This article showcases the various exhibitions in the form of collected exhibition reviews published in the 1986 Spring issue of the Metalsmith Magazine. This features the Betty Helen Longhi, Wichita Art Association. the Quadrum Gallery, and more!
Past Instructors: Jewelry, Silversmithing, Enameling
Wichita Art Association, Wichita, KS
January 20-February 17, 1985
by Leslie Lyndon
The Wichita Art Association was formed in 1920 by a group of culturally minded citizens to offer to the region first-class exhibits and education. Sixty-five years later the Association still flourishes and grows within the realm of its original intent.
In the formative years, a jewelry and silversmithing department was established by Margret Craver who was later to become known for her outstanding work at Handy & Harman and the coordination of silversmithing symposia. Through the “Founding Fathers Conference” at the Smithsonian in 1983, much was learned of these early influences on the scholastic approach to metal and Cravers monumental efforts for the industry.
After Craver left Wichita and the Wichita Art Association, many outstanding instructors have expounded their theories (and pounded their metals) giving this institution a prestigious history. After 65 years, the exhibitions committee decided it was time to have an in-depth look at these Jewelers and enamelists. Three pieces of Margret Craver’s jewelry were exhibited a graceful 18k yellow gold brooch set with turquoise, a sterling silver bracelet with fine wire tracery patterning and a citrine and sterling ring. These pieces were drawn from the Association’s permanent collection. The second instructor at the Association (who also attended Handy & Harman conferences) was Gunda Lee Corneil. Her work was represented by two sterling silver goblets and a necklace.
Along with the jewelers and silversmiths, enamelists have played an important role in the department. The first enamelist of note was Margaret Seeler. She came directly from Germany to the Wichita Art Association, where she developed as a leading American enamellist. Her influence in the late 40s and 50s can still be seen in the work of her former students. Seeler had numerous pieces on display.
Following Seeler came Rudolph E. Brom, a Dutch silversmith and enamellist. Brom is best known for the ceremonial sword, presented by the Queen of the Netherlands to President Truman on his inauguration. This jewel and enamel encrusted masterpiece is displayed, with honor, at the Truman Library. Several pieces by Brom were in the exhibit of note was a water pitcher, raised and fabricated, and a delicate cloisonné platter.
Work by other instructors was on display, including Ronald Wyancko’s graceful sterling silver forms, which added a sculptural dimension; Mary Kretsinger’s exotically constructed and enameled jewelry in high karat golds and sterling. Her necklace of 18k yellow gold and lade is particularly noteworthy. The setting for the antique lade can be taken apart and worn as a separate pin. Her expressively enameled and granulated neckband also shows her great ability to design and construct complex jewelry.
Other instructors in the school included Ronald Hickman, who had also spent time as director of the Art Association; Rama Webb who taught both jewelry and enameling; Jed Closson, Richard Mawdsley Boger Mathews, Janice Stumphauset, Charles McDonald, Alma Taylor, Ed Vliet, A. S. Swenson—all of whom taught, predominately, jewelry and silversmithing—enamelist, Poly Rombold; and current Wichita Art Association Director, Glenice Lesley Matthews. The present instructor, Randall Gunther was not included in the exhibit because of its format.
All told 50 pieces were exhibited, ranging from intricate jewelry to large-scale holloware. There was excitement and surprise in the pieces representing the instructors over the time period. Both serious students and casual observers found the exhibit enlightening and educational. The Wichita Art Association has a proud heritage. It is hoped that the goals of the founding members of the Association will help keep this established tradition of excellence alive and growing.
Worked with Gold II
Ouadrum Gallery, Chestnut Hill, MA
October 18-November 1, 1985
by Joseph Wood
For a brief time in October, Quadrum Gallery staged an invitational exhibit whose theme and title “Worked with Gold” presented an opportunity to selected artists who work with gold to send a representative group of work. Like most galleries, Quadrum has a dual identity. It announces itself as a showcase gallery for contemporary art Jewelry, yet it maintains itself as an exclusive mall shop whose inventory is consigned. In light of this duality, I see the title and timing of this show in two ways; one, as a vehicle to provide a selection of expensive inventory, which, if requested, may remain until well into the holiday season; two, as a format to explore new possibilities for gold as an expressive medium.
The advent and subsequent lure of alternative materials testifies to our reevaluation of preciousness and the role of gold. Those artists who continue to work in gold have made a conscious decision to use this material in spite of the multitude of effects currently available with less costly materials. This would seem to invite some exploration into using gold for effects that could not be approached otherwise. I found that the reasons artists used gold seem to be generated by cost and/or physical quality. These may be directed into rich statements, bland niceties or vulgar trinkets, depending on the skill and attitude of the smith.
Though weakness of skill was rare, attitude approached, in some cases, the most vulgar limits of conspicuous consumption. Respected names were not exempt from this particular genre of bad metalwork, the characteristics of which warrant mention here. It is jewelry created for the sole purpose of parading a price tag. It is meant to call attention to the owner’s ability to acquire, rather than the object’s ability to intrigue. With the bland niceties it shares predictable formats, thoughtless surfaces and stock solutions.
Sterling silver, gold
The artists who attempted some statement and have managed to use gold as an expressive material deserve mention: In both brooches and rings, Gayle Saunders has invented a method of creating jewelry objects of frame and ribbon. Black steel frames hold delicate ribbons of mixed golds. The subtle variations of color, the intermittent holes and the irregular, sensitive edges of the ribbons bear witness to a technical process that allows the material to speak in a clear voice. Its statement is in both format and interaction of materials.
Rachelle Thiewes’s large brooches, which are object clusters, appear beautifully menacing and defiant. Gold is used as a highlight material, playing against broad, darkly oxidized silver surfaces. Slender pointed objects dangle against smooth, round discs. This work is both evocative and refined.
Eleanor Moty constructs large sterling silver brooches, which appear to have crystalized around rutilated quartz. Gold highlights echo the inclusions in the quartz. Though visually heavy, they are virtuoso integration of inspiration and object.
Jill Slosburg’s bulbous gold pins with irritated surfaces attack our expectations of gold jewelry. Their irreverance delivers a sense of preciousness that denies convention.
A show like this could easily draw a gallery away from its intent to provide the public with jewelry of conceptual quality. Quadrum struck a commendable balance with its choice of artists. However, it is unfortunate that to continue to educate the public about the virtues of art jewelry, bad jewelry is elevated to the same level.
Betty Helen Longhi: Wave Studies
Sussex County Arts Council Gallery of Art, Georgetown, DE
September 3-20, 1985
by John Fix and Judy Frosh
Awarded a grant from the Delaware State Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, Betty Helen Longhi determined to explore sculptural form on an impressive scale beyond her restrictions as a jeweler. In her statement, she declared her intention to pursue her interest in form, color and reflective surface. In addition, she expressed a desire to explore shell-forming in a new way. Her efforts culminated in this exhibit, which in accordance with her grant, she arranged to be educational. Photographs and descriptions dispelled some of the mystery of the process, accompanied by a display of materials, tools and work in progress.
The sinuous, colorful sensation of the exhibit as a whole immediately swept one into the mood of its title. “Wave Studies.” One was first struck by the plastic, tactile quality of the sculptures, which invited touching. The fluidity of the forms, the softness of color and the delicacy of balance create a sense of floating. Working with bronze, brass and nickel silver for her mirrored surfaces,
Longhi uses a controlled palette of niobium and titanium colors to play dramatically against the reflective planes; each curvilinear movement is striking against its foil. Restricting herself to two patterns, quadrilaterals and triangles Longhi stretches her metals by counter-synclasting (synclasting from opposite sides) the shelI forms that create the elements comprising her five sculptures. Because of her sensitivity to material and process. she achieves remarkable variety without losing a sense of harmony. Her forming, joining and finishing are masterful.
Fluidity consists of two pieces of nickel silver and one of niobium, all synclasted to create a dynamic interaction. The niobium is a lustrous curve of purple, peach and pink. Its convex and concave surfaces reflect back from the nickel silver like a fun-house mirror. Longhi is fascinated with the potential of distorting images. She allows interior reflections to create distortion and then curtails it by matte finishing part of the plane. This strengthens the form while diffusing the arc of colors.
Tubing is a shell-formed spiral of bronze which envelopes an open hemisphere of purple and gold niobium in a shadowy recess. By controlling the color transition from bronze to bronze-hued niobium, Longhi creates a subdued effect as the two metals meet and meld. The title refers to surfing when riding within the curl of a wave. Its opposing synclastic forms create lust such a sensation as the eye travels the stretched elongated parts that curve into gracefully tapered points.
First Wave represents three segments of water in motion adrift on a sea of nickel silver. The brass wave rides and reflects on a silver sea. Behind it rise two titanium crests: one blue, one purple. The forms repeat themselves to create a sense of harmony. Longhi’s fascination with the reflective quality of metal and its effect on form can be seen in the play of the brass plane on the nickel silver base to create a sense of deep interior volume. The only piece which relies upon a base to give it stability, First Wave is carefully and unobtrusively pegged and riveted to a wooden quadrilateral.
Breaker, composed of nickel silver and niobium, is spectacular in its conception and execution. The blue-green niobium wave rushes through its own reflection on the nickel silver—a marvel of grace in the echoing curves. Longhi illustrates skillful control of a resistant reactive metal. Breaker has a critical balance point, which permits it to rock gently for five or ten minutes. Ingeniously assembled, with no mechanical parts showing, it creates the illusion of a fluid, free-floating object. Longhi successfully coaxes a seemingly spontaneous breaker of niobium to float in harmony above its silver sea.
In this body of work, Betty Helen Longhi brings together her great knowledge of metal and her highly developed skill as a metalsmith with the esthetic sense and spiritual quality of the artist. One only hopes that these works will be seen and appreciated by a much larger audience in the near future. To this end, the exhibit was reinstalled in January, 1986 at the Delaware State Arts Council Gallery in Wilmington, Delaware.
Lalique & The Art Nouveau
An International Jewelry Symposium
Fashion Institute of Technology, New York City
November 23, 1985
by Charles Lewton-Brain
The second in the series of mini-symposia organized by Jean Appleton at F.l.T. was scheduled to coincide with the exhibition of 47 major Lalique works from the Gulbenkian Museum in Portugal at the Walters Gallery in Baltimore. This exhibition travels to Richmond in January, and later to Forth Worth and Los Angeles before returning to Portugal.
The lecture titles were “Lalique: The influence on French Design” (Martin Eidelberg), “Jewels by Lalique in American Collections” (Mary Proddow), “René Lalique: Genius of Art Nouveau Jewelry” (Vivienne Becker) and “The World of Lalique: The Gulbenkian Collection” (William Johnston). The illustrating slides were good quality and it was great 10 see such a concentrated group of Lalique and his contemporaries work. Following the lectures was a buffet and a chance to meet people. Participants came from Europe and Japan as well as the United States for the symposium. Among them was Oppi Untracht, who was in New York doing research for a book on the work of his late wife Saara Hopea Untracht.
Eidelberg concentrated on establishing a historical and artistic context for Lalique (born in 1860) and his work, beginning with his rather pedestrian early work, which included charmlike objects such as tiny windmills. Using the work of craftsmen in glass, ceramics and metal of the time, Eidelberg showed that Japonisme (Japanese mania) pervaded French society during Lalique’s developmental years. Images were often copied directly from Japanese prints and Lalique was not immune from this. For example, the much-copied Hokusai fish appear in his work.
The 1880s saw a reaction to Japonisme, craftsmen turning to nature itself as a source of esthetic inspiration. However, the Japanese attitude to material continued to have a strong influence in the placement of value on humble materials and objects through the use of color and superb craftsmanship rather than intrinsic economic worth (as of diamonds). Lalique’s 1896-97 introduction of horn to jewelry and use of essentially valueless materials, such as glass, iron and some of the early plastics, may be related to this. Another important influence on Lalique’s work was that of Symbolist art and poetry, an example being his use of the head in jewelry, an important Symbolist image. Of note too was his earlier (1880s) introduction of the female nude to jewelry, which gave him his first notoriety in France.
Proddow’s lecture was disappointing in that only a few of her remarks dealt with her topic. I found her style irritating, with no use of notes and a kind of stream-of-consciousness lecturing technique. She obviously knew a great deal about fashion history and influences, but it did not seem to work as well as some of the other approaches when applied to describing Lalique’s work and place in history.
Becker, like Eidelberg, created a context in which to view Lalique’s work. Her first slide showed his 1900 display window at the Paris Exposition Universelle. She successfully evoked the shock the public experienced on being confronted with his work; nude women, bats, exotic, erotic, morbid imagery. Using comparisions, she demonstrated the vital, intense aspect to his work, which set him apart from other jewelers of the time. Turn-of-the-century ideas and concerns were introduced. These included a preoccupation with transformation, metamorphosis, the change to a new century, changes in society and in societal roles. Lalique’s metaphors for this included butterflies, fish, water and frogs. The rise to fame of women like Sarah Bernhardt and Loie Fuller and the sensual, self-willed image they projected were part of the changing perceptions of the role of women at the time. Both women knew Lalique, and Bernhardt introduced him to Gulbenkian.
A Symbolist sense of eeriness and morbidity lends a gruesome aspect to some of Lalique’s work: a dragon eating a winged woman, bluebirds caught in women’s hair, floating hair as of a drowned person. Later works include limp, decaying plants, indicating the importance of themes such as death and renewal through death. Not mentioned by Becker was the influence of theosophical thought at the time, transformation, cycles of birth and death, oppositional struggles and contrasts of good and evil.
A surprise guest was Lillian Nassau who showed slides of her extensive Art Nouveau and Lalique collection.
William Johnston of the Walters Art Gallery described the life of Calouste Gulbenkian, his contacts with Lalique and his eclectic and informed collecting habits. The slides of the exhibition were excellent. Of technical interest was Lalique’s use of a pantograph machine in carving ivory faces from much larger relief models.
In my view this symposium was not as successful as the first (“Collectors & Collections,” Metalsmith, Summer 1985, p. 53). It was very short, a morning, without time for a break. This resulted in a somewhat hurried atmosphere, which detracted from the business at hand. The relatively small number of presentations on a restricted theme left an impression of an element of duplication, of personal interpretation of the same events by different speakers.
The third F.I.T symposium is scheduled for April 12, 1986. It will be a full day with an evening preview of a Christie’s jewelry sale. The program seems to be an improvement on the extremely good first symposium. F.I.T. is to be praised for initiating and developing this series of international symposia, and it should be interesting to see what they present in the future (For further information, contact Richard Martin, Executive Director, Shirley Goodman Resource Center, Fashion Institute of Technology, 227 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001; telephone (212) 760-7970.)
Pamela Ritchie: Wallflowers
The Craft Gallery, Toronto Canada
October 30-November 24, 1985
by Anne Barros
To Pamela Ritchie, wallflowers are not only shy girls at tea dances. For this Halifax goldsmith in the Jewellery Department of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, wallflowers are pieces of art jewellery that sometimes sit out a wearing on samples of Victorian-looking wallpaper. The conceit here is both playful and serious.
Ritchie is a cerebral jeweller whose concepts are always a challenge to the viewer/wearer. Her show at The Craft Gallery featured 12 different pieces of strongly patterned wallpaper mounted on heavy handmade paper (46 x 61.5 cm). Fastened to the wallpaper at the axis of a pattern or on a lateral stripe were brooches or earrings, often so closely coloured to the background that they were not at first perceived as three-dimensional.
The thoughtfulness behind this exhibition unfolded as one walked from piece to piece as if through the rooms of a Victorian house. First there was a deep woad blue paper with floral chintz design and niobium and paper brooch attached, then a geometric lattice pattern in burgundy with painted wooden brooches flying out Ritchie was playing with ideas of art on the wall, vertically, and art on the body, also vertically, and the kinds of movement that can occur in and between both states.
In the most successful combinations, like No. XII, the brooch while integrated with the wallpaper offers itself to the viewer less shyly than the girl at the dance. On the jewellery Ritchie uses spikey protrusions, similar to the thorns on a horse chestnut which seem natural when set against the garden wallpaper ground. Tactically they tease, and the viewer reaches out to respond to this invitation, to the conceit. Such seems to be Ritchie’s aim: to make us think about jewellery, how it is shown and how it is worn.
The jewellery pieces have evolved from Ritchie’s pleating and niobium in her Children of Niobe series. The brooches are simple but meticulously constructed. Often the wallpaper is pleated between two boxy silver holders, or fanned on the earrings. The brooches minimalism requires either the wallpaper or the wearer to complete the statement. This s the first time have seen wallpaper used in this manner. It was fresh and yet associated with one’s past exposure to wall coverings.
As jewelers we are always concerned with the backgrounds against which our work is worn or shown. Will it be against white walls Iike modern museums or will the feeling for colour and pattern interact with the jewellery to consume it, harmonize with it, or perhaps cause it to take on greater meaning? As a jeweller who has worked in theatre design, Ritchie is certainly aware of all the possibilities of Wallflowers. More timid jewelers might have played safe with the acid-free papers of the museum approach, but Ritchie chose to explore the possibilities of jewellery against decorative backgrounds.
Madison Avenue Roundup
by Antonia H. Schwed
The Carlyn Gallery at 1145 Madison Avenue, New York City, is in its infancy: it only opened in September 1985. The space is quite fabulous: ground floor, corner location, with two large, almost sidewalk to ceiling windows, and a spacious two room, well-lit interior. The owner Carol Soling (the director is Roslyn Tunis) seems enthusiastic and open-minded.
The gallery is eclectic, multimedia—ceramics, wood, weaving, enamels, jewelry and so on. Their opening exhibit, with the pleasing title “Echoes and Visions,” was a beautiful show an elegant and interesting presentation of fine work. However, the Christmas exhibit, called “That’s Entertainment,” I found a little embarrassing, some of the work was so raucously cute that I could scarcely bear to look at it. Galleries must sell to survive, so it is naive to expect them to be above the commercial, but I do hope this show is not a sign of the direction Carlyn will take: gentrified boutique.
There was indeed good work amidst the Christmas panic. In the jewelry area specifically. Marianne Hunter’s skillful use of finely enameled centerpieces for her necklaces; the Eskimo inspired jewelry of Jessica Felix—little sterling masks with feathers; Beth Ylvisaker’s jewelry made with butterfly wings and feathers facet-cut semiprecious stones—those stones that are usually cabochon cut—in jewelry by Pau Morelli; Sergei Blumin’s droll silver clothing sculpture. And more, ranging from excellent to mediocre. I hope Carlyn can return to and stay with the original format of that first exhibit and really get established as a distinguished gallery.
In comparison, there is a firm, almost closed atmosphere of control in the Neil Isman gallery at 1100 Madison Avenue. On talking with Isman it soon becomes very clear that all work in the gallery must meet his strong criteria of artistic validity. (One definite feeling he has is that work should be readily identifiable with the artist.) Neil lsman is a survivor on Madison Avenue no mean task having been there for 11½ years, only approximately the last two of which have been devoted to modern jewelry; prior to that he specialized in art deco and art nouveau. His holiday season display consisted of work tightly arranged in closed cases and wall cabinets, a in a rather small, one-room area, but with a good display window on the avenue.
The climate was more like that of a shop than a gallery. Much fine work is dimmed by the shining excess of closely aligned pieces. One has to peer to see the beautiful work of Belle and Roger Kuhn. Incidentally, Roger Kuhn is doing some separate silver work of his own, which is most elegant. And there are clean. handsome pieces by Hans Stahr (from Rio); a particularly lovely necklace by Betty Helen Longhi, which incorporates a flowing, leaf-like form plus the first use of niobium that I have ever really liked in jewelry.
There is splendid marriage of metals work by Tony Papp: outstanding design by Yoshiko Yamamoto, who shows a great range of concept from the spidery-delicate to the substantial. And there are many more fine works, all rather hard to zero in on because of the multiple city of the pieces and their proximity to each other. Unfortunately, when work is shown like this, even the finest artifact seems to lose its importance.
Byzantium at Cravetz & Kahan 810 Madison Avenue, is presenting “The Golden Jubilee Collection,” basically a jewelry collection created to honor a group of 15 great divas (might it not have been intriguing to include some of the great male singers of the Metropolitan?) and commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera Guild The exhibit has an extensive touring schedule—from Palm Beach to the South of France—and will be intermittently at the gallery until about September or October of 1986. The gallery also has on permanent display regular work by their artists.
A uniformed guard lets you into the upstairs gallery of Cravetz & Kahan, estate jewelry, from there you go down thickly carpeted stairs to the Byzantium Gallery (which, although not new has only been at this location since August, 1985) and arrive at a sort of Benvenuto Cellini land. Gold, gold everywhere—only 18k or higher—most of the jewelry very complicated and gleaming with emeralds, diamonds, rubies, pearls opals. As beautifully arranged and presented by Luisa de Valle, also a contributing artist to the show.
Dr. Stephen Pau Adler filled me in on some of the myriad details of the exhibit. In addition to being a psychoanalyst, he is a co-founder of Byzantium, and an outstanding contributing artist. The conception of this exhibit was his. Each piece in the exhibit is one-of-a-kind until sold, and only then can another be made—some up to 50 times; others only two or three times; a few are to remain unique. A group of international Byzantium artists was selected and assigned a specific diva for whom to create. The jewelry in this exhibit is not “stage” jewelry, it is supposed to be a tribute to and an interpretation of the diva, usually involving some major role with which the diva has been associated. Initially, the artists received a portfolio on the diva and then used their own resources for further research (some even took trips abroad) and for their actual production of the pieces.
The result is an incredible collection of rings, brooches. earrings, necklaces and other artifacts. To mention just a few. Mozart Beads, a long necklace consisting of beads with granulation (no two alike) and beads set with tiny emeralds, is a marvelous work done by Cornelia Roethal to honor Rise Stevens. Dr. Adler’s tribute to Roberta Peters, called Queen of the Night, with its lacy structure of gold and hematite and lovely green Afghanistan tourmaline, is the kind of piece that combines strength with delicacy Luna Felix, Moroccan by birth, has done a gem-laden pendant on a gold chain that is supremely skillful, if a shade too baroque for me. Then there is Mary Lee Hu’s stunning woven gold collar in honor of Elisabeth Rethberg’s performance of “Aida.” Also outstanding are the exquisite carved opal poison bottles (from “Cosi Fan Tutte”) by Michael Wallace.
Some may criticize the exhibit as being “too much,” but I don’t think so. I think it accomplishes its objective superbly. It is an opera inspired exhibit and often opera itself is “too much, or “bigger than life.” This is an opulent, extravagant, glittering show, and I say, Bravo!
Although I have no space left for details, I must mention one of the finest enamel exhibits I have seen in New York. It was at the Aaron Faber Gallery, 666 Fifth Avenue, in the attractive upstairs exhibit area. Well displayed were enamel artworks (jewelry and pictures) done by American and international artists and ranging from superb classical limoges to the most exciting modern work.
Dana Bussell: One-Woman Show
Glass Gallery, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
October 12-November 15, 1985
by Leslie F. Brown
Dana Bussell’s work is fundamentally an iconography of “freely and intuitively” juxtaposed images. Of the 15 pieces included in the exhibition only four were jewelry—all brooches. The 11 remaining, with one exception, were wall pieces. As in the traditional icon Bussell’s work is imbued with imagery and color although Bussell’s color is generally subdued. Often the work includes a human reference—a figure, hand or object, such as a microphone or stairway.
The juxtaposition of images, not the technique, is the subject. The works are primarily assemblages of enamel work, metal fabrication wood and in one case fabric. The craftsmanship is so skillfully done that all thought of technique is forgotten. What remains is to enter into the imagery and enjoy the mysteries. In fact, it seemed to me that many of the pieces could have been done in other mediums and lost none of their effect.
The blending of common images with ambiguous shapes and forms is recognized by the viewer for its nature rather than its content. The effect is that of the selective memory after an event of emotional confusion where only a handful of images remain and their relationship to one another is uncertain subtle and constantly shifting. In one of her more humorous pieces, Gravity, My Dear, Gravity, Bussell has turned the remembered event literally upside down. Viewed head-on, this wall piece, in shades of blue, black, red, green and yellow with a brass-trimmed mirror at the back, suggests objects of Mexican folk art with its bright colors and tin mirrors. Yet looking into the mirror one perceives that an ambiguous form at the front of the piece is reflected back in the mirror as a human figure standing on its head.
Cameo, the most traditional in iconographic reference yet the most indecipherable, is an assemblage of color, form and line. The gray background sets off well the wood oval, painted in shades of gray, red, blue and a tinted yellow. In contrast is the metallic gleam of the pewter rods and scalloped forms around the oval’s edge. Rising off the oval is a pale green enameled form, whose qualities are reminiscent of shell fragments found along a beach. The entire effect is one inviting peaceful contemplation.
Perhaps more typical of Bussell’s work is The Most Uncertain Hour. In this work of enamel on copper with silver and bronze fabrication are found both a full figure and the imprint of a hand upon a banister. The figure is shrouded in black on a ground of grays. This work produces a sense of uneasiness arising from the subtle coloration and the mysterious figure in contrast with the hard edges and scalloped effects of the constructed area and punctuated violently by the ragged edge on the left. Unlike Cameo, no sense of contemplation exists here but rather one of tension and expectation.
Of the four brooches on display, three echoed Bussell’s fascination with the repetitive pattern and form of a tiled roof, which also appeared as the primary element in an untitled wall piece. These three brooches are simple. flat shapes over which is fastened the black enameled tile pattern. The fourth brooch is an enameled representation of a man in oceanside rain gear seen from the back. All four could be said to be more decorative than expressive of Bussell’s talent for the juxtaposition of random images.
One piece, number 14 and untitled, clearly did not belong in this or any other exhibit on of Bussell’s work. The piece is a flat sab of metal, shaped like a portion of a tree trunk with two enameled flower forms emerging from the center. The concept and execution are far too unsophisticated to be included.
The Glass Gallery at CSU is small but beautifully lit during the daylight hours. The right amount of work was included and only two pieces suffered from their location. These were wall pieces mounted on white, wood backgrounds which were well proportioned to the pieces. The wall on which they were displayed, however, was also white, which left the works somewhat lost in the milky vastness.
This exhibition by Dana Bussell, who has an impressive exhibition record already, was a strong statement of her esthetic interests, which, happily, stimulates, provokes and amuses the viewer.
The Art of the European Goldsmith: Silver from the Schroder Collection
Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA
by Tim McCreight
In the Summer 84 issue (vol. 4, no. 3) Metalsmith reviewed the Schroder Collection in conjunction with a symposium occasioned by its exhibition in New York City. That review focused on the symposium, this second installment addresses the work.
H.G. Wells was right. Time travel is possible, and it leaves you weak in the knees. The Schroder Collection, currently making a two-year tour of the United States, provides an exhilarating survey of goldsmithing from the European Renaissance. The show consists of almost 90 pieces, most made between 1550 and 1750. Each has been selected by far-sighted scholars for its historical importance and esthetic triumph. If these sparkling vessels were songs, this exhibit would be a Best of the Renaissance solid gold album.
As installed in the Worcester Art Museum, the work was impeccably presented. The floor plan was spacious without seeming disjointed. The room lighting and colors were mellow, but each piece was individually well illuminated. Paintings of the period were culled from the museum’s permanent collection to provide a context for the work.
Most of the objects are functional or based on a functional ideal. Many of the vessels had to do with drinking I counted 7 pitchers, 13 flagons and 18 chalices. The collection also includes a small selection of flatware and several dozen decorative (“centerpiece”) vases.
Just about all the work is made in silver. Fully three-fourths of the pieces are gilded and burnished, infusing the term goldsmithing with uncommon splendor. Seen all at once the exhibit is dazzling, literally eye-squinting, breath-sucking dazzling. In the same way that Renaissance and Baroque cathedrals speak of something other-worldly, these masterful objects represent a sensibility beyond our usual plane. I’ve seen shop windows full of gold, this was a different shimmer. If you get to see this show or perhaps one like it, don’t move too quickly toward the first display. Step inside and pause, listen for the angels.
But then move to the work, case by case. After the color, perhaps the most striking quality is the frantic richness of the surfaces. Everywhere you see repoussé, engraving stamping and minutely carved cast details. If there was a common bond among the makers of these objects it lies in their disdain for a plain surface. At first pass, especially to the uninitiated, such a self-indulged mastery can be too rich, like syrup on custard. But after the first gooey bite, this too can become addicting.
One of the most striking objects in the show is a Nautilus Cup made in Holland around 1595. The body of the cup is a silver shell, added later as a replacement for the real shell that first provided the cup. It is surmounted by a fierce sea monster, rich with detail. The pedestal of the cup is a mermaid figure, who rides on the back of a griffin-headed snail. The tortuous interplay of forms and lavish details are precursors to Baroque architecture that was still 100 years in the future. In many ways this piece typifies the collection. It is ornate, magnificent, convoluted, tempestuous and pretentious. It is larger than life, containing decades of skill and centuries of meaning in its compact 11 inches.
Another of my favorites was a combined knife and spoon made in the late 16th century n Southern Germany. A miniature St. George stands on the shaft ready to slay a diminutive and perfectly carved half-inch dragon. Gargoyles and other figures abound The two tines of the fork engage with a carved female figure on the back of the spoon bowl to convert fork to spoon. The ornate globe on the top acts as a handle to release a central shaft that contains a whistle, a toothpick and an earpick. The catalog catches it nicely: “In its sophistication and impracticality, this object is an epitome of Mannerist goldsmiths’ work. ostensibly intended for ordinary use, its complex molding make it quite inappropriate for eating with, while its decorative program and ingenious combination of functions are best appreciated by examination rather than use.”
And what about time travel? No working metalsmith could study these undulating forms without marveling at the technique. These thoughts quickly lead to musing on the tools that were used, and soon we are visited with a vision of the Renaissance goldsmith at his work. What was at first glance awesome becomes almost spooky. I found it possible to sense the men who made these objects—in fact almost impossible not to. It was as if a narrow starry corridor opened for an instant. If one of these master goldsmiths was to materialize there in the gallery, we could chat, I’d love to hear about his tricks, and wouldn’t it be fun to take him on a tour around the rest of the museum. That’s not going to happen, but for an instant the glimmer was there; the clocks lost a second.
This exhibition will be on display at the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio from January 12 to March 9, and at the Denver Art Museum in Denver, Colorado from April 6 through June 1. Check with each museum to confirm these dates.
A 208-page catalog is available from any of the participating museums or by sending $12 plus $1 handling to the American Federation of Arts, 41 East 65th Street, New York, NY 10021.
Jonathan Graham Bonner
Dawson Gallery, Rochester, NY
by William Baran-Mickle
Jonathan Bonner’s recent solo exhibition was an elegant presentation of weathervanes and umbrella stands. Though sparse, the range included past, present and a hint at the future. Most noticeable to me at first were the familiar jagged profiles of animal-like forms. While these forms echo the Surreal style of Klee or Calder on one hand, they also parallel recent figurative expressionist art, more humorous than urgent, often whimsical and friendly. Several large-finned fish forms made a good visual transition to the umbrella stands.
|Jonathan Bonner, Umbrella Stands
Metal, patina, lacquer, each approx. 2½ x 4 x 1½
Photos: W. Baran-Mickle
The weathervanes stood 5 to 6 feet with a 3 to 5 foot breadth of fish or animal floating high above the ground. Each had a unique, approximately 3-foot high base of wood cut in an architectural post modern form. The faded, dye-colored bases worked well with the fume-green patina on the metal bodies. Most of Bonner’s vanes made me feel as though l, as viewer, completed the sculptural statement.
The umbrella stands were of a newer style, softened and more relaxed. There seemed to be more playfulness, and the images were more like dolphins and snails. Wavy lines and overlapping seams create an undulating pattern as the work is rotated, and the images change substantially—the fume green patina playing off the opaque-lacquered interiors of pink, yellow and red. These pieces revealed a strong resemblance to the style and method of John Prip. Bonner’s former teacher at RISD, a method where work is designed with paper cutouts, folding, simple piercing of stylized form and so on. This method allows clever and ingenious forms and relationships to evolve from only one or two pieces of material. Execution must be flawless, as the final material is secondary, and here Bonner’s skill is apparent.
Bonner exhibited just one piece that seemed to point toward a future direction. Still a weathervane, this one stands 5 feet tall with a span of 2 feet. Its gently curving base—left natural—supports the fulcrum, on top of which is a tilting oblong football shape in profile. Heavily painted white, with a red/black line wandering from tip to tip, this vane is purely abstract and no longer needs a “functional” aspect. It embodies an allusion to movement and added dimension with more sculptural depth: the winds are stilled. This direction would seem to realign Bonner from a more popular format to a stronger, and more challenging, mature artistic expression.
VO Galerie, Washington, D.C.
by Gretchen Raber
Clear, concise, logical flow the thoughts of Johanna Hess-Dahm. Each idea is channeled and dissected. Her work is a product of categorized intellectual energy, manipulated into progressions. The results arise from each seminal idea. Her exhibit at VO Galerie was another striking example of the precise and directed exploration certain European metalsmiths invest in their work. Not only did each group of work reflect an intention, but also the artist herself expressed with such fluidity the pattern of development. It has been my experience that these recognized young European metal artists express their creative energy from the standpoint of their intellectual process. As in the case of Herman Hermsen, Herman Jünger and Johanna Hess-Dahm, such conviction and exhaustive research into each facet of design is an important lesson to those who seek lasting and catholic power in their own work.
|Johanna Hess-Dahm, Neckpiece, felt, wine.|
Hess-Dahm began her involvement in metal from an art background in Zurich. Within that sphere of design, she found the lure of metal and its qualities of resistance, energy potential and strength suited the direction of her expression. The evolution of her studies progressed to more intense involvement with the third dimension.
In this show, Hess-Dahm departed from her earlier work of flat, illusionistic volumes based on rectangles, squares and circles. Her new work evolves from concepts developed in 1981 at a symposium on metal and textiles sponsored by the World Craft Council. From this point, she has explored integrating fabric with her work. She seeks to hold and mold the fabric with metal structures. In many cases the attaching needle is used as a form-producing element. The plastic front sections of one series are opened in part to a low the pin to protrude. Thus, the fabric is stretched over the needle surrounded by the brooch. This idea generated from the concept of a paper-clip mechanism.
Convex and concave polarity occurs in this work in groups of pieces that include pure wire forms, metal plates with wire and plastic forms, over which elastic bands hold the forms to fabric from the back. The apparent simplicity of the shapes is quite misleading. There is a great sophistication in engineering that reduces a mechanism to its simplest form and still works. The challenge is to produce maximum results with the purest of elements. That is the mark of an experienced and talented designer.
Colored plexiglass, steel, 2½ to 4″
Photo: Alexander Troehler
In one of the latest groups of work is a necklace based on sections of squares and circles. Heavy chromed brass tubes of circle segments are alternately strung on elastic cord with chromed half-squares. The metal sections can be positioned in different attitudes both on the wearer and as standing metal sculpture.
Johanna Hess-Dahm’s latest medium is felt in large, stiff, geometric, folded planes, which can be manipulated on the wearer or on the wall. They make a dramatic fashion statement. Hess-Dahm, however, does not approach their design from that direction, but rather from the landscape of the mind, rarified and pure. Her work is not static; it is powerful, honest, direct, thought-provoking and, yes, starkly beautiful.
Spectacular Helmets of Japan, 16th-19th Century
Japan House Gallery, New York City
October 17-November 27, 1985
by James McElhinney
Sixteenth-century Japan was a land in chaos. The period known as Sengoku-jidai (period of the country at war) saw the utter collapse of the military government that had, two centuries past, been established by the Ashikaga family. What passed for government in these times consisted of a number of contentious provincial clans ruled by charismatic warlords, each of whom shared the same dream of one day founding a new Shogunate under which the entire military community would serve.
These men, known as Daimyō (meaning, literally “great name”), represented the expression of a kind of individualism rarely associated with the Japanese martial spirit. It was necessary for these men to possess the ability to inspire the sort of loyalty for which samurai were readily willing to give up their lives. An appearance by the Daimyō in the thick of battle at a critical moment could turn the tide and carry the day. Like sports stars of today, the Daimyō relied heavily on mass appeal. They were expected to be dynamic, colorful and readily indentifiable in the field. They were also expected to be well versed in the arts; both in practice and connoisseurship.
Like European princes during the Renaissance, the Sengoku Daimyō sought to master far more than those skills required of a military commander or provincial ruler. The martial costume of the day was Yoroi (armour) composed of thin steel plates laced together with braided silk tape. This provided the wearer with a strong, flexible and lightweight defense against arrows and edged weapons. The helmet, more than any other component of the Yoroi served to express the identity of the warrior. The traditional helmet, or Kabuto, was comprised of the Hachi, or helmet bowl, from which was suspended the Shikoro, or neck guard. The latter formed somewhat of a low brim encompassing the back of the helmet. On either side of the frong of the hachi, near the base, were two small flaps (Fukigaeshi), which at one time had been part of the shikoro.
By the Sengoku period, they had become vestigial and ornamental. A variety of ornaments might be affixed to the hachi that would express the religious beliefs and clan affiliations of the wearer. Little changed, however, in the traditional form of the hachi until the Sengoku-jidai. It was during this time that the great Daimyō gathered together armourers into the castle-towns, providing for them the patronage and encouragement to explore new ideas and develop new designs for the construction of helmets and armour. The results of some of this effort were recently exhibited at the Japan House in New York. “The Spectacular Helmets of Japan,” as an exhibition, provided a rare opportunity to see many of the best-preserved examples of the most imaginative and original works of the Japanese armourer.
In one example, the hachi is constructed by the traditional method of joining longitudinal steel plates with rivets. From the hachi is suspended a shikoro of lacquered iron laced with a multicolored silk tape. The fukigaeshi are covered with printed deerskin and affixed with the “Ju-mon” (the Chinese character signifying the number 10). The Ju-mon was used by certainDaimyō as a family crest, notably the Shimazu, lords of Satsuma in Kyushu. Affixed to the front of the hachi is the “Cintanami no Tama” or wish-giving jewel, which would have served the wearer as a talisman and symbol of his religious convictions.
Another example, known as Mosu-gata-kabuto or Monk’s-hood shape, finds expression by making use of the overall form of the kabuto, not simply by adding accessories to the hachi. The form, which is inspired by the cloth hood worn by Yamabushi or warrior-monks, was built up with layers of lacquer and paper over an armature of wood atop an iron hachi. This technique, known as “Harikake” allows the armourer to express the form of the kabuto with great sculptural freedom, while not doing so entirely in metal. Harikake is very lightweight and there can be little doubt that one major consideration for the armourer would be the comfort of the wearer. Despite the fact that harikake is not a metalworking technique, it is used in concert with metals and employs a vocabulary of form based on metalworking. The nature of the volumes expressed in this kabuto strongly resembles those which might be raised from a flat sheet of metal. Similarly, the surface treatment, intended to convey the texture of cloth, could as easily be read as a hammered surface.
Similar issues are revealed in another example, which is formed to represent sutra-scrolls. Again, religious sentiment is expressed with the entire form of the helmet, suggesting the belief that redemption is to be found in adherence to Buddhist law. The simplicity of design in no way diminishes its sophistication. The language of form is based on metalworking but the technique is again Harikake. Like the previous example, harikake is built up over a functional iron hachi. The Daimyō used their headgear to set themselves apart from ordinary mortals, but rarely would they choose to do so at the expense of their own safety.
Following the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa family, numerous sumptuary edicts were proclaimed that dictated in exact terms the mode of conduct and of dress to be followed by all members of the military class. The flamboyance of “Kawari-Kabuto” (spectacular helmets) came to represent a kind of vanity and individualism that was, in the light of these laws, considered somewhat undignified and inappropriate to the “way of the samurai” (Bushido). Despite the official policy, Kawari-Kabuto continued to occupy a place in the military culture of Japan, until the Shogunate was overthrown by the Meiji Emperor in the 19th century.
These helmets provide for us more than just a glimpse into the nature of a society that no longer exists. They are evidence of the inventiveness and genius of the armourers of feudal Japan, who are well represented by this exhibition.
Plum Galiery, Kensington, MD
by Jan Maddox
Diversity of style, technique and personality were coupled with a common commitment to color and the wearability of the object in the work of five local designers: Tina Chisena, Joan Levy, Carol Oshinsky, Jan Peters and Don Smith. To a great extent they are representative of the interests of the local jewelry community in fashion, form, technique, material and function.
Tina Chisena takes several techniques that lend themselves to linear surface decoration and incorporates them into sensitive sculptural form. Her sterling silver and niello earrings had an elegant flowing shape, enhanced by the curving niello lines that both emphasize and counterpoint the movement of the total form. Although seen in a case, these pieces come alive when worn because Chisena has subtly involved the function as an important design element. Her work is characterized by its small scale, intricate design and careful craftsmanship. Whether using cloisonné, mokume-gane, niello or other media, she explores the lively graphic potential of each.
Flowers provide a central motif for Joan Levy’s work. Not delicate, fragile little blossoms but expansive, exuberant and full-blown hothouse blooms. Large in scale, active in texture, form and color, some of the pieces are so involved and agitated that the viewer is overwhelmed and visually exhausted. The best pieces are consistently lively and decorative in a personal way. Her “Paisley” belt buckles and shawl-sweater pins are notable in successfully incorporating the function into the form. A “Poppy” necklace successfully combined a simple nickel shape with gray silk ribbons and small, pierced and formed petals sprinkled among the ribbons.
The work of Carol Oshinsky shows an obvious interest in fashion. Very “stylish,” her pieces are well-made and effectively designed variations on a basic theme. She uses a series of large, flattened spheres, either plain or embellished with oxidation or simple wire lines. One necklace used the spheres in a vertical orientation with graduated sizes changing from three large central beads to slightly smaller heat oxidized copper shapes. Another necklace and earrings used the spheres on their flat sides with three raised lines of silver wire, oxidized to stress the strong geometric interruption of the form. It is a striking motif, adaptable lo various functions, varied in color through oxidation or combinations of different metals and sometimes combined with small hematite or garnet beads to reduce the inevitable bulky character of the large circular shapes.
Crisp, clean geometric form and meticulous craftsmanship mark the work of Jan Peters. But her geometry is enlivened by the asymmetrical organization and careful balancing of contrasts within each object. Most of her pieces are constructed with a series of overlapping interrupted layers of angles and arcs with brushed and highly polished surfaces, as well as color from titanium, niobium or anodized aluminum. In the brooch Curves, Angles and Folds, projecting edges give three-dimensionality to an otherwise flat image. She has been very inventive in using segmentation of line, color and unexpected juxtapositions to animate her design concepts.
Don Smith’s work included several very different design approaches using aluminum, sterling and niobium, usually in combination. His most successful pieces were pins of simple, open, geometric shapes of distressed anodized aluminum rods held together with silver tubing corners. The most pleasing is a triangle with close, dark colors-black, blue-purple and purple. It made a simple but satisfying linear statement with the silver color of the scratched anodized surface and the closely analogous colors acting in harmony with the silver sections. In a very different piece, he uses a relatively stiff computer cable for the neckpiece of a small silver and niobium pendant in order to hold it in an eccentric position on the body.