So much of contemporary culture is filled with apropriations, reconstructions, and fragmented borrowings from our past that that past seems a fiction, collapsed, confused, fragmented, ersatz, little more than a Disneyland filled with costumes and painted flats. Such arch mining of earlier times maintains a cool detachment, objects are removed from their original contexts and collaged arbitrarily onto the present. The original meanings and significances of things float untethered in a sea of images and forms.

Bill Ruth
Marie Antoinette, shell cameo, amethyst, 18k, sterling silver, 3⅛ x 1⅜ x ½”

Bill Ruth and Susan Mahlstedt, however, evince a more recuperative attitude toward the past and its patinated forms. These collaborators lift a beautifully carved cameo from its original setting and give it new life, not in a postmodern pastiche, but in a contemporary revival, like a careful and sensitive, but practical, remodeling of an old house. Their forms may recall military medals, the tinned wings of a Junior Birdman, or the awards we might have received for winning a spelling bee, back when it was thought essential to spell correctly. These tokens are not reconstructions of objects from some earlier time; they are new constructions of the present that have the power to elicit feelings that we may have thought lost or corrupted by the commodification of nostalgia.

Roman Elvis (Goes to Washington) onyx cameo, blue chalcedony, 18k, sterling silver, 3¾ x 1⅛ x 7/16
Flying Magic Cameo, shell cameo, garnets, 18k, sterling silver, 1¼ x 43/16 x ½”