Material Messages II: Narrative Jewelry

September 16, 2009 at 2:25 am (Artist Musings)

In my last post, I discussed the use of language or words in fine art. Inspired by words myself, I find it fascinating to look at artists like Picasso, Joseph Cornell, and Robert Rauschenberg to see how the use of text gives their work context, and at least for me, meaning.

Right around the time period where I left off in my last post (the 1960’s Pop Art Movement), perhaps as a response to what was happenning around them artistically, fine craft artists, including a handful of studio jewelers, were making strides of their own.

“Studio jewelry was always an anti-fashion movement. It emerged in the mid-20th century as a reaction to high society gems on the one hand, and costume baubles on the other. A few inventive craft artisans began hammering and casting unexpected materials into a Third Way. The artists intend for ‘value’ to come from artistry rather than precious materials.” [Linda Hales, Washington Post, October 11, 2003]

Around this time, Robert Ebendorf emerged as a pioneer in the studio jewelry movement.

 “As an innovator in American jewelry since the 1960s [Rober Ebendorf] has been one of the leaders in exploring alternative materials and also – at least in a general sense – in pioneering that most American of jewelry forms, narrative jewelry.” [Tacey Rosolowski interviewing Robert Ebendorf for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution].

Robert Ebendorf

Robert Ebendorf

I had the pleasure of seeing Ebendorf’s exhibition Handcrafted, A Continual Journey: Jewelry and Objects at the Rocky Mount Art Center last April. Back then, I blogged about how seeing his Off the Street, From the Beach necklace in a magazine inspired to explore found objects in my own work. Ebendorf takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. The Off the Street, From the Beach necklace, for example — “…is a collection of colorful plastics found in parking lots, on sidewalks and on boardwalks. Hot pink plastic teaspoons, poker chips, milk rings and plant markers from dahlias and impatiens hint at the prosaic fragments of strangers’ days.” [Nancy McGillicuddy, Office of News and Communications Services, Eastern Carolina University] Ebendorf paved the way for studio jewelers like me to explore unconventional materials and techniques.

In the mid to late 1970’s, another American studio jeweler started “adopting the techniques of collage and assemblage and applying them to making of jewelry objects with the intention of making them available to as wide an audience as possible.” [Thomas Mann, Artist Statement]

“In a conscientious decision made in the late 70’s I eschewed the use of precious metals or gemstones and concentrated solely of found and alternative materials. I was determined to have the work for of the imagery and meaning encompassed in it rather than the perceived intrinsic value of the materials employed in it’s making. It is my hope that my work will challenge the viewer and the wearer to derive a common denominator of personal meaning and value from the assemblage of components presented.” [Thomas Mann]

Lauren Van Hemert, "Skinny Bitch Brooch", part of the Out of the Box series

Lauren Van Hemert, "Skinny Bitch Brooch", part of my Out of the Box series

I met Mann at the 2006 ACC Baltimore Fine Craft Show. In 2007, I had the opportunity to attend a  lecture on his “NOLA Rising” body of work. Currently, Mann lives and works in New Orleans where he oversees a jewelry design and production studio, a sculpture studio, and gallery, Thomas Mann Gallery I/O (insight-full objects). He currently exhibits his jewelry and sculpture with some 250 galleries and stores in the US and abroad, and at premier craft events around the US. Mann was the inspiration behind my Out of the Box series, which I designed last year as a means for my customers to display their jewelry when they weren’t wearing their pieces.

In the 1990’s, another artst, Susan Lenart Kazmer, redefined the contemporary talisman by taking recycled objects and presenting them in a new way.

“When you close your eyes and hold the object in your hand you can feel whether the user has enjoyed, neglected, or cherished it. Fear, happiness, struggle, and strength are also feelings embedded in an object. My job as an artist is to take the found object and present it in a new and unexpected way…” [Susan Lenart Kazmer

“Consider the mental power put into a pencil stub worn down by an accountant during tax season, or the mundane repetition locked into a key from an old factory locker, or the freedom embedded in the bones of a free-range chicken. I believe these energies lend power and mystery to ordinary objects. In my work I use them to create talismans worn for protection, freedom, and strength.” [Susan Lenart Kazmer]

I met Susan in 2006, also at the ACC Baltimore Fine Craft Show. Later, I was fortunate enough to take a class with her, Relics, Ruins and Personal Objects. She is an amazing artist, teacher, and person, and no article on narrative jewelry would be complete without recognizing her contribution to fine craft.

In 2004, I took a class with one of my favorite people and artists, Louise McClure.

“My work seldom fits into a neat and tidy category,” says McClure. “Narrative, wearable sculpture describes it best. It begins with the belief that all things, even common, throw-away bits, have value and beauty. Cast off glass and plastic, paper, wood and metal mingle with semi-precious stones and silver like the blending of individual voices into a concert of the whole. I don’t have a favorite material or media. I enjoy the process of discovering the characteristics of various elements when exposed to heat, water, salt, pressure. Keep an open mind and embrace the ‘what happens if I try this…’ ”

Louise McClure Charm Bracelet

Louise McClure Charm Bracelet

After the class, Louise’s “what happens if I try this” attitude changed the direction of my work forever. She is also an exhibiting member of Piedmont Craftsmen and her work can be seen along with mine this month during the Material Messages exhibition at the Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery in Winston-Salem.

1 Comment

  1. Jeanne Rhea said,

    I never knew you had a blog until today. This is a very good post and I can see your interest in words, journalism, and jewelry all coming through. I know you have written a few articles about your work for magazines, but you could write a regular column for some!


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