1990 SNAG Conference Review

This article is a review by Betsy Douglas of the 1990 SNAG Conference held in San Francisco, CA on March 14 – 17, 1990.

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Bridges bring people together. “Bridges,” the theme of this conference, brought 500 enthusiastic metalsmiths to the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco. Local members organized an exciting four days of interaction, starting with the opening reception at the Japanese Pavilion that featured the traditional pin swap. Fabricated pins, cast pins, stamped pins, folded-paper pins, rubber pins, plastic pins, painted stick pins, rhinestone dogbone pins, bullet pins, spiculum pins, enameled pins and “Bridge Mix” pins were bartered between old and new friends. Contingents from as far away as Great Britain and Australia joined the action.

The business of the conference began with SNAG president Douglas Steakley’s welcome address. Featured speaker Dr. Albert Alligator, the alter ego of puppeteer Willy Claflin, spooled metalsmiths’ foibles with perspicacity and a “transcendent dualistic consciousness.” After things were put in the proper perspective, the business meeting commenced over production matters of Metalsmith magazine and the Newsletter future conferences and exhibitions: SNAG workshop programs; membership services; introduction of candidates for president and the SNAG board and the presentation of the annual budget.

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Judith Hoffman, Spectacles for Seeing Stars, silver, brass, plexiglass, found glass, fabricated, 2¾ x 6¼ x 5″, 1988

Conference coordinator Marc Paisin and members of his committee distributed prizes from random drawings to lucky registrants. Kenneth Trapp of the Oakland Museum followed with his experiences in collecting metalwork for the museum.

After lunch, participants were treated to “Bridges to Down Under: Contemporary Australian Jewelry & Metalwork,” an informative overview of current Australian metalwork presented by Jeannie Keeler Bell. Inspired by last year’s SNAG Conference presentation of young American metalsmith, and their work, Susan Fortune and Helen Craven introduced 22 “Emerging Artists of Great Britain.” Both slide lectures demonstrated that innovative metalsmithing traditions are alive and well in their respective countries.

Thursday evening, SNAG bought out the house of the long-running “Beach Blanket Babylon,” a theatrical review of outrageous hats and costumes, songs, dances and puns by talented performers. Enthusiastic conferees dressed up in crazy costumes and hats. The evening was a huge success.

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Irene Mori, Pulse, sterling silver, 22k gold, moonstone, 3 x 2½ x ¼”

Friday morning, two Cranbrook students, Frances Killam and JoEllen Stevens presented their research on pioneering women metalsmiths from the Midwest in a lecture entitled: “Wynn, Copeland and Bowles: Models in Studio Practice.” Copper and mica lamps, and other objects created in the San Francisco studio of Dirk Van Erp, around the turn of the century, were described by Dorothy Lamoureux, who guest-curated an exhibition of Van Erp’s work at the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum in 1989.

Friday afternoon – pick one from simultaneous presentations: “Fold Forming Update” (Charles Lewton-Brain); “How to make an Instructional Video” (Meg Corwin); “Antique Line Engraving Machines” (Peter Rowe); “California Alternatives: Nontraditional Metals Education” (Marcia Lewis); and “Piercing: Ornamentation as Radical Statement” (Keith Lewis and Jim Ward). Tough choice! The “Piercing” presentation dealt with little-known exotic body ornamentation Lewis and Ward treated their material in a straightforward and honest manner.

Jirobe Takagi, Kettle for Japanese Tea Ceremony, cast iron

During the day, the Vendors’ Display Room was open, allowing conferees to explore an array of tools, to see demonstrations of new equipment, to shop for stones, books and to bid on the donated works for the SNAG Silent Auction. In the late afternoon, vendors graciously hosted a reception and the lucky auction bidders claimed their treasures. The Silent Auction raised more than $6000 for upgrading and updating the Audio/Visual Library.

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Friday evening was the scene of gallery openings: “California Metal Forms ’90” at the California Crafts Museum at Ghirardelli Square; “Metal Sculpture and Function” at the Virginia Brier Gallery; and antique metalwork at Argentum. It was difficult to see all the work with 500 people trooping through galleries not designed for this kind of traffic. Return visits were a good idea. The conference gave us a chance to explore this exciting city and to enjoy some of its great restaurants and galleries.

A highly successful tool auction at the hotel capped the evening. Kris Williams, Peter Jagoda, Dave Pimentel, Dawn Nakanishi and other rousing auctioneers encouraged the crowd to part with their money for marvelous equipment and tools. Betty Helen Longhi donated, then bought back, the infamous sinusoidal-handled hammer again! The vendors were particularly generous in their donations and approximately $3000 was raised for the future membership directory and additional membership services.

Dawn Nakanishi, Building the Nest, brass, sterling silver, sugelite, 4½ x 4″, 1989

We missed Alma Eikerman, scheduled to speak about her work on Saturday morning; she was unfortunately unable to attend. Marc Paisin shared his humorous and informative approach to law for metalsmiths, discussing copyright, contracts, studio liability, commissions and commission cancellations. Harlan Butt and Larry Sokyo Tiscornia illustrated in slides the ritualistic art objects of the Japanese tea ceremony.

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Presentations Saturday afternoon included tips on “Updating your Slide Collection” by Kris Williams, a second opportunity to hear the “Piercing” lecture and a comprehensive talk by Jo Hanson on artists’ rights, business records and taxation. Hanson is the author of a much needed book called Artists’ Taxes, The Hands-On Guide.

The entire membership felt the loss of our treasurer, Richard Austin, who was stricken and died during the conference. It marked a great personal loss for all of us. His contributions to the organization were invaluable, and he is greatly missed as a friend.

Ira Sherman, Explosion Injection Forming Harness, steel, stainless steel, brass, aluminum, plastic and gunpowder, 72 x 18 x 12″

The Second Plenary Session saw the introduction of new officers. Peter Jagoda is SNAG’s president-elect and new board members are Billie Jean Theide and Pary Daunis-Dunning. New business included a proposal by Arline Fisch for SNAG’s participation in the “Year of American Crafts” scheduled for 1993. Fisch will act as SNAG’s liaison.

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Grand Finale – SNAG’s Saturday evening’s festivities at San Francisco’s Exploratorium featured a delicious buffet, dancing and participation in scientific exhibits: creating huge iridescent bubbles, catching your shadow on a wall and transmitting your voice with parabolic reflectors. Ira Sherman offered two showings of his tongue-in-cheek performance of “Panaceas to Persistent Problems – Sculptural Devices.” Sherman and his assistants demonstrated bizarre, mechanical, metal contraptions on good-natured volunteers from the audience. One of these complex wearable sculptures appeared to be a pneumatic chastity belt. Sherman’s devices were intricate, masterfully crafted, surprisingly strong and full of humor, providing another healthy chance for metalsmiths to laugh at themselves.

This piece is designed as a freestanding kinetic sculpture, as well as a body sculpture with a specific mechanical function that interacts on and with human body. The forming harness uses an explosive charge to form metal into jewelry (see opposite page): a piece of sculpture/jewelry that actually creates another piece of jewelry/sculpture. All Sherman’s work manipulates mechanical components into esthetic forms. The mechanics become the esthetic. No attempt is made to box in or cover up any mechanical component. The pieces often define societal absurdities.

Pre-conference and post-conference workshops, open houses and exhibitions in the San Francisco area rounded out the rich experience. Kudos to the planners of SNAG ’90! The hospitality, diverse programs and entertainment were great and not to have been missed! But, if you did, go to Atlanta. Pre-register for “Metalmorphosis” — March 20 – 24, 1991. I’ll see you there!

Betsy Douglas is a metalsmith living in Paradise Valley, AZ.

To order a copy of Jo Hanson’s Artists’ Taxes, The Hands-on Guide, write: Vortex Press SF, 1800 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. The book is $13.50, including postage; CA residents add $.80 sales tax.

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By Betsy Douglas
In association with SNAG's
Metalsmith magazine, founded in 1980, is an award winning publication and the only magazine in America devoted to the metal arts.
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