This article is a book review published in the 1998 Spring issue of the Metalsmith Magazine reviewing “Object and Ornament: Canadian Jewellery and Metal Art”
Object and Ornament: Canadian Jewellery and Metal Art 1946-1996
by Anne Barros (Boston Mills Press, 1997)
143 pp., 51 colour plates, 103 b/w plates Clothbound, $28
Reviewed by Barbara Isherwood
This is a landmark publication for Canadian metalsmithing. Chronicling makers of jewellery and hollowware from the 1940s to the present, it is the first major overview of metalsmithing in Canada. Through succinct text and numerous, well reproduced photographic plates, author and metalsmith Anne Barros places the work of almost 300 artists into historical context. Activities within the metals community, such as the formation of guilds, the influence of European-trained jewelers, and the growth of schools, exhibitions, and galleries, are examined alongside the broader artistic movements and social factors that have shaped the work of Canadian metalsmiths throughout the decades.
All of this is illustrated through the work of both well-known makers and those deserving of more recognition. Of particular significance is the attention paid to the early years of Canadian metalsmithing, which have suffered from inadequate documentation and the general neglect of craft history. The careers of influential makers such as silversmith Rudy Renzius and jeweler Nancy Meek Pocock warrant further investigation, and Ms. Barros’s book provides both the stimulus and tools, in the form of a bibliography and a compendium of artists.
The book also provides an opportunity to assess Canadian artists’ responses to trends in metalsmithing over the past fifty years. As Barros points out, the Canadian tendency towards moderation surfaces in our artistic production. Consequently, with a few exceptions, highly conceptual work has not taken a strong foothold here. Conversely, the demands of the conservative Canadian marketplace have resulted in some work in which decoration overwhelms idea. However, as Object and Ornament demonstrates, between these two extremes lies a large body of work that is united by excellence in design, innovation in conception, and the highest standards of craftsmanship. Sandra Noble Goss’s streamlined sterling silver and acrylic necklace looks as fresh and appealing as when it was made in 1977. A full page colour reproduction of Lois Etherington Betteridge’s hollowware Ice-Cream Cone elicits renewed appreciation for the consummate skills of this Order of Canada recipient, while Kye-yeon Son’s intriguing copper bowl, pierced by curved and undulating rods, evokes curiosity about the rest of this artist’s production.
Apart from its usefulness for historians and collectors, this book also serves the valuable function of fostering an enhanced sense of community among Canada’s metalsmiths, who share the challenges presented by this country’s vast landscape and undeveloped marketplace. For this relatively small but talented group, Object and Ornament will not doubt provide a well-deserved boost of confidence.
Barbara Isherwood is a freelance writer on the visual arts who resides in Toronto, Canada.