Jewelry took an innovative turn in the late 19th century when artists like Rene Lalique began using materials other than gold and precious gems in their work. Some of Lalique’s most famous pieces featured glass and ivory, materials uncommon to jewelry for the time. For example, the wings of his dragonfly pins were made with thin slices of antler horn, heat-treated to give them an iridescent sheen. His creative use of non-traditional materials gave rise to a term heard often today, art jewelry.
Metalwerx instructor Sarah Doremus has long used unusual and everyday objects in her work. She will teach a workshop, “Cold Connections for Nontraditional Jewelry,” April 21-22. Various methods of connecting where soldering is not appropriate, such as tabs, hinges, rivets, and tension fit joints, will be explored.
“The price of silver has skyrocketed. Gold is out of the price range, to me, for most people,” she said. “With the emphasis of late on recycling and reusing materials, there are so many things you can do.”
Sarah is prone to picking up broken pieces of plastic, beach stones, steel springs, tin cans, and just about anything that catches her eye. “A lot of the work I do is narrative. Using things that are not necessarily Sterling silver in composition aids in that narration. To do that, you have to figure out ways to put those things together where you don’t use heat,” she said.
Students who enroll in the class are encouraged to bring in atypical objects to use in their jewelry: items made of wood, paper, rubber, fabric, plastics, pebbles, shells, and any kind of found object.
“If you’re a collector of junk,” she said, “this class will be fun!” As an example, she refers to a kinetic ring she made from a little plastic bull that comes with every bottle of Sangre De Toro wine. She made it so that the bull on top of the ring runs when you turn a crank. “My wine is like Cracker Jacks,” she said. “It comes with a toy.”
It wasn’t always the case that using non-traditional materials in jewelry was acceptable. Until the 1960s, art jewelry was regarded more as “craft” than “art.” Opinions began to change when jewelry using media other than precious metal and stones were featured in major museums in Europe and the United States.
“Jewelry, per se, has usually been thought of not for its craftsmanship, but its materials,” Sarah said. “But there’s been a change in consciousness. Now it’s as much oftentimes about the message and craftsmanship as it is about the materials. That’s because art jewelry has become more accepted and popular. It’s not only about adornment, but its message.”
Sarah developed a lasting friendship with her mentor and former teacher, J. Fred Woell, who also has taught at Metalwerx. “He decided that gold and silver, although beautiful, weren’t the be-all and end-all in jewelry,” she said. “It didn’t necessarily have to be the preciousness of the material that made the piece resonate with the audience. He really was the one who instigated using alternative materials.”
Woell will receive the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) conference, to be held this May in Phoenix, Arizona. The SNAG website states he is “the first in the field to work with found objects in his metalwork for political and social commentary.”
“He’s my guru,” Sarah said, playfully adding, “It’s ironic that a society of North American goldsmiths is giving him this award. He doesn’t use gold!”
Sociopolitical commentary also is a hallmark of Sarah’s work. One piece, a necklace made of bullet casings and coins, features a pendant with a fortune cookie-like message that says simply, “Enough,” which is also the title of the work.
Aside from that, you will find plenty of humor in her jewelry. “Be Prepared/Whiskers Happen” is a necklace of ceramic tubing containing lobster antennae. It has a locket that includes a hidden vial, with a mirror on the back side, which stores tweezers embedded in a lobster claw. The piece has an old-fashioned tintype photo of a woman with the necklace’s title stamped below it. Constructing such a piece would not have been possible using heat and solder, she said.
“If you’re on a date and you feel a whisker on chin, you can look at the mirror, pull out the tweezers, and use it on your chin,” she said. The necklace is a perfect example of Sarah’s belief that in jewelry, “There’s nothing you can’t incorporate.”
by Yleana Martinez
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