The surprised look on her customers’ faces is what pushes Kiki Kinney to try new methods in her jewelry-making. Barbara Gross discovered it’s a great way to continue metal working while snow skiing in Maine. And both artists are finding success by incorporating weaving to their designs, be it soumak, knitting without needles, or twining.
The art of making jewelry using fiber techniques is finding a new audience, says Munya Avigail Upin, who will teach “Woven Metal Techniques” July 6-10, as part of Metalwerx’ annual Summer With the Masters Series.
“I find more and more students coming from different backgrounds, bringing new and different ideas to the table,” she said. Not that her previous students haven’t had fabulous ideas, but people with non-metalsmithing backgrounds, she says, “don’t know what they can’t do. People outside the jewelry world bring in a whole new set of ideas to the process.”
While her weaving workshops still attract a good number of metal workers, Munya is starting to see more fiber artists and people with beading or polymer clay backgrounds—and even dentists. “Anyone can jump right in and do beautiful things without having to solder.”
Barbara patiently awaits the day she can retire from her job as a sales representative for a wholesale mortgage company, and devote herself entirely to metalworking. “I’ve got a few more years to go before I can spend all my time at my bench,” she says.
And who wouldn’t want to spend more time in her studio, which doubles as a three-season porch at her home in Weston, MA. Barbara usually works on weekends and evenings, with a view through her floor-to-ceiling glass doors to her lush and woodsy garden.
“I simply lose myself when I’m working. I open the doors to feel the cool breeze from the high maples and birch trees. It’s so peaceful,” she says. She does not work alone, however. Her standard poodle, Jolie, sits on the couch, quietly accompanying her mistress. When it’s time for a break, Barbara gets to rest her hands but still plays Frisbee with Jolie.
Barbara’s jewelry often features fold-forming and soumak, which she says the more she does it, the faster and better she gets. And her customers love the product. “The weave catches the light. They sparkle. And I often get comments on how unusual it is and how they’ve never seen anything like this,” she says.
Barbara and Kiki are both former students of Munya, whom they credit with opening their eyes to techniques that have not only delighted their clients, but increased their sales. Barbara recently unveiled an online shop, Benjamina. Her work can also be seen at Karenna Maraj Gallery in Belmont, MA.
After a long and winding road of artistic pursuits, Kiki has settled on jewelry. She mostly sells her work at craft shows, but also offers her creations through Facebook. After she posts photos of her jewelry, her followers can inquire about the work. If it’s not sold, it’s theirs, she says. Some of her pieces can be seen on her website, quitsakikidesigns. She does not sell her jewelry online, but focuses on craft shows. This year is the first she will travel out of state, to set up shop in Stowe, Vermont and in Glastonbury, Connecticut. She expects to see a lot of familiar faces when she returns to the Marblehead Festival of Arts on July 3-4.
Kiki learned needlepoint and sewing as a young girl. When she was 29, a diagnosis of cancer in her leg forced her to be laid up for a long period. It was then that her mother taught her how to knit. Kiki never returned to her former job as a technician, ironically, in a cancer pathology lab, to follow an artistic path. She went to cooking school in France, then opened a wholesale baking company. But the damage to her leg was enough to make her discontinue the business. She gave it up, focused on having a child, and took up photography and lampwork.
It was the desire to offer new and exciting products to her customers that made Kiki turn to metalsmithing. “I wanted to expand from the lampwork beads, because I felt that my customers weren’t going to come back for only this. As I learned how to work metal, I started loving it more and more.”
Like Kiki, Barbara also did not consider herself an artist when she started crafting jewelry. “If you asked me to draw, you got stick figures,” Barbara says. “But then I took a basic drawing class and discovered I could actually draw pretty well. And I’ve always loved working with my hands. I took piano and knitting lessons as a girl. When I took Munya’s weaving class, it opened up so many opportunities.”
Kiki discovered she had a talent for photography. After winning awards for her pictures, her husband and son built her a darkroom in their home in Marblehead, MA. She hasn’t used it much since her husband “dragged her into the digital era,” she says, and he now photographs her work and manages her website. Photography gave way to glass and lampwork, and then to metal. It snowballed, she said, but she believes she will stay with jewelry making, because she loves working in her garage studio, alongside the skis and surfboards and trash cans.
Among the techniques Munya will teach at her workshop is soumak, an ancient method by which thin-gauge metal is woven between thicker gauge warps, producing a patterned weave with a flat surface. “It’s a very fast technique that can be used in pieces that are quite marketable, and not as time consuming,” she says. Additionally, the workshop will introduce students to twining, braiding, weaving, “knitting” a chain, and more.
Students! Register by phone [781-891-3854] and receive a FIVE PERCENT discount when you mention this blog article. Please note: workshop enrollees are asked to refrain from wearing fragrance. (By Yleana Martinez)