Ron Ho Retrospective Volume 41.2

FIRST BORN NECKPIECE  of forged and fabricated silver Chinese chair, with pair of fabricated copper children’s shoes, silver twine ball and leather, 1990.  FIRST BIRTHDAY NECKPIECE  of forged and fabricated silver Chinese chair, with chair mat from Ming dynasty chair, fabricated silver chopsticks and platter of noodles, which represent long life in China, 1990.  VANISHED WISHES NECKPIECE  of forged and fabricated silver with leather and enameling, 1990.  Photographs courtesy of Bellevue Arts Museum.

FIRST BORN NECKPIECE of forged and fabricated silver Chinese chair, with pair of fabricated copper children’s shoes, silver twine ball and leather, 1990. FIRST BIRTHDAY NECKPIECE of forged and fabricated silver Chinese chair, with chair mat from Ming dynasty chair, fabricated silver chopsticks and platter of noodles, which represent long life in China, 1990. VANISHED WISHES NECKPIECE of forged and fabricated silver with leather and enameling, 1990. Photographs courtesy of Bellevue Arts Museum.

ALL FALL DOWN II NECKPIECE of silver, ebony, domino, and found objects, 1981. A breakthrough for Ho was represented by this gift to Ramona Solberg. “One evening Ramona brought me an ivory domino piece and some old bone underwear buttons. I placed these on a piece of paper with some bone heishi beads and some pieces of ebony. It was the beginning foundation of my work as a jewelry artist.”

Ron Ho was a cultural explorer who used his keen eye for beauty and design to create exquisite jewelry resonant with narrative and poetry. Like a Marco Polo of jewelry art, he traveled the world, especially Asia, and wove the artifacts and aesthetics he foraged on those travels into jewelry that sometimes referenced his own Chinese heritage, and always celebrated the quotidian beauty and joy he found everywhere he went.

Ron Tau Wo Ho, one of the Pacific Northwest’s most beloved artists, died in 2017 at age eighty.  During his lifetime his work was in constant demand by collectors and museums. He was a direct descendant of a rich jewelrymaking legacy that for decades revolved around a legendary jewelry program at the University of Washington. Ho was an enthusiastic collector of folk art, ethnic jewelry and museum-quality textiles, and a career public school art teacher. All aspects of his remarkable life are wonderfully presented in “Ron Ho: A Jeweler’s Tale,” at Bellevue Arts Museum.

 
 
RON HO  wearing Lepidoptera, 1976.  LUCITE BASKET  containing bone and ivory buttons and other elements for use in his jewelry.  RENDERING  of Ho’s home for fifty-four years, designed by architect Paul Thiry originally as his own home.  HO’S STUDIO  includes a photograph of his dear friend, mentor and fellow artist, Ramona Solberg.  CACHE  of tools in his studio. Ho said: “As I became more skilled, I could see how I could develop the construction so that the pieces could flow together to give life to a stiff piece of metal and make it actually flow.”  HO  is wearing First Birthday and one of his signature handmade silk shirts.

RON HO wearing Lepidoptera, 1976. LUCITE BASKET containing bone and ivory buttons and other elements for use in his jewelry. RENDERING of Ho’s home for fifty-four years, designed by architect Paul Thiry originally as his own home. HO’S STUDIO includes a photograph of his dear friend, mentor and fellow artist, Ramona Solberg. CACHE of tools in his studio. Ho said: “As I became more skilled, I could see how I could develop the construction so that the pieces could flow together to give life to a stiff piece of metal and make it actually flow.” HO is wearing First Birthday and one of his signature handmade silk shirts.

 
 

The exhibition is co-curated by Benedict Heywood, BAM’s Executive Director and Chief Curator, and Nancy Loorem Adams, Vice President of Northwest Designer Craftsmen, and presented by the museum and Northwest Designer Craftsmen. Ho’s life partner, the artist Peter Olsen, also participated, enriching the exhibition by loans of Ho’s folk collections, Ho’s studio and a section of their elegant, folk-art filled living room. Ho’s studio is installed in its entirety, cheerfully cluttered with tools, paints, brushes, strings of beads collected who-knows-where, CDs, and books.

GUM SAN JOURNEY NECKPIECE of Merlin’s gold and copper, with Chinese antique porcelain jar fragment, Chinese antique fabricated silver artifact, feather, and silver, 1996. BEARS RELIQUARY of found objects, Tibetan reliquary, felted dog hair, Eskimo ulu knife, Eskimo snowshoe grip, antler, Afghanistan bone carving, with forged and fabricated silver, 2008. LIMEHOUSE BLUES REVISITED NECKPIECE of fabricated silver, pierced and fabricated copper, Prisma color pencil, plexiglass, and leather, 2015.

There are twenty-five jewelry pieces made by Ho in the exhibition. Several were made after BAM’s 2006 Ho retrospective, “Dim Sum at the On-On Tea Room: The Jewelry of Ron Ho.” The newer pieces confirm that even in his final years Ho was a master maker whose design skills were undiminished. In 2010 he made Limehouse Blues Revisited, an homage to a 1934 film noir set in London’s Chinatown. The piece was part of a group show and Ho was required to make his piece relate to 1934. Ho managed to create a visual haiku of traditional and stereotypical Chinese imagery, polished with his usual sheen of joy and exuberance.

A more personal neckpiece was Bears Reliquary, 2008.  The piece was commissioned by a man in honor of his beloved Malamute dog, named Bear. It incorporates found objects from Tibet, Afghanistan and native Alaskans, as well as felted dog hair. With its bits of carved bone and shards of native tools, the neckpiece suggests cultures living in harmony with nature, despite hardships. It is an extraordinary celebration of the companionship and respect between the dog and his human. 

ORCHID DRAGON GALAXY NECKPIECE  of Chinese jade, sandstone carvings, porcelain butterfly, diamonds, forged and fabricated eighteen and fourteen karat gold, shakudo, shibuichi, elastic cording, 2018. After Ho’s death, the neckpiece was completed by his friend and jewelry artist Nadine Kariya, partially following the sketch provided by Ho.

ORCHID DRAGON GALAXY NECKPIECE of Chinese jade, sandstone carvings, porcelain butterfly, diamonds, forged and fabricated eighteen and fourteen karat gold, shakudo, shibuichi, elastic cording, 2018. After Ho’s death, the neckpiece was completed by his friend and jewelry artist Nadine Kariya, partially following the sketch provided by Ho.

One of the newest pieces in the show is Orchid Dragon Galaxy, a neckpiece of Chinese jade, sandstone carvings, diamonds, and a found porcelain butterfly, all forged and fabricated with silver, like nearly all of Ho’s jewelry.  Ho was working on it as he died, and it was finished, in 2018, by his friend, the Seattle jewelry artist Nadine Kariya. In this neckpiece, as in so much of his work, Ho distills traditional Asian design elements into jewelry with compelling cross-cultural references. It is elegant and timeless. It could be the neckpiece for a queen in China, Afghanistan, or anywhere the viewer’s imagination takes her. 

There are old favorites, such as First Birthday, 1990, a neckpiece of a forged and fabricated traditional-looking Chinese chair and a platter of noodles with chopsticks. The piece refers to the historic importance of the first-born child in China, and the family’s dreams for his future. Also on display is Borobudur, 1986, a majestic neckpiece of varnished teak, silver and ivory suggesting a ship under full sail heading to points unknown. The piece is named for the famous ninth-century Buddhist temple in Central Java, and it could easily inspire seekers on spiritual or oceanic journeys. 

Most pieces are loaned from private collections, though some are from the collection of the Tacoma Art Museum. The earliest pieces date to 1975, when Ho was just beginning to explore his Chinese heritage through art. Born in Hawaii to Chinese immigrants on both sides of the family, Ho attended college in Tacoma, Washington, then embarked on a teaching career in schools in Bellevue, Washington. He was a painter and taught art. But his life changed when he took a class at the University of Washington taught by Ramona Solberg, a towering and highly influential figure in the Pacific Northwest jewelry community. At first Solberg was his mentor, encouraging him to explore his Chinese heritage as a subject for his contemporary jewelrymaking. Later the duo became close friends and travel companions who bargained for folk art and jewelry across several continents.

An excellent documentary on Ho runs continuously in the gallery, and it includes long interludes of Ho talking about his life and his art. There are also three of the elaborate Chinese silk jackets he collected, jewelry made for him by friends, including Solberg, and about twenty-five of the rainbow-colored silk shirts he had custom made when he traveled in Asia. He was an artist who saw beauty everywhere he went, and it delighted him. This exhibition is a worthy tribute to one of the Pacific Northwest’s most singular jewelry artists, and a reminder of how much he is missed.

“Ron Ho: A Jeweler’s Tale” shows May 10 - September 15, 2019 at the Bellevue Arts Museum,
510 Bellevue Way, N.E., Bellevue, Washington 98004. Visit their website at
www.bellevuearts.org.

 

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Robin Updike is a keen, long-time observer of the Pacific Northwest jewelry scene and has interviewed many of the region’s vibrant jewelrymakers for Ornament. Among them is artist Ron Ho, with Updike writing a profile of Ho in advance of his 2006 retrospective at the Bellevue Arts Museum. For this edition, she reviewed a new exhibition on Ho’s life and work at BAM: “I was pleased to discover that the new exhibition does a wonderful job of showing how Ron’s life, family, education, teaching career and friendships all wove together holistically when he made his singular jewelry. Seeing his beautiful collection of silk shirts, a smattering of the folk art treasures he collected around the world, and photos of him with his great friend Ramona Solberg was a lovely reminder of his legacy in the Seattle’s art and jewelry communities.”

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.”