History… part 2
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!