Have you ever experienced an air of wistfulness gazing at an old portrait, or felt the subtle tug of nostalgia while fingering your mother's wedding ring? Memory, both history and emotion caught up in one very complicated yet powerful experience, is what the Williamson's seek to evoke with each piece of jewelry they make, finding a way into the innermost depths of the heart and unlocking the secrets that lie within. Roberta and Dave Williamson, a power couple who put as much passion and effort into their work as they are humanly able, love that sense of the old that comes from cradling an object of importance, and by use of historical illustrations, precious gemstones, and impeccable metalwork, create new loci for wonderful memories to be created.
In their own way, the Williamsons seek to preserve the past in an era where time seems to move forward like a roaring river. It's not just the aesthetic which they cultivate. Heirlooms, old illustrations, and antiques of all descriptions are their gemstones, set lovingly into silver, copper, and gold, to forever be enshrined within the heart. Their aim is to create modern keepsakes, to halt the inexorable tide of amnesia caused by the ephemerality of the digital world. It is all about holding on to that one, beautiful moment.
It's also about creating a world of careful deliberation and treasuring one's environment. If you ever visit the Williamsons' booth at a craft show, it is a miniature reflection of their home; eccentric, quixotic, joyous and comforting. Handmade, Alice in Wonderland-like lamps accompany wooden display cases resting on brightly patterned tablecloths. The walls of the booth are ringed with shelves on which rest jars holding odd specimens, resembling the collection of a member of the Audubon Society. You feel like you're within a magical, traveling toy store, or an antique shoppe of relics from ages mysterious. And it is that sense of wonderment which they wish to elicit from both customers and bystanders.
Hsiangting Yen's interest in jewelry stems from a vivid desire for design exploration. Her earliest work was a melding between East and West, taking inspiration from traditional Chinese painting and using enamel as the medium to express her version of this aesthetic in jewelry. Her MFA thesis project was an exploration of gender, with her Gender 3.0 pins taking elements from her In Bloom series and rendering famous celebrities, triptych style, in a singularly Art Deco fashion.
Since then, she has expanded her visual repertoire, experimenting with minimalist designs using enamel and small stone accents with her Black & Gold jewelry. She uses surface texturing to provide contrast to gemstone accents in her latest work, a delightful spectrum of rings, bracelets, brooches and earrings that she has christened with titles such as Modern Deco, Nouveau, and Vintage.
Hsiangting's work is a rather enticing combination of nostalgia with an interpretation that is all her own. Rather than flat out replicating the styles of earlier art periods, the jewelry she makes is re-imagined for the twenty-first century. Sleek, and made to flatter and accent the body, her current pieces are the contemporary answer to Art Nouveau and Art Deco, taking the lavish ornamentalism of the former and the bold geometry of the latter while marrying them to modern minimalism.
Bongsang Cho came to the United States from Seoul, South Korea, and brought with him a dedicated enthusiasm for metalsmithing, and an ethereal sense of grace and impermanency which gives a delicacy to his metalwork. He graduated from Hanyang University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metals and Jewelry, and has recently graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a MFA, where he utilized several modern pieces of machinery in the college's jewelry department, such as the laser welder, to break new ground.
Cho's aesthetic is derived from the mysterious connections he senses between the organic, the artificial, and humanity. The flower is for him a metaphor which represents the essential nature of life, and extends beyond flora to embodying human existence, its connections and its transitoriness. The roots of the flowering plant are the same as the hidden relationships which support each individual life. It is for this reason that, abstractly and in literal interpretation, Cho uses the form of the flower in much of his jewelry and sculpture.
In Bongsang Cho’s world, geometry is the language which connects humanity and nature, going from the inorganic to the organic and back again. Endeavoring to express this in the vocabulary of his art, he has produced several series of work which continue becoming ever more refined.
Rocks, stones, pebbles. You might find gems buried in rock, or upon cracking one open reveal a geode, but beach stones are not generally synonymous with riches, nor for that matter fine jewelry. Yet Andrea Williams has achieved just that distinction, transforming a seemingly mundane material into elegant necklaces, rings and bracelets. She does this by maintaining the stone itself as the centerpiece, and accentuating it with fine inlay reminiscent of East Asian paintings or zany digital noise. There are other artists who utilize rock in their work, but often these are used like gemstones inlaid into gold or silver necklaces, or altered by carving the surface and inlaying semi-precious stones. The subtle beauty of Williams’ jewelry is that the earth itself, condensed and compacted, has become as both jewel and substrate.
Most of the beauty of Williams’ work is derived by constructing each piece of jewelry from the stone itself. Instead of using it as an embellishment, or mixing it with a variety of other materials, she will create an entire necklace from interlocking cored rock, a chain of stones, with the inner surface plated with silver. The grey-green of the stone blends subtly with the metal to cause eye-catching contrast with either a dark or light background, and the enormous size of each “link” makes the piece outlandish, but contained. If any component in this combination was off, it would be too much, but the restraint of the color palette offset by the scale of the piece forms a perfect storm of elements.
Williams feels her aesthetic matches her principles. Not of financial value or societal worth, but intrinsically simple and beautiful, with infinite variation, beach stones are the perfect medium for Williams to express her message on. The use of this particular part of the earth seems to mesh in sensibly with her sustainable ideas. As an environmentally-minded woman, she makes sure to source all her precious metals as reclaimed or recycled materials, and as of 2007 all gems she uses are lab-grown. “I try to make sure my personal choices add up. The beach stones replenish themselves, the metals are already circulating, and the gems I use are man made. The hard work—convincing precious metals suppliers to carry recycled metals, was already done when I made the decision to follow this path,” she notes. Williams buys from Hoover and Strong, who were one of the first companies to sell recycled materials, as well as Rio Grande. “There is a small premium over the cost of newly mined materials, but hey, it is my life’s work,” she opines emphatically. “I might as well do it right.”
The beauty of ephemerality is the essence of Dona Look and Ken Loeber's jewelry, an awareness of how the simplest of natural structures hold an almost unbearable sweetness. Leaves, branches, the snow on the ground on a winter morning, the crystalline structure of ice, invisible to the human eye; these are the elements of our world that call to Ken and Dona and find new form in fossil coral, pearls, gold, and silver.
The simplicity of their work belies the care and consideration which goes into paring down extraneous elements until that perfect result is finally arrived at. Each brooch, earring and necklace is minimalism brought to the level of abstract art; each an emblem of the natural world, a talisman designed to protect our ethereal memory of how things truly look, and the emotions that surrounds such experiences. In one piece, flat oval sheets of metal are bent gently down the middle. The enveloping, protective dome of treetops, letting light filter down through their leaves, is embodied in these gold sheafs that interlock with one another, their rough texture belying their inorganic material to call to mind the objects they imitate.
It is through the archaic language of symbols that Ken and Dona have discovered their own way of communicating the essence of beauty. Each element is distilled to its barest and most subtle representation, with any extraneous details pared away until all that's left is its true nature. Thus a pearl becomes moonlight; a cut-out of sterling silver, lying behind a coral branch, becomes a shadow. Or perhaps not; maybe the pearl represents a bird, sitting upon a branch, or a mound of snow deposited by winter's first breath. Such is the way with art and our perception of it; but always, a deeper meaning lies behind the most delicate symphony of Loeber and Look's craftwork.
Paper. It's usually something you write on, or put into your printer, or hold between your hands as a magazine or a book. Although the modern day has brought the material into use in the wearable art field, few have dealt with it so originally and spectacularly as Francesca Vitali, an Italian who immigrated to the United States. Although trained as a chemist, Vitali found inspiration in American propensity to shift careers within the course of one's life.
Craft was not unfamiliar to her, however; indeed, as a young girl she was already making jewelry. Paper was quickly realized as a useful medium for her early experimentation; she recalls, “The first piece that I have ever made of paper was a very long necklace made of strung paper beads, and the paper was from a clothing line catalog. I’m amazed I still remember that!” It was the endless range of colors available from magazines and other publications that lit her imagination. Just by re-using old paper products, she had a limitless palette to choose from.
Vitali’s self-taught techniques yield suprising results. Most of her pieces are composed of many tight composite folds, which then are wound around each other to produce organic and geometric shapes. Each fold exposes the color of the glossy paper, and Vitali makes sure to add in variation to make for spicy designs. A coiling spiral wave form made from gold and white paper, with a black border is threaded through with wire to make a necklace; the voluminous shape is as magnificent a pendant as any gemstone. The piece, Aspide, or Asp, is broad enough to almost be a pectoral. Vitali’s work uses weaving techniques to achieve this luminous final product. This series, A Mano Libera, takes a single long woven element which is then shaped in a manner similar to a freeform drawing.
Although he studied painting and drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago, Gustav Reyes' jewelrymaking skills were developed by practice, not through classes. His knowledge of wood initially developed with his work in furniture. His wife Juanita managed to provoke Reyes’s curiosity the day she asked whether making a wooden ring would be possible. “I drilled out a piece of wood and shaped it, seconds later it would break because of the grain crossing across the ring. So I dismissed it, but after letting me simmer a couple of days, she came back and asked, ‘Can you bend wood?’ I said, ‘Yeah, but wood can only bend within certain tolerances, then it breaks.’ ‘But what if you get it thin enough?’ she asked. Picking up a little piece of paper she started rolling it up, and that’s when it clicked.” Now, Reyes makes wooden rings inspired by that day, taking a thin sheet of wood that has been soaked in water, rolling it up on itself with glue, binding the wood upon itself. Taping it, he then heats it to set the shape.
“As a woodworker you’re told literally the world is flat, you gotta cut it, drill it and force wood. Now I realize that it’s not flat, and you can get wood to do things you never thought it could,” Reyes enthuses. Nothing eloquently expresses this more than his finished work. Reyes has spent years exploring the capabilities of wood, and a beautiful progression of pieces speaks to the all-encompassing curiosity he evinces for the material. Cornucopic winding bracelets are created from a single piece, spiraling around itself to suggest plasticity, motion and animation that turns the normal conception of wood on its head. Like coiling springs, Reyes’s work seems to store potentiality. If one looked at a time-lapse video of a growing tree, one would understand that living wood moves. It is this spirit, that stored energy, that Reyes conjures with each of his pieces.
Reyes continues, “I think for me, the most human thing a human can do is create. That is, as far as I’m concerned, what we’re here for. Some people create drama,” he laughs lightly, “Some people create different things in their life, and for me to have that feeling that you’re at the cutting edge of creating, well, you’re epitomizing humanity. You’re being what you’re here to be, you’re here to evolve, and to grow, and to be the best person, the best human animal that you can be in this world, and for me, creativity is at that cusp.”
Judith Kinghorn is an alchemist of the traditional variety; she transmutes objects into gold and precious materials. All manner of botanicals become interpreted, through her magic flasks and crucibles, into glorious and soulful reincarnations of their past selves. Like any artist seeking to capture the essence of things rather than imitate what is already there, Judith magnifies and embellishes the genuine article to somehow appear larger than life.
Kinghorn's jewelry brings the object they emulate into sharper focus, lively and vibrant, a doorway into a secret garden that the wearer is able to share with conscientious observers. Her color palette comes from her personal technique of fusing gold to oxidized silver. Oxidizing silver gives it a black varnish that stands in stark contrast to the warm yellow and orange hues of gold, and she judiciously employs this to good effect in giving dimensionality, delineating stamen, leaf and petal. Gold granules, carefully and ever so delicately soldered, become the pollen for a bouquet of dahlias. In both skillful technique and mindful presentation, Kinghorn excels artfully.
She also sometimes just enjoys a good stone. Moss agate, moldavite, pyrite, druzy agate; Judith finds the most fantastical of semiprecious gems and gives them a suitable frame, like a masterpiece painting of one of Renoir's French girls in the Louvre. The stone itself is so beautiful that all it needs is a little accentuation, and that is Judith's gift of finding just the right degree of ornamentation.
From the botanical to her stone canvases, Kinghorn finds a deep reserve of inspiration in the natural world that she mines for beauty. Her love for flora expresses itself in the diverse species that she translates into wearable form, from the esoteric to the relatively mundane. From poppies and hibiscus to wild carrot, also known affectionately as Queen Anne's Lace, and then throwing in old favorites like chrysanthemums and blackeyed susans, then treading our merry way into fields of star anise and allium (the common family of onions, chives and shallots), Judith reminds us that what we may take for granted is truly a treasure.
Santa Rosa, CA
Genevive Yang pairs exacting technical work with a love for the natural world and a respect for the narrative. She has a strong affinity to the artwork of Native Americans, feeling that the layers of deeper meaning behind Native American symbolism lends a gravity and power to the object. As such, in her own jewelry, she seeks to embed the kernel of a story in every piece she makes.
It is difficult to interpret something representational, which we experience with our eyes, into the abstract visual language of craft. Unless one is literally drawing or painting something as it appears in life, that twist of interpretation makes what seems obvious, obscure. Yang is successful at taking the medium of precious stones and metal and using it to suggest celestial forms and earthen landscapes. Much of her past work has depicted the phases of the moon, a starry, night sky, and rolling hills and sand dunes.
She is in love with these subjects because of a strong emotional connection to the earth. If you've ever had your gaze drawn to an object, whatever it may be, and been fascinated by it, your attention being drawn down as if into an endless abyss, except instead of nothing there is everything, every crack in a wall, every patch of rust on an old tractor, the countless shifts in the shade of brown and green in the bark and leaves of a tree, every grain of sand on a beach, *that* is the feeling that Yang gets when looking at the land and the heavens.
It is that connection to the ambient environment which she transmutes, like an alchemist of yore, into bracelets, pendants, earrings, and necklaces of precious materials. In doing so, she immortalizes that which is both an everchanging and ancient counterpoint to life.
Whidbey Island, WA
It is rare to find the pairing of excellent technical skill with a florid imagination; often it seems to trend towards one or the other, and the marriage between them is seldom coherent. Sara Owens is sublime in that she uses her abilities as a craftsperson to bring her ideas into reality, and the concepts she gives life to are complex, subtle, and thought-provoking.
Her fascination with the quieter, more private aspects of the natural world call forth brooches that resemble fungus and mold; not entities that one necessarily connects with the beautiful. Yet in Sara's delicate interpretations they are beautiful, and surprising. Fungal and mushroom forms are derived from such mundane materials as coffee filters, reborn with a new persona that makes you slightly incredulous as to their origins. The fabric technique of felting is used in her jewelry to represent some organism that is reminiscent of a vigorous mold, anchored in, of all things, a sink drain filter. The use of recycled materials is fashionable in this day and age, yet with Owens it is as much a matter of being the most direct way of expressing her aesthetic as it is the principle of sustainability.
Bone and metal are both age-old materials with a very dense history. One of Owens' explorations of concepts took old pig femurs, the original ball and socket joint, and connected them to a cast steel appendage that mirrored the organic form. In doing so, she touches upon several intriguing ideas, all to do with connections. In these days of joint replacement surgery, where is the line between artificial and natural, when we are integrating parts that are machine-made into our very bodies? What, for that matter, is the difference between "organic" and "inorganic" materials? With two substances paired together, one from a formerly living creature, the other dug up from the ground, yet in form nearly identical to one another, one has to consider what actually differentiates them. When we die, we return to the earth, our formerly living bodies decomposing and mixing with it, eventually becoming parts of greater elements both organic and inorganic. Where are we on that great circle? It makes you think, and that is the beauty of Owens' work which goes beyond its aesthetic attraction.
East Hampton, NY
John Iversen has an abiding love for the ephemeral. Particularly in nature, he finds absolute beauty in things which are only momentarily in existence; decaying leaves, or dried streambeds which crackle into flakes of dirt. Being in a state of change, these objects will inevitably disappear, but for John, that makes their beauty all the more poignant. Perhaps that is why he has made the decision to capture them, frozen for a moment in time, rendered lyrically in silver and gold.
Ryan Bai is from Shenzhen, China, and his joy in the United States is finding new room to explore. His jewelry is his own artistic conversation, a way of communicating his ideas about putting contrasting materials and themes together. Chaos and randomness paired with structure and order, gold, acrylic, and concrete, wood, silver and raw diamonds. In one of his most recent series, Ryan has taken a silver circle, and made it the frame which contains his miniature musings.