Celestial Volume 39.4

NU WA, THE CREATOR PENDANT by Cynthia Toops, metalwork by Nancy Bonnema, of micro mosaic polymer clay, sterling silver and old steel caliper, on a sterling silver chain, 2016.  Photograph by Doug Yaple. Background:  PISMIS 24.  Photograph courtesy of NASA, ESA and Jesús Maíz Apellániz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain). Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble).

NU WA, THE CREATOR PENDANT by Cynthia Toops, metalwork by Nancy Bonnema, of micro mosaic polymer clay, sterling silver and old steel caliper, on a sterling silver chain, 2016. Photograph by Doug Yaple. Background: PISMIS 24. Photograph courtesy of NASA, ESA and Jesús Maíz Apellániz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain). Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble).

Humans have always gazed at the heavens with wonder and awe. The sky, with its endless shifts in light and mood, inspires fear and faith, science and fantasy. The gods of nearly all religions dwell in the endless, unfathomable worlds beyond our little planet, as do the extraterrestrial civilizations described by science fiction writers. Even as astrophysicists study space and explain what they know, the celestial world remains tantalizingly mysterious to most of us. And thank goodness for that.

      In times of personal or societal turmoil, we turn to the sky with its infinite possibility and dream of worlds beyond our own. The artists in “Celestial: Comets, Cupids, and Other Heavenly Bodies,” a recent exhibition (February 8 - 28, 2017) at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery, in Seattle, Washington, were inspired by shooting stars and blue moons, meteors and cloud patterns, origin myths and the zodiac, time traveling and communication with other worlds. The exhibition was a delightful antidote to the dark skies of mid winter and dark horizons everywhere. 

The exhibition included the work of twenty-two artists mostly from the United States and Canada. With jewelry displayed on reproductions of celestial maps, the show looked like part of a stylish observatory display, as though the jewelry represented miniature solar systems for us to study. Jan Smith’s exquisitely crafted enamel and silver neckpieces suggest tranquil blue landscapes on other planets. Plants and animals could live on these welcoming orbs. At a time when our earth’s environment is increasingly fragile, Smith’s Oort Cloud and Once in a Blue Moon offer hope for worlds with still pristine blue waters and clear skies.

METEORITE LANDING RING by Checha Sokolovic of sterling silver, patina, charcoal, cement, dye, and resin, 7.0 x 3.2 x 5.1 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Barbara Cohen. UNIVERSE RING by Jennifer Merchant of acrylic, fine silver leaf, silver, glitter, and printed photographs, top measures 3.2 x 2.2 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Jennifer Merchant. RADIANT CUFF by Wolfgang Vaatz of oxidized sterling silver, eighteen karat yellow gold and diamond, 2016. Photograph by Wolfgang Vaatz.

      Cynthia Toops, noted for her work in polymer clay micro mosaic, created narrative pieces based on myths about the heavens. Her pendant Nu Wa, The Creator is named for a goddess from Chinese mythology with a human face and a snake’s body. Nu Wa is the goddess of order and she also created humans. One of her heroic acts was to stop the heavens from collapsing onto earth. Toops collaborated with metalsmith Nancy Bonnema to make the piece.

Checha Sokolovic’s work incorporates treated charcoal used as gemstones. Meteorite Landing is a sterling silver and cement ring with a hunk of treated charcoal displayed like treasure. Meteorites that land on earth are in fact treated like precious rocks, and Sokolovic’s work raises questions about beauty and exactly what makes a material precious. Jennifer Merchant’s acrylic-based necklace and ring included bits of space photography. Merchant excels at building layers of acrylic, fine silver leaf, silver, and glitter all in the service of creating depth. For these pieces she also used snippets of photographs taken through the Hubble Space Telescope. Her necklace and ring, both called Universe, are glimpses of infinity.

Some of the most striking work was abstract in design but rich with cosmic allusion. Carla Pennie McBride’s several pieces are studies in black and white, positive and negative space. Light and Dark Necklace is a translucent epoxy resin sphere held in place by a chain of beads made from black lava. It is an elegant piece of jewelry as well as a poetic reference to the interdependence of our rocky planet and the life-giving atmosphere that surrounds us.

      Then there is Kirk Lang, who found a real meteorite to work into his brooches. Lang’s work is formal and well made and the hexagonal shape of his brooches suggests clusters of atoms and molecules, or other scientific phenomena made visible. Crafted of titanium, gold, diamonds, and meteorite, Lang’s work also refers to the preciousness of materials. In this case, shards of meteorites are as valuable and beautiful as diamonds and gold.

Nadine Kariya mined Greek mythology for inspiration, and made rings and neckpieces referring to Athena, Aphrodite and Ganymede, a Trojan prince who Zeus transformed into an eagle. Like heroes from all classical mythologies, the Greek gods travel between Earth and the heavens at will. With its classical grandeur, Kariya’s work could easily be worn by the gods of any culture.

MOONBEAM ANTHEM 1: BOWIE (obverse, reverse) by emiko oye of LEGO in fine and Argentium silver, and stainless steel pin. 10.8 x 9.53 x 2.54 centimeters. Photograph by Daniel Fox, Lumina Studio.

      There was work in the show representing shooting stars, the signs of the zodiac, and planets belted by outer rings, in the manner of Saturn. For wit, however, it is impossible to improve on pieces by Jana Brevick and emiko oye. Brevick has for many years made work about robotics, extraterrestrial communication and any number of other subjects sparked by her fascination with science and outer space. Her silver brooch/pendant Tracking Heartbeats resembles a miniature radio tower perched on a scooped out antennae dish. You can imagine it floating through space listening, perhaps indefinitely, for a message from another world.

Artist emiko oye infuses smart design with pop culture in a way that was perfectly apropos to this exhibition. Using purple and black LEGO pieces, she made brooches that resemble tiny space ships. Like the galaxy crossing space ships in Star Trek, her LEGO transporters are all right angles and diamond shapes. San Francisco-based oye is known for creating cheerful jewelry out of the bright plastic toy bricks. But for this show she also added song lyrics about the eternal appeal of looking beyond Earth for inspiration. On the backs of the brooches she inscribed lyrics from David Bowie, Prince, Depeche Mode and the character Hedwig, in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Bowie and Prince, who both died in 2016, sometimes presented themselves as messengers from other worlds. When times are tough on our planet, the musicians suggested, dream of better worlds far, far away. The jewelry in “Celestial” made it easy to dream.

 

RINGS BROOCH by Sara Wauzynski of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, egg tempera on gesso, pearls ,and garnets, 2.75” x 1.5” x 1.25”.

 
 

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Robin Updike, a Seattle-based arts writer and a regular contributor to Ornament, is a longtime observer of the craft scene. Over the course of more than two decades she has reviewed many exhibitions at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery in Seattle and has always been impressed with the gallery’s themed, group shows. In this edition of Ornament Updike reviews a Facèré exhibition in which twenty-two jewelry artists made work about celestial bodies, both real and metaphorical. She let us know that the resulting show was “dreamy.”

Signs of Life 2015 Volume 38.4

Signs of Life 2015

 

OWL BROOCH by Kathleen Faulkner of sterling silver, paper, gouache, mica, 10.48 x 6.67 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Larry Bullis.

Now in its eleventh year, Karen Lorene’s annual “Signs of Life” project remains a unicorn. There is nothing else like it in the world of contemporary art jewelry. Lorene, a longtime champion of art jewelry, each year selects jewelry artists to create pieces to serve as inspiration for writers. As the matchmaker, Lorene decides which writer to pair with which piece of jewelry. The writers and jewelrymakers do not meet or talk before the show. It is a long-distance affair in which writers offer up poems, essays and short stories based on what they see in the jewelry. The journal Lorene publishes to document each show is a literary and visual treat. This year is no exception.

      The jewelry made for “Signs of Life 2015” was on display during October at Facèré, Lorene’s Seattle gallery. One of the most arresting was from Kat Cole, a Dallas-based artist whose necklace Oil and Water works as a reference to current politics, environmental concerns and personal relationships. It is also a handsome piece with its glossy black enamel and steel sections that mimic the luster of black crude oil on rock or concrete. Polly Buckingham’s short story Honey was inspired by Oil and Water, and it is a page-long tone poem about the barely noticed death of a dog in a seedy trailer park. In one of the most complementary matchups in the journal, Honey suggests an unhappy landscape where dreams evaporate in the dust. Or, to put it another way, a place where dreams and reality—like oil and water—never mix.

BLACK GOLD BROOCH by Kat Cole of steel, enamel, twenty-three karat gold, brass, 10.16 x 10.16 x .254 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Kat Cole.

      Like all the artists in the show, Cole sent additional pieces and many of hers were inspired by the teardown of a building near her studio. An ambitious necklace called Pile is a steel and enamel pick-up-sticks heap of construction refuse that seems to comment on our society’s never-ending chase for something bigger and newer. Other work referred to our unquenchable thirst for fossil fuels. One of Cole’s Black Gold brooches includes the image of an oilrig pumping over a black substratum of oil, or black gold. Though generally abstract, Cole’s work suggests a remarkable sense of place—whether that place is desolate oil country or a frenetic urban cityscape.

Jim Bové’s sterling, rubber cord and industrial paint necklace is an elegant abstraction that could refer to architecture or geometry, though to writer Christine Hemp the piece looks like a blade. The result is Hemp’s celebratory poem, called A Body Severed from the Head, which, despite its grisly imagery, is about the need to abandon logic and rationality in the pursuit of beauty and art. Another particularly resonant matchup was Eileen Walsh Duncan’s poem Engineers with Paulette J. Werger’s Honey Comb Chain necklace. The minimalist sterling and eighteen karat gold necklace has a graceful repetition that mimics the look of a honeycomb. Duncan’s poem is an homage to the industriousness of honeybees and the exquisitely fine-tuned physiology that makes them such efficient workers.

FOLD 1 NECKLACE by Jim Bové of sterling silver, rubber cord, industrial auto paint on copper, 10.8 x 10.16 x 1.27 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Jim Bové.

      For pure beauty, Judith Kinghorn’s Overall Ascending Spiral is unmatched. The sterling and twenty-four karat gold brooch is regal yet organic, perhaps a golden nautilus shell to be worn by a queen. Chrysanthemum and Fiddlehead Fern, both pendants, were also gorgeous, intricately fashioned sterling and gold haikus to the natural world. Kinghorn’s jewelry is realism presented with drama and sophistication.

Jewelrymaker Kathleen Faulkner is also an observer of the natural world. The brooch/pendant she made for “Signs of Life” is the image of an owl, which she expertly painted on paper, gazing from between sterling silver branches. Faulkner is a painter and a jeweler, and the other brooches, pendants and earrings she made for the show are faithful renditions of the flowers, birds and fish of the northwestern Washington State, where she lives. You can easily imagine her trekking through woods and along shorelines, sketchbook and pencil in hand. Hers is very literal work, yet much of it is charming, like a rare leaf or flower bud pressed between the pages of a notebook for further study.

Seattle artist Nadine Kariya made some of the most narrative work in the show. Though Lorene in the past has stressed to her “Signs of Life” jewelrymakers that their work for the show should be narrative to help inspire the writers, it appears that Lorene places less emphasis on that now, as shown by the more abstract work of Bové and Werger, for example. Yet the brooch Kariya created for the exhibition is a reminder of just how much powerful storytelling a smart artist can pack into a small piece. Last Salute to the Camp Bird Generation: Medallion is a brooch that pays tribute to the generation of Japanese-Americans shamefully interned in camps on American soil during WWII. The brooch includes a small life preserver, a tiny silver telephone, and the red demon face of an evil character from traditional Japanese theater, all carried by a bird. Kariya notes that carving wooden birds pins became a popular pastime in the camps, where people uprooted from their civic and professional lives, had little to do. Unlike the birds that inspired their carving, the internees were unable to escape the camps.

FIDDLEHEAD FERN BROOCH by Judith Kinghorn of sterling silver, twenty-four karat gold, approximately 15.24 long x 4.76 centimeters wide, 2015. Photograph by Stuart Lorenz. LAST SALUTE TO THE CAMP BIRD GENERATION: MEDALLION BROOCH by Nadine Kariya of carved and painted oak and cedar, sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, shibuichi, shakudo, mixed metal backing, vintage Japanese glass buttons, circa 1950 (Noh Theater female demon and bunch of grapes), vintage sterling silver whistle and telephone, steel, nylon, and vintage green cord, 15.24 x 6.35 x 1.91 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Daniel Fox, Lumina Studio.

“Signs of Life” seemed a quixotic project when Lorene started it more than a decade ago. In its early years, for instance, she sometimes had difficulty convincing writers to participate. The idea that jewelry had any connection to the literary arts seemed too far-fetched to some writers and even a few jewelrymakers. But in creating an annual jewelry and literary event, she has thrust art jewelry into a broader cultural arena, and everyone has benefited.

 

Robin Updike is an arts writer based in Seattle, Washington, who also has a background in fashion reporting. As someone who herself brings together the literary and the visual arts, Updike is a perfect match for Karen Lorene’s Signs of Life. In her role as scribe, she unveils the magic alchemy that goes between jeweler and writer in this most interesting creative experiment. Updike is a longtime contributor to Ornament with her many features drawn from the Pacific Northwest.