Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Grand Marais Art Colony: Artist Talk, 2015

Seeking Deeper Levels: Exploring Physical, Implied, and Sentimental Aspects of Jewelry

         MNJAG – Minnesota Jewelry Arts Guild
         SNAG – Society of North American Goldsmiths
         ASBA - American Society of Botanical Artists
         MSBA – Minnesota School of Botanical Art
     I received my MEd degree, art education, in 2007 from the University of Minnesota.
I am a retired person, officially retired last year, and am now doing everything I love to do.
     I know some of you, so some of you know my story. It’s intimidating to think about talking to you jewelry makers! So when I put this together, I had to think of it as exploring jewelry with others who share my passion. 
Talking about passions…
    I have loved jewelry from my first memories.  When I was a kid I would smell the metal of things, and could figure out if it was REAL silver or base metal.
When I was 5 I was given my first piece of jewelry by my grandma. I LOVED this pin!
     I had a turquoise ring that I wore all the time, and eventually had to have it cut off. I was terrified, because my brother and dad talked about maybe having to cut my finger off to get it off. It made me sad to know that the ring was done.
     When I would spend time at my grandma’s house, we would go upstairs to her dresser, where there was a literal mosaic of interesting boxes with cotton, boxes with labels covered with foreign writing, lovely smells of perfume and metal. I can still smell that metal… silver and gold.
     She would talk about the pieces, where she found them, markets in far away places, and I loved those times. She would always part with a piece or two before the dresser drawers were closed. These memories are precious to me. 
     Jewelry has a sentimental aspect for me – the pieces I own, the pieces I make, and the pieces I buy. For me there is always a deeper meaning. I make jewelry to endure, then handed down to the next generation.
     I mentioned that I’m retired – a retired elementary art teacher. Looking back, I did not have the guts it takes to go out into the art world and support myself. My Dad’s practical voice was always in my ear…. You have to have a steady job to pay the bills. The stuff you love to do has to fit around that. I admire all of you who have taken or plan to take this leap. It takes GUTS.
     Since the 1980’s, I was making jewelry and dabbling with metal. I took classes at the Technical College downtown, and took two courses from a self-taught hand engraver – hand pushed engraving. I learned how to make my own gravers, sharpen them, and did some custom work along the way.
     My teacher/mentor, Joe Manges, told me that I should figure out gizmos and gadgets – little jewelry pieces – that I could practice on and sell. This is where my slide pendants originated. They are unique in construction and adornment. Each is unique and totally hand made. Hand pushing the graver, as opposed to “air assist” which I have now, limited the depth of my work. Any depth achieved was through drawing techniques with shading and texture.

     In 2007, when I was doing the coursework for my master’s degree, I took an elective course called Botanical Drawing from Marilyn Garber. I still can’t believe what a gift this turned out to be. It opened up the traditional, technical, highly focused part of my creative self… that part that consumes my mind and engages me.

    After a few years, I was painting, and started teaching at the Minnesota School of Botanical Art in Minneapolis. I taught the painting classes, but also wrote curriculum and taught classes in composition. Some of the artists had not had formal training, so I was able to be a contributor. I also wrote about building design, applied botanical subject matter to tessellations and designs. 

     During this time, I was also making jewelry. I figured out quickly that I had to choose between painting botanicals or designing and making jewelry. I would get together with a friend and paint, but after a while, found myself wishing I was in the other room making jewelry. Both disciplines need a lot of time and focus in order to move forward. I chose jewelry making.
     But in reality, I had two of my worlds collide, because I use botanical subject matter with my jewelry work, composing my drawings on metal.

     When I shifted to jewelry making full time, I shifted from using botanical design as just an adornment to the backs of my pendants and rings, to the total designs of my pieces.
     I realized that I needed to deepen my understanding and skill level in hand engraving, so two years ago I headed out to Emporia Kansas to attend a hand engraving class at GRS. I wasn’t totally open to the idea of “air assist”, but wanted to see if that would move me forward. This was the best decision I’ve made for my work, and has moved my work forward. I decided that purchasing that equipment was an investment in my 60’s. I have a lot of work to do.
     I am able to add depth to my work – physical depth. I am now able to dig deeper and cut away background. Even though hand engraving is drawing, I’m able to add physical depth.
     Along with the physical depth, I apply my shading techniques to flat pieces of metal. Some of the techniques – combinations of techniques – are not necessarily traditional applications in the world of world-class hand engraving, but I have to follow my own path. In some ways I am creating my own unique niche in this world, one that is getting some nods in the industry. The nods are not my goal. I am happy that it is interesting to others, but I’m pushing forward for myself.

     The year following being laid off from teaching, 2010, I decided to compile a book… Such Capable Hands. showcasing 16 jewelry artists from around the world. Some are well known and some are not. I was interested in hearing their “back stories”, what got them interested in designing and making jewelry, and what got them into this trade. It’s certainly not a big seller, but it was a labor of love, and deepened my understanding of what sparks that creative momentum.

     The one common thread from everyone… the topmost factor in the making, was good craftsmanship. Good craftsmanship along the way, with every step of the making. It affirmed my mantra from when I taught my young students, and continues with my teaching of adults now, and is essential with my work. If it is designed and made well, it will endure through time. Again, this feeds into sentimentality… passing pieces on down to children and friends.
     With my current work, I use cabochon stones and faceted gemstones to add color to my work. I’ve found that silver black is great for adding/accentuating depth for the hand engraving, but occasionally use liver of sulfur for depth and color. 
Where am I going?
     At this time, I am most interested in doing one-ofs. I have done production type work in the past – mostly for art fairs, and am not interested in doing that at all any more. I know that I will not move forward with design and challenge if I do that. It took me a while to winnow out WHY I make art, figuring out exactly what I want to do.
     I want to push my work to become more deep – getting more three dimensional depth. Drawing has been creating illusion of depth through shape, size and shading. I would like to explore pushing the plane. I’ve started combining hand engraving with piercing to break that back plane. I’d like to push upward. I know this will challenge my “construction” abilities.
     I will be adding gold for more color opportunities. It’s tricky to add/use precious metals because it drastically affects the price point. I’m already in a weird place between craft jewelry and fine jewelry. I know this will complicate things for me, but I’m doing it or my own reasons… not dependent on the sale. (I’m not a good business person in this aspect.)
     It is my goal to push forward with every new piece I make – whether it be my design, or commission work. I want to challenge myself and move forward… for my own reasons as an artist.