Bio and Art Statement
As an art history graduate student, what fascinated me most were the metal objects I saw illustrated in books and exhibited in museums. Occasionally, when I was lucky enough to get into a museum’s back room, I could put on a pair of white gloves and pick up a metal piece; a censor, a centuries old weapon or broach, feel its weight, turn it in the light and study the parts that moved. Who made these pieces, I wondered, and more important, how did they do it? To find out, I enrolled in a beginning jewelry class and immediately fell in love. I loved the studio, tools, materials and most of all, the creative act that began with an idea and ended, to my astonishment, with an actual object. The notion of making something was extremely compelling and very different from my bookish past. I began to think it possible to move away from academics and make a career for myself as a jeweler.
After getting a close up look at the work of Carl Faberge exhibited at a local art museum, I became intrigued by antique jewelry and techniques coming out of the 18th and 19th Centuries. I enrolled in a trade school to learn hand engraving, a technique not much practiced today, that is the basis for much of the traditional jeweler’s art. The school was decidedly old fashioned. Our text was over 100 years old, filled with intricate monograms and enigmatic Masonic motifs.
In class, we began by laboring through the alphabet. Our teachers wandered through rows of high desks peering at our work through ten power eye loupes, passing or failing students on each letter we struggled to cut into little copper plates. Once the “A” was deemed acceptable, we could go on to the challenges of the “B.” I was well into my first jewelry job before I understood how valuable it was to be able to use a graver. I’d use these little tools for the rest of my working life.
My engraving ability landed me my first real bench job in the back room of a jewelry store in Texas. The old man who ran the store was amazed that a “girl” could engrave, let alone light a torch and solder. This was an old family business located in a town known mostly for its flat landscape, cattle and oil wells. For me, it was like finding buried treasure. An oil boom was on, there was plenty of work, much of it gaudy and outrageous. Working on these wild pieces with their huge gems set in a spray of diamonds provided learning opportunities unavailable to most novice jewelers. Best of all I had the expert guidance of the people I worked next to, men who had done bench work all their lives and were willing to share their considerable knowledge with me.
After my husband and I began our family, I worked at home trying to design and produce a line of jewelry, Red Circle Metals. Being an independent jeweler was a challenge and slightly terrifying. It was completely different from working in somebody else’s shop. There I’d been insulated from the public by management and my personal finances were immune to wild fluctuations in the price of materials. Working for myself, I was forced to learn about business, marketing, sales venues, how to design for production and, most difficult, how to create pieces that not only explored new artistic territory but had a powerful appeal to customers.
For several years I plodded along, trying to find my way as an artist. But one day browsing in a hardwood store I noticed a box of black wooden rectangles. When I picked one up, the wood was heavy and felt dense as I rubbed my finger across its dark surface. It was ebony, the salesman told me, and the rectangles were old piano key blanks. I bought the whole box and took it back to my studio.
Over the next year, I learned to carve and turn ebony on a mini-lathe to create small sculptural forms for necklaces, earrings, pins and bracelets. Silver glowed and took on new life when I inlaid it directly into the black wood or wound fine shining wires around lathe turned shapes. In turn the silver embellishment brought the ebony sculptural forms to life. Everything was falling into place. I could sell these pieces and future design possibilities were infinite.
Most of the time I’m in my workshop thinking up new designs, solving technical problems and filling orders. But occasionally I step back from what’s in front of me. Then I imagine myself as one small part of the long line of craftspeople, makers of objects that have been significant for individuals and the social groups they’re a part of, a long line of makers that stretches forward and backward through time as far as we can imagine.