This article is a book review published in the 1992 Summer issue of the Metalsmith Magazine reviewing “Contemporary American Jewelry Design.”
As its title states, Contemporary American Jewelry Design covers a special movement. It defines studio goldsmithing, its place in the jewelry field and its impact on the commercial jewelry world. I am unaware of any other text devoted to this topic, but after we are all dead and buried, other historical writers will attempt to sift out what happened, who was important and who was not. This book dares take a stand now, and while mistakes may occur, we at least have the opportunity to redress the issue while its participants are still alive. The book is absolutely beautiful in all respects, from its gorgeous jacket to its heavy coated paper with ample white space; from its large readable text to its 189 color photos, many of which are full page. The book accomplishes what its jacket proclaims: “presents in-depth profiles of many of today’s leading studio goldsmiths, the work of dozens more, a wide array of techniques, and a dazzling portfolio of photographs [and traces] the growth of today’s more independent and innovative jewelry-making community-through its luminaries, crafts fairs, associations, and galleries.” It is dedicated to the studio goldsmiths and their work.
Some of the roots of the resurgence of the art jewelry movement are covered, from the origins of the large craft shows to today’s noted jewelry galleries. Of particular interest is the beginning of Rhinebeck, which is amazingly close to Woodstock, and similarly the founding of a whole new generation of craft fair markets. American Craft Enterprises rules and regulations are outlined (for instance, the individual artist must personally attend his or her booth to ensure personal contact with customers) and the ACE jurying system explained in nerve-racking detail. We learn how some artists job out their entire lines, only having created the first piece, while others hire scores of apprentices. Story after story reveals different production and marketing ideas and approaches, and an entire chapter is devoted to descriptions and histories of the leading jewelry galleries.
Unfortunately, the book just scratches the surface of the resurgence and leaves its audience desiring more information. In actuality this renaissance can be traced back to the years immediately following World War II, when the real explosion in crafts occurred in the colleges and universities. It was only after all the teaching jobs were filled that craft artists had to seek other career opportunities, creating the resurgence described in the book. Other information could also have been better documented; For instance, the book states that the refractory metal revolution was a “most dynamic and dramatic experiment to try new materials,” yet fails to detail the invasion of the English artists Ward and DeLarge, who first discovered and promoted its use.
One section will be of particular interest to students and teachers alike, since it provides the definition of an ideal teacher: “a guide and mentor, not an example to clone.” Teaching, says the author, “requires nurturing of the student and a surrender of the teacher’s ego.” Blauer believes that few teachers manage this balance, and probably she is correct. While this section features many instructors of high caliber, unfortunately a whole generation is missing, including Richard Thomas, Kenneth Bates, Heikki Seppä, Brent Kington and others.
The entire book blends the artistic and commercial jewelry worlds together, a necessity for artists who earn their living from their work. The featured artists represent this fusion in a great variety of methods. As Blauer states, “The entrance of these jewelers into this most commercial marketplace was seen as an intrusion by some of the older established manufacturers. AII they could see was a profligate waste of energy, odd mixes of metals and stones, and jewelry that didn’t fit neatly into categories…. the commercial goal was ‘thinner, lighter, cheaper.'” Thus, the revolution began.
The bulk of the book is a series of mini-sections featuring leading artist-goldsmiths who, in Blauer’s opinion, not only have “staying power” but whose work she liked. She freely confesses that while “there may be as many statements as there are jewelers, for me, the first statement must be beauty and that is the criterion by which I have selected this work….l have gravitated toward work that is not on the cutting edge. … It is not. . . extreme. . . though it does look that way when viewed from the perspective of the traditional, mass producer of jewelry.”
Many familiar artists are featured, as well as some unknowns. Blauer describes their work, roots, techniques, philosophies, preferences, ideas, markets, gallery relationships, production lines and more. Many of the artists are grouped into technical categories that obviously intrigue the author: cloisonné, granulation, fusion surfaces, mokumé patterns and high-karat gold. These sections contain a wealth of technical ideas and information that should greatly assist and stimulate other goldsmiths.
The appendixes include listings of schools, workshops, galleries, organizations, craft shows and publications. The epilogue details a jewel box by Jane Campbell that can be disassembled into a bracelet, brooch, earrings and stick pin. In actuality this entire book is like the author’s jewel box containing all her favorite artists, techniques, ideas, materials and work that is changing the contemporary jewelry of the U.S. By restricting this book to her favorites, however, she limits the documentation of this movement. While she captures its essence, we are left hungering for more.
The author has true vision, which she has transformed into words and pictures. Her vision extends into all areas, including artistic attitudes, personal philosophies and marketing techniques. The manner in which she approaches these topics is refreshing, revealing and insightful. There are some heavy statements on which we could spend hours reflecting: for instance, “For jewelers, gold and silver are paint” or “The studio goldsmith relishes technique, it’s a challenge rather than a burden” or “Why should sculptors, who develop their ideas through physical processes into hard three-dimensional forms, merit the title artist, when jewelers, who follow the same process but on a smaller scale, do not?”
All things considered, this book is superb and may trigger other authors to more fully document the contemporary metal movement. I am reminded of the statement that the best artists use the best materials, and in this case the book is the author’s art. It truly is first class and unique as it explores and explains various issues confronting contemporary jewelry in a manner that only an educated visionary could.
— Mark Baldridge