Ron Ho Retrospective Volume 41.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Click for Captions

 
 
 

Get Inspired!


Robin-Updike_Contributor.jpg

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

Checha Sokolovic Volume 40.3

SEARCHING BROOCH of sponge, blackened steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and concrete, 7.0 x 8.0 x 2.0 centimeters, 2015.  Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

SEARCHING BROOCH of sponge, blackened steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and concrete, 7.0 x 8.0 x 2.0 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

The rose-colored slice of cement has the look of a particularly appealing piece of industrial fabrication. Perhaps it is a fixture for a designer kitchen. At 4.5 inches across and about 1/3-inch thick, it is solid and sturdy looking, but also sleek. Slim stainless steel bands encase the outer and inner edges of this pink wheel, and if you pick it up you know exactly what to do with it: slide it over your wrist.

      The cement, stainless and aluminum bangle Pretty in Pink was made by Checha Sokolovic, a Seattle jewelrymaker with an architect’s eye for bold, unfussy design and a builder’s fondness for industrial materials. Besides cement, Sokolovic works with concrete, commercial quality vinyl, brass washers meant for plumbing, egg cartons, kitchen sponges, and hunks of charcoal and pumice. To make backings and armatures she mostly chooses stainless steel. When she gets fancy, she adds a little sterling silver.

RING OF THE RISING SUN of sterling silver, concrete and PVC, 6.0 x 1.5 x 5.0 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

PRETTY IN PINK BANGLE of stainless steel, aluminum and concrete, 11.4 centimeters diameter, 2012. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

      Creating jewelry out of humble materials is one of the hallmarks of contemporary artist-made jewelry. Gold and diamonds are lovely, of course, but beauty can also be coaxed out of far less precious materials—an idea that resonates perfectly with Sokolovic’s modernist aesthetic and her reverence for the common materials of our everyday lives. She whips up batches of concrete and cement in her kitchen, pouring them into molds, sometimes including ice cube trays, and browses hardware stores for small shiny bits that catch her eye, such as washers and screws. The effects she achieves are remarkable. Her neckpiece The Dark Side of the Moon is a four-inch disc of concrete raised in the center and pocked as though pummeled by geological forces. To make the piece, Sokolovic dyed the concrete black, framed it in a stainless steel armature and hung it on black rubber tubing. The Dark Side of the Moon is an evocative bit of cosmic poetry, expressed in the most quotidian of materials. 

 

DARK SIDE OF THE MOON NECKPIECE of stainless steel, concrete, dye, and rubber, pendant 10.0 x 4.0 centimeters, rubber cord 107.0 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

 

      A lifelong collector of big, bold jewelry, Sokolovic didn’t start making jewelry until 2010, when she took her first jewelrymaking class at Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle. “My first idea was to make big silver jewelry. I’ve been wearing very big silver jewelry all my life, and I thought I’d make something I liked,” Sokolovic says. “But I saw how expensive it would be to buy that much silver. Then I took a class in alternative materials. Up until then I didn’t realize people made jewelry out of plastic bags and other stuff that might be thought of as trash. What really blows my mind is finding the beauty in all this stuff, including pieces of charcoal I find on the beach.”

Despite her background in building design, Sokolovic had never mixed cement or concrete. On the other hand, she understood their physical properties, and she admired the solid heft and strength of construction materials. “I was inspired to work with cement. You can get all these wonderful textures with cement and one of my first ideas was to try to get the look of a polished concrete floor. Also I thought because I started making jewelry kind of late, I wanted to make something different, something that not many others are doing.” 

 

CEMENT BEADS NECKLACE of cement, rubber, sterling silver clasp, stainless steel cord, 50 centimeters long, each bead approximately 2.5 centimeters, 2013. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

ICE BEAD GAME NECKLACE of ice, sterling silver, 45 centimeters long, each bead approximately 2.5 centimeters, 2012. Photograph by Sean Airhart.

 

      Sokolovic uses Rockite, a mixture of Portland cement and gypsum cement. The resulting material doesn’t shrink as it dries and she can control it when she casts it in her stainless steel metal frames. It is also relatively light to wear compared with concrete, and it has a smoother surface than concrete. Since there are not stones, sand or other materials added, however, her cement mixture can be somewhat brittle. She seals her cement pieces with wax to protect them from water. She points out that cement is not as tough a material as most people believe. “I always make sure to mention that even though cement might sound like a very durable and hard material, these pieces are, in fact quite delicate and need to be handled with care and love.”

Sokolovic says she is a ‘sun freak,’ and that the Sun Goddess jewelry is an antidote to the gray winters of the Pacific Northwest. ‘As soon as I finish making something I always wear it. I want to see how it feels. With the Sun Goddess necklace you put it on and go outside and you feel warmer.’

SUN GODDESS NECKPIECE of PVC, stainless steel and sterling silver rivets, 30.0 centimeters diameter, 2018. SUN GODDESS EARRINGS of PVC, stainless steel and sterling silver. 7.5 centimeters diameter, 2018. SUN GODDESS RING of PVC and sterling silver, 5.0 x 3.0 x 0.5 centimeters, 2018. Photographs by Noel O’Connell.

      Concrete is tougher, and one of her recipes is a mixture of Portland cement and sand. The surfaces of her concrete pieces are rougher since you can see the sand, and the pieces are tougher in that they are less likely to chip. She seals them with a concrete sealant to protect them from water. For The Dark Side of the Moon, she used pre-mixed concrete paste applied over a wire mesh frame.

Her love of charcoal, concrete and stainless steel means that much of Sokolovic’s work is a monochromatic landscape of black, nearly neutral shades of dyed cement, and metal. But in the last year Sokolovic has started working with vivid color thanks to her new enthusiasm for candy-colored polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, the material most of us simply call vinyl. “A friend gave me samples of PVC,” Sokolovic says, displaying place-mat-sized sheets of fire engine red and cobalt blue. “And I find mats in kitchen stores made out of it.” Her new Sun Goddess Collection is a dramatic marriage of brilliant yellow vinyl and riveted stainless steel. The collection includes earrings, bracelet, ring, and neckpiece that resemble golden rays fanning out from a blazing sun. Sokolovic says she is a “sun freak,” and that the Sun Goddess jewelry is an antidote to the gray winters of the Pacific Northwest. “As soon as I finish making something I always wear it. I want to see how it feels. With the Sun Goddess Neckpiece you put it on and go outside and you feel warmer.” If there’s a hint of sunshine, the sun refracts off the golden vinyl tossing bits of yellow light around like the darting choreography of fireflies.

Sokolovic grew up in Sarajevo, in what was then called Yugoslavia. “I loved growing up there, but Sarajevo really had a small town mentality. If you’re a little bit different, you’re made fun of. So wearing big jewelry in the 1980s was my way to rebel a little. It made me a little different. I didn’t want to blend in.” She bought jewelry whenever she could. As a young woman she spent time on a Greek island that she still thinks of as idyllic. But besides the turquoise waters and sunny climate, one attraction was a small jewelry store where on every vacation she bought something. She talks about a silver bracelet that called to her like a siren’s song. 

“I had never seen anything like the bracelet. I think it is probably from Asia. I had to have it. It was as much as my rent for the next month, but I bought it and didn’t eat for weeks.” Sokolovic still has the bracelet, which is a simple though elegant silver-hinged bangle with a clasp closure and a little decorative pattern work. Though she never wears it anymore, she says her reaction to the bracelet a couple of decades ago was a telling sign of her lifelong passion for jewelry.

In 1990 Sokolovic earned her college degree in architectural engineering and urban planning at the University of Sarajevo. When war broke out a few years later she, her mother and sister fled, eventually settling in Vancouver, Canada, where she picked up whatever work she could find. In 1998 she got a job offer from a Seattle architecture firm and relocated to Seattle. A decade later she was laid off and suddenly had free time. At the urging of a friend who noticed her love of jewelry, she signed up for a class at Pratt. Although she comes from a family of artists, and her sister is a self-supporting artist in Canada, Sokolovic says, “I always thought that I’m not that good with my hands, so it took me a long time to finally try. But when I came to class here I was inspired by the idea that I could make exactly what I want. I express myself through wearing jewelry.” And compared to the precise work she does as an interior designer, her current employment, making jewelry is freedom.

 

THE ORIGIN RING of stainless steel, blackened steel, cement, 3.5 x 4.5 x 0.7 centimeters, 2013. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

METEORITE LANDING RING of sterling silver, patina, charcoal, cement, dye, and resin, 7.0 x 3.0 x 5.0 centimeters, 2017. Photograph by Barbara Cohen.

 

      Rings are Sokolovic’s favorite jewelry. She likes to wear them and make them. Meteorite Landing is certainly one of her most distinctive. Made at the same time as The Dark Side of the Moon, Meteorite Landing is a hunk of charcoal attached to a cement base, both dyed black and stabilized with resin. To accompany Meteorite Landing, Sokolovic made Meteorite Earrings, also with charcoal. The pieces are a reminder that our little planet spins in a big galaxy where something as random as a meteorite could seriously disrupt our world. Other recent rings include Ring of the Rising Sun, a two-inch-wide sterling silver oblong bisected by a red vinyl half sphere. Though Sokolovic’s cement and charcoal pieces often suggest ancient geology and timelessness, her vinyl and stainless steel jewelry is about light, weightlessness and moods elicited by colors. The Ring of the Rising Sun is dramatic and bold, a ring for an adventurer to wear into the future. Like some of her other work, her vinyl and steel jewelry has a futuristic look. Another newer ring is Tickle Me, which is a tuft of white fur sprouting from a single cardboard cup of an egg carton. There is a sly surrealist humor about it given the image of fur emerging from an egg carton. “Tickle Me is for special occasions,” Sokolovic says. “It’s big, and not very practical. But I like it, and I like the idea that you can tickle yourself.”

 

TICKLE ME RING of sterling silver, egg carton, latex paint, fur, 10.0 x 4.0 x 3.5 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

WINTER BLOOM RING of sterling silver, egg carton, latex paint, rubber,10.0 x 4.0 x 3.5 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

 

      Partly because of her use of geometric shapes, Sokolovic’s work frequently has a space-age minimalism about it. Her vinyl and stainless jewelry would look terrific with any Star Trek outfit. Her looping earrings and bracelets made of thin-gauge stainless steel ribbon also have a futuristic appeal. Atomic Bracelet is a set of three connected stainless steel orbits pivoting around each other thanks to a rivet at the base of the bracelet. A pair of earrings called Twisted suggests a gravity-defying trajectory through space.

Checha Sokolovic wearing her jewelry. Photograph by Krista Welch.

      Outgoing, with a quick smile and dry sense of humor, Sokolovic says she has never had any interest in using gemstones or other precious materials. “I’m not interested in cars. I shop at thrift stores. Maybe it was being raised in a communist, or socialist, country. But I never thought of expressing myself through expensive things. What interests me is making jewelry, wearing it, and seeing other people wear it. Definitely my biggest satisfaction is when I see people wearing my jewelry.” 

Her jewelry isn’t for everyone. It can be heavy. A black and gray cement necklace that she created by pouring cement into ice cube trays and fashioning cement beads demands a sturdy neck and collarbone from anyone wishing to wear it. Sokolovic intended it to be dramatic. “It was inspired by African beads which are similar in shape to my cement beads. It is my homage to all those big, heavy bead necklaces that I like and that kind of hug you when you’re wearing them. I know my jewelry is big, and that everything has weight to it. But that’s part of my idea. The size and weight of my jewelry means that when you put it on, you don’t forget you’re wearing it. It’s a connection between the jewelry and the wearer. You always know it’s there.”

 

PEARLS IN LAVA EARRINGS of sterling silver, stainless steel, concrete, dye, pearls, 1.0 X 7.0 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Nenad Stevanovic.

 

ZEN GARDEN RING of sterling silver, blackened steel, stainless steel, cement, and floral pin frog magnetic attachment, 4.0 x 4.0 centimeters, 2012. Photograph by Checha Sokolovic.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Robin-Updike_Contributor.jpg

Robin Updike is a Seattle-based arts writer who has followed the Pacific Northwest’s vibrant jewelrymaking scene for nearly thirty years and interviewed many of the region’s jewelry makers. But interviewing Checha Sokolovic for this edition of Ornament was the first time she has met a jewelry artist whose primary materials are cement, concrete and stainless steel. Sokolovic started making jewelry after a couple of decades working in architecture and design, so while her choice of materials may be unorthodox, it makes perfect sense for her. The result is eye-catching jewelry that tweaks our ideas about beauty and preciousness.