All through my life, I have gone to the woods for solace and inspiration. While hiking one day, I passed by an escarpment where chunks of rock had fallen out of the cliff face making for an interesting composition. I was intrigued with the idea of these “windows” into the rock. I did some drawings and made my first pieces in my new style. It was the beginning of the Stone Age!
My new one of a kind pieces, all brooches, were done in the champlevé technique. The small enamel “window” inlays were surrounded by silver which was scratched, engraved and oxidized to look more like the stony cliffs that were my inspiration. I created the recessed areas to be filled with enamel by soldering together two thin layers of sterling silver. The “windows” were pierced out of the uppermost layer. I often engraved and scratched the underneath layer; these marks would be visible underneath the transparent enamel.
Later on, I began to experiment with more minimal windows underlaid with fine silver and 24K gold foils. The glimmering of the foils beneath the surface suggested an air of mystery. For my production line of earrings, pendants and pins, I used more color and less silver. I wanted to emulate the soft feel of sea glass and weathered stone, so I began to etch the enamel surface with acid, as well as oxidizing the silver. Finally I had found a direction that felt right and my sales started to increase rapidly. I did my first wholesale show, and a couple of years later was selling my work through more than 100 galleries and museum stores across the country.
It was the early 80’s, and at this point in my career, I was committed to being an enamelist, but not committed to being a jeweler. In fact, my first production items were fruit shaped light switch covers. People loved them, and the most frequent comment I heard at shows was “Oh look, switch plates, cute for a kitchen!” Funnily, the most frequent response to that comment from the accompanying friend was “Whaaat! Switch blades?!?” (No!… Not cute for a kitchen). I was surprised one day to see my fruit light switch covers on their own cover…on the back of a catalog in my mailbox. I had been ripped off! I decided to shift my focus entirely to my jewelry line.
I was most often working in the cloisonné technique, and my wall pieces, brooches and pendants were all one of a kind… . I was inspired by botanical forms and used lots of swirly lines, somewhat in the style of Art Nouveau.
I liked cloisonné, but was feeling a little limited in that all of the lines that were such an integral part of the design were of the same dimension, defined by the thin cloisonné wires. It must also be said that cloisonné is a very labor intensive technique! In 1984 I began to work on designing a line of production jewelry in the champlevé technique. Cutting out the intricate piercings with a jewelry saw to form the design was labor intensive as well, but gave me the freedom of form that I had been seeking. After I had fabricated each design, I was able to duplicate the tedious metal work through lost wax casting, and move on to enameling the pieces in a variety of colorways.
I had been taught that it was always necessary to counter enamel. This is when enamel is applied to the back of the piece to balance the stress on the metal from the enamel on the front of the piece, and is meant to insure that the enamel will not pop off of the surface . I certainly found this old adage to be true when enameling large pieces like the switch plates, but I began to experiment with using thinner layers of enamel that were protected on all sides by the silver structure of the piece. To test their durability, I tentatively dropped my prototype on the floor to see what would happen..all OK! Next, I threw it at the floor vigorously, inadvertently put a brooch attached to a blouse through the washing machine, and again inadvertently, ran over a pendant with the car…it looked fine until I ran over it with the car…(not recommended). Once I found that my pieces were sound with no counter enamel, my production time was cut in half! I introduced my “line” for the first time, mostly floral and bird forms. Success was slow in coming, but soon I was getting into larger and better shows. I learned a lot at these shows about selling and the art of display. My first booth was so unstable that I had to construct a spider web of strings across the top to keep it from listing to one side. My second booth utilized some old porch posts that I had laboriously stripped and transported from show to show on the roof of my VW Bug. Unfortunately success was still too slow in coming, and it was not just because of the funky/folksy booths. It was a eureka moment when I realized that though I liked my work, I didn’t love it, and that was the key. I was trying too hard to design for what I thought that other people would like instead of designing for myself. I was rapidly transforming from a hippie into a hipster , and my work had to evolve!
September 20, 2015
Hello all, and welcome to my blog!
Way back when…
I first encountered enameled objects at the World’s Fair in 1964!
I was fascinated with the intricate color inlays. Not long afterwards at a small craft show, I saw further examples of enameling and signed up right away for a class at the local YWCA. By age 12, I had my first kiln and was on my way.
In 1974, I enrolled at Skidmore College as an art major. I dropped out after one year in order “to find myself”, aka move in with my boyfriend. I worked full time as an upholstery seamstress for that year which cured any romantic notions I may have had about life in the blue collar lane. My teacher from the YWCA told me about a famous enamelist, Bill Helwig, who was teaching out in Buffalo. What did I do? I shuffled on out to Buffalo to study with him of course! Bill was an enthusiastic, eccentric and demanding teacher and was encyclopedic in his knowledge of enamels. I have always been grateful for what he taught me. Unfortunately, my arrival in Buffalo a few weeks prior to the bizzard of 77.… coincided with Bill’s decision to leave Buffalo not long after to work at Thompson Enamel.
I stayed on in Buffalo for a while taking jewelry classes. Even though I hated the picayune nature of the work at first, enameling on pre-cut pieces of metal was not where I wanted to go. I have since grown to like sawing and soldering, and it allows me great freedom of form. Most importantly, in 1978 my jewelry instructor took a van full of his students down to the American Craft Council’s flagship show in Baltimore MD . At the show, we studied booth design and booth sat for the exhibiting artists. What a world! Thanks to my teacher Jack Jacquet for opening this door. I determined to be a Baltimore exhibitor some day. It took a while to get there… I was accepted for the first time in 1986, and have exhibited at Baltimore 28 times since!
After leaving Buffalo in 1978, my home base became the foothills of the Catskill mountains. During the summers, I continued my studies in the art of enameling as a scholarship student at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. During the winters, I worked on business building, which in reality meant I was baking a lot of organic muffins and cookies to sell and doing a few shows. I moved into a lonely Civil War era salt box style house located in the middle of a windswept field. One of my roommates in the house was to become my husband…but not for another 14 years. I had a studio along one wall in my bedroom with deeply slanted ceilings. In fact the ceilings were so low, that when I stood up too quickly from my bench my head would bounce off the ceiling. It was cold enough to freeze a glass of water on the night stand and snow blew in through the sashes of the windows. Having the kiln on was a good thing in the winter! In the springtime, pigs from the farm next door regularly escaped and routed up my garden. I knew that I had to move when the farmer next door came over one night all spit and polished and patted me on the back side. I found a house sitting gig for the winters and lived in a teepee from April through November for the next couple years.
to be continued…