Sunday, March 28, 2010

A More In-depth Explanation of My Thesis Work

Here is basically the introduction I gave to my thesis committee for the show at my oral defense. Read it if you are interested in a more in-depth explanation of the ideas behind my work.

For a more brief statement, see my artist statement on my website.

When I first began in metals as an undergraduate student, I fell in love with process. I loved metal as a material, I loved working with it and learning new techniques. As I advanced, I continued to love the process, but also began to fall in love with the history of metalwork. The more I learn about it, the more I love it. For centuries, people have created jewelry for many reasons. Jewelry is worn as a display of wealth or power, as a symbol of a certain faith or belief, it is worn for protection, for ceremony or ritual, or simply as adornment. It is also worn for sentimental reasons, as a reminder of the past. To me, this is the most powerful feature of jewelry; the ability to connect the wearer to another time, another place, or another individual, the ability to elicit memory. In our lives we all have objects that have this power, but to me, jewelry is the most intimate of these objects. It has intrinsic value, but is most valuable for sentimental reasons. We wear it on our person and take it with us wherever we go. It is often a gift that we cherish above all others. We pass it on to our posterity. It tells a story that lives through the passage of time. In my opinion, very few objects have this same power and are this timeless and long lasting. These are objects of permanence and importance.

Historically the jewelry that I am most interested in is jewelry of the Victorian era. This jewelry is often called sentimental or mourning jewelry. The Victorians were obsessed with preserving their memory beyond the grave and their jewelry is a perfect example of that idea. Often they included locks of hair, initials, or inscriptions on very personalized jewelry pieces and gave them as gifts to their loved ones. These jewelry pieces would serve to remind the wearers of the loved ones memory once they were no longer living. The jewelry pieces of the Victorian period had a lot of influence on me while I was creating this body of work, both in subject matter and design. I love the excessive ornamentation, and the obsession they had with preserving memory.

So, in the beginning, I started out thinking that my thesis show would be all functional, wearable jewelry, inspired by historical jewelry objects, but with a modern aesthetic. I wanted to make modern pieces that referenced heirloom jewelry passed down in families. I used imagery like lace, silhouettes, personal family photographs, and traditional design motifs while incorporating non traditional materials like hand embroidery and found objects that referenced past generations and other heirloom objects like needlework. I like incorporating these things into functional jewelry pieces because they are intimate and have a very personal connection to the wearer. In some of the jewelry pieces here you will find old antique baby spoons, dresser drawer pulls, flatware handles, and chandelier crystals. These objects connect us to the past by bringing their own history to the work; the rust scratches and dents all play an important role in the stories being told. These pieces have lived in a home, they have been handled and cherished, but also through time have been forgotten and stripped of their previous associations. I want my pieces to lead viewers to a feeling, an emotion, to evoke feelings of nostalgia. So, I choose these specific found objects that are familiar and rich in history, and give these objects a new life by making them important again.

At some point, I wanted to branch out from jewelry and try something a bit more sculptural, something that didn’t necessarily need to be functional, and that could be a bit larger in size. I had the idea to make some sort of family portrait style wall pieces and that is when I began incorporating the found silver platters. The platter worked as an ornate frame for the piece, much like a framed photograph hanging in a home, but also referenced these heirloom objects I’d been thinking about. I felt like I was able to get a bit more narrative with these pieces, and I also really enjoyed the challenge of the larger scale. Besides referencing family portraits, a lot of the wall pieces also directly reference traditional embroidery and needlework. I remember as a child, going to my grandmothers house, and she was always working on a great big quilt. She handquilted everything and often it would take her an entire year to complete on of her quilts. To me, there was so much beauty in the fact that her hand was in every single stitch of those quilts. Grandma also taught me how to cross stitch, and that was something I got to do when I visited her. So you can see a few of the wall pieces are directly related to those memories I have of working with my grandma, but also referencing the needlework that has been done by women for centuries and passed down in the families as heirlooms.

More recently I've been working on the spoon collection. I realized at some point that with the work I was doing, I was starting to collect a lot of things and I realized that that was also part of the ideas behind the work, this idea of collecting. In our families we keep all these things, and pass them down and pass them down until they become so old and sentimental that they no longer retain their function. I took all these found spoons, some that have clearly been kept beyond the point of function, and I made them even more precious by the addition of pearls and silk, but in so doing also stripped them of their functionality. I see this piece as sort of tying all the different bodies of work together, the wall pieces and the jewelry pieces. I feel like this piece talks about a lot of the same ideas I’ve already been discussing, but also brings up some new ideas that I will probably work with in the future. For example, the spoons obviously reference the dinner table. In my family growing up we ate dinner together every night. It was the one place and time that we were consistently all together. It was probably the place where the strongest relationships in our family were formed, simply by sitting down and eating together each night. I only thought about that after I made the piece, but I think it is something I will revisit in the future.

The most recent pieces in the show are the steel blacksmithed necklaces. This semester I am taking blacksmithing for the first time, so I used that as an opportunity to really push the scale of “functional” jewelry while learning a new traditional metalworking technique. These necklaces reference historical decorative ironwork, and include antique chandelier crystals. Really they were a way for me to push to a larger size, while also using some of the same design elements that are in a lot of my other pieces, and also incorporate more found objects, which is becoming more and more important in my work.

So, what you are looking at in the exhibition is the accumulation of two years worth of work. That seems like a lot of time, but I feel like I’ve just barely hit the tip of the iceburg and I'm already looking forward to what comes next.

After I gave that little intro, the committee asked me questions for about 50 minutes. They asked me about specifics behind the work, about where I was going next, about what I wanted to make next, and about display considerations. Overall the oral defense was pretty painless (the beforehand anticipation/anxiety/total freak out however was not!) I am glad its was a ton of work and I am proud of myself for getting through it. It was not easy.
Thanks for reading...more coming tomorrow!


Erin said...

I loved reading all the thinking that went behind all the pieces. It is an amazing collection of work. YIPEE you're done!

Emily Wohlscheid said...

i stumbled upon your etsy store (love you work!) quite some time ago and only recently came across your blog just as you were preparing to put up your show. I really admire your work and was so enthralled to watch your whole thesis show unfold. It was really nice to read what it all was about as a whole and I can't wait to see what you create in the future.