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Q & A - Hazel Wheaton, Editor in Chief

What inspired you to start making jewelry?

Early on, my fascination with jewelry came from the historical provenance of beads specifically. It had nothing to do with jewelry; it was, “This bead came from a dig site out of northern Africa, it’s 2,000 years old,” or whatever the story was about where this artifact came from, that intrigued me. An archaeologist will unearth some beautiful amphora or a vase, and if it’s in immaculate condition, it goes off to a museum. But there are so many shards of glass and beads that are unearthed that enter the jewelry trade, and sometimes they’re overlooked, from a societal standpoint. That why I started collecting. It was always a collection. And then I started to want to present them; “How can I present this wonderful artifact?” As I got more involved, I always needed some other way to be able to present the work. So learning metalsmithing needed to happen for me to grow from a bead artist to a metal artist. To this day, I can’t get away from the bead aspect. I might suspend them, or I might do some contraption with them, but I’ve still got this close connection to beads.

Your work does look like ancient artifacts.

Exactly. I want the work to look like it was unearthed. I try, in working with the metals, to give them some sort of suppleness that the metals aren’t rigid or cold, that they look like they’re alive. If I can get the metals to present as if they were living, or had been living at one time, like a specimen, even better.

Some of the pieces really push the boundaries of wearability.

Up until recently, I didn’t really care whether it was wearable if it presented well. It was always about the sculptural aspect. I’ve sold pieces that the customers never intended to wear, they purchased it as a sculpture. For instance, the Two Rings Sculpture, those are two giant seed pod gourds that I set atop sterling bands, and I presented them on top of the handmade armatures. That piece I built primarily as a sculpture. And if you wanted to wear one of those large rings, well, okay, more power to you.

It’s like a painting of jewelry, instead of a piece of jewelry.

You kind of hit the nail on the head right there. A big part of my work is the presentation of the work. That’s one of the biggest challenges for jewelers, is to present art on such a small scale. One piece is a lariat, it really is a simple chain with two pendant pieces. But as it sits, it’s a small sculpture. It’s kinetic, it’s interactive; it really is a sculpture. People come to my booth and say, “What am I looking at?” I like to invoke that curiosity. There’s some reason for them to want to look further and ask more questions.

And if they look closer, they’ll see gemstones.

I really like to work with stones that don’t tolerate torch heat, because I’ve mastered this flame-setting technique, and I’m pretty proud of it. In the elongated tube neckpiece [E], there are 300-plus natural faceted green and yellow zircons set inside the cavity of that electroformed pod. There’s always this question of negative space. Almost in every single piece, there’s some black hole, some shadow, where the viewer is wondering, “What’s inside there?” There’s always something to pique the curiosity, to get them to look inside.

Every aspect of your work is handmade?

I probably could save a lot of time and energy if I bought a sheet 20-gauge silver and just went off and made the work, but I feel the need to start with the metal fabrication. I pour an ingot, I pour out the metals. And that does play into the designs, as I can feel what the metal’s doing and how it’s reacting to different techniques. It’s always kind of a science experiment. No matter how long you’re making, there’s always going to be something new that you’re going to learn. I have even made my own solder. I make all my chasing tools, I’m making my own stone-setting tools, bezel-pushers and things. I get greater pleasure out of using a tool that I’ve created than buying one. For anybody who wants to understand the true value of making ... it’s the same principle that you need to know where your food comes from. You need to know where your supplies and materials come from.

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