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.”

Heavenly Bodies Volume 39.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Jana Brevick Volume 38.2

Jana Brevick: This Infinity Fits in My Hand

PUZZLEGUTS NECKPIECE of sterling silver, eighteen and twenty-four karat gold, nickel silver, steel snaps, plastic, polymer clay, fabricated and cast, 20.2 x 5.1 x 2.5 centimeters, 1999. Photograph by Doug Yaple.

PUZZLEGUTS NECKPIECE of sterling silver, eighteen and twenty-four karat gold, nickel silver, steel snaps, plastic, polymer clay, fabricated and cast, 20.2 x 5.1 x 2.5 centimeters, 1999. Photograph by Doug Yaple.

These days it is easy to be nervous about our ever-increasing interaction with science and technology. Hackers break into our financial accounts. Drivers text instead of looking at the road. Our children will not get off their iPads. Drones can photograph you at your backyard cookout. But if you happen to be in western Washington, there is a way to ease your apprehensions. Visit Jana Brevick’s smart, charming and often humorous retrospective showing at the Bellevue Arts Museum through August 16, 2015.

      Brevick is a Seattle jewelrymaker and sculptor with a life-long interest in math, science and technology. No doubt she could have been a tech wizard. Instead she earned degrees in metal arts and apparel design and became one of the region’s most engaging artists. Over the years she has made jewelry and sculpture inspired by geometrical equations, chemistry charts, astronomy, space travel, deep-sea research, electronics, and robotics, among other science fair worthy subjects. But as this exhibition of some eighty pieces demonstrates, in Brevick’s world science is cool. Math is elegant. Technology has history and style. The pieces were made from 1998 through 2015.

INTERMITTENT SERIES RINGS of vacuum tubes set in fabricated sterling silver, 9.3 x 3.4 centimeters, 2000. Photograph by Roger Schreiber.

INTERMITTENT SERIES RINGS of vacuum tubes set in fabricated sterling silver, 9.3 x 3.4 centimeters, 2000. Photograph by Roger Schreiber.

      The first display case as you enter the exhibition contains four robots on chains, wearable as necklaces. These helpful little guys and one robot gal are mostly sterling silver, punctuated with features of gold, plastic, gemstones, and found objects. At about eight inches long, they have loosey-goosey, articulated joints and benign expressions. They are miniature versions of what might happen if C-3PO and the Tin Man had offspring. Snackbot is especially endearing. Open the combination lock on his torso and out pops a tiny bag of chips, a chocolate bar, an apple, and some pop. Who would not want this android around the house?

Mathematically inspired pieces include silver earrings twisted into Mobius strips and a cleverly engineered ring representing a Venn diagram of overlapping discs of pure metals and alloys. There are silver neckpieces resembling three-dimensional geometric equations. Parallel, from the Intergalactic Parallax Series, is a sleek, chic, silver neckpiece that refers to the parallax principle. If you cannot quite recall parallax from high school physics, it is the effect that occurs when a stationary object appears to be in different locations depending on the angle from which you are viewing it. This is a useful principle when measuring the distance of stars from the earth, among other things.

You do not have to whip out your smart phone and look up the meaning of Brevick’s jewelry titles. But I often did, and it was enlightening. Her neckpiece called Moh’s Scratch Test Minerals is a string of aspirin-sized mineral samples on a sloping wire, all framed in a silver rectangle. There is a numeral 1 at the bottom left next to a droplet of talc. There is a numeral 10 at the top right side next to a tiny, uncut diamond. In between are samples of gypsum, quartz, topaz, and other minerals. Metalsmiths and geologists know exactly what this chart is, since it is a measure of the hardness of minerals, with talc being the softest and diamond the hardest. And now, thanks to this striking neckpiece, I know that too.

TRACE ELEMENTS 1 BROOCH of fabricated sterling silver set with aluminum, iron, nickel, copper, zinc, ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, silver, indium, tin, iridium, platinum, gold, 8.4 x 4.5 x 0.5 centimeters, 2000.

TRACE ELEMENTS 1 BROOCH of fabricated sterling silver set with aluminum, iron, nickel, copper, zinc, ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, silver, indium, tin, iridium, platinum, gold, 8.4 x 4.5 x 0.5 centimeters, 2000.

      Brevick has a historian’s soft spot for outdated technology. What was once cutting edge is now a footnote, a mere paving stone on the never-ending forward march of science. Her rings made of vacuum tubes from the 1940s—believe it or not these were used in early computers—honor that once state-of-the-art technology. Even her humorous 2001 wedding ring set made of an ethernet jack is starting to seem old fashioned now that Wi-Fi is the new normal. There are also plenty of sturdy black plastic knobs and dials in this show, all repurposed from mid-twentieth-century appliances into jewelry or small sculpture.

There are pieces about the immutable laws of physics and metallurgy and the highly mutable human heart. Included are some of Brevick’s Everchanging Rings, which are pure gold rings that she melts down and redesigns on a periodic basis for each buyer. The idea is conceptual; each redesign uses exactly the same materials as its former iteration. But the process is also a litmus test for owners of the rings, who must measure the passage of time and changes in their lives with the physical change in the ring. Over the years Brevick has discovered that some owners of Everchanging Rings become so attached to one design phase that they are reluctant to have the rings re-designed. Change can be tough. Also in the show are large necklaces made of such materials as thick black coiled electrical cord and eight-inch-long wooden floats that may have been harvested from crab traps. The large and cheerful pieces have a slightly ethnic look, as though taken from the jewelry box of a stylish Amazon.

EXHIBITION INSTALLATION for “Jana Brevick: This Infinity Fits in My Hand,” at the Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, Washington. Photograph by Bellevue Arts Museum.

EXHIBITION INSTALLATION for “Jana Brevick: This Infinity Fits in My Hand,” at the Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, Washington. Photograph by Bellevue Arts Museum.

      Finally, there is a spaceship. It is perhaps no great surprise given Brevick’s fascination with outer limits that she has built a life-sized passageway that visitors walk through as though approaching the Starship Enterprise command center. The best part of the installation, which she calls Atomic Exfiltrator Ship Seven, is the series of “portholes.” Peer through a porthole and you see the pitch black of infinite space. But you also get a peek at a tiny spacecraft, perhaps something NASA thrust into the heavens and forgot about. One of my favorites is Broadcast, a sterling silver, steel and fine gold saucer and tower that seems to be on a lonely, never-ending voyage, trying to communicate with whatever is out there.

Brevick’s intellectual curiosity is infectious. Science and technology give her entry into new worlds of discovery and constant delight. Spend a few minutes looking at her work and you, too, will likely find yourself cheerfully optimistic. We humans make many mistakes on a very grand scale. But Brevick’s work suggests that the adventurers among us will always seek solutions that extend the boundaries of our universe.

 

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Robin Updike is a Seattle writer who has followed the Pacific Northwest’s rich metal arts scene for several decades. She first spent time with Jana Brevick and her work in 2005, when Updike wrote a profile on Brevick for Ornament in Volume 29, No. 2. Now, a decade later, Updike is pleased to have the opportunity to consider Brevick’s first solo museum show, a retrospective organized and presented by the Bellevue Arts Museum. “Jana’s work is always compelling,” says Updike. “Her ability to blend intellectual exploration with humor and craftsmanship is no easy feat. Yet that particular alchemy is her signature as an artist.”