Museum For Islamic Art Volume 41.2

HAMSA AMULET of silver, gilt, Fez, Morocco, circa 1930. Photograph by Ardon Barhama. Gross Family Collection. Images courtesy of the Museum for Islamic Art, Jerusalem.

Located in the heart of Jerusalem, a city sacred to the three main monotheistic religions, the Museum for Islamic Art is an independent cultural institution dedicated to raising public awareness of Islamic art and culture—a one of a kind in Israel. In addition to its importance as a museum, it serves as a cultural and educational center, as well as a multicultural bridge that connects different sectors of Israeli society—Arabs and Jews, ultraorthodox and secular—while promoting dialogue based on tolerance, mutual respect and equality.

It is a repository for thousands of works of art, including gold and silver artifacts, jewelry and musical instruments, and offers to visitors a rare glimpse of one of the world’s special collections, which tells the story of the Islamic world from the seventh to the nineteenth century. Its exhibition halls are arranged in chronological and geographical order, in accordance with the various dynasties. In addition to the permanent collections of Islamic art, the museum houses the rare permanent collection of clocks which belonged to Sir David Salomons. It is one of the three most important collections in the world, with dozens of clocks of different types, sizes and colors.

The current exhibition, “Jewelry Making: Past & Present,” creates a fascinating dialogue based on the universal language of jewelrymaking, between Islam, Judaism and Christianity, between cultures and ethnic identities, tradition and renewal, and between past and present. Curated by renowned art historian, Dr. Iris Fishof, the exhibition exemplifies the museum’s vision to promote dialogue between the different identities within the Israeli society.

41_2_Jewelry-Making-Past-&-Present-Title.jpg
EXHIBITION INSTALLATION  for “Jewelry Making: Past & Present” at the Museum for Islamic Art.

EXHIBITION INSTALLATION for “Jewelry Making: Past & Present” at the Museum for Islamic Art.

The exhibition is comprised of original jewelry created by forty-five Israeli artists, inspired by rare Islamic jewelry pieces from the museum’s collection. Displayed side-by-side, the contemporary interpretations of the pieces featured in the exhibition are personal and intimate creations that express emotions, ideas and sometimes, even defiance. Their work expands the boundaries of jewelrymaking and offers a new artistic genre which is gradually revealed to the visitor. The variety of Islamic jewelry artifacts are rich and expansive in artistic, technical and cultural terms, and cover a very wide historical period, dating back to the seventh century. These artifacts provided the Israeli artists and jewelers with an inspirational platform, carrying thoughts about the old world and the new world, about the past and future, identity, tradition, and change. Despite the great variety, the content of their works takes a sincere and courageous approach to time and place, and do not shy away from addressing social and political issues.

INSIGNIA: 50 SHADES OF PATRIARCHY LAPEL PINS by Rami Tareef, of silver, brass, gold; lost-wax casting, soldering, sawing, bending, gilding, 10.0 x 5.0 x 1.0 centimeters, 2019.

For example, Rami Tareef exhibits Insignia: 50 Shades of Patriarchalism, a pin-based work which comprises fifty men’s lapel pins with an olive pip made of silver, representing the hierarchy of the Arabic man’s patriarchy. The work is designed to shed light on the changing, or “softening” patriarchal approach of the new Arab man, and to generate dialogue about his role in the family unit, and in society in general.

Paying homage to a nineteenth-century Moroccan Berber fertility jewel, decorated with silver and enamel symbols to ward off the evil eye, Rill Greenfeld created a pendant inspired by the amulet. Her piece, Fertility Now, a plastic box with contraceptive pills inside and around the pendant, utilized the birth control pills in its design and purpose.

BEAD WITH COIN PENDANTS of silver, cloisonné enamel, coins, filigree, 12.0 x 7.0 x 5.5 centimeters, Western Anti-Atlas, Morocco, nineteenth century. FERTILITY NOW PENDANT by Rill Greenfeld, of sterling silver, photopolymer plastic, pill blister; 3D printing, casting, soldering, 8.2 x 8.4 x 4.5 centimeters, 2019. Images courtesy of the Museum for Islamic Art, Jerusalem. Photographs by Shay Ben Efraim, except where noted.

What’s the ‘Matter’? is a contemporary and personal piece made of tin strips taken from a preservatives tin can, electrical wiring, computer parts, and everyday industrial materials. Jewelry artist Merav Rahat took inspiration from a nineteenth-century silver Moroccan necklace with coral, amber and glass beads, enamel, and other materials. Rahat touches on the physical and emotional baggage in the materials she uses, looking at questions of identity, place and memory in the globalization era.

NECKLACE of silver, coral, amber, glass beads, cloisonné enamel, 62.0 centimeters length, Dra’a Valley, Morocco, late nineteenth century. WHAT’S THE ‘MATTER’ NECKPIECE by Merav Rahat, of tin-can sheet metal, electric wire, tricot fabric, nuts and bolts, discs, computer elements, jewelry parts, plastic elements, old bottle caps, branches; coiling, tying, threading, 30.0 x 20.0 x 9.0 centimeters, 2019.

The contemporary interpretations were made especially for the exhibition and act as an extension of the boundaries of jewelrymaking as a contemporary artistic field, both in a conceptual, technical and material standpoint. Despite the great diversity, the pieces relate to the time and place in which we live, sincere and daring, and were made in response to social and political issues.

Also included is a collection of ecclesiastical metalwork from the Franciscan Order that has never been exhibited to the public. These sacred objects date from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries and have been accumulated throughout the centuries from European nobles who regularly sent money and goods to assist the Franciscans charged with looking after the sanctuaries in Jerusalem. A selection of Jewish vessels and amulets originating from the Levant are showcased from the private collection of William Gross. These pieces reflect the style and culture of their respective eras and regions, as well as the mutual language of folk art that served both Jews and Muslims. In addition, an exhibition spotlight is focused on the works of Yemenite goldsmithing, a local profession for hundreds of years and on the jewelry of the late singer, Ofra Haza.

EXHIBITION INSTALLATION  focusing on artifacts from the three monotheistic religions.

EXHIBITION INSTALLATION focusing on artifacts from the three monotheistic religions.

“Jewelry Making: Past & Present” offers a prideful place to a unique display of jewelry works from the three monotheistic religions for which Jerusalem is sacred. The variety of these works, which were designed for ceremonies or rituals, offers a broad view of the artistic language, materials and techniques used by jewelers from these religions.

“Jewelry Making: Past & Present” shows May 30, 2019 - November 16, 2019 at the Museum for Islamic Art,
2 Hapalmach St., Jerusalem, Israel 9254202. Visit their website at
www.islamicart.co.il/english.

 

Click for Captions

Get Inspired!


Nadim-Sheiban_Contributor.jpg

Nadim Sheiban, Director of the Museum for Islamic Art, is the first Arab museum director in Israel. He began his studies at the Hebrew University in 1972. He was a social worker and jurist, and for many years worked in social and community work and served in senior positions at the Welfare Department of the Jerusalem Municipality. In the last decade, Sheiban served as Director of the Jerusalem Foundation Projects Department, where he initiated and managed various projects in the fields of community and education. For five years, he also directed the Culture Department, which initiated projects in the fields of art and culture in the city.

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.

 

Carl-Little_Contributor.jpg

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.’
Thomloudis_Demolition.jpg

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!


Ashley_Callahan2.jpg

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.

Richard Chavez Volume 40.4

40_4_Richard-Chavez-Cover-2.jpg

When Richard Chavez polishes a stone, he walks into the bright New Mexico sun to check his work. The natural light allows him to see imperfections that would be invisible in the lights of his studio. Always a perfectionist, Chavez may take several steps in and out of the studio door until a stone is polished to his satisfaction. A fastidious lapidary artist, Chavez has been working with a selection of quality stones since the mid-1970s. Today he is recognized as one of the leading Southwestern lapidary artists.

      Chavez’s work is characterized by clean lines, fine polishing, attention to detail, and reflects his architectural background, which was his first career. While working for the architectural firm of Harvey S. Hoshour, Chavez became familiar with and began to apply the principles of “less is more” pioneered by Bauhaus modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. These same principles are apparent in the jewelry Chavez creates today.

BRACELET of fossilized walrus ivory, turquoise, coral, black jade, and silver, 3.2 centimeters wide, 2012. Private Collection.

      His jewelry is strikingly different from that of other Southwestern artists. The color palette he chooses relies strongly on either a predominant dark background of black jade or lapis lazuli or a light background of fossilized ivory; and generally, he incorporates turquoise and coral—both thought to be traditional Southwestern materials—only as accents.

Like many of his colleagues who began careers in the 1970s, Chavez was influenced by the groundbreaking work of jeweler Charles Loloma (Hopi, 1921-1991), who was also known for his use of atypical stones set in innovative designs. Like Loloma, Chavez distinguished his jewelry beginning in the 1970s by including stones that were thought to be nontraditional. The stones can include Siberian green jade, black jade, tiger’s eye, fossilized ivory, opal, lapis lazuli, sugilite, chrysoprase, and occasionally agates of particularly striking colors.

Chavez was born in 1949 and grew up in the conservative village of San Felipe Pueblo. Educational goals were important to his parents, which led Chavez to pursue a career in architecture. Initially, he trained as an architectural draftsman though a program at Draughon’s Business College in Dallas and later, while working for Hoshour, he took architecture classes at the University of New Mexico. He began making jewelry while working at Hoshour’s firm to supplement his income. Initially, Chavez made heishi beads from olivella shells or he hand-fashioned turquoise beads. But as the lower-priced heishi beads imported from Asia undersold his handmade work, Chavez began to look for other options. He noticed that some other Southwestern jewelers were creating intriguing designs in silver and he decided to try his hand at metalwork.

LAPIS LAZULI EARRINGS of coral, turquoise and fourteen karat gold, 4.1 centimeters long, 1992. Private Collection. BLACK JADE EARRINGS of coral, turquoise and eighteen karat gold, 3.2 centimeters long, 2003-2004. Collection of Joan Borinstein. SIBERIAN GREEN JADE EARRINGS of coral, turquoise and silver, 3.2 centimeters long, 2009. Collection of Carole Katz.

      Within a few short years after transitioning from heishi beads to metal jewelry with inset stones, Chavez began to receive recognition for his innovative designs. He won the Best of Show Award at Eight Northern Pueblos Show in 1976, the first year he participated in the event. That same year, he also sold at the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) Market in Santa Fe. In 1977, the second year he entered the SWAIA Market, he was awarded a first place ribbon, and in 1981 received a SWAIA Fellowship during the second year it was offered to artists. Chavez used the fellowship funds to purchase gold, which was a more expensive metal than silver, and as funds allowed, he utilized it with more frequency as part of his jewelry. During this pivotal period and at the forefront of change in Southwestern wearable art, he and a few other artists were transforming Southwestern jewelry from classic silver and turquoise forms to those that featured gold, innovative shapes and a variety of stones. The materials as well as the designs they created blazed new trails in Native aesthetics.

BRACELET of Sea of Japan coral, turquoise and silver, 2012. Collection of Mike and Gene Waddell.

      SWAIA—the organization that produces the largest leading Native American art market in the U.S.—had another major impact on Chavez’s jewelry. In the 1970s-80s, SWAIA rules required that jewelers use all natural materials. Chavez preferred onyx rather than jet for a black stone because jet is a soft stone and he wanted a stone that was more scratch resistant. Realizing that onyx is dyed to achieve the black color, and as such was not a natural stone, Chavez began to look for alternatives. In 1988, he tried black jade for the first time and found the stone to be one that was suitably hard and took a polish well. Always fond of the deep blue of lapis lazuli, black jade offered Chavez an alternative dark stone choice.

Chavez also found that black jade, which in the U.S. often comes from Wyoming or Northern California, is readily available in an unpolished form. Stone selection is an important part of the work of a lapidarist and Chavez purchases many of his stones at the gem and mineral shows held in Tucson or Denver. Materials are sold by weight and, of course, the stones look much different in their raw, unpolished states. When lapidarists cut into one, they might find that only a portion is of suitable quality. Much of the raw material can be discarded while cutting, shaping and polishing. Artists are taking a chance each time they purchase raw materials. 

NECKLACE of lapis lazuli, coral, turquoise, and silver, 22.9 centimeters long, 1992. Private Collection. Adjacent are preparatory drawings of works; one containing the necklace shown here. Chavez sketches all of his pieces to scale and on the final drawing will add notes about materials and dimensions. He has kept many of the drawings to record the development of his career over time.

BOLO TIE of fossilized ivory, coral, black jade, turquoise, and fourteen karat gold, 8.3 x 5.4 centimeters, 1998. Private Collection.

      When he first began working with metals, Chavez thought about the designs he wanted to make and worked directly with the stones and metals to create each item. Within a few short years, he began to draw preparatory sketches of jewelry designs—initially on lined note paper but more often on graph paper—and has continued this process, drawing all of his works to scale. For some pieces, Chavez may draw a series of designs on different pages of paper until he is satisfied; and on the final drawing, he’ll typically add notes about materials and also include dimensions. He has retained many of these drawings, which as a body of work illustrates the progression of his career through time.

Chavez’s interest in architecture has continued to influence his jewelry designs and he often photographs architectural features when he travels. The rings in particular evince architectural motifs—a building’s cornice may be inspiration for the lines of a ring or the corner of a building reflected in an angle or influence its height. Some have flat planes that rise above the hand, much like a structure rising from the ground. Several examples contain a different design on each side. The circular forms of building ductwork might appear as a circular stone added to a ring’s flat plane.

Through his work at Hoshour’s firm, Chavez was also exposed to contemporary art by artists such as Mark Rothko, Joan Miro and Piet Mondrian. Their influence can be seen especially in Chavez’s color choices. The patterns in stonework are often reminiscent of Mondrian’s colorations. His bolo tie pendants could be compared to a painter’s palette since the ornaments serve as a platform for design and color balance. Generally, these designs are abstracted geometrics, but at times one can detect the shape of a face or the hint of an eye.

Some of Chavez’s creations directly reflect nature. The best examples are his butterfly brooches, which can also be worn as pendants. With great skill, Chavez creates complex stone mosaics in the butterfly wings, or simply carves stones to form the wings, adding incised lines to delineate patterns and creases on the wing’s surface. Often, he carefully carves contrasting stones for use as butterfly bodies and heads.

BRACELET of black jade, coral, dolomite, and silver, 3.0 centimeters wide, 2010. Private Collection.

      Chavez was also influenced by the economy of Scandinavian designs and he strives toward uninterrupted lines—A clasp might be designed to look like other sections in a necklace or bracelet; or alternately, pendants are attached to the fronts of necklaces and, in the process, also serve as the clasp. This meticulous geometry has influenced placements in exhibitions. When his jewelry was included in the Albuquerque Museum’s inaugural exhibition, “One Space, Three Visions” in 1979, the curator included his jewelry in the contemporary rather than the Native American section.

Chavez is perhaps best known for the complex inlay shown in his bracelets. Since he cuts and shapes each stone by hand, his application of the stones to bracelet bands best exemplifies his mastery of blending shape, color and design. The stones are perfectly cut, often in trapezoid forms that match seamlessly. Sometimes Chavez adds thin gold bars as accents to the inlay while at other times he may choose turquoise or coral for his accents.

One of Chavez’s first uses of Siberian green jade was for a bracelet made in 1996: the emerald-green jade stones, some of which have black inclusions, drew further attention to his capacity for detail and it has become a signature design.

Another significant bracelet design represents his great accomplishments in stone polishing. It consists of a highly polished black jade plane with inset cardinal points in red coral or white dolomite. The surfaces are so perfectly polished that it is almost impossible to see the seams of the stones without magnification.

40_4_Richard-Chavez-FP.jpg

      Chavez undertakes every step of jewelrymaking without the aid of assistants. In 1997, when the Heard Museum was preparing a Southwestern jewelry exhibition, Chavez submitted a handwritten artist statement, which said, “From raw materials to finished product, I’m the sole maker of my jewelry. Each piece coming out of my studio has a part of me reflected in it. Any aspect of my jewelry making involves designing, fabricating, the grinding of metal and stones, the polishing and the finish applied to a piece. As difficult as it gets sometimes, I’ll never delegate any part of the work to an assistant.” Chavez has kept true to that statement. Because he is involved in every step, he may produce a small number of quality works annually.

COLLABORATIVE BELT BY RICHARD CHAVEZ AND JARED CHAVEZ of black jade, coral, turquoise, and silver, 88.9 centimeters long, buckle measures 7.0 x 7.0 centimeters, 2012. Private Collection.

      In recent years, Chavez has collaborated with his son Jared (born 1982). Jared showed an inclination for art at an early age and an interest in jewelry design and fabrication while still a teenager. His parents encouraged him to attend college and after completing his Bachelor of Arts in studio art, with a focus in digital art and printmaking at Georgetown University, Jared returned to San Felipe and began to make jewelry on his own. The two men share a studio in San Felipe adjacent to the family home. While Richard emphasizes lapidary work, Jared has focused on metalsmithing. In 2011 they collaborated for the first time on a necklace that featured Jared’s metalwork and Richard’s lapidary work. They have undertaken several collaborations since.

For more than forty years, Richard Chavez has created masterful jewelry with complex inlay and striking color patterns that reflect his architectural sensibilities. As his work has evolved, he has perfected his techniques while his designs have continued to delight and intrigue all who view them.

SUGGESTED READING
Chalker, Kari, ed. Totems to Turquoise: Native North American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and Southwest. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2004.
Cirillo, Dexter. Southwestern Indian Jewelry. New York: Abbeville Press, 1992.
—. Southwestern Indian Jewelry: Crafting New Traditions. New York: Rizzoli, 2008.
Pardue, Diana F. The Cutting Edge: Contemporary Southwestern Jewelry and Metalwork. Phoenix: Heard Museum, 1997.
—. Contemporary Southwestern Jewelry. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 2007.
—. Symmetry in Stone: The Jewelry of Richard I. Chavez. Phoenix: Heard Museum, 2017.

“Symmetry in Stone: The Jewelry of Richard I. Chavez” showed February 2 - August 5, 2018 at the Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, Arizona 85004. Visit their website at www.heard.org.

 

      Get Inspired!


Diana-Pardue_Contributor.jpg

Diana F. Pardue is Chief Curator at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Her interest in jewelry has led her to curate several exhibitions as well as to write articles and books about the topic, which include Contemporary Southwestern Jewelry; Shared Images: The Innovative Jewelry of Yazzie Johnson and Gail Bird; Native American Bolo Ties: Vintage and Contemporary Artistry (with Norman Sandfield); Awa Tsireh: Pueblo Painter and Metalsmith (with Norman Sandfield); and Symmetry in Stone: The Jewelry of Richard I. Chavez. It is the fine lapidary skill of Chavez and start-to-finish process that Pardue investigates in her contribution to this issue.

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!

 
 

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. 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.

Linda MacNeil Volume 40.3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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


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

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Glen-R.-Brown_Contributor.jpg

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

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.

Stepping Out Volume 40.3

Stepping-Out-Title.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Leslie-Clark.jpg

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

Iris van Herpen Volume 40.3

Iris-van-Herpen-Title.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

CLEB_Contributor.jpg

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

Tattoo Exhibition Volume 40.3

Tattoo-Title.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Get Inspired!

 
 

Campbell-Headshot.jpg

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles. She has worked as a curator, consultant and educator for museums and universities around the world. Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, published by Yale University Press. Chrisman-Campbell was recently honored by the Costume Society of America, receiving an award for the Betty Kirk Excellence in Research Award. For this issue, she gets under the skin of the “Tattoo” exhibition at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.

Freehand Jewelry Show Volume 40.3

Freehand-Jewelry-Show-Title.jpg

ROBERTA AND DAVID WILLIAMSON

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

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

RAÏSSA BUMP

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

MARU LOPEZ

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

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

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

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

CARLY WRIGHT

MARY FILAPEK AND LOU ANN TOWNSEND

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

PBL_Contributor-2018.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. As a former resident of Los Angeles (albeit only as a toddler), the City of Angels holds a certain sense of nostalgia, in particular one of its oldest purveyors of fine craft, Freehand Gallery. This issue he takes the reader through its annual jewelry show, where an eclectic assortment from the bright and bubbly, to the sedate and contemplative, brings the world of studio art jewelry to Southern California. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft.

Keri Ataumbi Volume 40.1

 

KERI ATAUMBI, 2017. Photograph by Raechel Running. BUMBLE BEE RING of oxidized sterling silver, twenty-two karat yellow gold, brilliant-cut white diamonds, yellow sapphires, black pearl, 5.1 x 4.4 x 5.1 centimeters, 2011. Photographs by Keri Ataumbi except where noted.

 

It is late May in New Mexico. Santa Fe has recently been hit by twelve inches of snow—here today, gone tomorrow. The desert has appreciated the moisture; wild flowers pop up and some of the cacti blossom. An accompanying frost, however, has decimated the Concord grape vines Keri Ataumbi has been cultivating at her home in Cerrillos Hills just south of Santa Fe. She shrugs her shoulders as she beckons a visitor into her studio.

      Ataumbi is preparing for the annual Native Treasures Indian Arts Festival at the Santa Fe Convention Center. It is the kick-off to the busiest season in the city when various arts and cultural festivals draw people from around the world. The Native Treasures show benefits the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) in Santa Fe. Ataumbi and her sister, master bead artist Teri Greeves, have donated works. In 2015 they were designated “Living Treasures” at the festival.

On this May afternoon Ataumbi is also looking ahead to future shows. Earlier in the day, Elizabeth Evans from Four Winds Gallery in Pittsburgh had come by to look at new work, which Ataumbi’s apprentice, jeweler Tania Larsson, is busy photographing. The mood in the studio is bittersweet: after two years with Ataumbi, Larsson is returning to her home in Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Her story is remarkable: Of Gwich’in and Swedish descent, Larsson was born and raised in France and moved to Canada at age fifteen. Her mother, Shirley Firth Larsson (1954-2013), was an Olympic cross-country skier. 

The two women met when Ataumbi filled in for a friend to teach a jewelry class at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe where Larsson was pursuing a fine arts degree. The only native college with a focus on fine art, IAIA enrolls students from tribes across North America. Ataumbi found it refreshing to be around young minds, and she was impressed by Larsson’s go-getter attitude and took her on. 

Ataumbi herself came to jewelry in her late twenties; she has been a full-time craft artist for going on eighteen years. She started her artistic life as a painter, but switched to jewelry after taking a basics course at the Santa Fe Community College. Today, she boasts a thriving jewelry business and a special stature among the makers of wearable art in America.   

Her approach to art and life is the same: Ataumbi gets inspired by an idea and sets out to make it happen. Sometimes it will take her a couple of years to figure it out, designing and drawing, reworking and rethinking. When she has finally settled on the concept, she may have to turn to friends to pull it off. For example, a piece with a prominent pavé setting required that she learn the technique. She sought assistance and acquired a new skill in order to fulfill her vision. It is one reason why she loves being in her field: there is always something new to learn. 

Ataumbi works in series, developing a theme then exploring different ways to represent it. For example, her insect collection featured damsel flies, beetles, water bugs, yellow jackets, and her “girls,” the honey bees she cares for (she calls herself a “lackadaisical beekeeper”). The water bugs appear in a set of earrings, their small eighteen karat gold bodies hugging black Tahitian pearls. A brooch inspired by a Datura flower features twenty-two karat gold honey bees exploring its crocheted silver folds.

THAW-YAW KOOIE EARRINGS of eighteen karat yellow gold, white diamonds, coyote fur, 8.3 x 5.7 x 1.3 centimeters, 2016. Model: Amber Morning Star Byers. Photograph by Bri Crimino.

      Rarely will Ataumbi return to a series even if it has been popular; she likes the idea of having a finite body of work. “Even though I could make bugs forever,” she explains, “I’m not going to go back because those pieces were made in a specific time period.” She also wants to be able to explore other imagery—and honor the collectors who have invested in her work. She does do commissions, with a special passion for wedding rings. “You get to make something so highly personalized,” she says. She often works closely with the couple, to channel their vision. Making these rings is, to her, an “act of prayer.”

Ataumbi’s pieces have tended to move between structural and surface-oriented—and abstract—on the one hand and pictorial/figurative on the other. The oxidized silver arrow cuff from her Archery series, for example, has a hard-edge dynamism, even with its various accents: eighteen karat gold, six rose-cut diamonds, and twenty-eight brilliant-cut diamonds. The series arose after Ataumbi took up archery as a way to deal with carpal tunnel syndrome. 

In the pictorial category, Ataumbi often draws on animals, including the “critters” that frequent the desert around her home and studio: snakes, tarantulas, birds, and spring peepers. She can be quite literal in her representations of these creatures, but more often she stylizes their shapes. A snake brooch features a sleek gold serpent with diamond eyes sliding along a sterling silver twig. 

Asked about her favorite materials, Ataumbi is quick to declare her love for high karat gold. “It’s a color thing,” she explains, but she has also developed an understanding of its properties that allows her to work with it in complete comfort. She has a similar passion for diamonds—low cut, colored, natural gray. She likes combining the rose-cut with the brilliant: “I like the fact that they’re the same stone but look so different, but they just love each other—one big happy family.” 

Silver, platinum and gemstones, as well as such natural materials as buffalo horn and brain-tanned buckskin, are also on Ataumbi’s list. She tends, she says, to use materials in an untraditional manner. She points to platinum: Instead of a high shine, she likes to leave it in a rough state with a kind of buffered texture. “I think of the material as an artist, not as a trained jeweler who has a degree in stone setting,” she says. She sets out to make an art object rather than a piece of fine jewelry. 

Ataumbi and her husband enjoy sailing—on lakes in New Mexico, in Turkey, the Caribbean, and Maine, among other places. This connection to the water led to the Ocean collection. Here again, the pieces range from abstract to more literal. Sometimes it is the material, such as coral, that ties the work to the theme; at other times, it is the image: a squid ring, a sea turtle cuff. The latter piece was inspired by snorkeling and watching turtles graze in sea grass. The turtle is carved from a mabé pearl; the grass, made of twenty-two karat gold, is sprinkled with sapphires and diamonds. 

THAN TDAY KX’OLE-PAHN NECKLACE of sterling silver, eighteen karat yellow gold, twenty-two karat gold, rose-cut colored diamond, brilliant-cut white diamonds, sapphires, mother of pearl, watercolor on velllum, hand-painted, 5.1 x 2.5 x 81.3 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by UnderexposedStudios.com.

      Ataumbi’s mussel shell necklace is among her boldest creations. Thirty or so of the bivalves were formed using a hydraulic press and then were etched, soldered and connected by rivets. One gold shell stands out from the silvery gray array of its oxidized silver neighbors. A hook allows the wearer to wrap it twice around the neck or leave it long. The piece was featured in “Native Fashion Now”, which originated at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, in 2014, and finished up at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City this past September. 

Among her most remarkable series is one Ataumbi started two years ago after her mother died. From her twenties on, Jeri Ah-be-hill (1935-2015), a Kiowa-Comanche, had worn native clothing everywhere she went as a way of graciously educating people she met about who she was while honoring the people she came from. She also oversaw the Native American Clothing Contest at the Santa Fe Indian Market for seventeen years. When she died, Indian Country News titled its obituary “Kiowa-Comanche fashion icon Jeri Ah-be-hill walks on.”

MOMMY’S SERIES: TDAHN KHAW CUFF of oxidized sterling silver, twenty-two karat yellow gold,  brilliant-cut white diamonds, 5.1 x 4.4 x 5.1 centimeters, 2015.

      In addition to fine moccasins, belts and tea dresses, Ah-be-hill wore jewelry from her extensive collection. In her Mommy’s Series Ataumbi set out to recreate some of the pieces she had inherited. Developing the work was a way to both honor her mother and work through her grief, which had left her in a kind of creative limbo (her mother’s death had been unexpected—she suffered a heart attack in her yard). 

Among the pieces was a vintage Harvey ring her mother used to wear on her little finger. Fred Harvey (1835-1901) was a British-born entrepreneur who is generally credited with helping to build a market for Native American jewelry in the American west. The original ring, in silver, was falling apart so Ataumbi remade it in her own style, using eighteen karat gold and adding her signature accent: a small diamond set in the underside. The actress Melaw Nakehk’o wore this dazzling vertical ring, along with a set of Ataumbi’s gold orb earrings, on the red carpet at the premiere of the 2015 film The Revenant in which she starred. 

In another piece, Ataumbi combined painting and jewelry, a first for her. She was inspired by the Native American tradition of placing umbilical cords into fetishes that represent one’s clan. Ataumbi’s, made by her grandmother, is in the shape of a turtle. “The fetishes are hung on a cradleboard when we’re babies,” she explains, “and then as we grow older we wear them on a belt. When we die, they’re buried with us.” Which is why, she adds, “it’s so offensive to go into stores, trading posts, galleries and find them lined up, old ones, taken from graves.”  

The multipart piece, which won best in show at the 2016 Indian Market in Santa Fe, features a miniature portrait of Ataumbi’s grandmother, Carrie Susie Ataumbi, for whom she was named. Certain elements of the piece conjure her mother, such as the white buffalo symbol, which is made from mother of pearl. “It’s hard to put something like this up for sale,” she notes. She hopes a museum might acquire it.  

Recreating her mother’s jewelry led Ataumbi to reconsider her attitude toward Native American jewelry. She had generally steered clear of “native aesthetic” in favor of her own creative vision. When she was younger, she had made a conscious decision to avoid being pigeonholed as a native artist (“a lot of our young native artists go through this,” she explains).  

Since her mother died, Ataumbi has begun to rethink this stance. “At forty-five, total mid-career,” she states, “I’m owning it finally.” While she has always drawn on traditional Kiowa imagery and materials, in some of her new pieces she has been mixing in the things that “are valuable to us as native people” with things that are valuable in the jewelry world. One example is a pair of earrings that incorporates porcupine hair. Some of these pieces appeared in “From My Studio: Feathers to Diamonds” at the Shiprock Gallery in Santa Fe in July. 

      Ataumbi has collaborated on pieces with several artists, including jeweler Robin Waynee and beader Jamie Okuma. Waynee, who lives in Santa Fe, is of German and Saginaw Chippewa descent and “likes very clean lines,” according to her collaborator. A multiple Saul Bell Award winner, she and Ataumbi partnered on an earrings-ring-necklace set related to the insect series. They donated the necklace to the Indian Market’s gala auction in 2011, in support of the Southwest Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA). 

Ataumbi’s collaborative pieces with Jaime Okuma have drawn on the latter’s award-winning beadwork. Of Shoshone-Bannock and Luiseño heritage, Okuma, who lives on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in Pauma Valley, California, is known for her customized designer footwear as well as exquisite beaded ornaments. 

Okuma and Ataumbi chose Pocahontas as the subject of their first piece, a jewelry set comprised of a ring, pendant and a pair of earrings. “[Pocahontas] changed history, a single individual acting as a bridge,” Ataumbi has stated, “and Jamie and I are bridge people, too, moving between two worlds, esthetics, and perspectives.” 

The artists used three well-known images of the renowned Native American cultural figure as sources: Simon van de Passe’s 1616 engraving, the Sedgeford Hall portrait from the 1750s and Thomas Sully’s 1852 rendering. The complex piece, which incorporates a wide range of materials, including antique glass, buckskin, twenty-four karat electroplated beads, eighteen-karat yellow gold, fresh water pearls, indigenous wampum, and diamonds, was purchased by the Minneapolis Institute of Art for its permanent collection in 2014. The two have teamed up since to co-create a Marilyn Monroe ring and a bracelet with a human skull, For the Love of Art, inspired by German artist Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull and For the Love of God (2007).

FOR THE LOVE OF ART BRACELET, collaboration with Jamie Okuma of oxidized sterling silver, eighteen karat yellow gold, rose-cut colored diamonds, black diamonds, antique seed beads, black diamond beads, brain-tanned buckskin, 5.1 x 4.4 x 5.1 centimeters, 2014.
POCAHONTAS RING, collaboration with Jamie Okuma of eighteen karat yellow gold, rose-cut colored diamonds, brilliant-cut white diamonds, antique seed beads, brain-tanned buckskin, 5.1 x 5.1 x 5.7 centimeters, 2014. Collection of Minneapolis Institute of Art.

      Keri Sue Ataumbi was born in Lander, Wyoming, on the Wind River Indian Reservation, home of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. She grew up on the Eastern Shoshone side of the reservation. Her mother, Jeri Ah-be-hill, had met her husband, Italian-American sculptor Richard Greeves, in St. Louis. They eventually moved to Wyoming where she opened the Fort Washakie Trading Company in the mid-1960s. She ran it for nearly thirty years. 

Both parents had a major influence on Ataumbi’s growth as an artist. She remembers her father welding horseshoes to create a garden gate and pouring bronze to create one of his romanticized western figures for which he is well known. As she told Southwest Art Magazine in 2004, she came to love spending time in the foundry. She and her sister learned to think for themselves, to tackle the challenges of creating objects.

YELLOW MUSSEL SHELL TAB EARRINGS AND STACKING RINGS of twenty-two karat yellow gold and yellow mussel shell; rose-cut colored diamonds, turquoise and twenty-two karat gold, 5.1 x 3.2 x 0.6 centimeters; 1.9 x 1.9 x 0.6 centimeters, 2016. Model: Shayla Blatchford. Photograph by UnderexposedStudios.com

      Her mother’s grassroots commitment to Native American artists inspired her from early on. In her teens, while working at the Anadarko Southern Plains Museum, Ah-be-hill encountered a native artist who was trying to place her moccasins, an exquisite pair with extraordinary beadwork, in the museum’s shop. Outlets were few, and after coming upon the moccasins on a gas station counter alongside the Wrigley’s gum and cigarettes, Ah-be-hill felt compelled to bring this work to a broader audience.

Ataumbi describes this moment as a turning point in her mother’s life. She was among a group of pioneers who said, “This is art.” When she opened the trading post at Fort Washokie, she made sure Native American art from across the country was front and center. Among Ataumbi’s memories is the bottom shelf of a long counter in the trading post filled with moccasins of all sizes, from baby to adult. “Anyone who walked through those doors could walk out with a pair of brain-tanned handmade authentic Native American moccasins,” she recounts, adding, “and that fit you.”  

BISBEE TURQUOISE RING of eighteen karat yellow gold, Bisbee turquoise, white diamonds, 2.5 x 2.5 x 1.9 centimeters, 2015.

      Ataumbi also remembers the native traders coming by her mother’s store in their RVs to sell their wares: Navaho rugs, sterling silver, pottery. Her mother would buy “bread and butter” stuff—earrings, rings, beadwork items, and the like—as well as the materials for making them: hides, beads, needles, etc. Then she would usher in her daughters, who helped in the store, to look at the “good stuff” and let them pick out something. Ataumbi still remembers seeing her first Charles Loloma piece, in the back of a Winnebago. Loloma (1921-1991) played a major liberating role in the development of the contemporary Native American jewelry movement.

Ataumbi claims she came out of the womb knowing she wanted to be an artist. “I didn’t have a choice,” she says with a smile. While sorting through her late mother’s belongings, she discovered all her childhood drawings (“the woman did not throw anything away”), including a self-portrait made when she was six or so years old that showed her sitting at a work table. Beneath her mother’s heading, “What I’m good at,” it says “Making stuff.” 

At age eight or nine Ataumbi considered becoming a mortician because she had read that da Vinci used to go to the morgue to study cadavers. “That was really silly,” she admits, yet it foreshadowed her determination to pursue a life in art.

Ataumbi attended the Cambridge School of Weston outside Boston. It was the “ultimate culture shock,” she recalls, moving from remote Wyoming where she had been home-schooled to this predominantly white upper class school. At a “hugely formative moment” in her life, she loved it. It strengthened her independent spirit and helped fuel her artistic inclinations. She remembers in particular a drawing class taught by painter Todd Bartel. Bartel encouraged his students to freely explore what drawing might be. “As a teenager, that blew my mind.”   

      Bartel had attended the Rhode Island School of Design and recommended it to Ataumbi. Looking back, she might have chosen a different route: RISD proved to be a “wrong fit,” plus a lot of unpleasant things happened while she was there, from having her car and house broken into to having a friend thrown in jail. After less than a year, she fled west to Santa Fe where her mother was living.

Following a short stint in retail, Ataumbi established a landscaping business with a friend—“two women who didn’t have a clue but who were determined to figure it out,” she recalls with a smile. And figure it out they did, building a successful business. When her partner decided to go to medical school, Ataumbi found herself at a crossroads: would she carry on without her or embrace art full-time? 

Ataumbi is quick to point out that the whole time she was landscaping she was painting and showing her work at LewAllen Contemporary in Santa Fe. She would take time off to paint, working furiously for several weeks to produce work for shows. Her paintings at the time were “very surface-oriented, very abstract, very textured,” influenced by the contemporary Italian artist Francesco Clemente. She produced several series, riffing on Native American subjects, such as Séndé, the Kiowa trickster, and Stony Road, one of the survivors of the great flood. 

While her paintings sold, Ataumbi felt the need to return to school. She earned an Associate of Fine Arts degree at the IAIA, then transferred to the College of Santa Fe (now the Santa Fe University of Art and Design). While not especially strong in the arts, the small Catholic school had a terrific art history department. One of her teachers there, artist and clothing designer Linda Swanson, had a profound impact on her thinking. “She taught me how not to fear intellectualism and criticism,” Ataumbi recalls, and to communicate in her own voice. 

Following graduation, Ataumbi felt she needed to get her masters, but changed her mind after a half of a year at the University of New Mexico. “I’m going to end up being a teacher,” she thought to herself, “and not have any time to do my own work.” She took a jewelry class at the local community college, a beginner’s course—“how to saw, how to use fire, this is what a mullion is.” She was hooked: “This is it. This is it. This is it.”

Over time Ataumbi built up her business while doing random jobs to help make ends meet. She recalls with a smile her first showing at the Heard Fair in Phoenix: dreaming of selling out and being the next big thing, she managed two “pity sales”: purchases by her mother and a cousin. The steps forward were slower than she wished, but she was dogged. 

Her studio is located in what was once a small barn space renovated by her husband, Joel Muller, a contractor (her office is in the former chicken coop). The walls are decorated with a wonderfully eclectic assortment of art and objects, many from her mother’s collection. Here and there are her own paintings. Although painting was her first love, Ataumbi has found it to be anxiety-provoking, and yet she returns to it when time allows.

ARROW CUFF of oxidized sterling silver, eighteen karat yellow gold, rose-cut colored diamonds, brilliant-cut white diamonds, 5.1 x 4.4 x 5.1 centimeters, 2015. 

      Showing off her laser welder, Ataumbi admits to feeling love for an inanimate object. “I can make a weld that is half the width of a hair,” she says with awe. She keeps some of her tools in a handsome Japanese tea cabinet from the 1920s. She spends a lot of time in the Los Cerillos hills near her home, running with her dogs (“my studio assistants”), hiking and exploring. 

Ataumbi has lived in and around Santa Fe for going on thirty years now. She loves the mix of cultures and communities. The artists support one another. “I’ve run out of acetylene—got a tank?” She markets her work through several galleries, museum shops and fairs, including the annual Indian Fair and Market at the Heard Museum in Phoenix where she has won a number of prizes in several categories. She is considering entering some non-native fairs, but recognizes the challenge of putting together a cohesive body of work. “I tend to be all over the place,” she says. She also uses social media, including Facebook, to promote her work. 

Part of her mission as an artist is to educate people. When non-natives tell her that her work “doesn’t look native,” Ataumbi explains that she grew up on the rez, in a native home. “You can see the lightbulbs go on,” she says. She firmly believes, and has proven by her own example, that contemporary native jewelry does not have to fit a certain mold.

Like Keri Ataumbi's work? Here's a few beautiful pieces that we weren't able to show in print:

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Carl-Little_Contributor.jpg

After a week in Santa Fe this past May, Carl Little was ready to move there. “Santa Fe boasts the third largest art market in the U.S.,” he notes, “and it was the National Geographic Traveler World Legacy Award winner for Sense of Place in 2017.” In addition to a memorable visit with Keri Ataumbi, Little spent time on Museum Hill (where the Wheelwright Museum was featuring an extraordinary beadwork exhibition), took in the galleries on Canyon Road, and enjoyed the city’s high desert vibe. Little’s most recent book is Philip Barter: Forever Maine, published by Marshall Wilkes.

Kat Cole Volume 40.1

 

405 SUMMIT CATALOG OF BELONGINGS NECKLACE of steel, enamel, 17.8 x 25.4 x 0.3 centimeters, 2012. Photographs by Kat Cole except where noted.

 

Κat Cole defines a place by its detritus. For her, Pittsburgh is rusted steel and tin in smoky shades; Greenville, North Carolina, is brightly colored bits of plastic and glass; and Dallas is oily rocks and concrete rubble. As a child, she grew up in the lush hills near Atlanta, Georgia, then as a teenager moved to the flat plains of Muncie, Indiana, and has since lived in six states—a peripatetic existence that has honed her awareness of local land and cityscapes. She explains the importance of these moves to her art: “I find meaning through the observance and intimate awareness of the places I inhabit. With each geographic change, I have become more attuned to the natural and man-made attributes that make a location unique. I look to the built environment of the city where I live for the formal qualities of my work: materials, forms, color, and surface quality.” Cole expresses her experiences of place through jewelry and sculpture, primarily working with liquid enamel on steel and sometimes including found elements.

KAT COLE applying enamel.  Photograph by Gail Reid.

KAT COLE applying enamel. Photograph by Gail Reid.

      Cole attended Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, receiving her BFA in Crafts and Material Studies in 2007. She studied with Jim Meyer, Jack Wax and Susie Ganch, focusing on jewelry and glass. She also worked with noted British enamelist Helen Carnac, whom Ganch invited for a two-week residency; Carnac’s use of liquid enamel on found steel and minimalist approach proved influential and “gave [Cole] the creative beginnings [she] still [draws] from today.” Carnac explored Richmond on foot, and brought “lots of little rusty things” into the studio to enamel. Cole recalls, “It seemed very open ended, she was curious to see what would stick or how the enamel would come out on these found things,” adding, “It was not about perfection, but exploration.” 

Cole next moved to Pittsburgh, where she lived for two years, working as a retail manager for the Society of Contemporary Craft and establishing her first studio. She had limited tools and materials and relied mostly on snips, a soldering torch and found objects. Pittsburgh’s urban landscape—row houses, steel mills, smokestacks—inspired her to create her House Series from the materials she collected along the streets as she walked around her new city, in particular tin cans that she cut and folded into one-inch-high row houses like the old homes where steel workers lived. Through this scavenging process, Cole developed a love of discards and an appreciation for what they can convey about a place. The simple three-dimensional forms of the houses, whether singly in earrings or grouped in necklaces like All Connected, gave her the chance to investigate the aesthetic nuances of rust and shades of aged metal. During her time in Pittsburgh, she met Robert Ebendorf, who is known for his iconoclastic use of nontraditional, found and repurposed materials in jewelry, during an event at the Society of Contemporary Craft; he encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree at Eastern Carolina University, where he taught. 

ALL CONNECTED NECKLACE of found objects, copper, brass, 20.3 x 20.3 x 1.27 centimeters, 2009.

      So, in 2009, Cole relocated to Greenville, North Carolina, to study at ECU, and received her MFA in Metals and Jewelry in 2012. In addition to Ebendorf (a champion of her work who describes her as “one of the new contemporary voices in the enameling field”), Cole studied with Mi-Sook Hur and Ken Bova, and had another opportunity to learn from Carnac, serving as her studio assistant during a “Mark Making in Enamel” workshop at Penland School of Arts and Crafts in North Carolina in June 2010. Cole enjoyed this chance to get “a full introduction to [Carnac’s] creative process,” in which, according to Cole, “the object is a by-product of the thinking, versus thinking about what to make.” Cole continued to use found objects, but as “Greenville is not a rusty place,” she incorporated colorful plastics and glass in her work. Ebendorf suggested that she work with old tins, so she began collecting vintage enameled boxes (with images applied through a lithographic process) from antique stores. She sanded and marked the decorated exteriors of the boxes, and sometimes the patinated interiors as well. Her Richmond Tobacco necklace features a collection of blue, yellow and orange tobacco boxes—some worn over time and some scratched and abraded at her bench—folded into small rectangular prisms displaying ornate typography. Another necklace, Tractor Trailers and Trash, combines colorful narrow boxes created from tins with found objects in unusual shapes. Cole amassed a “library of tin,” with an impressive variety of colors and patterns, but she wanted more control. Then, while experimenting with enamel on a thin sheet of steel (for a work she never completed), she had an “ah-ha moment”, and realized that using freshly processed steel rather than readymade boxes and scraps would give her the ability to fold, solder and enamel as she pleased. 

TRACTOR TRAILERS AND TRASH NECKLACE of tin, found objects, sterling silver, brass, steel, 116.0 x 116.0 x 3.3 centimeters, 2012.

      Steel’s appeal to Cole is multifaceted. She enjoys its connection to Pittsburgh, which produced multitudes of steel during World War II. She also likes the fact that it is one of the most recycled materials in the world; for her, this quality makes it inherently historical. She also considers steel to be her “secret weapon” when creating jewelry because it allows her to make work that is large, but counterintuitively light in weight. She has “spent a lot of time reading about alloys, surface tooth, steel cleaning agents, and doing trial and error in the studio,” to find the format that works best for her—and she speaks with authority about the science behind her process.

Steel’s strength makes it ideal for enamel. Typically creating enameled jewelry involves applying finely ground glass to metal (often copper) by sifting, then heating it in a kiln until the glass melts and fuses to the surface. Cole uses liquid enamel—which combines ground glass with porcelain powder, pigment and water—and is more common in industrial applications than jewelry. She explains that liquid enamel has been used for over a century on the surfaces of bathtubs, washing machines, automobiles, and food containers. Liquid enamel can be dried with a heat gun before its short kiln firing, which allows her to ornament both sides of a sheet of steel. Also, Cole often solders the steel prior to firing it, an unusual approach that allows her to create distinctive enameled constructions.

From an artistic standpoint, liquid enamel provides a surface that allows for a broad range of mark making—she can draw in it, paint with it, make scratch marks, stencil patterns—on both three-dimensional folded forms and flat plates linked together. Some elements are dipped, leaving part of the steel exposed and giving the rest a thick coating with a fluid edge that emphasizes the liquid nature of the enamel. She fires the enamels in layers, and sometimes scratches through one layer to reveal an earlier color. She explains, “I let it drip and puddle, it can also crackle if a little thick, or have rust bloom, if left wet on the steel.” Cole does not desire to achieve consistent surfaces, instead seeking unexpected moments like when the enamel pools in one area or thins out at the edges or folds, allowing the metal to peek through a hazy layer of glass. 

 

URBAN WALL NECKLACE of steel, enamel, 45.7 x 25.4 x 0.3 centimeters, 2017. “A good friend asked to borrow some work to wear during her maternity photo shoot. When I saw this image I was floored. She changes the context of the necklace entirely, it is powerful and makes me think of my work in a different way. Baby Hendrix Elle Collins was born October 24th.” Model: Marsena Collins. Photograph by Kauwuane Burton.

 

      Through this combination of an industrial material and an industrial process with an artistic approach, Cole often captures the vague essence of a place, suggesting built structures through materials and color palettes or referencing familiar architectural forms in miniature—abstractions that take on universal qualities. For her thesis project, though, Cole sought to represent more specific and personal spaces: the apartments she had lived in. To document her memories of these residences she made lists of her belongings in each. A red necklace, 405 Summit Catalog of Belongings, is a visual inventory of what she owned in her Greenville apartment, with the odd flat shapes symbolizing items such as sinks, a washer, chairs, an oven, and a television. For Cole, this autobiographical jewelry shows how a place can define a person. 

WINTER—THE LAND BELOW NECKLACE of steel, enamel, 30.5 x 16.5 x 3.81 centimeters, 2013.

      After graduate school, Cole served as a visiting artist (a sabbatical replacement) for a year in Metals/Jewelry at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. There she was struck by the graphic quality of the sparse winter landscape with its snow-covered farm and industrial buildings—flat expanses punctuated by geometric volumes in black and white. She created a group of Structure brooches, earrings and necklaces —three-dimensional forms roughly enameled (mostly in white)—that recall distant silos, barns or factories. Often traveling by plane to conferences, she made numerous works based on aerial views, something she had started while in Greenville. One necklace, Winter–The Land Below, is a cluster of white, three-dimensional rectangular forms with black lines, some smooth like highways and some meandering like rivers, that suggests the starkness of the frozen terrain; the areas where the lines come together represent cities (Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids) and the dark mass of Lake Michigan is just visible on the western edge. Cole’s expression of place adopts a distinct cartographic quality through this series. 

X MARKS RED NECKLACE of steel, enamel, 45.7 x 20.3 x 0.3 centimeters, 2016.

In 2013, Cole and her soon-to-be husband, whom she met in Michigan, relocated to Dallas, Texas, their current residence. In an interview for Art Jewelry Forum in 2015, Cole described how the move affected her work: “When I first came to Dallas, I was living right downtown. The skyscrapers, windows, air conditioner units, and trucks on the street are all rectangles, it’s constant repetition of a singular shape. My work has become larger and more abstract since my move here.” The “x”s that had appeared regularly in her work took on a new significance when the couple bought their first home and she felt she could mark that special location on a map with an emphatic “x.” She set about exploring her new environment, reading about its history, considering society’s complicated relationship with oil, and collecting evidence of the city’s quickly changing architecture.

Two distinct bodies of work emerged from her first years in Dallas: the Oil and Water series and the Built/Unbuilt collection. She explains that “Dallas is not a city built on an industry, it is built on banking and the wealth created from oil.” In lieu of the old factory buildings that she favored previously, but which are not part of Dallas, she often incorporates imagery in her ongoing Oil and Water series from historic photographs of drilling rigs, geometric constructions that complement her architectonic jewelry. After digitally manipulating the images, she has them “printed on a special oxide printer,” and applies them to the steel through a decal process. In Old Well necklace, black enamel oozes along the top of an angular projecting form with an image of offshore oil rigs in Galveston, Texas, while the Fields of Oil necklace, in bright red, combines a historic scene of oil rigs with a map of Dallas, expressed through the outlines between the many flat plates composing the necklace as well as a tight group of intricate cutouts that indicate a city grid. Occasionally Cole includes gilded elements, which contrast with the rich blacks and reference oil’s “black gold” nickname, as in Oil & Water #2.

 

PILE NECKLACE/BROOCH of steel, enamel, copper, 15.2 x 15.2 x 6.4 centimeters, 2016. Model: Pilar Zornosa.

OLD WELL NECKLACE of steel, enamel, rubber, magnet, 35.6 x 8.9 x 3.8 centimeters, 2015.

      Built/Unbuilt, which Cole presented as an exhibition at Gallery 360 in Minneapolis in fall 2016, addresses the physical transformations of architectural landscapes. She describes Dallas as a city that is in the midst of change, a city that is growing quickly, and a city that is full of people. Aspects of the new buildings appear in her work through crisp lines, vibrant colors and contemporary materials. At the same time, she observes other buildings aging, becoming empty and being torn down. The ghostly white and gray necklace Vacant, with its columns of open rectangles cut into the neatly fitted angular shapes, suggests the many windows of an apartment or office building through which inhabitants once peered or were observed. For Cole, the spontaneity and visual energy of demolition (a drastic change from the clear organization of a built structure) upends and erases a site’s history, readying it for something new. Cole inverts the demolition process by carefully constructing assemblages of rectilinear elements that suggest remnants of walls, windows and vents, as in the brooch Pile, paying homage to the brief moment between the site’s past and future. One group of pendants take their flat forms from the silhouettes of the debris piles.

COLOR LANDSCAPE #1 NECKLACE/BROOCH of steel, enamel, 27.9 x 10.2 x 2.5 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Dasha Wright.

      Cole’s latest work, for an exhibition at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery in Seattle this fall, expands her typical palette of gray, white, black, and red. Cole expresses the challenges of working with color in enamel: “Color brings a lot of subjective information into a piece, and unlike using paint I cannot always achieve a specific color or brightness in glass. This collection is attempting to surmount these doubts. I like to push myself, and this has been a great project for that. It feels riskier.” A new series of Pile Outline in Color pendants present the unconventional shapes in bright oranges, with drips of aqua and streaks of red, or white with misty areas of green and blue. Her Color Landscape #1 necklace/brooch of rectangular prisms with one flat open grid piece, suggests the vibrant hues of sunset over cool blues. The large necklace Color Landscape #2 takes on a painterly quality with smooth areas of built up layers, drops of bright blue, and almost sheer brush strokes of red; the back is bright yellow, scratched through to reveal gestural white “x” marks. 

Though Cole’s jewelry is made of materials that are hard and forms that, while small, are imposing—often in a limited palette—it reflects a strong sense of a populated world. She explains, “The steel and concrete structures that surround us are evidence of human inhabitants—past and present. Monumental structures are interpreted into the intimate scale of jewelry and are completed when worn on the landscape of the body.” Cole reflects humanity by crafting echoes of its buildings and marks upon the landscape, creating an important body of wearable work that demonstrates new possibilities in enameling and documents her experiences of a place’s history, evolution and potential.

OIL & WATER #1 NECKLACE of steel, enamel, 40.6 x 20.3 x 0.3 centimeters, 2015. Model: Pilar Zornosa.

 

      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. 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. She served as the Curator of Decorative Arts at the Georgia Museum of Art from 2000-2008, and is a guest co-curator for an upcoming exhibition there on the history of craft at the University of Georgia. She met Kat Cole when Cole was a visiting artist at UGA, and enjoyed the opportunity to see her teaching students about her enameling techniques.

The Tsosie-Gaussoin Family Volume 39.5

 
The idea of creativity as a shared resource rather than the jealously guarded capital of individual genius comes naturally to the Gaussoins through Native American heritage and family tradition, but it has also been cultivated by an emphasis on the responsibility to community. ‘That’s something that my mom has always taught us,’ David asserts. ‘It’s not right to just be taking. You have to give back. We teach, we volunteer, we give back to our community.’
 

CORN MAIDEN NECKLACE by Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin of sterling silver, bezel set Royston turquoise, tufa cast, dragonfly design on necklace, corn maiden pendant with feather design, and partial patina, collar 2009, pendant 2015. Photograph by Carolyn Wright.

Descended from Navajo silversmiths and weavers and Picuris Pueblo potters, Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin and her sons Jerry Jr., David and Wayne Nez, and daughter Tazbah share a creative heritage that has profoundly shaped their experiences and perspectives. Like the progeny of the early American painter Charles Wilson Peale or the Duchamp-Villon siblings who played a prominent role in modernism, Connie’s sons and daughter took to art collectively as a consequence of their upbringing but as adults have demonstrated that the creative spirit can be both a unifier, connecting them in communal understanding, and a means toward individualization and personal expression. There is no doubt that their careers as artists have been mutually sustained through familial bonds, but each can be distinguished by a unique personality that gives direction to the style and content of his or her work.

      Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin, the current matriarch in the artistic lineage, was raised on stories about jewelry related by her father, who worked on a line stamping, doming and soldering with other Native American artists at the famous Maisel Store in Albuquerque. Another key influence was her uncle, Tom Tsosie. “He used to make jewelry the old way,” she recalls. “He would sit on sheepskins on the floor of a large, round hogan. We’d watch him every summer when my parents took us on the Navajo reservation. There was a tufa mine out behind the hogan, and he would go and gather huge stones off the cliff. It was a very hard process. He would cut the tufa into molds and use a bellows to melt down Mexican coin silver to make a cast. So, I saw the very old process.”

In the late 1960s, after traveling extensively, Connie returned to her native New Mexico and married Jerry Gaussoin Sr., who encouraged her studies of metalsmithing with jeweler Nino Padilla at the College of Santa Fe. From Padilla she learned stamping skills, making her own dies from nails and other found objects, then decided to teach herself the traditional tufa-casting techniques she had observed as a child. Honing her abilities through trial and error, she learned to cut the stone, smooth two slabs by abrading them against one another, carve the tufa, and pour molten silver into the resulting mold. She explored traditional forms like the bow guards worn by men for dances on the Navajo reservation, making rapid progress in both technique and aesthetics despite working conditions that were less than ideal. “When I started out, we were living in a trailer,” she recalls. “I used to work on a little table in the kitchen. I’d take everything off to make dinner and then put my tools back and start working again in the evening. It was back and forth every day. My buffing machine was under the trailer, and I’d be out there both summer and winter.”

 
THE TSOSIE-GAUSSOIN FAMILY.  (left to right)  Wayne Nez Gaussoin, Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin, Jerry E. Gaussoin Jr., David Gaussoin, Tazbah Gaussoin, showing at the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market, March 2017.  Photograph by Margie Zebell-Parrish.

THE TSOSIE-GAUSSOIN FAMILY. (left to right) Wayne Nez Gaussoin, Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin, Jerry E. Gaussoin Jr., David Gaussoin, Tazbah Gaussoin, showing at the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market, March 2017. Photograph by Margie Zebell-Parrish.

 

      While her makeshift workshop left much to be desired, Connie’s greatest challenge in establishing a career in the tradition of Navajo silversmithing arose from the conventions of that tradition itself. Like most Native American peoples, the Navajo historically observed gender division in the arts, with women weaving and men, after the introduction of silversmithing techniques in the 1860s, working in metal. In the 1970s, when Connie began winning awards for her jewelry at the Santa Fe Indian Market show, few Native American women had ventured into metalsmithing. As a consequence, some male jewelers expressed skepticism that she was producing her own work. To quell the rumors, she took a metals course at the Institute of American Indian Arts with Millard “Skip” Holbrook III, who, recognizing her skills and appreciating her talent, assigned her a position monitoring the lab. This was a vindication of sorts, but breaking longstanding gender barriers remained a struggle for years. “She had to force the door open,” her son David asserts. “She took criticism but she persevered, and now women have her generation to thank for it.”

CASINO LOOT BAG by Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin of sterling silver, bezel set Royston turquoise, Italian coral in gold bezel, tufa cast feather design with fabricated silver sheet, 2012.  Photograph by Carolyn Wright.

CASINO LOOT BAG by Connie Tsosie-Gaussoin of sterling silver, bezel set Royston turquoise, Italian coral in gold bezel, tufa cast feather design with fabricated silver sheet, 2012. Photograph by Carolyn Wright.

      The ostensible paradox of deeply respecting a tradition while simultaneously subverting it has been common enough in modern crafts practice to rarely breed controversy, but Navajo metalsmithing embraces more than aesthetic conventions and historical symbolism. It is deeply ensconced in a cultural identity. While Connie has embraced that identity and has cultivated it in her children, she is at the same time driven in her work by a conception of creativity in which exploration of new possibilities of form, materials and expression is a matter of course. “She’s always encouraged us to learn the traditional ways, because our cultural heritage is important,” David relates. “We know how to make concho belts and squash blossoms, but she didn’t ask us to do that for the rest of our lives. She said, ‘I’m passing this on to you so that you know how to make things in the old way, but then go do what you want.’ ”

Following this advice, Connie’s sons and daughter have felt free to explore diverse artistic avenues without fear of how the resulting work might be received and to show their work in mainstream exhibitions of Native American jewelry despite occasional criticism from traditionalists (whom they facetiously dismiss as the “art police”). As David points out, the idea that Native American identity is a fixed quality that can be adequately represented through a finite number of materials and forms discounts one of the most valuable facets of that identity: its innovative spirit. “Whenever we talk with museum curators and collectors,” he says, “we remind them that traditional Southwest jewelry was once new and progressive. Native jewelers were using materials that they had never used before. That’s the tradition that we’re carrying on. We have to celebrate it and use the abundant materials that are available to us today to create the best things that we can. That’s our tradition as native people.”

For the Gaussoins, the inclination to venture individually beyond the confines of formal and aesthetic conventions in art was no doubt encouraged by a structure of mutual support that existed from the beginning. As children, each had a place in Connie’s workshop, where they naturally developed the ability to work together without conflict and to serve as each other’s sounding boards in the frank and honest manner of their mother. The confidence that reliable critique has imparted to each has been an undeniable boon, and the habit of conversing about one another’s work has bolstered the ties that came naturally through familial connection. As a result, even as they have oriented their lives in different directions and developed unique perspectives as artists, the Gaussoins prefer to present their jewelry collectively at shows. “We all go,” David says. “It’s a family thing. Sometimes it’s so crowded in the booth that you can’t even move, but that’s OK. Our Pueblo and Navajo heritage instilled in us the importance of family, the importance of unity.”

JEWELRY BY JERRY E. GAUSSOIN JR.  (left to right, top to bottom) : Navajo Mother Earth bracelet, 2017; Navajo Four Cardinal Directions concho style buckle, 2017; Ranger belt buckle, 2015; Simplicity cuff, 2017; Navajo Spider brooch, 2014; Pueblo Protector ring, 2017; Pueblo Maiden pendant, 2017; Byzantine Chain bracelet, 2017; and Half Persian chain bracelet, 2017. All jewelry is fabricated, some hand-stamped, formed and/or textured, set with turquoise or lapis.  Photograph by Jerry E. Gaussoin Jr.

JEWELRY BY JERRY E. GAUSSOIN JR. (left to right, top to bottom): Navajo Mother Earth bracelet, 2017; Navajo Four Cardinal Directions concho style buckle, 2017; Ranger belt buckle, 2015; Simplicity cuff, 2017; Navajo Spider brooch, 2014; Pueblo Protector ring, 2017; Pueblo Maiden pendant, 2017; Byzantine Chain bracelet, 2017; and Half Persian chain bracelet, 2017. All jewelry is fabricated, some hand-stamped, formed and/or textured, set with turquoise or lapis. Photograph by Jerry E. Gaussoin Jr.

      As one might expect, occasional collaboration has been a natural offshoot of the many conversations, mutual critiques and communal exhibitions. Sometimes collaborative work has united the creativity of two siblings, as in the case of the looping, head-encircling Postmodern Boa of enameled stainless-steel tubing, silver and feathers that David and Wayne Nez created for the “Native Fashion Now” exhibition organized by the Peabody Essex Museum and on display at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York until September 4, 2017. In other instances, to support institutions such as the Heard Museum in Phoenix and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, collaboration has produced donated works to which the entire family has contributed. The procedure for collaboration is generally fluid. “Someone will start it off,” Connie explains, “and others will add to it. If we do a seed bowl someone might add dragonflies to it, and someone else might add a pin. Each piece is different. It’s like neighbors meeting at the fence. We don’t know how it will turn out, but we all bring our own ideas.”

505 SERIES CUFF by Wayne Nez Gaussoin of found object, dyed handcut leather, 8.9 x 8.9 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Robert K. Liu.

      Jerry Jr., the eldest of the siblings, sold his first bead-wrapped necklace at a Fayetteville, Arkansas, art show while still in the sixth grade. Now a Lt. Colonel in the United States Army, he remains closely influenced by traditional Navajo and Pueblo silversmithing designs, though his experiences in Germany and during tours of duty in Kosovo and Iraq, have worked their way subtly into his art. After a hiatus during his years abroad, he has returned to jewelrymaking in part as a means of mulling over his life. “What I’ve seen and experienced,” he says, “is definitely reflected in my thought process.” An affinity for the patriotic color combination of coral, pearls and lapis lazuli occasionally reveals itself, but the more profound content of his work is less literal, manifesting itself in the formal choices of an artist given to personal reflection and expression through making.

GET BACK IN YOUR BOX BRACELET by David Gaussoin of found object, sterling silver, copper, chalk (low grade) turquoise, 10.5 x 8.0 x 11.0 centimeters, 2015. “This is a statement piece about not submitting to standards placed upon us to use certain materials just because they are considered ‘traditional’.” Photograph by Mark Herndon.

 

Wayne Nez, whom middle brother David describes as “the iconic artist in the family,” earned an MFA at the University of New Mexico. Working in a variety of media, including monumental sculpture, he approaches jewelry and fashion design with a penchant for non-conventional materials. “I’ve been playing a lot with non-precious metals like aluminum and found objects,” he relates, “particularly steel mechanical parts with an interesting character to them. I play around with them until I find something that speaks to me, that reveals what it wants to be, whether that’s a ring or a wearable collar.” Currently some of his most distinctive work incorporates vibrant, leather-backed fragments of license plates in flared cuff bracelets and drop earrings.

David is clearly an artist from sheer love of the creative process. “Even though I went to college and pursued other interests,” he says, “it’s always been my life. When I make a piece I don’t think about selling it—just the art, the beauty and the expression of it. As a child I used to watch my mom and ask if I could play too. To me it’s still play. It’s a way of going into my own world and designing what I want.” While he enjoys stretching the boundaries of jewelry through innovative materials and techniques, he has come to favor more extensive expression through fashion encompassing the entire body. Among his latest designs is a “head-to-toe statement of sustainability” for an exhibition at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) that consists of an elaborate collar of aluminum and clothesline, a halter-top created from a repurposed leather purse and a skirt fashioned from old prom dresses.

Tazbah, who earned a degree in museum studies and plans to pursue a career “preserving the arts for the long term,” is a weaver and has also collaborated with David on some fashion designs, frequently modeling the resulting apparel for publicity photographs. Fashion first caught her attention when she was still in high school. “I was modeling quite a lot for designers,” she recalls, “and thinking that the clothes were beautiful and that I’d like to know how to make them. I took a course in pattern, but it was David who taught me how to sew.” Despite never having caught the jewelry bug, she made a point of taking courses in metalsmithing, not only because of her conviction that “to preserve things you should know how they were made” but also, no doubt, because of a deep sense of the place of jewelrymaking in family tradition.

SMALL COTTONWOOD CHIEF’S BLANKET, shown in progress on loom, by Tazbah Gaussoin of natural dyes, Navajo Churro Sheep wool, 2017. Photograph by Tazbah Gaussoin.

      The idea of creativity as a shared resource rather than the jealously guarded capital of individual genius comes naturally to the Gaussoins through Native American heritage and family tradition, but it has also been cultivated by an emphasis on the responsibility to community. “That’s something that my mom has always taught us,” David asserts. “It’s not right to just be taking. You have to give back. We teach, we volunteer, we give back to our community.” This commitment is not simply altruistic. It concerns the nature of creativity itself as a kind of vital energy. “People think I’m crazy because I talk to my pieces and they start coming alive,” Connie explains. “They say, ‘OK, I’ll work with you,’ then they start playing and dancing on their own. Artists are the ones in the world who keep the whole universe alive. Things are moving well because of us, not just this family, but all creative people. To be an artist is to create but also to share.”

 

POSTMODERN BOA, collaboration by David Gaussoin and Wayne Nez Gaussoin of stainless steel, sterling silver, enamel, paint, and feathers, 2009. TEARDROP EARRINGS by David Gaussoin of sterling silver, 8.0 centimeters long, 2009. EFFUSION BRACELET by Wayne Nez Gaussoin of sterling silver, 30.5 centimeters long, 2009. GLISSADE BRACELET by Wayne Nez Gaussoin of sterling silver, stainless steel, 15.2 centimeters diameter, 2009. DRESS by David Gaussoin and Tazbah Gaussoin of metallic blended material and silk, 2009. Photograph by Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. Model: Tazbah Gaussoin.

 
 

      Get Inspired!


Glen R. Brown, Professor of Art History at Kansas State University, was struck by conceptual similarities between some designs in the Denver Art Museum’s “Shock Wave: Japanese Fashion Design, 1980s-1990s” exhibition and a recent piece by David and Wayne Nez Gaussoin, who freely explore possibilities beyond mainstream Native American art. “Innovations are by definition always different,” he observes, “but innovation in the abstract is a consistent force. Why wouldn’t free experimentation beyond mainstream Native American jewelry and fashion and Japanese designers’ radical rethinking of haute couture in the 1980s and 1990s feel kindred in a general creative sense?” Brown is currently working on another article for Ornament, a feature on jeweler Robin Waynee.

Barbara Heinrich Volume 39.4

 
I always say we’re part of the ‘slow movement.’ You need to earn your place in the slow movement, because you have to have something that stands out where people are willing to pay for all those hours, and that is called design and innovation.
— Barbara Heinrich
 

ZINNIA RING of eighteen karat yellow gold and silver blister pearl, 2011. Photograph by Tim Callahan. 

The American visionary painter Alex Grey has described art as “a point of contact between the spiritual and material realms.” This conception of the creative process sees it as a constant negotiation between these inner and outer realms, requiring equal attention to both. The artist is the “medium” through which one flows into the other.

      This dynamic is evident in the work of Barbara Heinrich, where an intuitive, meditative approach to design is solidly grounded in an advanced mastery of materials and techniques. “The design process is more a receiving than a doing,” says the Rochester-based jewelry artist. “It’s almost like meditation. You kind of calm the mental activity and turn on the other side of the brain.” Once the initial inspiration has been allowed to emerge, then the analytical side can be brought back in. “But it needs to be shut down, so the creative part can be active,” says Heinrich. “A lot of pieces, I have the general idea, but I need silence in order to be able to hear what the piece says.”

BARBARA HEINRICH AT HER STUDIO BENCH .   Photograph courtesy of Barbara Heinrich Studio.

BARBARA HEINRICH AT HER STUDIO BENCH. Photograph courtesy of Barbara Heinrich Studio.

      Interestingly, the arc of Heinrich’s training as a metalsmith has, in a sense, followed the same trajectory as the design process she describes. In three very different educational settings, she first focused on intuitive creation, then immersed herself in an intensive study of aesthetics and technique, and, finally, found the balance between the two that has allowed her to express herself in a unique and ever-evolving line of jewelry that spans three decades.

Heinrich’s journey began at an early age. Her parents were winemakers, and she would collect objects around her family’s vineyard in Heilbronn, Germany—seedpods, shells, pieces of glass—which she turned into jewelry. In her early teens, she made pieces from silver wire and glass beads, “selling it in the streets like all the other hippies in the sixties. I wasn’t a hippie, but I was fascinated by how they had their piece of velvet cloth in the street, and I would walk by and check out their jewelry. I made things and sold them to my parents’ friends and gave them as gifts and so on.”

Recognizing her gift and passion for jewelrymaking, Heinrich’s parents helped her enroll in a four-year apprenticeship at the Pestalozzi Kinderdorf Wahlwies, a Rudolf Steiner–inspired community on Lake Constance in southern Germany. Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher, architect, and all-around polymath who, in addition to founding the Anthroposophical Society and pioneering Waldorf education and biodynamic agriculture (an esoteric form of organic farming), also himself designed jewelry in the early decades of the twentieth century.

LEAF COLLAR NECKLACE of eighteen karat gold with diamonds, 2009. Photograph by Hap Sakwa.

     In this almost monastic setting, Heinrich and five other apprentices sat together in absolute silence and “made jewelry the Rudolf Steiner way. We were supposed to listen to the jewelry and the tools, tune in and be one with the piece we were making. That has actually stayed with me. I don’t like talking when I work. I enjoy the process of the work and really observing what’s happening. I have an emotional response.”

Following her apprenticeship, she enrolled at the Hochschule Pforzheim, a design academy in southwestern Germany and home to one of the oldest and most prestigious jewelrymaking programs in the world. In many ways, Pforzheim was the exact opposite of the Kinderdorf community. “It was all mind, mind, mind,” she recalls. “We had to give reasons for absolutely everything. Why are the diamonds only on one side? And why are some higher and some lower? Why are they different sizes? And why, why, why, why. Everything had to be rationalized and defended.”

MEDITERRANEAN DECAY NECKLACE of coral and eighteen karat yellow gold oval bead, 2009. Photograph by Hap Sakwa. RIBBON MULTIWRAPPED CUFF of eighteen karat white gold with diamonds, 2014. Photograph by Tim Callahan. GOLD LEAF CUFF with diamonds, 2008. Photograph by Hap Sakwa.

      This more analytical approach deepened her awareness of the aesthetics and semantics of design, and also extended her range of technical skills, but it left less room for bursts of creative inspiration. “What’s not asked for is things that are more from your gut, like something more emotional, or more putting yourself into the piece,” says Heinrich. “When you look at the German jewelry magazines, it’s very homogenous. The work is very clean, geometric usually, very well proportioned, well thought out, well designed, but it doesn’t have that ‘Ah! This is really exciting!’ because that was never valued.”

After graduating with honors from Pforzheim, Heinrich set her sights on furthering her education overseas. She applied for several scholarships and ended up receiving one from the Rotary Club. “I wanted to live abroad and I needed the support. My family had already supported me for all of these years to go to school, and they said, ‘You’re on your own now.’ The director of our design academy in Pforzheim, he was a Rotarian, and he said, ‘Why don’t you apply to that? I think you have a good chance.’ ’’ In exchange for giving presentations at Rotary Clubs “about my country and my culture,” she received a sponsorship to continue her studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts in upstate New York. “I would have gone to Australia, England, the U.S.,” she says. “I was happy that I ended up in the U.S.”

BROOCH of free form Biwa pearl, diamonds and eighteen karat gold, 2010. Photograph by Ralph Gabriner.

      Upon her arrival in Rochester in 1983, Heinrich found herself adjusting, not just to a new culture, but also—once again—to a very different approach to making art. “When I came to RIT, my professors said, ‘Well, let’s do a self-portrait. Let’s do a piece that says who you are.’ Or, ‘Let’s do an homage to an artist.’ So I did one to Joseph Beuys.” The response she received was very different from what she had come to expect from her professors at Pforzheim. “OK, this is nice work,” they told her, “but it looks like all the other German work. Where are you? You’re not in the piece. We need you here! It didn’t have to be justified.”

The looser, more individualistic approach to jewelrymaking at RIT freed Heinrich to pursue a more expressive direction in her pieces. At the same time, however, she acknowledges that the rigorous training she received in her native country nurtured skills, techniques and critical faculties that gave her an advantage over some of her peers as she set out to create a body of work that was truly her own.

TRIPLE SHELL RING of eighteen karat gold, 2008. Photograph by Hap Sakwa.

      After completing her MFA at Rochester in 1985, Heinrich’s primary ambition was to find work at one of New York City’s high-end design houses. “My very clear idea was to become a designer for Tiffany’s, or Cartier, or a top name,” she recalls. “The second person who interviewed me said, ‘If you design for us, it’s going to take you years before you’re actually allowed to design. You need to work your way up. Why don’t you just do your work? You’ve got it all together. Just do it.’ So I came back and set up my studio, and honestly, it worked from the beginning. I did my first craft show in 1986, the ACC show in Baltimore, and I sold out—I had maybe twenty pieces.”

The Barbara Heinrich Studio was born that same year. And while her network of galleries, museums and other customers continues to evolve and expand, some of the connections she made at that very first American Craft Council show remain relevant thirty years later. When I met her in early November, she was in town to do the annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show—a regular venue for her—but had come down a few days early to mount a trunk show at the Gravers Lane Gallery in Chestnut Hill run by Bruce Hoffman, an early champion of her work whom she first met in Baltimore. “Through that ACC venue I built my whole business. I met the galleries there, they bought some work and gave me shows, and it slowly grew from there to the size where I felt I didn’t want to grow anymore,” says Heinrich.

Her first “coherent body of work,” launched at around this time, was the Milky Way series. True to their name, these pieces feature celestial shapes—stars, planets, comets, galaxies—that are pierced and embossed into gold with handcut brass templates to create elegant cuffs, bracelets and earrings. To this array of icons she added constellations of tiny diamonds, each one a bright, shimmering star against a background of matte-finished gold, often set off with burnished edges for contrast. For her, this astral imagery “was also the personal theme connecting me with my home country—we all see the same night sky.”

Heinrich decided to remain in Rochester and set up shop there. She had met and married Gregory Krapf, a chiropractor, in 1986, and from the beginning the studio has been extension of the couple’s home, an arrangement that has made it easier to balance work and family life. She has found herself in good company in this city of roughly two hundred thousand, as Rochester has a long association with arts and crafts. In addition to RIT and the Eastman School of Music, the city is also home to such renowned figures as metalsmith and sculptor Albert Paley and furniture-maker Wendell Castle.

OPEN FRAME POD CUFF of eighteen karat gold, 2009. Photograph by Hap Sakwa.

      “There are a good number of studios like mine of RIT graduates,” says Heinrich. And while she appreciates having access to a larger artistic community, she also safeguards her privacy and the space it affords her to pursue her craft. “To me it’s like there’s this invisibility cloak over my studio; it’s an island of creativity,” she says. This does not mean that her work is a solitary pursuit. She has been more than happy to share this island with others. In addition to employing two full-time and three part-time studio assistants, over the years she has hosted some fifteen to twenty international students—from Germany, Korea, Taiwan, India, Canada, and other countries—who have come to further develop their metalsmithing skills, as well to learn essential things that are not taught in art schools, such as how a busy jewelry studio operates in the real world.

“I had this opportunity to live and work in a foreign country, and I wanted to extend that to others, because I thought it was tremendous,” she says. “I say to the people who come through, there are no strings attached. You learn what you can during that time. You can see how we pull an exhibition together, how we price things, how we make things. You’ll learn a lot. In my studio, whoever works there does a piece from beginning to end. It doesn’t get passed on, like in normal jewelry manufacturing.”

While this method of manufacture ends up being slower than a more specialized assembly-line approach might be, it is an extension of her early education in the field. “It’s my Rudolf Steiner training,” she explains. “I always thought that you did the whole thing.” In fact, Heinrich has strived to keep production in her studio at a scale and pace that allow her to maintain the creative conditions in which her work initially flourished.

LAPIS EARRINGS AND BROOCH of eighteen karat yellow gold and diamonds, 2014. Photograph by Tim Callahan.

      Right now, says Heinrich, “the size is really perfect. It’s six or seven people on any given day, and that’s about as much as I want to manage. I have kids, I have a husband. I want to enjoy life, too.” She smiles and adds, “I’m at my sweet spot.” Heinrich uses this phrase several times during the course of our conversation to describe the balance she has very consciously struck to keep inspiration and satisfaction alive amid the many competing demands of running a successful studio.

In addition to limiting the size of the studio itself, Heinrich also schedules exhibitions in a way that opens up quiet periods at regular intervals. “I do a cluster of shows and then nothing for a month or two, and then a cluster and then nothing. I never do any shows or galleries between June and September,” she says. “If things are a little slow, I always say ‘Time for creativity! We don’t have orders. It’s wonderful! Let’s say it’s two months. We’re going to use two months and reinvent ourselves and redesign. This is our best time at the studio. Often I lay things out on the center table and say, ‘What do you guys see? What can we do with this? If we were to make a cuff, how would that look? If we do a necklace, what does that look like? Let’s do a series. How are we evolving?’ ”

BLACK TOURMALINE NECKLACE of eighteen karat gold and diamonds, 2011. Photograph by Hap Sakwa.

      Sometimes changes in the market can also be a catalyst for creativity. When the price of gold spiked in 2008, for example, she and her team explored ways of opening up their designs to make beautifully ethereal pieces that used less of the precious metal. The result has been two of her most popular series, Blades of Grass and Ribbons, both of which utilize super-light, super-thin fabricated strands of gold that are coiled, wrapped, swirled, or knotted to create cuffs, rings and necklaces. The delicate beauty of these works is enhanced by the interplay between burnished and matte finishes—a defining feature of much of Heinrich’s jewelry—as well as the artful addition of stones.

A spectacular offshoot of this series is a 2011 Zinnia Ring, in which slender gold ribbons are wrapped and twisted into a profusion of flower petals, anchored at the center by a lustrous gray pearl. Another, more recent example at the Philadelphia gallery was a large pair of Lotus Leaf earrings with a scattering of dewdrop diamonds across their delicate, veined surfaces. These pieces are so light that it is quite easy to imagine them floating atop a body of water, glinting in the sun. In fact, this is exactly where her inspiration came from: “I was looking at some lotus leaves floating in a pond at a garden that I visited, and I noticed that there were waterdrops on the leaves, and I thought it would be really fun to hang these little diamonds in there.”

LOTUS LEAF EARRINGS of eighteen karat gold, diamond briolette drops, and diamonds, 2008. Photograph by Tim Callahan.

      Such pieces are more labor-intensive, but for Heinrich it makes sense both aesthetically and economically to take the extra time in making them. “When gold is at two thousand dollars an ounce, say, it’s cheaper to spend two or three extra hours and use less gold to achieve the same result. And it keeps us all busy, which is what we want.

“I always say we’re part of the ‘slow movement.’ You need to earn your place in the slow movement, because you have to have something that stands out where people are willing to pay for all those hours, and that is called design and innovation. I see everything as a design opportunity. And we need to use our opportunities, not give them away. If we give them away and do something ordinary, it’s done.”

SUGGESTED READING
Barry, Sue. “Masters and Apprentices: The European Tradition and Contemporary Jewelry in an American Context.” Exhibition text for SOFA 2010, available online at http://www.sofaexpo.com/chicago/essays/2010/masters-and-apprentices-the-european-tradition-and-contemporary-jewelry-in-an-american-context
Cummins, Susan. “Barbara Heinrich: Ribbons of Gold.” Art Jewelry Forum: April 19, 2013, available online at https://artjewelryforum.org/barbara-heinrich-ribbons-of-gold-0
Graci, Nina. “Classical Proportions: The Jewelry of Barbara Heinrich.” Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist: August 2003, available online at https://www.ganoksin.com/article/jewelry-barbara-heinrich.

      Get Inspired!

 
 

David Updike is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. His recent editorial projects have included exhibition catalogues on Mexican modernism, Indian court drawings, American cinema, and the Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera. A regular contributor to Ornament since 2010, he most recently previewed the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show and reviewed the exhibition “Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage.” For this issue, he profiles the Rochester-based jewelry artist Barbara Heinrich, whom he caught up with at Philadelphia’s Gravers Lane Gallery, where she was doing a trunk show on her way to exhibit at the Philadelphia Craft Show in November. 

Heavenly Bodies Volume 39.2

Heavenly Bodies: The Exhibition
An Idea, Its Implementation and A Compelling Result

WILHELM BUCHERT BANGLE of gold, opal and pearl, 1969. Collection of Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim. Photograph by Rudiger Floter.

It all began in Saint Petersburg in the fall of 2013, during a conversation with Anna Vladimirovna Ratnikova, one of the jewelry curators at the Russian Museum of Ethnography, which, along with the Hermitage, the State Russian Museum and the Kunstkamera Museum, ranks among the city’s major museums. We talked about potential exhibition projects, about themes hitherto not contemplated, about new approaches to showcasing the rich diversity of jewelry in terms of appearance and forms of expression. Anna sparked a great idea by asking whether there had ever been an exhibition themed around celestial bodies, i.e. the sun, the moon and the stars in jewelry.

      An idea was born: an idea that was intriguing, an idea whose implementation opened up a new area of research, an idea that eventually led to the “Heavenly Bodies: The Sun, Moon and Stars in Jewellery” exhibition at Pforzheim’s Jewelry Museum (Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim), probably a worldwide first and with the participation of renowned international partners, such as the Louvre and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Museum of Decorative Arts) in Paris, the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) in Vienna, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London and the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen (State Art Collections) in Dresden, to name just a few, as well as private collectors and contemporary artists from both Germany and abroad, who all responded generously and unhesitatingly to the Jewelry Museum’s request for loans.

From the start, the intention was to cover the theme, both in the exhibition and in the accompanying book, in a manner that reveals the global dimension of “heavenly jewelry.”

The preliminary work was widely ramified. Our considerations included the visual arts, literature and music, as well as religions and myths from many of the world’s cultures and regions, and we explored the diversity of the celestial bodies’ representation in the artistic crafts, for example. New dimensions regarding our understanding of the cosmos, of the universe, emerged, also and particularly in terms of its extensive relations to jewelry. After all: the Ancient Greek word for cosmos, κόσµος, means universe, order and jewelry as well!

 

To Read The Complete Article

 
 

Fritz Falk, a master goldsmith and jewelry historian, began his career as a research assistant at Pforzheim’s Jewelry Museum, and became its director in 1971. Since then, he has significantly expanded its collection, and has developed it into a specialized museum that is unique worldwide, one whose exhibits are much sought after as exquisite loans for exhibitions all over the planet. While the main focus of Falk’s activity was on collecting jewelry from classical antiquity, the Renaissance and the Art Nouveau period, he also felt particularly committed to highlighting modern, contemporary jewelry trends. After retiring in 2004, he curated “Serpentina: The Snake in Jewellery From Around the World” in 2011 to mark the Reuchlinhaus’s fiftieth anniversary.

Haystack Components Volume 38.4 Preview

Haystack Components
Metals and Jewelry

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

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

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

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

 

    Read the Full Article

 
 

Carl-Little.jpg

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

Glittering World Volume 38.4

Glittering World
Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

Eveli Sabatie Volume 38.4

Eveli Sabatie
Between Worlds and Time

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

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