starts each day surfing, whether the waves are Southern California perfect or the ocean is rough and unwelcoming. He may take one or two of his four sons and often meets his friends at the beach. Despite the company, surfing for him is a solitary endeavor. It engages him completely and relieves the pressures generated by owning his own business. He proclaims, “It’s my joy!”

      After returning home he steps out of his door to the detached garage that has been his studio for the past eighteen or so years. One of his assistants begins work before he arrives, skillfully assembling components of his production jewelry. Preferring to create in solitude, Silva often just helps her organize supplies and oversees progress, then returns later in the day or at night to design new works or carve elements that will be incorporated into one-of-a-kind creations.

The “cluttered organized” studio, in Whittier, outside of Los Angeles, is filled with tools and raw materials, thrift store acquisitions and oversized tables. The central maple table is about five by six feet and is where he and his assistants work, with their pliers, stones and wire accessible in the middle. His jewelers bench, an oak table, and a steel cabinet table are special—his great-grandfather Joe made the steel one, and his maternal grandfather, Joe’s son, “Little Charlie,” made the first two. He says of Little Charlie, “He always gave me anything I needed to make a shop. I always had a helper.” Silva keeps beads in antique wooden machinists chests and jewelry is organized in an old card catalog. A little hallway houses grinding tools for cutting gems, and additional areas outside are home to his anvil and blacksmith materials. He describes the spaces as “my little world.”

 

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Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. She has written books and curated exhibitions on sisters Ilonka and Mariska Karasz, Hungarian-born modern designers based in New York, and Henry Eugene Thomas, a Colonial Revival furniture craftsman from Athens. Her book Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion will be published by the University of Georgia Press in December. She met with Eric Silva when he attended the American Craft Council show in Atlanta and appreciated his willingness to speak with her about his work, art, surfing, thrifting, and the craft world.

Nicki Marx Volume 38.2

Nicki Marx: Feathered Fantasies

#38/14 of rooster and Golden pheasant feathers, glued individually feather by feather on backing of deer suede, 2014. Also being worn is a vintage Ring-necked pheasant cummerbund. VINTAGE NECKPIECE of Ring-necked pheasant feathers, circa 1975. NECKPIECE of Ring-necked pheasant feathers, circa 1975. Photographs by Phillip Dixon, courtesy of The Nartonis Project. Model: Fanny Inanga Vega.

A compelling story has a defined beginning, middle, and end, and a protagonist whose dimensionality and intrigue hooks the reader into the narrative. Cape, Shaman’s Robe turned out to be the hook that drew me into the story of Nicki Marx, artist of singular wearables and wall sculptures crafted with feathers and other natural materials. Constructed of feathers, horsehair and leather, it was exhibited in California Design 1976, at the Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles, and subsequently featured in the Chronicle book California Design: The Legacy of West Coast Craft and Style (2005). The dramatic, fluttering cloak was cited in the Fiber Revolution chapter of the book as emblematic of the time when artists dared to make body coverings that were highly expressive, larger than life-size, sometimes outlandish, and constructed more as costume than clothing.

BRUJA DE PLATA, a collaboration by Nicki Marx and Ben Compton of vicuna, rooster feathers, metallic fabric, sheared sheep skin, woven fiber strap with metal hardware, leather, 1976. Photograph by Robert Mertens.

BRUJA DE PLATA, a collaboration by Nicki Marx and Ben Compton of vicuna, rooster feathers, metallic fabric, sheared sheep skin, woven fiber strap with metal hardware, leather, 1976. Photograph by Robert Mertens.

      Indeed, the striking, earth-trailing robe made a forceful statement about this explosive period in the fiber/wearable art movement (page 48). But this was just the tip of the quill—the beginning of what would reveal itself as a richly woven narrative. Marx’s career as an artist took flight when she discovered she could use feathers, shells, seeds, bones, bark, bugs, driftwood, flowers, minerals, and earth as her primary ingredients to make a signature statement in wearable and mixed media artwork.

Living in the coastal town of Santa Cruz, California, in the freewheeling 1970s, Marx, who consistently worked on both wearables and wall sculptures, became identified with a close-knit community of artists who were following their own visions in artwear. Wholly self-taught, Marx popularized natural feather-patterning: the process of creating decorative compositions through arrangement of colors and designs inherent in the natural feathers she would glue to a substructure, most often leather. The brilliance of the hues, iridescences and patterns of the feathers are distinctive to their species, and Marx favored peacock, pheasant, rooster, and duck.

During this time, and in this place, Marx was part of a vibrant artistic circle. Artists Marian Clayden, K. Lee Manuel, Gaza Bowen, and Eliot Marshall Smith were also part of the creative community in Santa Cruz. Clayden actively advanced new techniques in textiles, such as silk resist and clamp dyeing; Manuel introduced methods for painting on leather and feathers; Bowen charted new territory in boot and shoe construction infused with content; and Marshall Smith made strides in mask fabrication with alternative materials.

Marx and other artwear artists were recognized for creating vanguard works by inclusion in important exhibitions and documentation in publications. “Maximum Coverage, Wearables by Contemporary American Artists,” an exhibition at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in 1980, followed by the eponymous publication in 1981, highlighted the works of these Santa Cruz artists, among others, who were influential in the art-to-wear movement. Marx’s wearable featured in the exhibition and catalog was a collaborative piece (page 48) with artwear designer Ben Compton: A spectacular, shimmering, vicuna leather/rooster-feathered, full-length cape with headpiece, Bruja De Plata (Sorcerer of Silver), appropriately titled the hundreds of rooster feathers—covering the entire surface of the leather cloak—were silvery and reflective as if the feathers had been dipped in liquid silver. More accessible than a museum exhibition, the wearables produced by artwear artists could be viewed, sampled and purchased at Julie Schafler’s Julie: Artisans Gallery, a prestigious Madison Avenue emporium in New York City. Marx’s capes, vests, collars, and cloaks were shown at, and purchased from this gallery in the 1970s and early 1980s, and consequently have landed in significant collections of artwear.

#37/14 of Lady Amherst pheasant feathers, 2014. #33/14 of striped rooster feathers, 2014. #48/14 of rooster and Lady Amherst pheasant feathers, 2014.
Photographs by Faria Raji, courtesy of The Nartonis Project, 2015.

      The wearables of Marx and Manuel were often exhibited in the same shows and appeared in the same publications, and it has been noted that there is an aesthetic kinship between Marx’s feather breastplates and Manuel’s feather collars. The two women were friends and lived in the same community, and according to Marx, they may have started making feather collars at the same time and incorporating feathers into other artwear. However, there is one notable, and distinguishing difference: Manuel had studied fine arts in college and considered herself a painter; her impulse was to paint the feathers and have them serve as painted elements of the composition. Marx, an ardent environmentalist who reveres earth and believes nature is sacred, sees beauty in the feather’s pristine
state. Marx’s objective is to make dazzling arrangements, naturally, without alteration; feathers become “her tubes of paint—her palette.”

At any rate, it is a moot point to consider which of the two artists arrived first at the idea of making feathered adornments. According to costume and textile curator Dale Carolyn Gluckman, both were building on a longstanding tradition: “Marx’s and Manuel’s use of feathers on clothing and neckpieces has antecedents in geographically diverse ancient cultures. For example, among the Nazca people in precolumbian Latin America between A.D. 600-800, ceremonial capes, aprons and standards were covered with the intensely colored feathers of parrots, macaw and other tropical birds, many obviously traded long distances.”

Further, documented research by Dr. Zvezdana Dode, an authority on the textiles and dress of the Mongols of Central Asia, reveals that robes decorated with feathers were mentioned in the writings of Marco Polo and have been found in Mongol noble burials dating from the second half of the thirteenth century to the end of the fourteenth. Thus proving that the threads of cultures connect through centuries. Suffice to say, Marx and Manuel can lay claim to reviving an ancient tradition, making it relevant to their time, and imprinting it with their personal stamp.

CAPE, SHAMAN’S ROBE of feathers, horsehair and leather, worn by Nicki Marx, and exhibited in “California Design ‘76,” 1975. Photographer unknown.

CAPE, SHAMAN’S ROBE of feathers, horsehair and leather, worn by Nicki Marx, and exhibited in “California Design ‘76,” 1975. Photographer unknown.

      Self-identified as The Feather Lady (announced on her feather-trimmed business card), Marx continued a rich and flourishing production of art-to-wear and performance pieces, and wall compositions (some with feathers, some with encaustic, all with natural materials) from the 1970s through the early 1980s, showing in major galleries nationwide, and building an impressive publication and exhibition record. Along the way, Marx fulfilled several high-profile commissions, most notably Eye Dazzler, a monumental mural comprised of Golden and Lady Amherst pheasant feathers created for Stanford University’s Sherman-Fairchild Science Center in 1976, still on display today.

Other remarkable credits to Marx’s name, that shot her into the stratosphere of rock-star-artwear fame, were purchases by celebrated artists Louise Nevelson and Georgia O’Keeffe. This visibility brought production managers from the fashion industry to Marx’s studio doorstep; she was approached with the idea of having her designs produced by other artisans. “It’s a totally intuitive process,” explains Marx. “It’s like breathing. Breathe in—select and place the feather; exhale—glue. It’s so natural for me. Having other people laboring in my studio would change the meditative quality of the work.” Hence, Marx continued along the path of handcrafting each piece, affixing each feather individually, tallying hours of artistic labor.

By 1985, Marx was at a crossroads: primed for a change in both location and creative direction, Marx relocated to Taos, New Mexico, and decided to discontinue making wearables. The remoteness and wildness of the New Mexico landscape had been drawing her to the region; she had lived there part-time for the last fifteen years, and felt “connected to the peace and violence of the natural surroundings” she found outside her door. Evolving out of her wearable work, Marx brought the same skills and intuition to the wall sculptures, which she worked on exclusively through the mid-1990s. Two important series emerged that were politically themed reactions to the horrors and devastation of war: the Gulf War series and the Aftermath series, the latter based on a vision of the world after nuclear destruction. Marx’s artistic diligence was rewarded with a twenty-five-year retrospective in 1996 at Sun Cities Museum of Art, Arizona, where all phases of her career were represented, demonstrating the totality of her creative output.

In any story, this would be considered a happy ending; but the narrative has only reached the end of the second act. Marx’s life took a sharp left turn when a car crash sent her into disability and forced her into a challenging time of survival. Unable to produce work of scale due to injuries caused to her arms and neck, Marx turned to making jewelry from precious metal clay and minerals. The necklaces and pendants that she made from her Taos home and sold locally sustained her during this period of time—more than a decade—that she spent recovering from the injury and regaining her mobility.

#55/14 of Golden pheasant feathers, 2014. Photograph by Faria Raji, courtesy of The Nartonis Project, 2015.

#55/14 of Golden pheasant feathers, 2014. Photograph by Faria Raji, courtesy of The Nartonis Project, 2015.

Her art career having faded from view, but not ready for it to “fade to black” (as when the screen goes dark; the end), Marx was yearning for a comeback. Then, in 2014, opportunity came calling, literally: a phone call exchange ended with an offer to re-enter the art scene, via a Los Angeles gallery that specializes in craft and design. Katie Nartonis, twentieth-century design specialist, had been on the other end of the phone. The outcome was a solo exhibition of wearables and feather-based wall sculptures, “Marx: Rising,” co-curated by Nartonis and Gerard O’Brien. Presented were vintage feathered artwear along with recently crafted versions of collars, breastplates and vests, and feather wall compositions hung on three contiguous walls.

Shown at The Landing at Reform Gallery, in Los Angeles, the 2014 opening produced a powerfully intoxicating effect, as viewers were surrounded by the sumptuous body adornments and wall ornaments, and further, were tantalized by models wearing the collars and breastplates created from the brilliantly hued feathers of many species of birds. These neckpieces, some with vertical extensions of suede and braided leather, fell gracefully at the chests, shoulders and backs of the models as they strutted through the aisles, mimicking the proud birds whose feathers they fluttered with every pivot. By all accounts, Marx had a rousing re-discovery.

During the run of the exhibition, there was excitement over, and purchases of, the wearables and wall sculptures. A vintage 1970s breastplate of peacock feathers was acquired for the permanent collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for inclusion in a major exhibition in 2016, demonstrating that Marx’s body adornments were signifiers of their time. Additionally, famed fashion photographer Phillip Dixon was inspired by Marx’s feathered fantasies. Dixon’s visionary approach resulted in photographs of a nude model wearing only a collar or breastplate. These photographs present the opportunity to see Marx’s body adornments with great clarity and raw energy as they function as true body coverings, skimming over skin without the mediation of clothing.

Her art career once again soaring, Nicki Marx is taking advantage of the momentum. She is back at work in her Taos studio, creating new bodies of artwork. Recently ten of her wall sculptures went on view at the Gallery at the El Monte Sagrado Resort, Taos. But Marx, who just turned seventy-one, knows the power of pause and contemplation. Marx reflects on her re-launch and renewed popularity. “I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to pick up the thread and continue the tapestry of my life. I’ve hung on to my inspiration; I’ve stayed the course. My work was part of the zeitgeist of the ‘60s and now it’s timely again. I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to manifest my vision all these years.”

 

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Jo Lauria is an independent art/design curator and author living in Los Angeles. She first came across the wearable art of Nicki Marx during research for California Design, The Legacy of West Coast Craft and Style, which she coauthored with Suzanne Baizerman. Lauria was intrigued by the exotic leather and feather Cape, Shaman’s Robe that Marx had created in 1975 and exhibited in California Design ‘76, but had no idea that she would actually meet the artist who created this extravagant cloak. That opportunity presented itself in late 2014 at an exhibit of Marx’s feather neckpieces, wearables and wall sculptures. “It was a great pleasure to meet her and presented the platform for me to interview Nicki for this article and learn of her renewed energy and commitment to her singular vision.”

Sara Owens Volume 38.1 Preview

Sara Owens: Inspiring Wonder

PROTEUS SERIES BROOCH/SCULPTURE CONVERTIBLES of bone, brass, coffee filters, formed, fabricated, papier-mâché, largest: 12.7 centimeters, 2008-2011. ADAPTATION #5 RING of sterling silver, wool, formed, fabricated, needle felted, 10.2 centimeters, 2014. ADAPTATION #3 BROOCH of sterling silver, wool, formed, fabricated, needle felted, 10.2 centimeters, 2014.

At first glance, Sara Owens’s island studio appears to be the private study of a naturalist with a taste for the mysterious. A large vitrine displays half a dozen objects that seem to come from the natural world, though not a world most of us have seen. Some of the palm-sized objects are bulbous, metallic forms attached at odd angles to bits of bone. Others look like tiny meteorites mated to decaying seedpods. Nearby a wooly brown lifeform of some kind—moss? bacteria?—has settled comfortably into the center of a metal mesh saucer.

If the objects make you think about what they might be and how they came to look the way they do, Owens, who made them all, would be pleased. Above all, she says, “I want my work to inspire wonder.” Owens is a jewelrymaker and every one of the objects is a brooch. The pieces represent her fascination with the idea that in the natural world, design follows function. They are also testament to her enthusiastic exploration of materials, particularly nontraditional materials. One of the hallmarks of her work is an ability to coax evocative texture and shape out of materials as mundane as paper coffee filters and hardware-store sink drains.