Second Annual Jewelry Metals Symposium

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HomeLearning CenterJewelry DesignSecond Annual Jewelry Metals Symposium
By Sharon BoardwayMore from this author

Second Annual
Jewelry/Metals Symposium
Seattle, Washington

Seattle was recently the host as well as the delighted recipient of the second annual Jewelry/Metals Symposium. Held at the University of Washington, it was sponsored by Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery, Pratt Fine Arts Center, the Seattle Metals Guild, and the University of Washington. This one day event burst its previous boundaries, both in the number of attendants and in the number of lectures and presentations.

Starting off the morning with a lively discussion of her work was Harriete Estel Berman, with her talk entitled, "Objects of Scrutiny; Cultural Meaning, Multiple Context". Immersed in society at large as well as the art world, her work is subject to the multiple contexts of her life as an artist, sculptor, metalsmith, feminist, teacher, housewife, and mother (not necessarily in that order). She stated, "All of my work comes from a decidedly feminist perspective… I use the word feminist with a decidedly feminine embrace. While many feminists have totally forsaken their domesticity, my artwork includes, observes, and analyzes the woman's sphere".

metals symposium
Harriete Estel Berman, Window of Isolation, Cage of My Own Construction, 1990, brass, printed steel, 14 x 10½ x 10½". Photo: Philip Cohen

In 1980 she started a series entitled, The Family of Appliances You Can Believe In. In this, as well as in later work, the home serves as the vital context. It is not used as a singular image, but as a smoldering mix of emotions, expectations, and realities. In addition to the themes of feminine feminism and the home, Berman also works with the subject of autobiographical content. Being responsible for the home and care of two children has led her to a near obsession with the home as self identification. An example from this series is Womanizer, Kitchen Queen, 1982. It is a fabricated kitchen blender with a wind-up mechanism, and bears a gold crown reading "Mistress of the Home". From a later series is a piece entitled, Window of Isolation, Cage of My Own Construction, 1990, which further illustrates the themes of women's roles, the home, and autobiographical content.

She also works with the concepts of advertising and consumerism. Her slide show included a bittersweet sampling of real advertisements that instruct us in ways for better living. The appliance series often incorporated such ads either literally or within the cultural meaning of the words. This interest continues in her current series, begun in 1988, entitled A Pedestal For a Woman To Stand On.

This exciting collection of work synthesizes her separate loves for both fiber and metal. The pedestals are generally cube shaped, from 12 - 16″ on each side, with attention paid to each side. Pattern has emerged as a dominant factor, referencing traditional quilt patterns. As seen before, titles are given emphasis and offer important insight into the work. In this series, the titles often reflect the name of the quilt pattern being used. An example of this is a pedestal entitled Baby Bloch to Creativity, 1990, which uses the quilt pattern "baby block". The prominent material used throughout the pedestal series is printed steel salvaged from metal doll houses. Deconstructing these doll houses is also a way of "…deconstructing childhood fantasies and reconstructing, or rebuilding, a statement about adult realities", she explained.

For Berman, these sculptures are deeply-rooted in her personal life as a woman in today's society. She concluded that, "The second class status for women who take care of the home and children bears a strong relationship to the second class status of craft and the hand-made object in the art world."

The next speaker, Charon Kransen, took us from the world of the American woman to that of European jewelers. Kransen has become an established link between the United States and Europe. Before moving to the United States in 1989, he was president of the Dutch Jewelry Designers Organization, and for thirteen years was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts at the University of Utrecht. In addition to his profession as a distributor of European books, monograms, etceteras, he lectures and gives workshops around the country. He also represents about 160 contemporary European jewelers through his curated shows, both private and public.

For his talk entitled "Contemporary European Jewelry Design", Kransen chose to focus on the particular situation in Holland, as it is considered a front runner in the world of contemporary art jewelry. While it is a small country with few practitioners, he states: "The discussions that they hold among themselves and about their work are so lively that they can be heard all over Europe". And yet, Holland's place as a front runner is relatively new. Thirty years ago ostentatious jewelry was in bad taste, and the preference was for modest scale and sturdy forms.

In 1961, everything changed. Graham Hughes and the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in England put together a spectacular jewelry exhibition entitled International Exhibition of Modern Jewellry. It was an international overview of jewelry from 1890 - 1961. Because of this exhibition and changes in the visual arts in the 1960's, young jewelry designers began to effectively challenge the expectations of their field. Artists like Gijs Bakker, Emmy van Leersum, and Lam de Wolf changed jewelry from being an affordable symbol of wealth to a forum for expressing new ideas. New techniques and the use of uncommon materials helped it move from a traditional craft to a visual language strongly connected to the human body. Freedom was the rallying cry and artists used that freedom to analyze, treat ironically, and reject traditional characteristics. Gold and other precious metals were absolutely out, as were standard findings and mechanisms. As Kransen stated: "material was not taken for granted. Material was not used as it was offered. What the artists would do is manipulate the material to such an extent that one would not even recognize it anymore. It was like the ultimate way to leave your personal signature". Artists were free to experiment with everything from scouring pads to light, and jewels no longer had to be modest in scale.

Kransen expressed his desire to show this innovative work in this country where, six years ago, it was largely unknown. In the past few years he has seen this change, and he believes that it will only progress further. He stated: "The discussion is not so much whether European jewelry is better, but what we can learn from different approaches in jewelry, from different parts of the world".

It was fascinating to move from these circumscribed events in Europe to the next topic of worldwide adornment augmentation. Through a very scholarly and logical approach, artist and University of Oregon professor Kate Wagle led us on an investigation into extended adornment aspects, both physical and intellectual.

Nel Linssen, Necklace, 1995, twisted paper

Since adornment is related to and contextualized by culture, she distinguished three categorical descriptions of culture and their accordant types of adornment. These three broad descriptions are primary culture, marginal culture, and mainstream contemporary culture. Adornment within primary culture must satisfy social and ethnic demands. It can also be a set of behaviors and beliefs that are passed down through the generations. Marginal culture is that which develops in response to, and separate from, the values of the larger group. And mainstream contemporary culture is that larger group, familiar to most of us, with its own set of behaviors and beliefs.

Wagle showed numerous examples of primary cultural adornment, from headdresses to face paint, that all have certain elements in common. The materials and their use are determined by the physical environment as well as the level of skill in that culture. Form is heavily determined by the material's properties and the philosophies of that society. They are often ceremonial and transformational, as well as being related to social status and identification.

Wagle stated that artists can be seen as "appropriators, mediators, critics and interpreters". In general, artists have the ability to identify with and move between cultural influences. Operating in what we could term marginal culture, artists are investigating a wide array of materials and experience. The artist Fakir is an outstanding example of a person involved in a marginal culture while living in the mainstream. Seeking spiritual transcendence, he has been involved in outrageous body piercing including the use of weight bearing piercings. Another artist, Orlan also uses her own body, manipulated through numerous surgeries, as her medium. As the publication Research states: "In the past modern epoch, in which all of the art of the past has been assimilated, consumerized, advertised, and replicated, the last artistic territory resisting cooptation and co-modification by museum and gallery remains the body." The body is the specific territory of jewelers and Wagle concluded by suggesting: "Perhaps some of the artists here are in the act of defining our own cultural imperative… through a responsible recognition of the role of the artist as cultural mediator."

After a break for lunch, the symposium continued with an afternoon of local talent.

Phil Baldwin, an internationally renowned knifemaker led us on a romp through the history of bladesmithing. He explained that most knifemakers have no formal education, and thus rely heavily on the values of commercial society, and on historical forms. Contemporary knifemaking is a profoundly historically based craft. And in all these years, the general shapes of wedges and points haven't really changed all that much.

It was interesting to discover that in the pre-industrial age, all knives were a result of collaboration, frequently between several workshops each having more than one person. Contemporary work is usually done by one person, or maybe a combination of a few people all running one person shops. When it is a collaboration, the handle maker retains full credit for the piece, since they are the ones who usually set the aesthetic tone.

The advent of large scale production changed everything about knifemaking except design. Designers appropriated every conceivable style throughout history and simply adapted it to the industry. By the end of the 19th century, this fiction of making handmade looking things by machine was re-thought and re-worked. The field of industrial design began to flourish, and incorporated modern machine processes into the design aesthetic. Today, Baldwin says, this has become the dominant cultural design force.

Welcomed as an "Institute of Seattle", Ramona Solberg next presented her lecture, "Gold Through the Ages, in All Parts of the World". This is a subject large enough for a symposium of its own, and Solberg resorted to giving an equivocal presentation of gold facts and trivia.

Roughly following a chronological time line, we saw images of gold as it is found in its original state, purification methods, and what man in various parts of the world-has made with it.

The most interesting tidbits of Solberg's lecture were found in her personal experiences with gold in her travels. These ranged from museum pieces that she was fortunate to see in many different countries to gold leaf manufacturing and applications she witnessed in Burma.

The gem of the afternoon lectures was an insightful look into jewelry restoration by Kevin Glenn Crane. Crane has been a jewelry designer and maker for fourteen years and is a specialist in the field of antique jewelry restoration.

Lucy Sarneel, Brooch, 1994, gold, silver, zinc, iron, paper

He explained the different areas that make up the field, and how each area differs in its attitudes. At one end of the spectrum one finds historical restoration. This interpretive process entails a working knowledge of the period of the piece and the tools involved in its creation, enabling the piece to be fully revitalized by skilled hands. At the other end of the spectrum one finds the ubiquitous jewelry repair shop, whose goal is a straightforward, somewhat undisguised, remedy. Crane also touched on preservation and conservation and how they often work in tandem with the other techniques.

It is a field largely unexplored by contemporary jewelers. We seem consciously unaware of how our jewelry is a manifestation of the spirit of our times, and what may be involved in its own restoration hundreds of years from now. For this jeweler it was an eye-opening look into a field that calls for my respect and broadens my perspective.

The day long symposium concluded with a relaxing slide show, presented by Micki Lippe, of work by contemporary metalsmiths. The idea was to showcase people who are hopefully making a living in the metalsmithing field without a full time teaching job. Entitled, "Voices From the Studio", it included almost eighty artists selected from solicitations sent nationwide. Of these, Lippe selected four with whom she conducted short interviews. These artists, Judith Kaufman, Abrasha, Marcia Bruno, and Julie Mihalisin, gave candid answers to questions of how they got started and how they currently market their work.

Accompanying the Jewelry/Metals Symposium were six shows at Seattle galleries. Popular jewelry artist Ken Bova had work at MIA Gallery, and "Advanced Students Metal Show" could be seen at Pratt Fine Arts Center. Most noteworthy were the shows at Artworks Gallery, Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery, Goldman's Jewelry, and the Seattle Metals Guild biannual member exhibition at the Washington State Convention Center.

"Aspects of the Series", at Artworks Gallery, was a compelling look at Dutch serial jewelry, its birth and its present day philosophies. The show was a comprehensive exhibition of student works which were designed for serial production. Closer to the heart was "Old Friends - New Forms" at Goldman's Jewelry, featuring four artists. Megan Corwin's beautiful new work is in the form of small, handsome bottles with stoppers of sterling, 18k, and 14k gold. Tami Dean's collection of jewelry included rings, amulets, brooches, and earrings, all boldly designed with intricate piercings. Lynne Hull had an appealing series of mirrors designed with patinaed copper tubing framing and Cathryn Vandenbrink had a stunning collection of her copper and, silver pod form necklaces.

Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery took a novel approach in its exhibition theme of "Men at Work". The three artists have very different approaches to the field, and the juxtaposition of their work was quite exciting. Lee Phillips works in an intricate manner of balancing small three dimensional units in playful ways. He states: "I am …seeking beauty in the random, appreciating the deeper meaning/mystery of geometry." More thoughts on the subject of geometry and order resulted in a completely different aesthetic in the jewelry of Zack Peabody. His highly engineered pieces ". . . symbolize wholly ordered systems which have no basis in nature". In almost direct opposition to this approach, Andy Cooperman's beautifully complex and layered work speaks wholly of nature, natural forces, and specifically of a marine environment.

This event, which relied heavily on the superb talent and vitality of Northwest artists, tied together divergent agendas within the greater context of the metalsmithing field. With all that was presented to participants in this symposium, it is no wonder that one attendant said that she felt that she had had an entire semester of school in one day.

Sharpm Boardway is a jewelry artist living in Seattle, WA.
By Sharon Boardway
Metalsmith Magazine – 1996 Spring
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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Sharon Boardway

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