Monday, April 30, 2012

That's All Folks!

On January 2 of 1989, my daughter Avery was born. It was an amazing year and I got to stay home and watch TV because I had a new baby. There was a smorgasbord of disasters that year; the Tammy Faye and Jimmy Baker PTL scandal, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hurricane Hugo, the San Francisco Earthquake and the Exxon Valdez oil spill to name a few. Many years later when a local art gallery invited me to make a piece of jewelry about my favorite year, I looked up 1989 on the web and was reminded that Mel Blanc had died that year. I got sucked into YouTube clips of him on Carson and Letterman and Jack Benny and Wikipedia had 12 pages on the guy.  Anyway, I was hooked because Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, Wile E. Coyote, the Roadrunner and Pepe LePew were just too big a part of my childhood to ignore.  I hunted on the web for Looney Tunes stamps since I knew the USPS had done a series but they were too costly and rare, so I kept surfing and found Australian and Kyrgrzstan stamps. Mel Blanc was loved the world over as the voice for hundreds of his cartoon friends and he also developed their characters. He dictated that the inscription on his tombstone should say, “That’s All Folks!” and so it does. He was buried in Los Angeles, of course.

The name of this bracelet is "That's All Folks!" and it was created in 2010 for an exhibition of jewelry at Facere Jewelry Art in downtown Seattle to honor Karen Lorene, the owner and founder of the gallery. Since she was celebrating her 70th birthday, 70 artists were asked to chose a year within her lifetime and I chose 1989. This is what my assistant, Kyle Rees and I came up with. On the bangle is etched classic lines from some of Mel's best loved characters: Tweety Bird, "I tawt I taw a putty tat!"  Pepe LePe, "Ah my darling, it is love at first sight is it not, no?", Porky Pig, "Thaaaaaat’s all folks!", Sylvester,"SSSuffering SSSSSuccotash", Daffy Duck, "Hold everything Fatso!", Bugs Bunny, "What’s up, Doc?" and many more. Yes, the bracelet is still for sale. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I just checked and today, April 19, 2012, the price of an ounce of silver is $31.90. In the past couple of years, silver prices have habitually been above $30. an ounce, but historically this is pretty high.  I started working with silver as a student in 1972, when the price hovered around $4. an ounce.  In between 1792 and 1972, the price of silver didn't change all that much. Then in 1978 or 79 the Hunt Brothers started speculating in gold and silver and the price jumped to over $25. an ounce. I was in graduate school at that time and wanted to make a silver object to enter in a competition and maybe win some prize money.  Since I was broke, I decided to carve up a bunch of spoons my grandmother had given me. I flattened them, cut out some shapes and reassembled them into a patchwork cup. The cup did make it into the competition and I did win a little money for me and my school, the University of Georgia.

After a while, silver prices calmed down again and it became the default metal in my studio. Recently the speculators have taken over the market again and now every time we start a project in the shop, I feel dizzy when I calculate the cost of making it in silver. Just to show you, I borrowed this graph showing the change in silver prices between 1994 and today.  It's great if you are selling scrap, but discouraging if you are a young jewelry maker in school or just starting out. NW
 P.S. My professor in graduate school, Gary Noffke, pointed out my math was wrong in my previous blog on the age of the golden helmet stolen from the Bagdad Museum. It is 4700 years old! 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Who Needs Beauty?


Lately I have been going to art museums and seeing work that either insults my intelligence or insults my aesthetic.  Okay, I acknowledge that aesthetics, the study of beauty, is culturally defined. In other words, not everyone agrees on what is beautiful. However, assuming that we still have standards within my own culture (21st century-middle-class-educated-American), what I am seeing is either a lack of understanding of beauty or a concerted effort to create something ugly.  I have made some ugly things in my time but never intentionally. I can not imagine getting up in the morning and telling myself," Let's go to the studio and make something really ugly." I start with very modest materials, often things that nobody notices but give reference my place and time on earth. Then I try to assemble something that is thoughtful and beautiful. I don't always pull it off but that's the gamble of being an artist.

 This is an image of a gold helmet from Ur dated 2700 BC.  I scanned this image from a book I bought long ago when I was an art student (during the later part of the 20th Century), Jewelry Through the Ages. This helmet has been missing since the war in Iraq when the Baghdad Museum was looted.  When I think of beauty, especially man made beauty, I often think of this helmet.  I'm pretty certain it was considered beautiful 2900 years ago when it was first made.  Thank goodness it was made of gold which doesn't deteriorate, because we at least got to photograph it before it disappeared. The point I'm trying to make is that the beauty of this object is undisputed almost 3 millennium after it was made.

 I think the desire to seek and create beauty is innate in humans. Who needs beauty?  I do. By the way, if you happen to see this helmet somewhere, call the U S government. They are looking to return it to the museum.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jewelry Idea Sources

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

People often ask me where the ideas for my jewelry come from. Most of the time the topics address a specific incident, something that happened to me or someone else I know. I try to take that incident and distill it down to the essence of the situation so that other people can see themselves in the narrative. An example would be the necklace below, The Revenants. The idea for the necklace came from reading a poem by the American poet, Billy Collins, who often writes about his dog and some old photos I found after my grandmother died.  The photos dated from the early 20th century when my grandmother was a girl and are of people posing with their pets. The poem by Collins is told in the voice of his deceased dog that he had to put down.  On the back of each of the snapshots I included information my grandmother recorded, like names and places and dates. To this, I added a narrative told in the voice of the pet in the picture. The narratives and the Collins poem are intended to be humorous. However, whenever I have had to put one of my pets to sleep, I have felt immense guilt.  We all do; no one likes to watch their pet suffer, but we suffer when we end their misery.  The necklace was made a few months after my old cat, Louis Armstrong made his final trip to the vet's office.  He was my buddy and I miss him.

Many times people have commissioned me to make something that is personal for them or a significant other.  Below is a necklace Robert Kaplan commissioned me to make for his wife, Margaret Levi, when she directed the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington. To better understand her work, I read about Harry Bridges, the man who organized the longshoremen and helped create the ILWU. I also read a lot about the history of the Port of Seattle and the evolution from loading and unloading the ships by hand with a hook to the modern day crane and container technology.  The end result was a necklace with arms and hands holding hooks that grasped ebony bars, since originally the major export from the Pacific Northwest was timber. The beads at the back are made of silver American quarters pierced with letters that spell ILWU on one side and UNION on the other.  The necklace celebrates the history of the longshoremen and labor, which is a subject Margaret teaches.  I loved working on this commission. It's one of my favorite necklaces.

Another commission came my way when the curator Barbara Johns retired from Tacoma Art Museum. Her staff called me and asked me to make something for her. I was honored to be asked but I needed an idea. I looked through some of the catalogs Barbara had written in her tenure at the Museum and decided to make a necklace about writing that was also a record of her major exhibitions at TAM. The necklace is a collection of handmade beads. I used IBM typewriter balls as a reference to writing and then made smaller beads from silver Precious Metal Clay and stamped into them the exhibition titles.  The clasp was fabricated from ornamental silver wire made by the late jewelry artist Ken Cory and Barbara and I had collaborated on an exhibition and catalog about his work.  I think she liked it because every time I ran into her for several years afterwards she was wearing it.

 Many artists are reluctant to take on custom work or commissions.  I have always enjoyed them because jewelry as an art form has always had an intimate association with the lives of the people who wear it.