About 4 years ago when I returned from a study abroad program in the UK, I realized that part of what made that trip such an amazing experience was the fact that where ever we went, we found jewelry to look at. In galleries, museums, schools and artist studios. I missed that and, upon my return, suddenly realized that it didn’t take a lot of effort to continue that experience here in my own country. Since then, I’ve tried to make an effort that whenever I travel, I look for museum exhibits and galleries that feature art jewelry, innovative craft and opportunities to connect with other jewelry artists.
The Cooper Hewitt, the design museum of the Smithsonian is close by in New York City and has had an impressive art jewelry exhibit up since November. Jewelry of Ideasis an exhibit with pieces from a recent gift of Susan Grant Lewin. The museum held a symposium around the opening, recorded the proceedings and posted the video online linked from the Cooper Hewitt’s website. I watched much of the content previously and I didn’t want to miss it before it closes the end of this month. I took my Mother’s Day “off” and took a drive with my husband and kid to a drizzly Fifth Avenue to check it out.
I was delighted with the content, but disappointed in the lighting. Normally in my museum visits, I love to take multiple photos of pieces so I can reference them later, but I forgot my good lens for low light. It was just as well since it gave me a good reason to pick up the exhibit catalog.
The rest of the Cooper Hewitt was engrossing as well. Exhibits about color, models of staircases and the senses were immersive. But it was the first floor with its exhibit Access + Abilityon accessible design and the products on display in Bob Greenberg Selectsthat brought my thoughts back to my friend Jack. He was a camera enthusiast who suffered a stroke and was severely disabled for the last 7 years of his life. As his caregiver, I was constantly in search of new products to help him with daily living. He would have enjoyed both of these exhibits.
The artisan jewelry market is growing in recent years with more and more people turning their jewelry making hobby into a side business. One only has to walk through the craft section of a book store or the jewelry making aisle in your local craft store to see how popular it is to make jewelry.
So what is hand made jewelry? There are so many ways to interpret this phrase that a broader definition than the regurgitation of “jewelry made by hand” might be helpful.
• Are you making jewelry by hand if you are purchasing parts and assembling them?
• Are you making jewelry by hand if you are designing the work and hiring someone else to make it for you with their hands?
• Is your work handmade if you are using using a jig to bend wire exactly the same over and over?
• What about power tools?
• What about a laser cutter or a 3D printer? Are your designs hand made?
There is no absolute answer to these questions because every time another new technology comes along, it could be seen as “cheating” to call the products it produces as hand made.
The way I see it, it all comes down to process. Artists like myself explore many different processes, both traditional fabrication techniques like lost wax casting that go back thousands of years and newer technology like 3D printing and pattern making using computers. What is most important is to bring our artist’s vision to reality using the best tools available. My hands touch everything I make, no matter which processes are used.
Many of my pieces from the Ripples collection are precision cut from precious metal sheet by hand with a jewelers saw using a blade that measures .063 of an inch wide, some pieces like the Rogue Wave Earrings take hours for one person sitting at a bench. This can be contrasted to my Ripples Rainbow bracelets that were designed in a computer and 3D printed in a flexible nylon. Once printed they are hand dyed and sometimes assembled with sterling silver components. As the artist, I describe them both as hand made.
The inspiration for jewelry design can come in many different areas. Nature, architecture, even the human body itself can offer ideas and forms for creating a piece of jewelry. Because the jewelry is usually an expression of the person wearing it, design is as varied as individual people.
The nature of wave forms and my visualization of the way they travel through water and air has inspired much of my work in recent years. Doodles and sketches in the margins of my notebooks end as a labyrinth that grows organically to eventually take over a the entire page.
Once these ideas are transferred to a sheet of metal and the lines are cut, the real fun begins in expanding these two dimensional ideas into three dimensional wearable forms. I call these sketch models because I make them in easily malleable copper and I use them to analyze the patterns and how they work in three dimensions. They aren’t yet ready to be worn, but in handling and manipulating them, I can plan the final piece of jewelry which will be created in precious metal. The following images illustrate a little bit of the process.