“What’s in it for me?” is probably the thought of each SNAG member when the information on the annual conference arrives in the mail. This year was no exception. High on my checklist was the opportunity to travel to a new city away from the last leg of winter, a short break from my classes, the first-hand experience of a different culture and exposure to stimulating exhibitions and program presentations.

Laurie Hall, Hats Off, neckpiece, sterling silver, copper, brass
Photo: Richard Nicol

The organizers of the San Antonio conference, Munya Avigail Upin and Bob Cardinale, managed to create such a multifaceted event. More than any other conference I have attended, the spirit of the place was captured. The program was balanced between social activities, always very important to SNAG conferences, exhibitions and a diverse collection of speakers. The eclectic program was cleverly linked to the culture of the city and the area by speakers who delved into the history of Spanish America, up to and including current architectural trends in the Southwest.

Sandie Zilker and Diane Falkenhagen showed us just how professional a presentation can be. “Emerging Artists” at the MFA level from across the country, selected for their excellence, were presented in an audio-visual confection. The excellent slides were accompanied by music sensitive to each artist’s approach. Some of the artists were additionally supported by their own voice-over statements of intent and philosophy. The entire 15 minutes was visually perfect, beautifully coordinated and enriched by audio accompaniment in music and voice, drawing the audience to its feet in ovation. It was the emotional high of the conference.

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Lynne Hull, Basket #13, painted aluminum, 18 x 12″, 1988

This presentation could be compared to David Tisdale’s topic “The Importance of Presentation” where he gave an off-the-cuff address, which proved of little value to the group as a whole and in particular to the younger artists in attendance. The talk was appropriate for an informal gathering or workshop but not for a formal lecture situation.

The diversified program was continued with the informative presentation by Gayle Weiss, Director, B’nai B’rith Klutznick Museum, Washington, D.C., whose topic “Masters of Ceremony, Designers of Judaica” revealed many of the mysteries of ceremonial Jewish objects. She discussed the importance of ceremonial vessels To Jewish families and the significance of Jewish holidays and remembrances as part of everyday life. This topic should be of interest to every metalsmith, as this area is one of the few remaining marketplaces left for liturgical work. That evening the talk was clarified even further by the “Contemporary Metal Judaica” exhibition at the Read Stremmel Gallery, where the tremendous range and approach available in the area of contemporary Judaica was offered in ceremonial objects by six artists.

Barbara Mial, Abandoning Sad Young Men, brooch, 14k green and yellow, 18k, 22k gold, aquamarine, carved ivory, 3½ x 1 ½”
Photo: Rod McCormick

The sense of “place” was amplified by the number of exhibitions planned for our time in San Antonio. The city was our oyster – we were bused to all areas of that beautiful and inviting place. From my perspective, there is definitely a “Texas” or “southwest” style of living, even though the work in the “Texas Metal Invitational” seemed to be of a national flavor. We live in a time of global communication and it is impossible not to be touched by it. By contrast, the exhibition “Tin Work”, curated by Lane Coulter, included examples by Mexico and New Mexico tinsmiths of the period 1850 to 1921 and reflected work of a different era and socio-economic pattern, usually designed for religious use in the home.

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The one obvious exception in the “Texas Metal Invitational” was by British-born, now San Antonio, architect Isaac Maxwell with his punched metal lamps. These pieces were exquisitely made and seem to have taken a regional idea to new heights. Curators Robert Cardinale and Jim Edwards further reinforced this nationalist approach in their invitation notes. “The artists of the ‘Texas Metal Invitational’ have helped define a wide range of expression in the metal arts as practiced in Texas. With different attitudes and ideas, they explore the nature of surface, scale and technique as applied to the rich yet difficult character of metal”.

Enid Kaplan, Aardvark on Skiis, brooch, 14k gold, sterling silver, etched brass, onyx, fish teeth, pigments, 1986

Another of the exhibitions in place during the conference was “Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other” held at the Carver Gallery. This was not a regional show, but the concept was to compare metalsmiths who work exclusively at the bench versus those who teach. Curators Pat Gavin, benchworker, and Claire Holliday, teacher, of San Antonio, could not anticipate the outcome until the exhibition was mounted. As one might have expected, there was no real difference in technical quality, given the participants, but nonetheless, the concept of the exhibition gave the viewer an interesting way to consider and compare the work. The participants were: Jamie Bennett, Pat Flynn, Pat Gavin, Martha Glowacki, Laurie Hall, Enid Kaplin, Barbara Mail, Linda Threadgill, Claire Sanford and Leonard Urso.

As most of us are visual types, this conference combined enough of the visual with the intellectual to keep us happy and stimulated and ready to go home with a new enthusiasm to our solitary studios.

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Beth Alber teaches at the Royal Ontario College of Art in Toronto, Canada.