I got a new title this past week- Craft Pusher. I think I’ll embrace it.
It happened when I was teaching an introductory workshop in needle felting, also known as dry felting, at the Tacony LAB. The “LAB” is a community art center in the local neighborhood where I live in Northeast Philadelphia and I work there as a coordinator as well as instructor. I had eight students around the tables shaping wool roving into small whimsical forms. None of them had ever tried needle felting before and each person was enjoying it immensely with the room experiencing periods of near silence with only the sound of poking needles.
The classes at the Tacony LAB are free and include all supplies. Introductory classes like this are a great way to try out a craft you are interested in without investing in tools and materials. In the course of the workshop, it became apparent that many of the participants wanted to continue in the new techniques they had learned.
“These free workshops are really starting to cost me.” one lady said with a laugh. “I’ll need to go buy some of these needles and the wool.”
“Tell me about it!” said another. “I took the Intro to Enameling and enjoyed it so much that I bought a kiln!”
In the course of the discussion that followed, I was labeled as a Craft Pusher. I’m happy to embrace it, as I have found it a delightful experience to bring new techniques and art forms to students who may not otherwise get the chance.
In the course of the workshop, I was busy working on an experimental piece that combined both vitreous enameling and needle felting into an eye pin or brooch.
My life has always been surrounded by craft. Tools, materials and processes have shaped my approach both as an artist and educator. It fuels my curiosity about the ways that different techniques can be used in new ways. As a jeweler, interaction with the body and wear-ability are as important as the quality of the work, but as an artist and process geek, I can not help but constantly investigate new ways of making.
Middle Eastern puzzle rings have been a part of my life since childhood. My father purchased two of them in Pakistan in the early 1960s when he was in the merchant marines. They bore the rough texture of sand casting in several places and they were very thin in the back.
So thin in fact that I had to repair them for my mother several times over the years even though she rarely wore them. This was a design flaw in my opinion, but perhaps they were produced for tourists like my dad. After all, he only paid one American dime for each of them. He immediately threw away the instructions and entertained himself on the ship by trying to figure out the puzzle.
My mother called them “trick rings” and kept them hidden away for the most part. (With five children, I would do the same.) In my early jewelry career, I wanted to recreate them and asked to borrow them. They had such sentimental value to her that she wouldn’t let them leave the house. So I spent some time drawing each individual ring as well as how they were assembled. It was necessary to study the “puzzle” of how they fit together – taking apart and reassembling them many times. Then I went home to my shop and spent about 12 hours creating my first puzzle ring. Continue reading The Middle Eastern Puzzle Ring
As a bench jeweler, I can’t tell you how many times I was asked to make a ring as a gift when the customer did not have any idea of the ring size.
“She’s about 5′ 2″ and a little bit chubby. I know she wears a size 10 dress. What ring size do you think?”
I had to break it to him that, in my experience, the size of her fingers has no relation whatsoever to her height, weight or dress size. And which of her 8 fingers and two thumbs are we guessing at?
We would need to figure out her ring size another way. In the interest of secrecy, that can be a tall order without giving away a surprise. This is why jewelers will often offer one free ring sizing with the purchase of a brand new ring within a certain time period from the purchase date.
Humans have expressed themselves through personal ornament for as long as we have existed. The way we dress, wear our hair and mark our bodies are all ways for us to communicate, in subtle or not-so-subtle ways.
Jewelry may be the oldest form of art and personal ornament with the very earliest artifacts going back to the dawn of humanity. Ancient jewelry of beads and bone held meaning that we can only guess. But the tradition of assigning meaning to the jewelry we wear has continued.
The poesy ring was popular in Medieval times and was engraved with words or phrases that held meaning to the wearers as a token of love and esteem. I became interested in the idea of words and rings about the same time I became interested in jewelry making as a career.
Here’s a post from the Tyler Blog. It’s an overview of my artist life as well as the specifics of the Leeway Art and Change grant that I received last Fall. It was from a while ago, but still pertinent.
This past Fall I tried something different to market my work and exhibited at a boat show. It seemed like a good fit and that experience itself will be the subject of its own blog post later, but part of the experience helped launch a different project.
Coriander Woodruff is an artist, photographer and the daughter of my best friend, Patricia Woodruff. She was helping me out at the boat show, along with my good friend Anita, former proprietor of Sparkle’s Jewelry of West Melbourne, FL. We are three people experienced in sales of this kind, yet it was astounding to us the amount of “free advice” we gals received from the male businessmen whose booths surrounded us.
The interior of the vending tents was stifling for October. Coriander carried a metal framed martial arts fan that we all shared at times. First it just seemed like a sturdy accessory that helped to cool us, but then we realized that it could act as a barrier and deterrent to the “man-splaining” we were finding ourselves subject to hearing.
During the late 1990s I lived on a sailboat docked on Toms River in Pine Beach, NJ. It was a beautiful place to live, but I was feeling a little isolated from friends and family. I was able to connect online with a group of women that eventually formed the core of an intentional family for me. We met in diners, each other’s homes and sometimes on the beach to celebrate the seasons. It was a magical time that lasted almost three years. As time passed we scattered, but all of these women still hold a special place in my heart.
Sophia probably wandered the most, moving to the UK for several years and then returning to the US to settle in Maryland. Sometime last Fall she returned to her native Ohio to be with family and start anew. I was delighted to hear from her in November.
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 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.
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.