Metalsmith ’88 Winter: Exhibition Reviews

This article showcases various exhibitions in the form of collected exhibition reviews published in the 1988 Winter issue of the Metalsmith Magazine. This features Martha Glenny, Valerie Davidson, Brooke Baillie, and more!

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Martha Glenny: Memoranda
Mount Saint Vincent Gallery, Halifax, Nova Scotia
August 21-September 21, 1986
by Stephanie Menard

From the catalog we learn that the theme of Martha Glenny’s show is memoranda . . . notes to jog the memory. In her earlier show “Souvenirs” (1984), Glenny captured the differences between the commercial souvenir and the experience of place. In this show, Glenny has taken her own personal memories/observations and offers them up to public scrutiny in her “bulletin board” presentations. She has created her own souvenirs, visual layers of meaning that correspond with visits to Europe and Nova Scotia. She makes her objects of memory familiar and accessible both in their status as commonplace souvenirs and in the use of nonprecious materials associated with souvenirs, photos, plastic logos, ticket stubs, etc.

Martha Glenny, Tarxian Altar Decal, 1986
Martha Glenny, Tarxian Altar Decal, 1986

In Malta Express, Qormi, Birzebbuga & Hagar Qim Postcard, she has captured the feel of the traveler on the road. We are shown the wheel of a car with an arrow painted around a rich, green fender. This photo, complete with the sprocket holes of the film, is set like a jewel held with prongs shaped like photo corners; the piece is an elegant and curious brooch. I am drawn into this place through the souvenir. I want to see this car, to be in this memory of seeing such a beautiful object. I become a moment in Glenny’s trip; her experience becomes precious to me because my only link to the car is through her souvenir. Her memorandum works, not only as a note to herself but as a note to the public.

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In Lapel Flags, a series of pins in embossed paper and colored pencil. We sense the awareness of Glenny, the traveler, with so much to see, so little time. Yet her photograph captures something unique but commonplace—decorated, a car. By focusing on this gem, Glenny takes decoration, which some consider jewelry’s first function, into the world of the traveler, a fabulous juxtaposition of private and public “moments.” This piece captures the essence of the show; the wealth of new sensations a traveler feels and the change that must result when these sensations are absorbed.

Malta Express: Qormi, Birzebbuga & Hagar Qim Postcard, 1986

Visually, my favorite piece is Tarxian Altar Decal, a pin of sterling silver, 14k gold, laminated photo, laminated film, gouache and colored pencil. The piece functions on many levels: initially, we are drawn to the strong shape with its animal silhouettes perched on top. (How many times have we been told to “look at the cows” out the window on a long drive?) The textured fold of metal upon which they pasture draws our eye to something delightful, yet perplexing. Upon first glance, it looks like hieroglyphics, then it becomes an aerial view of an architectural landscape. Peering into the piece, we begin to make out an ancient altar and beyond it doorways that create a tunnel leading into darkness. Glenny has obscured the photograph. By the time we realize what we are seeing, we are already standing in the tomb. The viewer becomes an archaeologist, unfolding the layers of the pin to its ultimate revelation.

Structurally, she has created magic, the square form of the laminated plastic functions as the first doorway into the temple. I have referred to this piece both as a tomb and a temple because I don’t know which it is and I find this to be one of the piece’s most compelling points. It is the sensation of being in a new place and recognizing the things around me but realizing that these things are functioning in a context that I cannot even begin to imagine:, a “Stranger in a Strange Land” with only my senses to guide me.

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Primary Objective: Color
Quadrum Gallery, Chestnut Hill, MA
June 6-30, 1987
by Catherine Jacobi

A method or vocabulary based on color is not an apparent theme. It is an obvious aspect of this work, as color is an inherent aspect of all objects. The exhibition features pieces in which color is more apparent as an aspect of the formal results rather than the objective intent of formulating ideas. It is a discrepancy between the subjective and objective interpretation of the artist’s work.

It must be stated that this criticism is not unique to Quadrum’s exhibition. Quadrum should, in fact, be commended on mounting a group of outstanding works. Cynthia Kagan, Rebecca Brannon and Susan Schagrin should also be recognized for dedicating and maintaining Quadrum’s new space solely for the exhibition of jewelry and metalwork.

Jeff Wise, Brooch, sterling silver, 14 and 24k gold, diamond, blue zircon, bamboo, ivory

The criticism mentioned is one that plagues most theme or group exhibitions that insist on comparing the obvious or the generic. Certainly an exhibition focused exclusively on color could include a great number of qualified works. The subject of inquiry then is perhaps more discernible in terms of individual artists’ concerns with color.

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The metalsmith’s ties to color can be found in a tradition of mounting precious stones. A system of value is established by such stones as it is in the differentiation of various metals. This value is based on a number of physical attributes, only one of which may be color, but the ultimate value of the stone is specifically assigned by the larger objective of the artist’s interpretation. The use of color in the works of this exhibition may be more accurately understood by its individual situation within each artist’s value system.

Billie Jean Theide, Bracelet, sterling silver, plastic

Quadrum has presented a number of works that they consider the avant-garde in terms of color. It is not color that makes the work of Marjorie Schick, Leslie Leupp and Billie Jean Theide avant-garde. Rather, it is the extended use of color that employs political, technical and technological arguments.

The politics of Marjorie Schick’s painted wood dowel pieces lies in the fact that they are wood. The convincing use of wood within a tradition of metalsmithing or jewelry is certainly a dialogue of politics as is the painting of these pieces. At some point, one must entertain the thought that these pieces are made of wood for specific reasons, and that then the painting of them is for a greater discussion than that of formal color. Schick’s dialogue is one concerned with definitions of the discipline within which she works. Perhaps, in an effort to save it from the mundane, she has directly politicized the mundane.

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The work of Leslie Leupp and Billie Jean Theide does not function obviously in the realm of the political. However, they may be included simply by their use of the material technology. Leupp’s anodized aluminum bracelets with companion stands are articulate statements of form, function and expression. They comment lightly at the faux pas of metalwork technique without being blatant in the face of tradition.

Brenda Bear Epp, Brooch (Award of Excellence)
Patinated brass, polar bear hair, 6 x 3.1 cm

Billie Jean Theide’s combination of precious metals with plastics is a more subtle dialogue of traditional and contemporary aspects of this relationship. Theide’s articulation lies in the formal aspects of her pieces. Most notable here were two bracelets entitled long distance #1 , #2 and a brooch entitled offspring. Formalism here is not for formalism’s sake but for language’s sake.

The work of Jeff Wise might also be included in this grouping of the avant-garde of color. The use and abuse of traditional language is obvious in quirky stone settings and metal juxtapositions.

Helen Shirk, Sachiko Uozumi, Linda MacNeil, Did Suydam, Charlie Crowley, Valerie Jo Colson and Sallyann Wekstein also have innovative works in the exhibition. However, the criticism previously leveled only allows for this work to be diminished by a discussion of its color.

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A Closer Look
The Metal Arts Guild, Toronto, Ontario
May 21-June 6, 1987
by Carole Hanks

National identity was a glowingly warm issue in Canada a decade ago, though now it has been supplanted by other, warmer issues. It is of interest, then, that the tenor of the Metal Arts Guild of Ontario’s 1987 conference and jewelry exhibition was one of nationalism. Though not stated as such, the geographic balance of works juried into the exhibition and a series of regional slide lectures scheduled as the mainstay of the conference revealed an overriding interest in defining a Canadian entity.

Valerie Davidson, Brooch (Production Jewellery Award)
14k yellow gold, sterling silver, copper 7 x 6 cm

The linear description of Canada is not a new witticism. Vast distances separate major centers strung along a relatively narrow path that wanders across the 49th parallel. It is difficult to deny that one city Toronto is a major center of activity, that it harbors a lot of action in the arts and that people come to the center to see what is happening and to test themselves.

Speakers from New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia presented visual records of jewelry and other metalwork from their respective areas. Two observations were repeated often enough to be seen as thematic: the isolation of cities “like rocks out in the ocean and what can only be a corollary, “inspiration from the land ‘What, in part, results is city sophistication locked into a dialogue with nature.

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Key-Yeon Son, Bracelet (Award of Excellence)
Laminated sterling and nickel silver, niobium, 8 x 7 x 2.5 cm
Photos: Jeremy Jones

Cases in point: Brenda Bear Epp’s award-winning brooch, totemic in nature, made of patinated brass and polar bear hair, Brigette Clavette’s Fly Brooch, elegant and minimal, made of sterling, onyx and deer hair, Richard Karpyshin’s highly sophisticated mixes of material, the likes of painted musk ox horn and steel. Among such experimental works is scattered a much more traditional oeuvre. A fair number of contemporary Canadian artisans create work that is grounded in classical European tradition, though with an individual esthetic that might best be described as conservative modernism.

Although many of these artisans also work with alternate, nonprecious materials in an experimental esthetic, their work in the pursuit of contemporary beauty exemplifies the traditional side of the Canadian personality. Cases in point: Judith Anderson of Nova Scotia; Lise Fortin of Quebec; Paul Leathers of Manitoba Given Canada’s scattered and isolated cities, it is easy to understand that influences emanate from centers with strong schools. There are few. In fact, there is one major influence in metalworking and it is strongly felt across the entire country. The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design trains jewelers tuned to contemporary issues and sensibilities. Sabine Mittenmayer, winner of Best in Show at the MAG exhibition, is a graduate of NSCAD.

Brooke Baillie, Brooch (Award of Excellence)
Patinated brass, paint, 7.1 x 2.9 cm

Other observations on artistic inspiration and response presented in the regional forum were as varied, singular, mainstream and advanced as one might expect from a diverse group of artists. This diversity ranged from whimsical Be a Prince, Kiss a Fish earrings by Judith Zincan to the architectural elegance of Jackie Anderson’s Show Home, from David Rice’s futuristic/ancient pendant to the witty commentary of Brooke Baillie’s bear brooch. Fashion and production work were not ignored. Valerie Davidson’s gold, silver and copper brooch won a special Production Jewellery Award in the MAG exhibition.

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As in any gathering of disparate elements, it is difficult to discern the presence of unifying qualities. If there is any underlying personality to be seen in Canadian jewelry as a whole, it might be that of a pervasive gentleness. There is not much that could be labeled aggressive or noisy. The sensitivity toward formal structure and style is quiet. A thoughtfulness of form, color and texture prevails and humor is quirky and delightful rather than raucous. Harmony presides over dissonance. This may be the artistic identity that Canadian jewelers seek. In any case, for the time being it may have to suffice, for the country is strung out in a sinuous line and the contact points are widely spaced. The quiet spaces in between have great bearing on form and style.

Sabine Mittermayer, Pin (Steel Trophy, Best in Show Award)
Sterling silver, stone, 31 x 4 cm
Photos: Jeremy Jones

The dilemma inherent in such an approach is that so much has been made of new developments in the international jewelry field that anything less than clamor, intense dialogue and a complete reassessment of history feels like backwater. It is true that there is much to be excited about in these international developments with their radical tactics and departures from tradition. Radical departure and radical stance, however, are not universal necessities. New esthetics can grow and develop quietly out of old esthetics. They, indeed, have throughout much of art history. What happens in such cases are subtle shifts and changes that slowly build to something new. But time and distance are crucial in order to see them. Being situated inside evolution, one notices the subtleties of change only if one looks closely.

“A Closer Look” was the title chosen for this 1987 MAG conference and jewelry exhibition. That a thematic title was couched in persuasion, not declamation, was entirely apt. In lectures, workshops and exhibition, one was persuaded to consider possibilities. Diversity, though clear and evident, was quietly considered within a national context. Concerns about craftsmanship and materials prevailed within individual’s inspirational models.

Robert Lee Morris, environments for Kansai’s autumn/winter collection

What the exhibition made immediately apparent was Canadian artisans’ interest in traditional qualities—a love of materials, commitment of function, insistence on craftsmanship and a pursuit of beauty. With a close look, however, concerns similar to those stated more stridently elsewhere were revealed—symbolism, historical issues and formalist dialogues. Sabine Mittemayer’s award-winning brooch speaks of a woman coming of age. Brenda Bear Epp’s animate brooch evinces totem and spirit. Kye-Yeon Son’s bracelet is a dialogue on geometric transformations in space. Intellectual aspects, however, never overrode form. Esthetic sensibility tended toward restraint and not severity. Statements were not extreme. The human context of social considerations was rarely ignored. There was a concern with balance.

Robert Lee Morris, environments for Kansai’s autumn/winter collection

This is of interest in light of Stephen Inglis’s keynote address. Inglis, with a background in the art and theology of the traditional crafts, is the curator supervising the development of Canadian crafts collection at the new Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. With a bias toward craft, as distinct from art, his lecture distinguished the two through the characteristic of function—specifically function of craft (here read jewelry) in its anthropological sense, that is in its relationship to and place in society. This, too is a concern with balance. Craft links to land, and therefore place, which is important for Canada. This is quite evident in the work of contemporary Canadian jewelers.

Canadian jewelers have set up a quiet movement. With an attachment to place but an interest in neighbors, they look in both directions along the contour of their country and work through the possibilities of taking issue with the issues. Perhaps we should take a closer look.

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Friends from Heart
Spiral Building, Tokyo
May 2-8, 1987
by Deborah Norton

Frequently we hear makers speak of redefining the boundaries of jewelry. But in Europe and America this trend has been going on for the past 20 years and one begins to wonder, are there really any new boundaries left? A positive response to this query was found in Tokyo last spring at an exhibition by New York jewelry designer Robert Lee Morris and Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto. The latter chose a unique gallery setting, more akin to theater than fashion, to present his autumn/winter collection. He invited Morris, his long-time friend and kindred spirit, to join him in a separate yet complementary show. The objective of the two shows was to expand preconceived notions of fashion and jewelry. Backed by corporate sponsorship, Morris was given free reign and the help of 2000 workers to explore this theme.

Robert Lee Morris, environments for Kansai’s autumn/winter collection

Morris’s aim was to get viewers past the idea of jewelry as fashion or a means to display wealth and back to the primordial concept of jewelry as an expression of the deepest part of the human spirit. He achieved this not by showing individual pieces to be studied for technique and admired for conceptual originality but by displaying over 2000 items in such a way that together they told an allegorical story.

The tale, told through the use of jewelry by 15 artists from Morris’s Artwear Gallery, begins with the innocence of childhood. This gives way in the adult world to war and destruction, with people killing for money and wealth. But in the end intrinsic value triumphs when it is shown that the importance of jewelry is not its monetary worth but its ability to represent the various elements of human nature that everyone possesses. It was the way in which this story was related, with eloquence and unstinting attention to detail, that resulted in a truly impressive exhibition.

Past crouched, shrunken gnomes guarding the treasures within, visitors entered a corridor that had been converted into an enchanted forest, using actual bamboo poles and small trees. Overhead the ceiling was draped with sheets of cotton fabric, torn and painted to resemble foliage, while underfoot the path was covered with sand. A tree bedecked with Cara Croninger’s polyester resin hearts, bamboo poles ornamented with Gloria Lomas’s gold-leaf-on-wood earrings and Rene Lewis’s necklaces of crystal and semiprecious beads contributed to a carefree, childlike ambiance. These jeweled ornaments, strewn on the sand as well as in the trees, assaulted the viewer everywhere with gold, glitter and vibrant colors yet also with the beauty that is traditionally associated with jewelry.

Christina Gibson-Sears, Chris-Cross
Sgrafitto and dry sifted silkscreen enamel on enameling iron, 12 x 12 1½”, 1984

Accompanied by soft background music punctuated with bird calls and the beating of primitive drums, visitors progressed deeper into the forest where Jessica Rose’s more formally structured glass-bead collar and the elegance of Ted Muehling’s work signaled a transition into a more adult world. But this quickly became a nightmare of war and destruction. Through the use of such objects as Robert Lee Morris’s armor and his necklace of bullet casings, Tone Viegland’s steel and 18k chain mail and Carol Moty’s spider web scarf, all displayed either on blocks from a fallen castle or ominously clinging to trees, a threatening mood was created.

Finally the persevering visitor arrived in a large, treasure-filled cave. In a circle stood muselike maidens made of plaster cast heads and torsos, dressed in an eclectic collection of jewelry, from primitive beads to elegant sculptural forms. Large, three-foot-high containers, tilted on their sides, overflowed with Morris’s bronze and gold electroplated jewelry. Guarding the muses were numerous skulls and images of snakes arrayed on the sand-covered floor, while in the background massive boulders had been formed from fabric. An eerie mist pervaded the cave, caused by dry ice rising from strategically placed urns. This combination of opulence and the macabre, primitiveness and sophistication clearly spoke of the various elements of the human spirit.

The effect of traveling through Robert Lee Morris’s fantasy world was quite unexpected. Upon arriving at the inner cave, after witnessing jewelry displayed in various unusual ways in unsuspected places, the viewer came upon pieces conventionally exhibited on torsos. Ironically, however, in this atmosphere this seemed as unique and intriguing a way of presenting jewelry as any of the other means. Endowing the pieces with allegorical meaning negated the idea of jewelry as fashion accessory, while maintaining wearability.

Bill Helwig, Adam awaits direction
Camaieu on transparent red and green enamel over black underglaze on formed copper, 65/16 x 511/16 x 17/16″
Photos: Courtesy The Taft Museum

That Morris was able to realize such a complicated vision with unmitigated success was due as much to the Japanese mentality within which he was operating as to his own creative inspiration. The funds and workers were available to make every detail a reality, from the silent young men continuously spraying water on the sand to minimize dust to the high level of perfection attained in the placement of each object. But equally important, in crime-free Tokyo where people have respect for property, visitors (and over 20,000 of them paid $14 each to see this show during its one-week run) could actually become a part of the exhibition as there was no need for any form of security. There were no glass cases or ropes to separate the viewer from the display. Add to this the Japanese penchant for maintaining silence while viewing an exhibition and a unique mystical mood was created unlike anything one could experience in the West.

So, yes, there still are boundaries there to be overcome, but perhaps it is no longer in size, conceptual design or materials. By thinking on a larger scale, not about individual pieces but about using an environment of jewelry to explore an idea, Morris has succeeded in stepping beyond previous limits.

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Masterworks/Enamel/87
The Tatt Museum, Cincinnati, OH
July 23-August 31, 1987
by Karl J. Moehl

The occasion for this show was the First Annual Meeting of the Enamelist Society held in Cincinnati from August 28 through 31. The Taft Museum was chosen as the site because it numbers, along with its Rembrandts and Goyas, a superb collection of Renaissance enamels. Masterworks/Enamel/87″ curator Bill Helwig invited 24 enamelists who sent 72 works. The result was pure magic and the best possible documentation for the contemporary resurgence of the medium of which Helwig himself has played an important part.

The 20th-century revival of enamel may be dated from 1959 when the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York mounted a landmark group of historical and contemporary shows. Six of the pioneers from that period are in this exhibition: Kenneth Bates, John Paul Miller, June Schwarcz, Margarete Seeler, Joseph Tripetti and Helen Worral. Not until 14 years later (1973) ws the next large show mounted, this time at SUNY New Paltz, with Jamie Bennett. William Harper and Bill Helwig, all of whom are included in the current show. So, the yardstick used here has been historical significance, commitment and contribution to the movement, not just technical excellence or brilliance, albeit these attributes abound.

This collection demonstrates the amazing range possible in the medium, how it may be used skillfully and effectively in a plethora of styles. Helen Worral and June Schwarcz each produces small bowls with luminescent interiors that could be labeled traditional. Yet, in another mode, Schwarcz produces a rustic funnel shape, the interior of which is set with bands of subtle jadelike colors. In a similar bow to primitive fundamentals, Ed Deren weaves baskets of copper twigs and bark, which he intertwines with enameled elements.

William Harper, Brooch, gold cloisonné enamel on fine metal, 1986
Photo: courtesy of The Taft Museum

Bill Helwig is beset by angels and perhaps is the most pictorial of the group, with fine, imaginative variations in pre-Raphaelite style. In contrast, Joseph Trippetti’s children’s book illustrations seem to be made overly precious by the glorious workmanship. Otherwise, the highly stylized and the entirely abstract rule, with Martha Banyas’s masks and harlequin/Judas figures and the plaques of Allison Howard-Levy, some secular and severe, others mystical and misty. Some of my favorites were Jamie Bennett s miniature bundles of variegated splendor in his Deerrun series and Marjorie Sawyer’s 1″ x 1″ pleasure-filled pendants. Another personal favorite was Pamela Harlow s eloquent 18″-high form that seemed to be part Japanese butterfly kite, part god’s eye. In a class by themselves were James Malenda’s clean-cut abstract sculptural forms called Weights, which could be viewed alone or in series. It seems only incidental that these correspond with current Art Deco revivals in Europe; they fit so well with their companions, here.

Also in the show was Hannah Rauh from Cincinnati, who characteristically has used the medium as a way of exploiting its affinity for impressionist effects. A special exhibition for her alone occupied an adjacent gallery. During the run of the show, still-practicing craftsman Rauh achieved her 104th birthday.

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Jewelers of America Show
Javits Convention Center, New York City
July, 1987
by Betsy Fuller

It runs professionally, like clockwork, and costs accordingly—the vault lines, the registration, the installation of electricity, tables and display cases smoothly orchestrated by the well-coordinated JA team. Security is very tight.

Stand in the vault line (where your relatively small collection of interesting art jewelry will be watched over all night by armed guards protecting safes and vaults full of diamonds and gold). Who are your neighbors? Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French and Yiddish spoken here.

Stand in your own aisle. Who are your neighbors? The American Brand Names are here in force. Worshipped, emulated or merely respected, here are some of the production jeweler’s mentors: Michael Good, Kristin Moore, Whitney Boin, the Savitts, Henry Dunay, Sean Gilson, Patty Daunis, Jan Yager—some of your favorite JC-K media stars. Admittedly a specialized collection, this world, like so many others when unveiled, is very small. Here they are, the frequent winners of Intergold Design contests, apprehensive and overworked, just like you, with first-night stage-fright pre-show jitters. As a designer you are grouped with others of your ilk by section so that you’re not next to chain-by-the-kilo. The groups and types at JA are, to understate it, varied. But there is that wonderful cameraderie among the designers that the strictly craft and art shows foster so well. There is mild missionary enthusiasm in this group, who may feel they are doing for industry what early craft fair participants did in educating the public. Here designers are equalized in Red Badge (exhibitor) status, gathered from all parts to entice and persuade the Green Badges (buyers) into committing their mostly high-credit rating dollars “How many dollars?” you ask.

Only a few expose their bottom lines. It’s taken for granted that jewelers returning year after year (at two shows per) are paying the rent. Many consider the JA show their key marketing tool. The exposure to galleries, jewelry stores, department stores, jewelry chain stores is huge and fraught with potential. One young designer working alone was happy with sales in the $8,000 to $12,000 range her first two or three shows. Now, four or five years later, she regularly does $35,000 in orders. Her friend, who began at the same time with more upscale gold and sophisticated design (Technician Magician), regularly receives $60,000 to $70,000 in orders. A small factory in California is owned and run by a world-class mountain climber. He wouldn’t be happy with those figures—he employs five full-time reps and 24 benchworkers.

James Malenda, Bronze Weights, bronze, enamel, each 33 x 16 x 16″

The majority of the JA shows claimed 14,000 to 18,000 attendees are timid about progressive design. Trust and derring-do take time to develop. Many admire for years claiming, “I love it, but you don’t know my customer!” Of course, those who wish to sell may chide, “If that’s all they show, how can they attract the sophisticated customer? Or, as the Mountain Climber was heard to comment to a buyer, not unkindly. Of course if you want to play it real safe, don’t order at all!”

What else is going on among personalities? Nice Smile complains that she attracts Time Wasters: “l just want to buy one; I’ll be making lots of orders.” Her friend Hard Tech advises. “I just start taking out the $16,000 number, look them straight in the eye and intimidate the hell out of them.” Hard Tech holds out for big players, and though he sweated the first four days of the recent show, day five (the last) paid off. European Flair is booked with production (with live assistants) until March. (This is July.)

This writer is surprised pleasantly by the growing sales here of her more exciting one-of-a-kind items (wholesale $800 to $2400). A very devoted—very few—come early to make their choices. Still, she is not confident enough in this yet to give up the friendly, familiar, make-so-many-so-flawlessly-in-so-little-time items. She likes the therapeutic nature of these repetitive tasks. And let’s not kid ourselves, when cash flows, she is happy.

The main credit for the assertive introduction of creative designers in this otherwise somewhat predictable trade goes to Mort Abelson, head of JA’s Trade Show division. Mort and his wife frequented events like Rhinebeck out of personal interest for years. Mort likes and respects good art and its makers. He is also a businessman, keen enough to know that lots of other consumers hunger for the unusual and innovative. The New Designer Room (his baby) generates a great deal of positive interest in the new for the show itself and for the individual designers. Those entering the show for the first time, usually 12 hand-picked creative jewelry designers, are grouped together in a specially promoted area and garner visits from all buyers concerned with good design, and a lot of trade press. It works, this mutually beneficial union.

It’s surprising how quickly first timers grow into the routine. Once they know where the bathrooms and vaults are, and have located a few friends, they’re right at home. The show’s recent move to the Javits convention center has provided a new atmosphere of clarity and gentility (some aisles have trees and park benches) that is welcome. The overall gray and-white theme of drape and easily marked locations give a controlled and comforting ambience to the giant (I.M. Pei-designed) convention structure.

Should you come? If you’re attracted to volume, perhaps so, especially if you can qualify for the generously bargain priced booth space (i. e., free) that JA has donated to first-time Society of North American Goldsmith members.

For more information on the JA show and the competition for SNAG members, contact: Mort Abelson, Jewelers of America, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020; (212) 489-0023.

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LAM de Wolf
Helen Drutt Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
May 15-June 27, 1987
by Michael Dunas

LAM de Wolf’s headdresses seem to dispel any notion that the exuberant movement of body sculpture and performance jewelry is on the wane, as she continues to progressively explore material, method, form and wearability that challenges the boundary between theater and dramatic ornament. When de Wolf burst onto the international scene in 1980, her a most insouciant Mikado stick and valve tubing works were already antithetical to the cold, logical, cerebral jewelry of Bakker/Leersum that characterized the Dutch avant-garde. While sympathetic to her fellow countrymen’s iconoclasm toward traditional jewelry, de Wolf eschewed their sanitized analytical design approach in favor of an intuitive, primitive, painterly expression. Ralph Turner observed that her work had an organic, ethnic, violent quality—more akin to Pollock than Mondrian—whose spirit echoed that of the layered clothing of North African nomadic tribes.

The analogy with Pollock’s “Action Painting” appears prophetic as it continues to inform de Wolf’s method. Her current works can be construed as an expansive canvas of violent impulses and excessive material sensitivity. As Pollock tried to place himself inside the picture frame, allowing his emotions to run free in the dripping viscous fluid of the paint, de Wolf places herself within the body frame, allowing her intuition to construct an emotional skeleton of fiber and wood. Both artists rely on the transparency of process to channel the esthetic experience—Pollock through the empathy of making, de Wolf through the empathy of wearing. De Wolf is not as concerned with clearly perceived intentions as she is in exploring personality as it reveals itself in body covering, jewelry and their chameleonlike transformation when in motion.

LAM de Wolf, Hat, painted wood, textile
Photo: © Hogers/Versluys

De Wolf’s violent demeanor, which is not destructive but therapeutic, derives as much from her response to material as to her psychic method. She has found her nature of expression in the humble materials of wood and fiber, as Pollock found his lifeblood in paint. Her investigation of tribal textiles is apparently a search for a primitive base for material sensibility, a regression to the childhood riches of rags and crayons, free from the barriers of virtuosity. In face, she has reversed the traditional propriety of materials where wood is used for structure and cloth for covering. Her wood slats are floating planes held together by a network of expressive fiber-lines, a peripatetic contrivance of surface depth in planar dimension. Her palette, though haphazardly applied in swashes and dabs, daringly explores an emotional range, from somber black to saccharine pastels, the tonal effect of which combines successfully with the images of random planes and the movement of line to form crude, almost naïve compositions. They are meant to be raw and unfinished so as not to overcome or misuse the primitive material but to allow them to react to the method of emotional fabrication.

You get the feeling that de Wolf is acting out her emotions in a three-dimensional landscape. She challenges us to engage the process of stripping bare the protective clothing of ritual adornment to unleash our sense of play and psychic revelry. Whether you are bold enough to try on one of her pieces or content with appreciating their aura at a sculptural distance, you remain in the presence of “internal” rather than “external” jewelry.

Since the display of emotion in action finds a home in the method of theater, film, dance—the performing arts in general, it is not surprising the LAM de Wolf is increasingly concerned with the “role” of her works, as evidenced by the video that accompanied her exhibition. With jewelry and body adornment, there is a natural extension from the “action method in creation to the performance of the work by the wearer. Body adornment is not merely a reflective process, since it ultimately mitigates between who we think we are and who we act like in public. By using video, she suggests that the “directed” performance of her work is a potential medium for acting out the distended emotion of her creative process. By venturing into the area of performance., LAM de Wolf is testing further her action approach to psychic exposure and introspection.

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Susan Hamlet: Jewelry and Holloware
Wichita Art Association, Wichita, KS
April 26-May 24, 1987
by Christine F. Paulsen

Susan Hamlet’s jewelry and holloware sharply contrasted with the accompanying exhibit of colorful oil paintings on view in the same gallery. Her rigorously precise pieces have the “high tech” look and the technology of a disciplined craftsman. Many of her pieces incorporate found objects from industry, all polished to a mirror finish. The sleek reflective surfaces reveal her interest in strength and energy in the assembled and constructed works. The combined use of precious metals, gemstones, stainless steel, plastics and rubber allow Hamlet a wide range of media to create her tightly controlled geometric designs. The objects range in size from small, square gold rings to 18″-high holloware.

Hamlet is known for her flexible round neckpieces of stainless steel wire held in place by notched silver spacers. The spacers keep the wires separated into a light and airy, hollow, cylindrical design. Clasps are created by forces of tension and compression.

Susam Hamlet, Vessel Study #1
Aluminum, stainless steel, brass (gold-plated), rubber, plastic, 6¾ x 6½ x 6½”, 1985

Much of her work is done in series. Her Bowl Series consists of shallow bowl shapes of shiny stainless steel that are “found objects” discarded from oil industry pipe equipment. The 16″-high bowl shapes are seated on a rubber ring atop a pedestal of slender, angled, aluminum posts. A zigzag wire is secured into copper inserts, creating a relief from the severe angularity of the posts. The reflecting surfaces of the stainless steel bowls contrast dramatically with the dull sheen of the posts.

Also on exhibit was a series of three sliding bangles of stainless steel, sterling silver and 14k gold. The main portion of the circular cuff is stainless steel with an intricate 2″ slide of sterling silver. Several round and square gold wires decorate the slide in studied casualness.

A pin called Forms and Lines, while small in scale, has tremendous movement and energy in a conflict of angles and a thrust of curved sterling rods, inserted with stainless steel rods. The void between the stainless rods expands the design and allows for a strong visual balance.

Fan Pin, a constructed work of sterling silver and 14k gold, has an elongated gold base, which supports the silver fan. It is a miniature statement on movement and energy.

Bowl Series #9, (limited edition of five), hastelloy, aluminum, bronze, stainless steel, rubber, 15 x 13¾”
Photos: E.G. Schempf

Numerous Panel Studies are of diminutive scale, like vignettes of constructions using sterling, stainless, plastic and pearls. The luster of the pearl creates an instant focal point. On some panels rods extending beyond the rectangular base punctuate the void and create tension, energy and balance.

The Rocking Series is Hamlet’s latest work. The comparatively large bronze and copper boat-shaped pieces can rock, but because of perfect balance, they rest in equilibrium. The warm patina of this series is a change from the polished stainless steel of the Bowl Series. In scale and in volume, the new works are larger and heavier than her previous pieces.

Overall, one is aware of Hamlet’s alliance with industry. Her work is a catharsis of rivets, tension and construction, which allows her to combine various materials into a sophisticated design harmony.

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Off the Wall, On the Body
Renwick Gallery, Washington, D.C.
April 25, 1987
by Gretchen Raber

Under the guidance of new curator Michael Monroe, the Renwick Gallery, in conjunction with the Renwick Alliance and the Smithsonian Residents Associates Program, sponsored this one-day seminar. Lecturers were textile designer Mary McFadden, art professor and metalsmith Arline Fisch, jewelry entrepreneur Robert Lee Morris, jewelry designer Ivy Ross and gallery owner Julie Schafler Dale.

Lead-off speaker Mary McFadden, as she asked us to reflect on the inspirations for her design, proceeded to inflict mental whiplash with her art history montage Behind McFadden’s intense interest in historical artwork is the premise that espouses the “lifting” of design motifs spanning continents, cultures and chronology. The scope is staggering. Any pattern-field design treatment, whether two or three dimensional, including Cycladic, Celtic, Coptic, Greek, Egyptian, Turkish, Indian, Korean, American Indian, Byzantine and Zimbabwean, to name a few, becomes a theme for her textiles. This approach, unfortunately, ignores the artistic identity of the artist as a reflection of his cultural, chronological, ethnic and intellectual background. Additionally, a vision that siphons off surface patterning and ignores the connect on with an object’s essence, genesis and structure makes the claim of artistic validity suspect. One visual example was a domed African structure decorated with sticks in triangular patterns. It was cursorily compared with an “Octet’ geodesic dome of Buckminster Fuller, for whom pattern was merely the byproduct of engineering invention.

Arline Fisch, Hat, machine-knit coated copper (gold copper), fine silver accents, 12″ outer d., 6″ h
Photo: Wm. Gullette

The following speaker, Arline Fisch, shared her insights about the cultural eclecticism that influenced her work. Her lecture was constructed around incidences and coincidences of historical images and contemporary jewelry images. The immediate coincidence often turned out to be a repeat of the same or similar slides from the McFadden and later Ross lectures. This included ubiquitous images of Third World tribal figures, ceremoniously enhanced by body painting or beadwork. One comment overheard was, “Well, there doesn’t seem to be any racism when it comes to inspiration of ideas!” Early civilizations, funereal or ceremonial hammered gold, African scarification, and so on, got heavy traffic, along with pictures from the Peter Dormer and Ralph Turner book The New Jewellery.

The problem with generalizing about cultural eclecticism influencing contemporary design is in clarifying the difference between an individual whose personal concepts derive support from eclectic sources and an individual who uses eclectic sources as the concepts. Also to be clarified is the difference between cultural eclecticism and material eclecticism. Fisch conveyed the importance of the global cross-pollination of ideas, which since the 1960s has emanated primarily from Europe. This impact could be seen in her most recent work, which incorporated woven metal fabric, for which she is well known and the clear planar forms of the international scene. Her work is an excellent example of the unity of the technical, the understanding of the structure and the material exploration within her own concept. In relating an anecdote about how her most recent work was influenced by Pre-Columbian art seen in 1963. Fisch revealed the significant process of how one assimilates design influences and uses them when applicable, rather than skimming for new ideas.

Charismatic entrepreneur Robert Lee Morris called for us to open Jewelry galleries, prize excellence above the commerical, violate traditions and extend the boundaries of jewelry. He bases his success on the main foci of merchandizing and display. Display is the vehicle that propels one’s vision to fill market “gaps.” The “jewelry gap” in the United States, specifically New York City, was filled by Artwear, Morris’s store. Artwear and if offshoots are some of the few places in the United States entirely devoted to designer/art jewelry. They are beautiful settings.

Morris’s credibility is that he has a consistent vision, fidelity to his taste and a focused philosophy under which he merchandizes. The territory he carves for himself is the paternalistic art jeweler figure who brought jewelry out of the velvet clutter of commercial display cases. He did this by employing an erotic, mannerist, truncated mannequin as his cornerstone and signature in a museumlike setting. Merchandizing to Morris is the deceptive enhancement of a product, the justification of which is drawn from his sincerity of belief in the product.

Dina Kapp, Fungus Jacket

Jewelry designer Ivy Ross was the only speaker to focus entirely on the concepts that animate the current producers of avant-garde body adornment. Relying heavily on The New Jewellery and the catalog “Joieria Europa Contempoania,” Fundacio Caixa De Pensions, Barcelona, 1987, Ross cited the European artists Gijs Bakker, Emmy Van Leersum, Caroline Broadhead, Susanna Heron, Wendy Ramshaw and Pierre Degen, among others, as redefiners of custom, function, materials and immediate spatial environments as applied to body enhancement. Importantly, these European artists have distanced themselves from the idea that jewelry is only an accessory. Ross outlined the ideas that ornament, through the wearer, can express emotion, be a conduit of direct art expression, create a dialogue with society, make the inappropriate appropriate, relate maker to wearer and can be clothing. From the emphasis in Ross’s lecture, one would conclude that the generative for this movement in metalwork and body adornment emanates entirely from Europe. These Europeans have broken new ground beyond the restraints of industrial production and static uniformity.

Responding to question, Ross predicted trends in metalwork evolving toward personal environment pieces that express individual style and taste. American manufacturers should evolve toward responsive small production runs as do certain European industries currently. She postulates that Europe is ahead because Europeans have more tradition and government support for artists. I would further add that the strong position Europe enjoys is a product of a multitude of excellent technical and design schools grouped in relative geographic proximity. However, it is a mistake to assume that the systems and style of Europe will find easy adaptation in the United States. Due to our diversity, trends in the production of avant-garde metal or jewelry design will not be supported by a popular base unless they address a need or develop an innovative function. I think we have to define a direction in production metal arts based on our cultural heritage melded with technology and sensitive to our pluralistic design esthetics.

Julie Shafler Dale, the final speaker, presented an impeccably delivered and orchestrated slide presentation of her book Art to Wear. The lavish montage of images was in contrast to the relatively spare and basically limited color palette of the jewelry previously shown. The fiber cloaks and kimonos are from the collection of work at her New York City gallery. The elaborate and time-consuming tour-de-force artworks grew out of the social climate of the 60s. The concepts that they celebrate are humor, individual expression, personal landscapes and social/political commentary. Dale is a conservator of artifacts, motivated by a 60’s philosophy. She believes the willingness of artists to sacrifice their financial lives to devote themselves to creating represented a selfless, idealistic, unique time. Here is the simple irony of the free-expression pioneers of the 60s making objects that now can only be contemplated by the very wealthy or a sufficiently endowed museum.

In contrast to much of contemporary jewelry, these wearable artworks are ancillary to the wearer, whose function is, in this case, that of an animate mannequin. Dale explained that the predominate kimono form is used to help display the pictorial and narrative quality of the designs, which are not as readable when worn. Contemporary jewelry frequently needs to operate on the body or fabric to define its shape and message. Technical and philosophical questions aside, the collecting, exhibiting and discussing of a medium does elevate and validate the art form, art forms, incidentally, that were primarily photographed on the wall.

By Metalsmith Magazine
Metalsmith Magazine - 1988 Winter
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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