Read My Pins: Jewelry as a Diplomatic, Political and Social Tool

March 25, 2010 at 2:32 am (Art Unravelled)

Madeline Albright's Serpent Pin

My dad works as the City Attorney for a small municipality in Florida. Last year he asked me to find him a snake pin. When I asked him why, he replied that at a city meeting a community activist called him a snake. He wanted to respond to her as former Secretary of State Madeline Albright had with Saddam Hussein, that is by wearing a snake pin on his lapel.

In 1994, the Iraqi press called Albright, who was then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a serpent.  Later that year, when meeting with Iraqi officials, Albright wore a vintage snake pin (circa 1860) as a way to send a message.

From that point on, Albright used jewelry not just to make a fashion statement, but a political statement as well.

“The idea of using pins as a diplomatic tool is not found in any State Department manual or in any text chronicling American foreign policy,” writes Albright in her book Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box. “The truth is that it would never have happened if not for Saddam Hussein.”

Liberty Brooch, 1997

Over the years, Albright collected hundreds of pins. Last fall, Albright’s collection, including the infamous snake pin, was exhibited for the first time at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design (MAD). The exhibition examined Albright’s collection for its historic significance as well as the expressive power of jewelry and its ability to communicate through a style and language of its own.

 “Secretary Albright’s approach to collecting focuses on the communicative value of jewelry, which often transcends its material worth,” said Museum Director Holly Hotchner. “The pins in this exhibition have all been used as non‐traditional tools for political negotiation and personal expression.”

Last month, Read My Pins: The Madeline Albright Collection exhibition opened at The William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas where it will remain on view until June. The exhibition will then travel to Washington, DC this summer and to Indianapolis, Indiana this fall. 

 “I found that jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal,” Secretary Albright has said. “While President George H.W. Bush had been known for saying ‘Read my lips,’ I began urging colleagues and reporters to ‘Read my pins.'”

Listen as former Secretary of State Madeline Albright talks about her pin collection at The Clinton Library last month by clicking the video below.

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The Renaissance of Polymer Clay

March 16, 2010 at 11:18 pm (Artist Musings)

Louise Fischer Cozzi, 2010 Niche Award Finalist

In 2006, I exhibited my work at The American Craft Council Baltimore Fine Craft Show. After my husband walked the show and saw the fabulous work of Kathleen Dustin, Steven Ford and David Forlano, and Louise Fischer Cozzi, he turned to me and said, “this moment in time is truly the renaissance of polymer clay.” Little did he know then how prophetic his comment was.

At last month’s Synergy II polymer clay conference, hosted by the International Polymer Clay Association, Bruce Pepich, Executive Director and Curator of Collections for the Racine Art Museum (RAM) compared the polymer clay movement to the glass art movement.

“The glass art movement was, at one point in its history, where we are today. Pepich talked about the undeniable fact that the glass art movement’s successful evolution has culminated in an important body of ‘competent, respected work that has broken boundaries’ in the fine craft world. He went on to say that it is time for us to ‘think much broader than the medium’; time to ‘pull as many resources and references as possible outside of the techniques.’ ” [Susan Lomuto, Daily Art Muse Blog, Synergy II, Part I: In Pursuit of Excellence — The Evolution of a Medium]

Elise Winters, 2010 Niche Award Finalist

Pepich, with the help of polymer clay artist Elise Winters,  is currently planning a major museum exhibition complete with hardcover catalog to accompany the establishment of a permanent collection of polymer art at RAM. When their vision is realized, RAM will become the national center for the elevation, exhibition, and academic study of the polymer clay medium. To support the polymer clay collection at RAM, visit the Polymer Art Archive, a website set up by Winters to record the artistic history of polymer clay and serve as a resource for museum curators, collectors, publication editors and art historians. Winters writes, “It would give me delight to know that PolymerArtArchive.com can be found on thousands of ‘Favorites’ lists of those desiring to discover not just the FACTS about ART made from POLYMER, but also to achieve a greater understanding about the origins and relationships that have generated wonderful polymer art in our time..” [Polymer Art Archive]

Winters, a champion of polymer clay, realized a long time ago that polymer would mature into a respected art form. And it has.

In 2005, 2006, and 2007, I was one of a handful of polymer artists nominated for a NICHE Award. In 2008, Polymer Clay was added as its own award category. Last year, ten polymer works of art were recognized as  Niche Award Finalists, not only in the polymer category, but also in the fashion jewelry, sculpture-to-wear, home furnishings/teapots, and fiber/baskets categories.  Last month, Jeffrey Lloyd Dever, Sandra McCaw, and Melanie West all took home the 2010 Niche Award in their respective categories.

Jeffrey Lloyed Dever, 2010 Niche Award, Decorative Category

Jeffrey Lloyed Dever, 2010 Niche Award, Teapots Category

Sandra McCaw, 2010 Niche Award, Fashion Jewelry Category

Melanie West, 2010 Niche Award, Polymer Clay Category

In addition to award recognition, polymer has graced the runway. Winters’ polymer Ruffles necklace was seen on the runway during Cynthia Rowley’s show at last month’s New York Fashion Week.

While polymer is earning its place as a respected medium in the fine craft movement, polymer artists are still challenged with the fact that in some  circles, it is still considered a children’s toy. Unlike other mediums, or its glass counterpart, it is inexpensive, widely available, and doesn’t require many (if any) special tools, equipment, or instruction. 

This might be one of the reasons why at last month’s Synergy II Conference, Pepich challenged polymer artists to pursue excellence in their work.

“Pepich boldly challenged us, saying ‘Don’t be afraid of excellence.’ A glorious challenge, perhaps matched only by Kathleen Dustin’s when she asked the polymer artists present to consider making a museum quality piece as a way of elevating their own work and assisting the medium on its journey,” writes Susan Lomuto on her Daily Art Muse blog.     

Over the last year, I have been trying to pursue excellence in my own polymer clay work, a challenge I embraced last March after taking a workshop with Dan Cormier, who also was a presenter at last month’s Synergy II conference. Prior to taking Cormier’s workshop, I had done wholesale show after wholesale show, cranking out production pieces for galleries and boutiques, many of which subsequently went out of business or never ordered from me again. The process in creating my wholesale body of work was of course getting to the end product and getting it out the door. The focus of Cormier’s class, however, was the process itself. What I took away from Cormier’s workshop was that if you are diligent during every step of the process, the end result will be a “museum quality piece”, something I have been working toward ever since.

I didn’t have the pleasure of attending last month’s Synergy II conference, but I will be curious to see how polymer as a medium continues to evolve and how the artists using this medium continue to pursue excellence in their own work.

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It’s Still the Greatest Show on Earth

March 9, 2010 at 3:49 pm (Artist Musings)

I didn’t go to school to be an artist. I went to school to be a journalist. 

My short-lived journalism career started at the age of 16 when I hosted my own radio talk show called Teen Talk on WDNA public radio in Miami. After a year of hosting the show by myself, the station manager Maggie Pelleya had the foresight to bring in a co-host, a young man named Albert Cutie who later became known as Padre Alberto.  

One of my first interviews as an “on-air” talk show host was with KC and Bingo, two clowns from Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. Last month, twenty-five years after interviewing KC and Bingo, I took my seven year old daughter to see The Greatest Show on Earth.

I have always loved the circus, which is why I contacted Ringling Bros. in the first place for my first “on air” interview. In 2005, I ran into a woman from the Ringling Bros. Museum in Greensboro who asked me if I would consider making a series of circus pieces. Thus, my Carnaval collection was born.

Referred to as bills, slang for “handbills,” circus posters became an important element in the success of any circus. Printers enlisted the services of the finest artists to design the circus posters. They also offered stock poster designs featuring acrobats, clowns, elephants and other wild animals to which they added the show title and date. Available through catalogs, these cost less than specially designed posters. Inspired by these posters and lithographs, this collection features the posters of The Hagenbeck-Wallace Trained Wild Animals Circus “An Army of Clowns”,  The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth Great Coney Island Water Festival, Joseph Wallenda, and The Carnaval de Venice.

I first showed this collection during my first solo exhibition entitled Transitory Treasures at Artspace in 2006. That same year, I showed the collection at The American Craft Council Baltimore Fine Craft Show. In 2008, the centerpiece of The Carnaval Collection, my Trapeziste Necklace, earned second place in the mixed media category at The Coconut Grove Arts Festival in Miami, Florida.

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From Studio 109A: Altered States

March 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm (From Studio 109A)

    This month, I have been working on my second altered book, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. For this project, I started with an oversized book (an  atlas), carved a niche, glued the pages together, and started weaving together pictures and text. Like my Out of the Box series, this mixed media composition contains an element (a brooch) that can be removed and worn.
    Most of this month has been consumed creating the structure of the book and the pages. For the brooch, I have been experimenting with a new approach to my image transfer techniques, canes, and found objects. The brooch is a work in progress.
    This Friday is the First Friday gallery walk in Downtown Raleigh. All of the Studios, including Studio 109A, will be open from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. I hope you will come take a peek at my altered book. In the meantime, check out this altered book project I created several years ago for the Sculpey web site.

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