Nadine Kariya Volume 40.2

PEONY FAN PENDANT of  cloisonné  enamel, fine silver, sterling silver, pearls, and gold-filled chain, 1975.  Photograph by Nadine Kariya.  NADINE KARIYA IN HER STUDIO.  Photograph by Kari Berger.

PEONY FAN PENDANT of cloisonné enamel, fine silver, sterling silver, pearls, and gold-filled chain, 1975. Photograph by Nadine Kariya. NADINE KARIYA IN HER STUDIO. Photograph by Kari Berger.

KINGFISHER BON VOYAGE PENDANT of carved boxwood, tin coaster, post-war Japanese porcelain fugu buttons, aquamarine, gilded wishbone, sterling silver, brass, fourteen karat gold, enameled iron, 2015. Photographs by Daniel Fox, Lumina Studio except where noted.

The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s exhibition of work by Seattle jewelrymaker Nadine Kariya is called “The Hammer and the Peony,” and the title is perfect. It evokes the idea that work—skilled, diligent, physical work—is required to create beauty. With her hammers, several of which share display cases with her jewelry, Kariya has for more than four decades used her skills as a master metalsmith to make jewelry that is astonishing for the complexity of its craftsmanship and its exquisite design.

      The show, curated and designed by Greg Robinson, the museum’s Chief Curator, includes about seventy pieces and serves as a retrospective of Kariya’s career. The exhibition is remarkable for several reasons, including that Kariya has made just about every type of jewelry you can name, from pendants and necklaces, to brooches, bracelets, rings, earrings, and cufflinks. She has made jewelry that looks tribal, such as the magnificent Dragon Stick Pearl Necklace, 2011, a regal composition of pinkish, oblong freshwater pearls and African brass beads. And she has made jewelry descended from the ateliers of European royal jewelers, such as the queenly Chalcedony Oval Ring, 2010.

Having supported herself for a couple of decades as a commercial jewelrymaker, there is not much that Kariya can not or will not design. Much of her work over the years has been commissioned, so she has often had to center jewelry around a stone or precious object given to her by a collector. Kariya obviously relishes the challenge. 

KINGFISHER CAUGHT BETWEEN MAN’S GOD AND MOTHER NATURE NECKPIECE of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, shakudo, carved boxwood, melamine and tin images, fourteen karat vintage snake, diamonds, steel cut beads, aquamarine, garnet, and braided leather cord, 2015.

      Noteworthy too is Kariya’s expertise in every technical aspect of jewelrymaking, from forging, fabrication and welding, to engraving and the alchemy involved in making cloisonné and alloys. She has also carved hardwood to create jewelry. And though metal is the basis of nearly everything she makes, Kariya has sometimes included found objects such as fossils, vintage treasures and animal bone. Her attraction to precious and semiprecious stones—often in majestic sizes—is a signature of her aesthetic.

“The Hammer and the Peony” starts with work from the early 1970s, including Voyager Brooch, 1973, the first piece Kariya sold after earning her BFA in Metal Design from the University of Washington. Made of amethyst, fine silver, sterling silver, and cloisonné enamel, the disc-shaped piece is about two inches in diameter and suggests an amethyst eye gazing into a dark sky. A fiery glow surrounds the oculus; perhaps the sun is in the background. There are white moons, or celestial bodies of some kind, below the oculus. Even in this first professional work Kariya’s talent as a colorist comes through in the brooch’s dramatic palette.

BIRTH OF ATHENA NECKLACE of sterling silver, shakudo, eighteen karat gold, negative quartz, diamond, elastic cording, 2017.

UME TV RING CONTAINER of sterling silver, cloisonné enamel, jeweled knobs, rotating antenna, 1976.

      Kariya’s skill with cloisonné is on display in other pieces from the 1970s, especially in a group of small silver boxes that could be containers for precious unguents. In Ume TV Ring Container, 1976, Kariya made a golf-ball size sterling silver television perpetually displaying a cloisonné screen of red plum blossoms, called ume in Japanese. The television knobs are small jewels. The antenna rotates. The box is charming but it is also a nod to the importance of television in 1970s culture, and a reference to Kariya’s Japanese-American heritage. Plum blossoms are a popular decorative motif in traditional Japanese art and design.

Among Kariya’s signature forms are rings and bracelets. Two large bangle bracelets made since 2000 are studies in complex alchemy and intricate surface embellishment. To make the bracelets Human Grid and Moonflower, Kariya used shakudo, an alloy of copper and gold; shibuichi, an alloy of copper and silver; and argentium®, an alloy of germanium and copper. The gold, silver and alloys create metallic palettes of surprising breadth and brilliance. In these bracelets and other pieces, Kariya uses the silver jewelry as a canvas on which to add decoration and pattern.

Until a few years ago, Kariya considered herself a maker of non-narrative jewelry. Her work had always been elegant and beautifully designed, but rarely imbued with stories or social commentary. Then in 2010 she was asked to participate in an exhibition in which each artist made work relating to a particular year from the twentieth or early twenty-first centuries. Kariya chose 2009 and made a piece about Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The piece is a suite of four brooches, each containing lines from speeches Obama made during the year. A white dove with an olive branch in its beak is the center of the suite. Obama’s words are engraved in spiraling ribbons held in a man’s hand, which emerges from the cuff of a peony-decorated sleeve. 

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      Kariya notes in her exhibition statement that the Barack Obama suite inspired her to make more narrative work. Since then she has created other ambitious narrative pieces. One is Kingfisher Caught Between Man’s God and Mother Nature, a necklace of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, alloys, carved wood, gemstones, braided leather cord, and a vintage gold snake. Prominent is the iconic image of God’s hand touching man from Michelangelo’s fresco, The Creation of Adam, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. A carved wooden kingfisher is trapped behind the giant hands, and in back of the bird is a glimpse of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. The Kingfisher is a recurring character in Kariya’s recent work, and in numerous traditional cultures the bird represents peace and prosperity. But in this large, ceremonial-looking neckpiece, the bird seems to represent humankind caught between the world we have created, with our laws and belief systems, and the natural world. In spite of its discomfiting environmental message, it is another beautiful piece. And as this thoughtful, serene exhibition demonstrates so well, beauty brings us joy, which is something we can always use more of.

SUGGESTED READING
Lorene, Karen.
Celebrating 70. Seattle: Lorene Publications, Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery, 2010.
Snyder, Jeffrey. Art Jewelry Today 2. Atglen: Schiffer Publications, 2008.
Updike, Robin. “Nadine Kariya: A Formalist Approach.” Ornament, Vol. 23, No. 2, 1999.
—. “Celebrating 70: Seventy Jewelers, Seventy Challenges.” Ornament, Vol. 33, No. 5, 2010.
—. “Nadine Kariya: Spiraling Arabesques.” Ornament, Vol. 34, No. 5, 2011.

“Nadine Kariya: The Hammer and the Peony,” shows at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art,
Bainbridge, Washington, through February 28, 2018.

Click Images for Captions

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Robin Updike, a regular contributor to Ornament, is a Seattle-based arts writer who has been following Nadine Kariya’s work for many years. During that time Kariya’s elegant jewelry has been collected by some of Seattle’s best known metal arts patrons as well as those who simply admire beautiful, statement-making jewelry. Having supported herself for years as a commercial jeweler, Kariya combines outstanding craftsmanship with a highly refined aesthetic. Kariya’s current exhibition at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is a feast for the eyes and the soul.

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!

 
 

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Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. She has written books and curated exhibitions on sisters Ilonka and Mariska Karasz, Hungarian-born modern designers based in New York; Henry Eugene Thomas, a Colonial Revival furniture craftsman from Athens; and a history of chenille fashion. 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.

Saul Bell Design Award 2017 Volume 40.1

 

VALERIE JO COULSON. Firenze Bracelet of sterling silver, Australian tiger iron, purple agate, and flower agate. Best of Show. 

 

Saul Bell is the patron saint of all jewelers and metalsmiths, past and present. For over fifty years, from the moment he opened Rio Grande, a wholesale jewelry supplier, on Route 66 (now Central Avenue) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1944, Bell became known as a trusted mentor and teacher, sharing his knowledge of old-world techniques and always ready with unstinting guidance and support for legions of artisans, jewelers and metalsmiths. By the time of his death, in 1996, Saul Bell had helped an industry grow up, and Rio Grande had become a megalith, the largest jewelrymaking supplier in the world. Now part of The Richline Group, Rio Grande in 2000 established the annual Saul Bell Design Award (SBDA), an international competition to honor distinction in jewelry design. The 2017 winners, in nine different categories, were announced this past May. For an artist, winning much-deserved recognition by a jury of peers carries with it an intangible feeling of validation—the judges above all know and understand the skills and craftsmanship it took to succeed.

      The competition stages two rounds of judging: the first to winnow entries down to a select group; the second to decide finalists and winners. Judges, white-gloved and armed with loupes, are charged with evaluating the creative originality, technical excellence and degree of innovation undertaken by every entry. Among the five 2017 second-round judges were Michael Good, an award-winning metalsmith and a pioneer in anticlastic-raising techniques; Debbie Sheezel, a name to conjure with as an internationally known Australian enamelist specializing in cloisonné on silver and gold, and a previous SBDA winner; Kent Raible, one of the country’s most acclaimed studio master goldsmiths and a two-time SBDA winner; forty-year jewelry industry veteran Mark Mann, the GIA senior director of Global Jewelry Manufacturing Arts; and Kaminer Haislip, a Charleston, South Carolina-based silversmith.

Italy comes calling in Valerie Jo Coulson’s bracelet, Firenze, receiving 2017 Best of Show. Employing hollow fabrication and stone inlay in sterling silver, the sculptural-looking Firenze is a masterpiece of construction and composition, meant as a tribute to the octagonal roof structure of the Renaissance-era Battistero di San Giovanni [the Florentine Baptistery]. The bracelet’s upper pattern celebrates pietra dura, an Italian inlay technique of cutting and fitting stones together to create illusionistic images. Coulson calls her first trip to Florence, in 2011, “an apex of my life.” In her jewelry, the artist says, she seeks “a purity of design with an aesthetic which is intrinsically governed by the principle of sacred geometry.” A veteran studio artist and 2014 SBDA winner, Coulson makes her home in rural Pennsylvania. 

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      Winner of the Enamel category for 2017, Sandra McEwen’s triumphant triptych brooch, Fool’s Errand, impressively re-interprets classical techniques in a vigorous, contemporary form incorporating faceted pyrite and a lavender moon quartz. The brooch seems cinematic in its shifts in perspective, while the irregular rhythm among its champlevé and cloisonné panels poses the niggling question: what is the foolish errand? McEwen, from Raleigh, North Carolina, studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. Fascinated with medieval illuminated manuscripts, she also has a notable reputation for her color sense. About Fool’s Errand, McEwen says, “I love the precision of the [twenty-four karat gold] wirework and the color of the sky. The colors travel from morning at the top to evening at the bottom. The blues are the unifying element.”

      A thirty-year-old memory of an eighteenth-century church in his native Ukraine inspired Aleksandr Maryaskin to win his second SBDA in Hollowware/Art Objects with his entirely hand-fabricated Discovery of Eggcellence. Maryaskin’s ethereal, bejeweled gold-filigree egg, reminiscent of Fabergé’s golden Easter eggs, opens up to reveal an exquisitely detailed, three-dimensional church. The egg sits above a half-sphere of polished lapis lazuli enclosed in a filigree base. Maryaskin gave himself the personal challenge of using only a laser welder to make the piece. A self-taught jeweler and metalsmith from Carrollton, Virginia, Maryaskin has a passion for manipulating metal and creating one-of-a-kind designs; he dislikes earrings because he has to make two of them. His filigree work, as fine as spun sugar made from fourteen karat white, yellow and red gold, alone is a feat of artistry; Maryaskin is especially proud of how he solved the engineering of the design to make all three components work together.  

      If you have got it, flaunt it, especially if you can show off the glamorous prize-winning ring, Passarola, by Arturo Sanfelix Garcia, of Valencia, Spain, participating in his first-ever competition. Garcia describes Passarola as a cocktail-type ring, inspired by traditional Georgian-era jewelry. The ring is cast and hand-fabricated in Argentium® silver with yellow and white gold plating, set with simulated amethysts and created diamonds, and crowned with a checkerboard-cut natural citrine. Garcia, who trained in his father’s jewelry studio, took two years to create the piece on weekends; the design kept evolving as he worked. Because it took so long, Garcia says, he has learned, “It is better to have a plan.”

      Jason Baide admits he is in love: Montana Yogo sapphires “are near and dear to my heart. Their rich color is completely natural, never treated. Plus they are found just a couple of hours from my hometown” in Bozeman, Montana. For his second SBDA, the Montana State University student won First Place in Emerging Jewelry Artists 22 Years or Younger with Flexibility, a hand-fabricated ring of fourteen karat yellow-gold wire and tubing set with his favorite sapphires. He has always been attracted to making flexible jewelry, going back to growing up working in his father’s custom jewelry gallery, where he got some early training. Baide said his greatest challenge was problem-solving the mechanics of how to “add the stones without hindering the smooth flexibility of the ring.” The chance recently to study in Italy had a huge influence on his aesthetics, reflecting what SBDA, in naming Baide, called “a sophistication well beyond his years.” 

The next Saul Bell Design Award ceremony takes place May 20, 2018, in Albuquerque. For 2018, the competition has upped the ante and introduced two new categories: Jewelry Collection Couture/Fine, and Jewelry Collection Fashion/Bridge. The event is held during the four-day Santa Fe Symposium, which brings together jewelry professionals from all over the industry and everywhere in the world to talk about work, business and the future. For craftspeople it offers a chance to network and swap trade news, brainstorm ideas, and hear about new techniques: exactly what Saul Bell set out to do.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Leslie Clark is a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based freelance writer. While learning about the winning artists for the 2017 Saul Bell Design Award, Clark was intrigued to discover that “women mostly learn jewelrymaking in classes, while men often have been taught by their jeweler-fathers. All the artists loved entering the SBDA competition for the chance to try something different. Almost everyone listens to something—music, or a podcast—while they work. And, fortunately, nobody pays any attention to trends.”

Comment

Leslie Clark

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

Virginia Dudley Volume 39.4

 
Everything I do is related to arts and crafts… It’s not a way of life, it is life to me. If not for that, I’d see no point in living.
— Virginia Dudley
CONTEMPORARY VIEW OF VIRGINIA DUDLEY’S PROPERTY.  Photographs by Ashley Callahan .

CONTEMPORARY VIEW OF VIRGINIA DUDLEY’S PROPERTY. Photographs by Ashley Callahan.

Virginia Dudley was born in 1913 in the small town of Spring City, Tennessee, and grew up in Chattanooga, an industrial city nestled around a bend in the Tennessee River amid the dramatic scenery of the Cumberland Plateau. She practiced many artistic media—photography, printmaking, painting, sculpture, ceramics—and is best known for her award-winning enamels of the 1950s. The records documenting her life and career are fragmentary, but enough survives to indicate the impressive diversity of her artistic pursuits, her remarkable skill and vision, and her determined and independent personality. In an interview for the Chattanooga Times in 1962, she firmly expressed her passion for her vocation: “Everything I do is related to arts and crafts… It’s not a way of life, it is life to me. If not for that, I’d see no point in living.”

FISH BRACELET of enamel on copper with silver, 5.08 x 17.15 centimeters, circa 1955, illustrated in Design Quarterly, 1955. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. 

      Dudley’s parents were not wealthy, but her mother encouraged her interests, and through a series of scholarships, Dudley pursued an art education. She first received a scholarship to the University of Chattanooga (now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), where she studied photography and painting from 1937-1940, earning a certificate of completion of art training. Then she won a scholarship to study in New York—a city she loved—at the Art Students League, where her instructors included William Zorach and Wil Barnet. While in New York, she also studied at the Craft Students League and served as Berenice Abbott’s photographic assistant at the New School for Social Research.

In 1943 she was awarded a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship and left New York to spend a year traveling in the South making photographs and sketches. Though most fellowships went to African American artists, some went to “white southerners with an interest in race relations,” as noted by the Spertus Museum in Chicago for an exhibition of Rosenwald-supported art. Dudley, as her niece Patricia Antonia Collier recalls, was staunchly opposed to segregation. Around this time, she acquired property in Rising Fawn, Georgia, on Lookout Mountain (near Chattanooga) and built a small home. She also married Oscar “Mac” McElhaney (1897-1944), a retired commercial photographer, who died near the end of her fellowship period.

After this loss, Dudley returned to the Art Students League, also studying at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17, which he had relocated from Paris to New York when World War II began. During this second period in the city she met Joseph Spencer Moran (1923-2005), a graduate student in English at Columbia, and they married in 1946—though she again kept her given name.

Moran took a teaching job at New Mexico College in Las Cruces (now New Mexico State University), but Dudley told the Chattanooga Times (1955) that she did not relish the role of faculty wife. She enrolled in school briefly at New Mexico College, then in 1948 accepted a scholarship to Scripps College in Claremont, California, near Los Angeles, and did graduate work at Claremont Graduate School. Dudley had become enchanted by enamels while in New York, where she had seen an exhibition of medieval enameled objects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Claremont was one of the few places in the country that offered enamel instruction. She studied with leading enamelist Jean Ames (1903-1986), who, with her husband Arthur (1906-1975), was part of “the development of a dynamic enameling movement in Southern California,” as Bernard N. Jazzar and Harold B. Nelson note in their book Little Dreams in Glass and Enamel.

VIRGINIA DUDLEY working in her studio, circa 1954.  Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by A. Glenn Hanson, Max Keister or Guy Hayes.

VIRGINIA DUDLEY working in her studio, circa 1954. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by A. Glenn Hanson, Max Keister or Guy Hayes.

      During this time, Dudley also traveled to northern California where she visited Pond Farm, an artists’ colony founded by Jane and Gordon Herr that offered the Pond Farm Workshops from 1949-1952. There she encountered, as reported in the Chattanooga Times (1952), “artists from Austria and Germany who had, as she had, the thought that enameling was an art that should be revived.” She received her M.F.A. in 1950, creating a series of large enameled wall panels for her thesis as well as her own kiln.

American studio craft in all areas grew quickly in the post-war years—as returning G.I.s filled schools, academic programs expanded, and opportunities to exhibit and purchase craft multiplied—and the field of enamels was no exception. A relatively small niche within the craft world, enamels often was linked with ceramics, as both use kilns and involve the application of vitreous surfaces to grounds. Exhibitions like the Ceramics Nationals, which originated in Syracuse, New York, at the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts (now the Everson Museum of Art), then traveled nationally, brought important media and public attention to contemporary ceramics and enamels. Dudley’s work appeared in many of the Nationals between 1949 and 1959, including the 16th in 1951, which featured two of her trays, Metropolitan and Golden Fishes, and the 19th in 1956 for which she won an award for enamels.

METROPOLITAN TRAY of enamel on copper, 20.32 x 20.32 centimeters, marked “rising faun enamels/virigina dudley” on back, circa 1951. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by John Poehlman.

GOLDEN FISHES TRAY of enamel on copper, 22.2 x 25.4 centimeters, signed “rising faun enamels/virginia dudley” on back, circa 1951. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by John Poehlman.

      In 1950 Dudley returned to her home in Rising Fawn with Moran and they established Rising Faun Enamels—with a “u” rather than a “w” to distinguish from the town and to reference the mythological woodland creature—and created pins, pendants, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, tie clips, cufflinks, trays, and wall plaques or mosaics, that “sold in fine stores all over the country from New York to California” (Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution, 1952). They worked with the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, and Dudley explained, “The guild encourages craftsmen of the area by helping to exchange information, market products, and obtain raw materials.”

During the 1950s Dudley and Moran expanded the one-room cabin by adding a studio, living room and kitchen. Andrew Sparks described the home in the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution (1953) as “constructed largely of love and tarpaper, second-hand windows, old doors and lumberyard bargains.” He also referred to it as “one of the most interesting modern houses in Georgia,” noting, “the front yard is a cantilevered slab of sandstone that projects over an 87-foot vertical drop into a gorge that looks like a
green-and-blue Grand Canyon.”

BIRD BROOCH/PENDANT of enamel on copper, 6.99 centimeters diameter, circa 1950-1957. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by Ashley Callahan.

      The house sits on the edge of a bluff overlooking Johnson’s Crook, a scenic bend in the valley, and is near both Tennessee and Alabama. Though the address is Rising Fawn, that town—the closest with a post office—sits at the base of the mountain, and the community at the top is referred to as New Salem. The area had developed a reputation as an artists’ colony, thanks to Fannie Mennen’s (1903-1995) efforts, starting in 1947, to organize annual art sales known as the Plum Nelly or Clothesline Art Show.

Dudley was resourceful and fiercely self-reliant, and the couple lived in the home without electricity for a couple of months, without a car for four years, and without running water. They enjoyed the seclusion, and the Chattanooga Times (1952) reported: “Here on Lookout Mountain, they found the freedom to build as they pleased, paint and draw when they wanted to, to fire up the furnace at midnight, if that hour is convenient for them.”

In 1954 Craft Horizons included a six-page illustrated article by Moran that details Dudley’s process. He wrote: “She is demonstrating through her studio-workshop that enameling can be an artistic medium of variety, subtlety and elegance, providing a modest livelihood for the hard-working practitioner.” He offered this description of her studio: “The nucleus of the workshop is the large table on which Virginia applies enamel to copper. This table, flanked on two sides by shelves containing jars of enamels, is directly beneath a skylight. To the right of the table stand the two kilns where the enamels are fired. A wood-burning space heater stands close to the chimney in the south wall.”

SEA BIRDS PANEL of enamel on copper, sand, paint, 81.28 x 48.26 centimeters, circa 1954. Collection of Georgia Museum of Art, University
of Georgia. Photograph courtesy of Georgia Museum of Art.

      For larger works, like enamel plaques, Dudley made preparatory oil paintings, often dividing them into sections to plan basic colors and shapes. Moran prepared the copper, cutting and forming it as needed, and polishing it. Dudley applied the enamel—she had about three hundred colors—to the metal through a variety of methods to create different effects; Moran described how she sprinkled powdered enamel through a fine mesh screen, trailed it gradually between her fingers for a loose and linear effect, and painted “moistened enamel with a brush” for “the greatest control and precision.” Each piece, whether a pendant or a section of a mosaic, would be fired multiple times—usually just for a few minutes each time—to melt the enamel and fuse it to the metal, creating a thin, glassy surface. Small earrings usually required about six firings, while larger, more complex elements might require up to twenty-nine firings. Moran wrote that Dudley was “fascinated with the rich, latent possibilities to be wrought by the fusing of metal and enamels through intense heat,” and there was “always a tremor of excitement when we [opened] the kiln and [took] out an enameled piece.”

The Rising Faun Enamels are sophisticated in their range of techniques, variations in form, color combinations and complexity of layers. The metal is carefully shaped and the objects are finished on the back (counter enameled). Dudley achieved an impressive depth with her enamel, sometimes creating objects with opaque surface colors punctuated by small open areas revealing a translucency below that suggest dappled light shining into mountain streams. Her color combinations—even in miniature—are striking, with hot pink next to bright orange, or golden green below a vivid aqua. Her designs ranged from cubist-inspired geometrics to mid-century biomorphic forms, and she favored natural motifs,
especially fish.

While Dudley incorporated her last name into the designs of most of the larger trays and plaques, or added her name, “rising faun enamels,” or “virginia and joseph” in enamel on the back, the jewelry is less consistently marked. Some larger pins and pendants have her name on the front, and some jewelry has paper labels on the back with “RISING FAUN ENAMELS/VIRGINIA AND JOSEPH” (sometimes with the line “FROM THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS”), but many items are unmarked.

While Rising Faun Enamels fit into the small world of studio enamels, it also fit into the growing field of modern studio jewelry, another area for which Dudley was recognized. In 1955 and 1959 the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis—a leader in promoting mid-century design and craft—included her work in two important issues of its publication Design Quarterly that were dedicated to contemporary jewelry. The 1955 issue, a who’s who of American mid-century jewelry, showed black and white photographs of two of Dudley’s bracelets, both composed of free-form sections, one abstract with light speckles on a dark ground and the other with fish. The 1959 issue included a pendant described as a “gold and silver encrustation on enameled copper,” and includes this quote from her: “I consider each piece of jewelry important within itself, a compatible object which intensifies the being of the wearer by heightening the presence and expanding the reality of the person.”

 
FISH BROOCH/PENDANT, 7.78 x 3.81 centimeters, paper label on back marked “VIRGINIA DUDLEY.”

FISH BROOCH/PENDANT, 7.78 x 3.81 centimeters, paper label on back marked “VIRGINIA DUDLEY.”

 

      In 1954 Dudley explained, “When we built our studio, we were striving to solve a problem perplexing to many artists and craftsmen today: the problem of creating and marketing objects made by hand, with skill and sensibility, for those seeking not just the unique or unusual, but objects, well-made and functional, to gladden the discriminating who are so often wearied by mediocrity and monotonous repetition.” This goal may have been too idealistic, though, especially given their remote southern setting, and the next few years saw a shift in their approach as they worked to supplement their income. In 1955 they opened a retail shop in their home, American Craftsmen, selling Rising Faun Enamels as well as the work of about nine other craftsmen. By 1956 Dudley was teaching classes at the University of Chattanooga Evening College and at the Hunter Gallery of Art in Chattanooga, and in early 1957
she took a job with the Army directing arts and crafts recreational programs at Fort Monroe in Virginia. Though likely determined largely by financial concerns, this change may also reflect Dudley’s inclination to move on to new projects after she mastered a technique, a characteristic her niece remembers well. Dudley once stated, “A constant wariness of being trapped by one material, one approach, lives with me.” Her new job soon was followed by divorce, which marked the end of Rising Faun Enamels.

ABSTRACT BROOCH/PENDANT, 8.26 X 5.56 centimeters. 

      Dudley continued to include enamel work as part of her roster of activities in the following decades, but its prominence diminished. Also, by the 1960s, making enameled jewelry became a popular hobbyist activity, and kits with pre-cut flat forms and limited colors resulted in a saturation of the market that, as Jazzar and Nelson note in their book Painting with Fire: Masters of Enameling in America, 1930-1980, “began to undermine [enamel’s] status as a legitimate and highly regarded form of contemporary art.” Dudley returned to her earlier pursuits of travel and education, and maintained her Rising Fawn home as a weekend or summer retreat. From 1958-1959 she did post-graduate work at the College of William and Mary, and in 1959 at the University of Maryland’s overseas branch in Uijeongbu, Korea, where the Army transferred her to oversee more than a dozen craft shops, which she did until 1961 when she took up a similar role for the Air Force for two more years.

      Even though she was moving on to new activities, Dudley’s reputation as an enamelist was well established. In 1957 Oppi Untracht, instructor in enameling at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, published the how-to book Enameling on Metal, which featured illustrations of several of her plaques/mosaics, including Sea Birds. Also, in 1959 the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City (now the Museum of Arts and Design) included Dudley in its seminal exhibition titled “Enamels,” which included five of her works, from an early tray to recent jewelry.

NECKLACE with metal choker. Shield is 6.03 x 9.21 centimeters. Jewelry is enamel on copper, circa 1950-1957.  Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by Ashley Callahan.

NECKLACE with metal choker. Shield is 6.03 x 9.21 centimeters. Jewelry is enamel on copper, circa 1950-1957. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by Ashley Callahan.

During a visit to Rising Fawn in 1962 she discovered that her home had been burglarized, and that many of her finest works, both paintings and enameled plaques, as well as a box of clippings and catalogs, had been stolen. The local newspaper reported, “A quantity of ‘Rising Faun Enamels’ jewelry also was removed, including one-of-a-kind pendants, medallions and cuff links.” None of the material, valued at ten thousand dollars, was recovered, and the event remained a source of bitter frustration to Dudley. 

From 1963-1971 she taught art at Shorter College, in Rome, Georgia, then, as her eyesight began to fail, retired to Rising Fawn. She died in 1981 at age sixty-seven. Though Rising Faun Enamels existed for only seven years—a brief passage in her productive life—that period of creative focus, entrepreneurial collaboration with Moran, and immersion in the natural beauty of her region resulted in a body of work that reflects both the captivating qualities she admired in the medieval enamels that first inspired her and the modernism of the mid-twentieth century.

SUGGESTED READING
Jazzar, Bernard N. and Harold B. Nelson
, Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present. Los Angeles: Enamel Arts Foundation, 2015.
     —Painting with Fire: Masters of Enameling in America, 1930-1980. Long Beach: Long Beach Museum of Art, 2006. 
Stevenson, Margie and Patricia Collier. “Virginia E. Dudley.” Chattanooga Regional Historical Journal 10: July 2007, 49-70.
Thomas, Joe A. Virginia Dudley and American Modernism, exhibition brochure, Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia, July 1-August 2, 2014.
Virginia Dudley website: http://www.virginiadudley.org.

EARRINGS ON RISING FAUN ENAMELS CARDS of enamel on copper, varying sizes, circa 1950-1957. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by
Ashley Callahan.

     Get Inspired!


Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. After repeatedly encountering Virginia Dudley’s name for years while working on various research projects about craft in Georgia and modern jewelry, she became an admirer of Dudley’s accomplishments in the field of enamels, especially jewelry. She was thrilled when family friends Sally and John Poehlman of Rising Fawn put her in contact with the current occupant of Dudley’s amazing home, David Lyons, and with Dudley’s niece, Patricia Antonia Collier. Callahan appreciates the support, enthusiasm and warm welcome she and her husband enjoyed in Rising Fawn.

David Freda Volume 39.2

THREE TENORS BROOCH of Zygo Pink/Zygopetalum, Buttercup White/Trichoglottis briachiata hybrid and Epidendrum Pacific Sunsplash orchids; cold-joined and hollowcast, made 2008; enameled twenty karat gold, set with five diamonds, 8.9 centimeters (cm) long, weighing 91.1 grams. The intricate enameling and fabrication process is similar to that described for the butterfly brooch in this article, in contrast to erroneous accounts stating that the actual orchids were dipped into wax. Since 2002, Freda has made a series of about fifty orchid brooches for Tiffany & Company (Jazzar and Nelson 2015). In the 2008/2009 Tiffany catalog, this orchid brooch was priced at forty-five thousand dollars. Private Collection. Photograph by David Behl. 

How do you look at a piece of art, or for our readers, an artist-made piece of jewelry? Does your reaction differ if you base your opinion on merely what you see, or does knowing about the underlying materials and processes affect your reaction? Most of us decide quickly if we like or dislike something, even if we have the background knowledge to engage in more deliberate consideration. This may occur even during the judging of a competition or a show, although one would certainly then further appraise the design, crafting and other relevant factors before arriving at a final decision.

      After looking critically at jewelry of all types for over four decades, I am still shocked when what I thought I knew differs from reality, as with the case of Pat Tseng’s fiber and stone jewelry (Liu 2015). Similarly, even though I have known David Freda since at least 1981, (he won the 1984 Ornament competition Juror’s award by Lloyd Herman [a jewel box/neckpiece with black rat snake eggs and hatchlings, along with the mother snake]), had attended one of his moldmaking workshops, and photographed his earlier work, my recent studio visit with him revealed a complexity, intricacy and difficulty of execution in his work that was well beyond what I knew. 

DAVID FREDA AND TRISH MCALEER’S SECOND FLOOR STUDIO, wonderfully flooded by light, partially blocked by removable blue window panels. Visible are enamel powder vials on tabletop (each with fired samples on lids), kilns, vacuum caster, metal melter, wax injector and metalworking tools, as well as biological study specimens and live plants, mostly orchids. Cabinets hold projects in progress.  Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament Magazine, except where noted.

DAVID FREDA AND TRISH MCALEER’S SECOND FLOOR STUDIO, wonderfully flooded by light, partially blocked by removable blue window panels. Visible are enamel powder vials on tabletop (each with fired samples on lids), kilns, vacuum caster, metal melter, wax injector and metalworking tools, as well as biological study specimens and live plants, mostly orchids. Cabinets hold projects in progress. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament Magazine, except where noted.

DAVID FREDA

DAVID FREDA

      With my background training and research as an ethologist who studied fish behavior, Freda and I share common interests. In 1986, I traded a long run of Copeia, the leading journal for ichthyologists and herpetologists, for an enameled pupfish, which is still in progress due to the challenge of this project (to get the correct color of a breeding male pupfish, Freda went to Salt Creek in Death Valley to photograph them). His grandfather was a jeweler and Freda still has his riveting hammer. His father was a skilled machinist, so he acquired much technical knowledge working summers with him. He is perhaps the metalsmith with the most knowledge of nature and easily qualifies as a true naturalist jeweler. Freda has extensive working experience as a wildlife illustrator, raptor bird bander, falconer, taxidermist, and past curator of a wildlife center, as well as certified scuba diver, technical rock climber and avid mountain biker. Any visitor to the home of Freda and his partner Trish McAleer, also a metalsmith, cannot help but be aware of his deep interests in nature, which she shares. A full scale and accurately detailed replica of a Latimeria coelacanth hangs on a wall, something rarely even seen in a museum. A cat, two Siberian huskies and some walking stick insects share their home, along with numerous plants (especially orchids) and outdoor beehives.

Past and contemporary depictions of nature, whether botanical or zoological, were often caricatures of the actual plant or animal, frequently overly ornamented with jewels. G. Paulding Farnham’s orchid brooches made for Tiffany in the late 1800s-early 1900s were a mix of naturalistic blooms with excessive gemstone-set floral components and stems, although at least one example was devoid of gemstones. The Farnham orchid brooches may have been partly electroplated, which may be the basis for internetstatements about the orchid blooms being dipped in wax, as electroplating can involve wax. Lalique was the least susceptible to this tendency of overusing precious stones, and set only a few gems, although his enameled plants and animals were more impressionistic than realistic. 

STUDY OF NORTHERN BLACK RAT SNAKE NECKLACE, closeup showing eggs and hatchlings, of enamel over fine silver, with gold jumprings and Czech glass beads. Multiples of this necklace have been made from 1984 to 2000, his only limited production design; this necklace is 24.1 centimeters long, with eggs 2.7 cm each. The late Barbara Rockefeller owned the first snake egg and hatchling necklace made by Freda. Mobilia Gallery Collection. 

      For someone like Freda, who both loves nature and intimately knows and appreciates the anatomy of plants and animals, it would be almost a sacrilege not to replicate them fully and accurately. When he talks about his jewelry depicting members of the natural world, he states it is “pretty sacred, making these things.” I think his pride would not permit him to make replicas of nature that did not satisfy his high standards. When you couple this commitment to his superb technical prowess, it is easy to understand his devotion to the process of making a piece, from which he certainly gets his high. If one understands the technical and engineering challenges involved in each step of his fabrication process, one can begin to also realize the satisfaction that must reward the maker when making progress with such difficult procedures. His jewelry usually takes months to complete, so daily positive feedback is vital. This passion no doubt holds for many craftspeople when producing art in their studios; many remark that time often appears suspended, like being in a zen state.

As an undergraduate at University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, he studied with metalsmith Marcia Lewis, at a time when he was making leather falcon hoods. His graduate studies were at State University of New York, New Paltz, with Bob Ebendorf and Kurt Matzdorf, during 1980-1983, when Freda experimented with enameling on aluminum, as seen on the example on page 49. In the 1990s a Cooper-Hewitt exhibition of the great French master Lalique further pushed his talents toward enameling. About the time Freda won Rio Grande’s 2002 award for his stag beetle necklace, he was approached by Tiffany and Company to make enameled orchid brooches in gold. Up to then, he had only enameled on aluminum and silver; using the Rio Grande award to buy gold, it took
him a year of experimenting before he was ready to start producing the gold orchids, as it is much harder to enamel gold than silver, in part due to the alloys in gold (Fabergé enameled on silver but Lalique used gold, although he did use aluminum for structural elements of his jewelry, Harrison et al. 2008).

CABINET TOP WITH BUTTERFLY BROOCHES IN PROGRESS, along with color photocopies and photographs of the individual species. The photocopies of the actual wings are part of the documentation process that Freda follows to ensure accuracy of the intricate mosaic enameling on his butterfly brooches. The far left piece in progress is that of a moth. Photograph by David Freda.

      Freda took about a year to work out the molding of the orchids, their hollow core casting and enameling. The blooming orchids, or other specimens to be cast, are actually dissected into components, which then have silicon rubber compounds poured around them to make two part molds, from which the hollow waxes are made by injecting molten wax into the molds. He achieves hollow waxes by a clever process of blowing into the mold after the outer layer of the wax has set, with the force of the air from his mouth expelling the still molten portions of the wax from the mold. Such waxes are what enables him to do hollow casting. Because of the small spaces involved in his casts, he needs to use syringes to place the investment within the tiny apertures of the hollow waxes, as well as filling other spaces and gaps inside the investment flask used for lost-wax casting. If his casts were solid metal, the varying coefficient of expansion (COE) of the metal and the enamel could result in cracking or crazing of the enamel, similar to what happens when one attempts to work with glass of different COE. Since the butterfly wings of his brooches are solid but very thin, such problems do not occur when they are enameled. Additional factors in favor of hollow casting are the need for the jewelry to be as light as possible when worn, yet be strong enough to bear the stress of being worn, and that enamel looks better on hollow metal.

WESTERN TIGER SWALLOWTAIL BROOCH IN PROGRESS, with lower wings enameled, upper still bare gold, all cold-joined, 9.3 cm wingspan; actual butterfly was collected in southern California. Compare this to experimental work on facing page, of another swallowtail butterfly. His enameled jewelry is twenty karat gold, but findings are eighteen karat.

      To be able to make good molds and the requisite air venting, waxes, their sprueing, investing, burnout, and casting all demand a high level of skill, luck and magic, although proper utilization of the vacuum in mold making, investment preparation and metal casting are all critical to success. Since Freda does all these steps himself, it is a given there are strict standards of control and quality in his artwork. While these fabrication procedures are difficult and time consuming, it is his enameling that is awe-inspiring. Since I have had a long interest in insect jewelry (Kuehn 2003; Liu 1998, 2003), I am aware that none of the historic or contemporary interpretations of insects begin to approach Freda’s representations in accuracy of anatomy or coloration, both vital in characterization of such animals.

PROCESS FOR MAKING DANIS DANIS BUTTERFLY BROOCHES; the actual Danis butterflies are native to Australia and New Guinea. The finished brooch, of twenty, eighteen karat gold and platinum, has a wingspan of 5.7 cm, weighs about twenty-nine grams and has two marquise-set diamonds on the platinum antenna and thirty pavé-set diamonds in the abdomen. Due to the intricacy of the processes in the fabrication of these brooches, only some of the enameling and assembly steps are shown and described. 1 shows enlarged color photocopies of the wings, the lower wings partially enameled, and enameled gold cutouts with gold granules, and thin gold strips with white enamel, to be placed and fired onto wing. 2 shows the photocopies, lower wing with additional enameled elements, bare gold upper wings and actual butterfly wings on the plex block to the right. The wings and body have been scaled up from the real specimen. 3 Mirrored stencils for the turquoise decorations on the upper wing, placed onto the bare gold. 4 Upper wings now enameled in black/white, with wing areas ground to bare metal for placement of counter-enameled turquoise wing pattern pieces, shaped like the stencils. 5 Both wings cold-joined to temporary body, and a few of the turquoise decorations in place. 6 Wings completely enameled, with finished abdomen and wax components of the body in place. 7, 8 Obverse/reverse of finished Danis danis brooch, laser-welded and cold-joined, after three months work. All screws have tube-set diamonds on top.
Process photographs by David Freda except 7, 8 by Robert K. Liu/Ornament. 

      Just looking at part of the processes involved in his enameling of butterfly wings provides a good indication of the complexity of his techniques in this media, which Freda terms “mosaic enameling”. Besides the overall patterns of the upper and lower wings, which are based on color photocopies of the actual wings, smaller, contrasting spots of color are often separate cutouts of gold sheet, copied from precise stencils. These tiny pieces, some only millimeters long, are adhered onto wires protruding from a wire trivet, using his own adhesive mix of Klyr-Fyr, water lily root and saliva (the latter is also used by Mauritanian women bead artists when they wetpack glasspowder for Kiffa beads). Two hundred grit enamel, either Ninomiya or old Thompson leaded enamels are sifted onto these pieces of metal, then fired briefly at well-controlled temperatures for up to ten times, with the color checked against the actual specimen depicted (Gans 2003). These fired pieces are placed in precise patterns on the wings, often after the underlying enamel has been ground off to expose the gold. These steps are repeated until obverse and reverse sides of the wings are fully patterned accurately. Fabrication of a butterfly brooch takes three months of constant work.

FREDA’S JEWELRY BENCH, with an orchid brooch project in progress. All the rotary tool bits are neatly laid out in rows on gray felt, as well as his hand tools. All parts are in small containers. Visible to left is casting and kiln equipment, plants and biological specimens.

      Freda sets gemstones, like diamonds, into the platinum body and antenna of his butterflies, as well as gold granules onto the wings. These embellishments add to the perceived and real value of a piece, possibly at the request of the firm or individual commissioning the piece. While his jewelry is not really priced according to the value of the precious metal and gemstone content, they are at the top end of contemporary artist-made ornaments. Nowadays, the clients are often from China, Japan or the Middle East. One of his older orchid brooches sold at auction for ninety-four thousand dollars, with a beginning bid of thirty-four thousand; this hammer price is rare for living jewelers.

While Freda is still young and in the prime of health, he has already attained a level of achievement that future jewelry historians might regard as somewhat reminiscent of Lalique and Blaschka, the Bohemian father and son team of the nineteenth, early twentieth century who made astounding painted botanical and marine invertebrates in glass, including orchids. Freda’s vast practical knowledge of biology, derived often from living plants and animals, and his largely self-developed metalsmithing and enameling skills have undoubtedly been the foundations of his success, along with a dogged determination at solving problems. An admitted dyslectic, he appears to have compensated by arranging his studio environment so neatly and logically as to fit his particular way of working.

BRAZILIAN RED LAND CRAB AND HEAD OF BLACK INDONESIAN RAT SNAKE, both hollowcast, respectively of gold and fine silver, crab 7.0 cm wide; entire snake was thirteen feet or over 396 cm long. The crab consists of carapace, legs and claws, all cast separately, then cold-joined. Eventually, both will be enameled. 

      David Freda is very much a jeweler in transition, now that he will concentrate more on selling to private clients or collectors. Since his pieces are so time-consuming, he needs time to build up an inventory. With his inquisitive and inventive mind, it is hard to predict how his work might change, especially with his intense fascination of nature and willingness to challenge himself even more, especially if there were less restraint on his artistic license.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. Recently he has been teaching one-on-one photography lessons at our offices, as well as teaching workshops on bamboo jewelry. In this issue Liu writes about David Freda, who is as much a naturalist as he is a superb enamelist and jeweler. His techniques are among the most complex the author has seen in over four decades of writing about jewelry.

James Thurman & Umut Demirgüç Thurman Volume 39.1

 

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

 

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

 

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  Complete Article


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

Julie Shaw Volume 39.1

BROOCH of sterling silver, twenty-two karat gold, cobalto calcite druzy from South Africa and enamel, 7.62 x 2.54 centimeters, 2016. “This piece gave me such joy to make, loving the bright pink, as I was texturing the top, I felt like I was channeling Van Gogh starry nights!”

Stones speak to Julie Shaw. Not in words, of course, but in signals and messages that are perfectly clear. The gunmetal gray hematite offers emotional protection because it repels negativity. Rose quartz stands for unconditional love and good will. Yellow-green citrine opens the heart to wonder and delight and is immune to ill will. Stones of nearly every kind have been the foundation of Shaw’s jewelry for more than forty years, and she describes her lifelong attraction to stones in spiritual terms.

     “Stones have an energy to them, and I like using stones that have metaphysical qualities,” says Shaw. “I put stones together in a piece because I like the way they go together. But then I’ll get a call from a gallery with a customer asking what the stone stands for, so I try to talk about what I know, though it’s more about the person just tuning into the stone’s quality because they like the jewelry. I think many people pick up on energy from certain stones.”

She laughingly refers to herself as a “stone-aholic,” but she might be better described as a stone whisperer. Her house is filled not only with stones for use in her jewelry, but also with mineral specimens and crystals. “Whatever town I’m in, I always find the rock shop and see what they have. When I’m on a beach I’m looking at the ground for rocks and shells. I get a little obsessive about it. Stones captivate me and take me to places in my mind that I wouldn’t get to otherwise.”

The other reason Shaw loves stones is that they are beautiful. Over the years she has used a treasure trove of quartz, opals, turquoise, moonstones, amethysts, lapis, coral, tourmaline, rubies, and virtually every precious and semiprecious stone you can name, and she uses them in relatively large sizes. One of her rings is typically one and a half inches across. A brooch could be up to four inches in length. A pendant might be four inches long and two inches wide. The stones that are the focal point of these pieces have nearly the same dimensions. She selects stones that throb with brilliant color, frequently designing two or three color saturated stones into a single ring or brooch. The compositions are framed in twenty-two karat gold and sterling silver, usually oxidized. The effect is invariably regal—these are head-turning pieces to be worn with self-confidence. They are also exuberant and joyful, a celebration of color and the natural world.

BROOCH of sterling silver, pyrite druzy from Russia and enamel, 8.89 x 3.81 centimeters, 2016. “While I was doing the enamel for this piece, I thought it was a riot how wacky it was and how it was coming together. It’s one of my favorite pieces.”

      “In the ‘90s I did larger pieces, and at craft fairs women would say how much they liked the work but that they could never wear such a large piece, which was funny. Because I was standing there wearing something big and I’m five feet two, and they’re telling me
how great I look in it. I always tell women, if you like it, wear it. It’s an attitude. I have fun trying to get women to expand their ideas about what to wear. I want them to feel good about themselves, to feel beautiful.”

NECKLACE of sterling silver, twenty-two karat gold, faceted lapis and enamel; pendant 3.81 x 5.08 centimeters; necklace 55.88 centimeters long, 2015. “The lightning bolt on top reaching to the sky was my inspiration.”

      Shaw’s long career as a professional artist could be a template for how to find fulfillment as an artist and support yourself at the same time. Born in Detroit in 1946, she was an artistic kid who took piano, ballet and art classes before attending the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, where she studied painting. After a year, she headed to London to meet up with an older sister living in Europe. Soon she was enrolled in the Sir John Cass Art School in London, studying ceramics. After eight months in London she packed up for Israel, where she lived on a kibbutz. Despite the military tensions and the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, she managed to hitch-hike through the Negev Desert. Shaw eventually returned to Michigan, where she rented a studio near a foundry, which inspired her to try sculpture. She also did some photography and built herself a darkroom.

Two years later she was ready for a change. Along with art making and her love affair with stones, Shaw’s life has been defined by travel and a periodic urge to move around the country, or across the globe. Her travels are motivated by curiosity and a deep interest in learning about other cultures and people. When she was almost forty she spent two months in Turkey, a place she says still inspires her. “The architecture. The food. The people. The kilims. The spice markets. The light. Everything about Turkey was wonderful and has stayed with me.” She has also visited Africa, where she was deeply impressed by the artifacts of ancient Egypt. But those travels came later. In 1971 her interest was in the highly imaginative arts and social milieu that defined San Francisco in that era. She supported herself there as a window dresser for an upscale department store. “It was creative work, always changing and very immediate. I could do what I wanted to do and use lots of great colors and textures with clothes, shoes, glass, and wine bottles. I worked with very creative people. It was a happy time and I loved that job.”

RING of sterling silver, faceted rose quartz from Brazil, and enamel, 2.54 x 2.54 centimeters, 2016. Photographs by Ryder Gledhill.

      A chance conversation with a friend of her brother’s, a man she did not even know well, pulled her back to making art. “This guy said to me, you’ve had all this art education, why aren’t you working for yourself? Why aren’t you making art?” Something clicked and she borrowed four hundred dollars from her brother and bought jewelry equipment. She had not made any jewelry since junior high, but jewelry seemed saleable, and she enjoyed it. Soon she was back in Michigan selling what she describes as “feather-and-bead” jewelry along with her paintings at mall shows. When a couple at a mall asked her to make them wedding rings, she agreed. She laughs about that now. “I had no idea how to make rings, so I went to my metals supplier and he suggested I take a metals class at a community center, which I did.” She ended up making vacuum-cast silver rings for the couple, who loved them. She quit painting and focused on jewelry. “I’ve always liked using my hands, and once I started making jewelry I realized that I was not using my hands in the same way with painting. I like holding the tools and metal, and I like seeing the work in my hands. With jewelry, it’s instant gratification, and I like instant gratification. I’m not a person who works for weeks on a piece. I know right away if I like it and if I feel good about it. If I don’t like it, I scrap it.”

Shaw took a soldering class and honed her skills making jewelry full time. Soon she was adding stones. The only other time she had made jewelry with stones was when she was twelve and had a volunteer job at the gift shop of the Cranbrook Institute of Science. Part of her job was to polish the rocks sold at the shop, and to select inventory from the vaults in the basement. She loved the work, and was paid in rocks. She got the idea to make pendants out of the rocks by attaching chains to them, and she talked the manager of the local dime store into displaying them for sale. She is still surprised they sold.

RING of sterling silver, twenty-two karat gold, opal, and amethyst, 3.81 x 2.54 centimeters, 2015.

      By the late 1970s Shaw was a regular participant at prestigious, juried craft shows on the East Coast. She was wholesaling to galleries around the country. She moved to Rhinecliff, New York, and started a production line. At one point she had six employees. “One day I realized all I was doing was directing traffic. I didn’t want to do that.” She downscaled her production and moved outside of Durango, Colorado. She lived in Colorado making one-of-a-kind jewelry and limited production work for twelve years. During those years Shaw apprenticed with a shaman and studied Reiki, a Japanese approach to alternative medicine. She ran a sweat lodge. Her interest in spirituality and cross-cultural philosophy has always been important. Some of her jewelry from her Colorado period has a Southwestern look, with elements of native design and traditional symbology mixed with what could easily be read as elements of Catholicism. “Periodically crosses show up in my work. I’m not religious, but I am spiritual. The crosses for me tend to be more about the four directions of the Southwestern cross, not a Christian cross.”

 

“Whatever town I’m in, I always find the rock shop and see what they have. When I’m on a beach I’m looking at the ground for rocks and shells. I get a little obsessive about it. Stones captivate me and take me to places in my mind that I wouldn’t get to otherwise.”

      In 2004 Shaw was lured to Paducah, Kentucky, by a generous civic program aimed at drawing artists into the community. Through the program she was able to buy a large, older home for very little money, as long as she agreed to fix it up and live there for a while. Which is exactly what she did. After supervising a major remodel, she spent the next ten years living in the home, where she also had her studio and ran a commercial gallery. “I called the gallery Aphrodite. It was a nice gallery, if I do say so myself. I sold my own work there, but also blown glass, ceramics, fiber art, and jewelry made by other artists.” It was also during her time in Paducah that she took up enameling. There were certain colors and finishes she wanted that she could not achieve with stones. So she took lessons from an enamel artist and started adding enamel to her jewelry. Today, six years after she seriously started experimenting with enameling, it has become integral to her work, and it has expanded her color palette. Her work is now a harmonious, colorful mix of stone and enamel, usually in the same piece. As a painter she was drawn to color, and enameling allows her to approach jewelry with a painter’s eye.

 

NECKLACE of sterling silver, azurite druzy from Morocco, and enamel; pendant 8.89 x 2.54 centimeters, 2016.
NECKLACE of sterling silver, dyed quartz druzy, and enamel, pendant 6.35 x 2.54 centimeters, 2016.
NECKLACE of sterling silver, opal, chrysocolla druzy from Arizona, pearls and apatite beads, pendant 6.35 x 2.54 centimeters, 2015.

      Shaw does not drag her feet when it is time to move on. In 2014 she left Paducah for Cocoa, Florida. Earlier in the year she had fallen on ice in Paducah and had broken her wrist. While healing, she made jewelry by taping her torch to her wrist. She decided she had enough of ice. She chose Cocoa for its balmy climate, but has also come to admire the natural world of Cocoa’s beach and seashore. Her latest work is distinctly tropical, as though the pink, white, blue, and gold shapes of her brooches and pendants are sea creatures darting through tide pools. Her work has always been partly inspired by the flora, fauna and geography of wherever she is living at the time. “I know my work has been influenced by the sea in the last couple of years. To me, some of my brooches are like sea beings, though I don’t know that you’d see anything that looks like them in the sea.”

 

BROOCH of sterling silver, acid-etched agate and enamel, 5.08 x 5.08 centimeters, 2015.

      Shaw’s work has sometimes touched on the narrative. After 9/11 she made jewelry showing flowers rising out of the flames of devastation. She has also made pieces in honor of Hindu gods whose spiritual qualities she admires. But her current work is abstract, despite its resemblance to brilliantly colored marine fauna. There are no heads or eyes on these creatures, though in a few brooches you might see the suggestion of tentacles or a dorsal fin.

At a time in life when many people think of slowing down, Shaw still works at least five days a week, all day, in her studio, and is “grateful that these hands have supported me all these years. In a broader sense, it makes me think of all these amazing artists who work with their hands, soul and spirit to do what they love and bring it to the public for them to glean something for themselves, whether they buy it or just look at it, or hold it in their hands. What a gift for all of us.”

 

     Get Inspired!

 
 

Robin Updike is a Seattle-based arts writer with a deep attachment to artist-made jewelry. As a former newspaper art critic she also has an interest in artists and the difficult choices they often face when it comes to their careers. For both reasons, she was pleased to have the opportunity to interview Julie Shaw, a jewelrymaker whose life as an artist is notable not only for the remarkable work she has made, but for the joyful, open-hearted way in which she has created a life wholly dedicated to art. In this issue Updike also reviews a handsome exhibition about indigo-dyed textiles at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. The exhibition is a serene reminder of why blue is such a primal color for us all.

Little Dreams Volume 38.5 Preview

Little Dreams in Glass and Metal.
Jewelry from the Enamel Arts Foundation

 

LILYAN BACHRACH. Brooch of enamel on fine silver, twenty-four karat gold granulation, eighteen karat gold bezel, and sterling silver, 6.4 x 7.0 x 1.3 centimeters, circa 1980. 

Enameling—the art of fusing glass to metal with heat—has been used as a form of decorating metal since antiquity; the earliest known enameled objects are six gold rings decorated with cloisonné, “compartmentalized” enamel, made in Cyprus in the thirteenth century B.C. But enamel jewelry did not begin to flourish as an artform in America until the early twentieth century. The surprising history of American enamel is the subject of a new book and traveling exhibition, “Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present.”

      The project is the brainchild of Bernard N. Jazzar and Harold B. Nelson, founders of Los Angeles-based Enamel Arts Foundation. The two are established scholars of art history; Jazzar is curator of the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Collection and Nelson is curator of American decorative arts at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens and former director of the Long Beach Museum of Art. They began studying and collecting enamel about twenty years ago, when a business trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art precipitated a chance encounter with that institution’s vast enamel collection.

 

   GET INSPIRED!

 
 

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles, and a frequent contributor to Ornament. She has worked as a curator, consultant and educator for museums and universities around the world. This issue, she goes behind the scenes of two very different exhibitions, The Museum at FIT’s “Fairy Tale Fashion” and the traveling enamel art show “Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present.” Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, published by Yale University Press.

Susie Ganch Volume 38.3 Preview

Susie Ganch. Systems, Cycles and Ethics

Photograph by Meg Roberts.

Photograph by Meg Roberts.

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

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

 

    Read the Full Article

 
 

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

Wendy McAllister Volume 38.2 Preview

Wendy McAllister: Worldly Geometry

ARCTIC SUMMER NECKLACE of vitreous enamel, copper, sterling silver, glass, adjustable 40.6 – 48.3 centimeters length, 2014. Photograph by Victor Wolansky.

ARCTIC SUMMER NECKLACE of vitreous enamel, copper, sterling silver, glass, adjustable 40.6 – 48.3 centimeters length, 2014. Photograph by Victor Wolansky.

At the moment when perfect symmetry acquires the merest hint of imbalance, exacting line begins to waver ever so slightly, and pure, unmodulated color takes on faint tinges of a disparate hue, art leaves the realm of circles, squares and triangles and enters the environs of naturalism. That this transition can be almost imperceptibly smooth, like the gradual increase in volume as one turns the knob of an amplifier, suggests that geometry and nature—the domain of flawless forms and that of imperfect being—are separated not by any wall or gulf but rather by conditions of chance and circumstance that the mind transcends but the material world cannot.

      As Wendy McAllister observes, “there’s math out there in nature. Underneath everything there are patterns of growth. They’re not followed perfectly. There are going to be variations, because maybe a plant didn’t get enough water, or sunlight, or nutrients from the soil. It’s not the perfection that you would get by drawing with a compass and ruler; it’s geometry that has interacted with the stresses of life.”

 

    Read The Full Article

 
 

Glen R. Brown, Professor of Art History and the Art Department’s Director of Graduate Studies at Kansas State University, was interested to learn of Wendy McAllister’s successful career as a ceramicist prior to her focus on enameled jewelry. He was also impressed by the range of exploration exhibited by her enameled jewelry. “It’s obviously driven by a strong curiosity about form,” he observes. “She has explored the gamut from geometry in simple monochromatic shapes to complex asymmetrical arrangements of bright and varied organic elements. It’s highly diverse, but—like the nature that inspires it—it all works!”

Joan Tenenbaum Volume 37.5

Joan Tenenbaum’s cuff bracelet called Salmon in the Trees is a striking piece of jewelry. It is also an artful reminder that the ecology of our natural world hangs in easily disrupted balance. The sterling silver cuff is cut and engraved to show a dense Northwest forest inhabited, delightfully, by glistening copper-colored salmon that seem to be swimming through the trees. In the notes she wrote to accompany this 2011 piece, Tenenbaum explained that in the rainforests of Southwest Alaska salmon return to the streams where they were born and along the way many become food for eagles, bears and other predators. The predators digest the salmon and their droppings fertilize the lush streamside foliage and the forest trees. Salmon, the kings of the sea, and old-growth forests may seem worlds apart, but they are in fact dependent on each other for survival.

“Perhaps more than any other species salmon connect the oceans with the land,” Tenenbaum says. Salmon need the cool, shaded nesting spots to breed, and the bears, for instance, need to fatten up on the salmon in the late summer to survive winter hibernation. “The tightness of this web of interconnections is so vital and so fragile—paralleling the fragility of our indigenous languages and cultures—this kind of poignancy moves me to make pieces with these deep layers of meaning.”

Jewelry infused with environmental and cultural content is Tenenbaum’s signature as an artist. Virtually every brooch, neckpiece, bracelet, or ring she has made in the last thirty-five years is grounded not only in precise craftsmanship but also in her deep love of Alaska, its native cultures and its awe-inspiring natural beauty. Tenenbaum has created brooches that are abstracted aerial views of Alaska deltas, tidelands and mountain peaks. She has taken inspiration from traditional Yup’ik ceremonial masks. And she has made a series of “ulu knife” brooches that incisively symbolize the traditionally close relationship between Native cultures and the environment. An ulu knife is an all-purpose cutting knife shaped like a wide slice of pie that, in traditional culture, is an Eskimo woman’s tool for preparing food, cleaning meat and all manner of other domestic tasks necessary for survival. Tenenbaum also made real ulu knives, uses one in her kitchen and has given them as wedding gifts.

“I saw early on that ulu knives in the tourist shops in Alaska were worthless as useful knives, and I had seen how people in the villages made their ulus which they use every day. So I decided to learn how to make them. Considering that the development of the design of the ulu over the centuries was based on the work that needed to be done with it, it really does connect the culture to the land.”

WOLF IN BLACK SPRUCE IV: OUR LAND, OUR ANCESTORS brooch/pendant of sterling silver, copper, eighteen karat gold, 5.87 x 6.19 x 1.27 centimeters, 2011.

WOLF IN BLACK SPRUCE IV: OUR LAND, OUR ANCESTORS brooch/pendant of sterling silver, copper, eighteen karat gold, 5.87 x 6.19 x 1.27 centimeters, 2011.

Trained as a linguist and an anthropologist, Tenenbaum did field work in Alaska in her late twenties while working on her doctoral thesis. She lived in a remote village and wrote a grammar and a dictionary for the Dena’ina language, which was the language then still spoken by the villagers. After her first years of field research she lived in other native villages and worked to help young native Alaskan adults become teachers. Tenenbaum earned her Ph.D. from Columbia University in anthropology and linguistics in 1978, but it is fair to say that since she first set foot in Alaska as a young researcher, she has never really left. Physically and spiritually, Alaska has been Tenenbaum’s touchstone for nearly forty years.

Tenenbaum’s life as a jewelrymaker, however, started well before her introduction to Alaska. The arc of her career is an unusual dual path of art and academia that, some decades ago, serendipitously merged into an art career fueled by her academic experiences. As an adolescent growing up in the suburbs of Detroit her parents stressed academics. Yet despite a full schedule of college preparatory classes, in the ninth grade Tenenbaum found a class period open for an elective. “So I signed up for something called craft. I liked to do things with my hands and it sounded interesting. For a year we did block printing, some silversmithing, enameling. I loved it.” She was particularly fascinated by jewelry, and for the next four years she took classes from a well-trained teacher who taught her the fundamentals. Before she left high school in 1963 Tenenbaum had won awards for her work.

RAVEN AND CARIBOU: A DENA’INA STORY pendant of sterling silver, fourteen karat gold and garnets, 6.03 x 8.26 x 0.64 centimeters, 2007.

RAVEN AND CARIBOU: A DENA’INA STORY pendant of sterling silver, fourteen karat gold and garnets, 6.03 x 8.26 x 0.64 centimeters, 2007.

Looking back on her early love of jewelry, Tenenbaum says it was odd that no one suggested she attend an art school after high school graduation. Then again, her father was a chemical engineer, a metallurgist to be exact, and her mother was a teacher. They expected her to be a teacher, or perhaps a translator at the United Nations. Scholarship and academics were very important to her parents. She laughs when she notes that the only artist in the family when she was young was a relative called “crazy Esther.” A life in art was obviously not something to aspire to. “So my plan was to be a Spanish teacher. I was good with languages and was always friends with the foreign exchange students.” As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan Tenenbaum studied romance languages and literature before switching to anthropology. After class and during summer breaks she continued to make jewelry and take workshops to learn new skills. Art was strictly extracurricular.

Later there were occasions when the road ahead forked into very different directions. That happened in the late 1960s in New York, where she was employed as a caseworker for the city welfare department and taking classes in silversmithing at the Craft Students League.

Her teacher was William Seitz, a master silversmith who wrote one of the definitive books on silversmithing. She had applied to graduate school at Columbia University, but was also making jewelry. “I had been accepted to graduate school, and had decided to put my tools away for a while when I got a call from a gallery on Fifth Avenue that wanted to show my jewelry. Someone there had seen it at the Craft Students League. I said no. I was determined to get my Ph.D. But it wasn’t an easy decision.”

FEASTS OF TRADITION brooch/pendant of sterling silver, fourteen karat yellow, pink and palladium white gold, eighteen karat green gold, keum-boo, champagne diamond, red, blue, orange, and green sapphires, 6.99 x 6.03 x 1.27 centimeters, 2011.

FEASTS OF TRADITION brooch/pendant of sterling silver, fourteen karat yellow, pink and palladium white gold, eighteen karat green gold, keum-boo, champagne diamond, red, blue, orange, and green sapphires, 6.99 x 6.03 x 1.27 centimeters, 2011.

Within a few years she was living in Alaska with Athabaskan Indians and researching the Dena’ina language. She worked in a village for two years and it was the only time when she did not have her jewelry tools with her. When she moved to Fairbanks to finish her dissertation she asked her dad to send her tools from Detroit and she enrolled in jewelry courses at the University of Alaska. “In Fairbanks I was tortured by my burning desire to make jewelry. I felt I was in a cage and the door was the dissertation. Once I got the dissertation done, I could make jewelry.” Tenenbaum finished her dissertation, which she knew would be helpful in preserving the Dena’ina language, or at least in preserving its grammar and vocabulary. She also recorded, translated and edited twenty-four traditional native stories translated into an English language volume. Tenenbaum says it was a way “to give back to the people in the village.” The book was published by the Alaskan Native Language Center at the University of Alaska, and it is now in its third printing. All royalties go to the Language Center.

RAVEN IN FLIGHT: THE SEEN AND UNSEEN necklace of sterling silver, 19.69 x 16.51 x 0.64 x 45.72 centimeters, 2009.

RAVEN IN FLIGHT: THE SEEN AND UNSEEN necklace of sterling silver, 19.69 x 16.51 x 0.64 x 45.72 centimeters, 2009.

After a trip to New York to defend her thesis, Tenenbaum was back in Alaska. She got a job distance teaching for the University of Alaska, which meant living in Eskimo villages. She needed the money from teaching and she wanted to help train native teachers, but the work was challenging. “Many of my students lived in villages with no electricity or running water. They were working as teachers’ aides, but it was difficult for them to keep studying. Not everyone made it through.” Despite her own demanding teaching schedule, Tenenbaum continued to make jewelry. “And all of a sudden mountains started appearing in my work. It was exciting. I decided to resign at the end of the year. I had to be a jeweler.”

In the early 1980s she married a lawyer and moved to Anchorage with him to pursue jewelry full time. Because his family was from Portland, Oregon, she often visited Portland, where she met a skilled jeweler named Stewart Jones. He agreed to give her private tutorials on a periodic basis and Tenenbaum describes Jones “as my mentor since 1985. He’s one of the reasons I can do the things I do in my jewelry.” One of the hallmarks of Tenenbaum’s career has been her relentless study of techniques and her desire to continually learn and grow as a maker. To this day she continues to take courses from master jewelers including many of the Northwest’s most acclaimed craftspeople.

Her techniques include cloisonné enameling, engraving, chasing, repoussé, forging, roller texturing, foldforming, mokume gane, stone-setting, silver and goldsmithing. Although Tenenbaum never had the opportunity to study art or jewelry as a college student, it is obvious she loves learning. “I’ve always wanted to expand my techniques, because then I can tell more stories.”

When her marriage broke up in 1990 Tenenbaum moved to Washington State, where she owned property. Today she lives in Gig Harbor, a picturesque town about an hour southwest of Seattle that, with its harbor surrounded by towering evergreens and mountain peaks, could easily be a small city in Alaska. In her house on a quiet cul-de-sac she has turned her yard into a lush vegetable garden and her dining room into a large, sunfilled work studio. It is here that she keeps the extraordinary archives of her work, including hardbound notebooks detailing the creation of every piece of jewelry she has ever made, complete with the amount of metal needed for each piece and preparatory sketches. As a linguist she learned to keep excellent records and cross references, and as artist she has applied the same systematic cataloguing and note-taking to her work archives.

Tenenbaum dates her professional career from 1985, when she was in a group show at Stonington Gallery in Anchorage. At about the same time she used her engraving skills to start adding images of animals to her jewelry. “So then I started to bring my Alaskan anthropology experience and my jewelry together. I could add caribou, migrating birds, fish. It brought more environmentalism to my work.”

Her first solo exhibition was also at Stonington, in 1990. Since then she has had ten solo exhibitions at Stonington’s Seattle gallery, which specializes in indigenous art. Given the themes of her work, it is perhaps no surprise that several pieces of her jewelry have been added to the permanent collection of the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center.

The names of her solo exhibits are telling. In 2004 she called her Stonington exhibition “The Yup’ik Family: Spirit and Connection.” In 2008 the show theme was “Connecting Culture with Landscape.” In 2001 it was “A Sense of Place—The Ways we Connect to Our Earth.” In 2013 after she took a workshop in cloisonné, she added color to her work. A bracelet called Tundra Patterns I is a Google Earth view of the patch of Southwestern Alaskan tundra, reimagined in shimmering green and red enamel.

HERON IN WETLANDS brooch of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, mokume gane, Australian greenstone, green sapphire, 6.35 x 4.45 x 0.79 centimeters, 2009.

HERON IN WETLANDS brooch of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, mokume gane, Australian greenstone, green sapphire, 6.35 x 4.45 x 0.79 centimeters, 2009.

Her Bunchberry Necklace has an almost Victorian look. It is a medallion of vibrant green, white and red cloisonné bunchberries surrounded by smaller, colorful beads. Bunchberries, which are part of the cornus family, are low growing, common shrubs in parts of southern Alaska and their berries are important food for deer and other animals. This year Tenenbaum’s Stonington exhibition, “Fifty Playful Things,” was about challenges in creating line through folding, hammering, annealing, and other metal techniques.

Her connection to Alaska, its people and environment is so plainly interpreted in her work, that it is hard to imagine what Tenenbaum’s jewelry might have looked like if, nearly fifty years ago, she had entered a university art program instead of anthropology. “I may have felt extremely frustrated for many years, but in no way do I regret either my education or the amazing experience of living in Native Alaskan communities and being accepted and loved by them. It has enriched my life beyond words. I can’t imagine what my work might look like had I not gone to Alaska, or what my life might look like either.”

OWL MASK SPIRIT HELPER bracelet of sterling silver, fourteen and eighteen karat gold, mokume gane, 4.13 x 6.99 x 6.67 centimeters, 2008.

OWL MASK SPIRIT HELPER bracelet of sterling silver, fourteen and eighteen karat gold, mokume gane, 4.13 x 6.99 x 6.67 centimeters, 2008.