Monday, June 29, 2015

06.29.15 With a little help from my friends

Photo credit: The Driehaus Museum - Maker and Muse

Not too long ago, I got a message from a friend of mine who was visiting family in Chicago - she wrote - "I went to a marvelous exhibit that included a section on jewelry, that was right up your alley. Brought home a brochure for you. Scoop for your blog?"

Photo credit: Nancy Barton
I responded - ABSOLUTELY! This is why she is one of my very best friends - she thought of me as she was off being a tourist - then took pictures and brought me information about all the pieces in the collection!

When she returned to Austin, we caught up over coffee where she told me about her fabulous visit to the the Driehaus Museum in Chicago.  Lucky woman - she had seen their Maker and Muse exhibit - which features more than two hundred and fifty pieces of jewelry created in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The exhibit runs through January 2016, and I'm trying to figure out how to get to Chicago to see it.  In the mean time, I'm going to take advantage of the printed materials and the wonders of the internet to write about it.

Photo credit: Nancy Barton

One of the things that makes this exhibit unique is that all of the pieces presented were made by women jewelers.   The works featured are examples five areas of design and fabrication: the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Art Nouveau in France and Belgium, Jugendstil in Germany and Austria, Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York, and American Arts and Crafts in Chicago.

These pieces are all from the British Arts and Crafts movement.

The opal and chalcedony dress clips (top, c. 1920) are the work of Sybil Dunlop, who worked in London during the first half of the 20th Century.

The bracelet (bottom, c. 1930) - in amethyst, citrine and peridot - was created by Dorrie Nossiter during the same period.
Photo credit: Nancy Barton

This tiara (c.1900), which caught my friend's eye - but falls into the "can't imagine wearing that" category - was created by the firm of Child & Child.  According to the exhibit brochure, they were well known for their elaborate enamel pieces featuring wing motifs.

I love the look of jewelry from this period - which includes works from Lalique and Tiffany (whose famous female designer Elsa Peretti is another of my favorites).

I am fortunate to have a few pieces of my own from the early 20th Century - including a fabulous Art Deco enameled ring (with a synthetic sapphire) and my grandmother's wedding ring - classic "bypass" style from the 1930s.

I also have some fabulous period reproduction pieces.

One of my favorite custom jewelers, Yvonne Raley, also has a wonderful selection of Art Deco inspired pieces she designs.  You can see the influence of this period in her work - including my latest purchase - a pair of "fan" earrings with lovely peach colored zircons.  Yvonne creates new pieces from old designs both by creating castings from antique pieces, and working with a CAD (computer aided design) specialist to create new molds with a vintage feel.
Photo credit: Cecile Raley Designs

The diamond filigree earrings from Russell Korman, (a great match to my birthday pendant from Green Gem) are another example of a contemporary piece in the style of this period.  I love the detailed engraving and delicate petals on this pair.

It's wonderful to learn about women jewelry designers who were truly at the cutting edge of their industry, and I'm grateful to my friends for their encouragement on this blog.

Until next time.

Monday, June 22, 2015

06.22.15 Playing with clay

Jewelry by Lorena Angulo (photo credit:
If I had a lot more time and money - I would spend many more weekends at Creative Side Jewelry Academy learning something new from their amazing instructors.  Since I can't spend every weekend there, I try really hard to soak up as much as I can when I do have the opportunity to take a class.

Finished heart pendant
That was the case the weekend of June 7-8, when I spent two days with Lorena Angulo, an amazing jewelry artist from San Antonio, learning about the wonders of precious metal clay (PMC).  Like so many jewelers I have gotten to know over the years (and even more in the few months I've been writing this blog), Lorena's path to jewelry was not a straight line. 

Lorena started her career as an advertising professional. She fed her lifelong interest in Mexican folk art first, by collecting pieces for her personal collection, then with her retail store Pueblo Folk Art in San Antonio.  After curating and selling the works of other artists, Lorena joined the Southwest School of Art, and has become a master of metal clay, and an amazing instructor.

Materials on the bench - ready to go
As with previous courses, I arrived at CSJA to find everything I would need at my bench.  In addition to a package (25g) of silver PMC, there were some very simple tools for rolling, forming and carving the clay.

Lorena explained her process for working with the clay - including sketching designs, making patterns or templates for cutting the clay, and ways to give the finished pieces texture and depth.

Next she instructed us to begin sketching ideas for our pieces, telling us to think about the size of our pieces for two reasons: first - PMC shrinks (because the binder that holds the clay together burns away when the pieces are fired) and while you can do a lot with 25g, it is a limited amount of clay.

Finally - she encouraged us to be willing to make mistakes - because that is how you learn.

Sketches and template outlines
I decided to start with two sketches - pair of teardrop earrings with a wave motif, and an Erlenmeyer flask pendant - for my daughter the chemist.  After sketching the designs, I then drew templates on an index card (heavier and easier to cut with the X-Acto knife) to use for cutting my clay.

Next step - rolling out my clay, and cutting out my first two pieces. Lorena explained to us the importance of uniform thickness (achieved by using a stack of three playing cards taped together) so that the piece would not been too thin and crack.  Although the medium does become solid metal after it is fired, it behaves like traditional clay until then - so it is important to be careful not to break it.
Finished clay pieces drying before being fired

After each layer of clay is cut or shaped, it needs to be able to dry completely before cutting, carving or adding the next layer.  To add a layer, water is applied to the dry piece, and wet clay is placed on and positioned.  This process is repeated until the piece is finished.

Texture can also be added by pressing tiny chips of dry clay onto a dry piece - creating a sparkly, almost druzy-like finish to a piece.

I built up my pieces using layers of clay for the earrings and flask pendant, and with texture on my heart pendant.  Then, with help from Lorena, I added a bail, leaves and flowers to my heart pendant.  I had a little bit of clay left, so I made one more pair of earring charms - combining layering and texturing techniques.
The finished pieces are then placed in a kiln, and fired for over 2 hours at 1640° F.  When removed from the kiln, the clay binder has burned away - and the result is pieces of solid silver jewelry.

Photo credit: Lorena Angulo
She made us say "tequila!"

Once again - I've spent a wonderful weekend at Creative Side - and come away with new friends, new knowledge, new jewelry and a new story to share.

Until next time. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

06.15.15 So nice, I bought it twice.

Photo credit: Sundance Catalog
As I have previously confessed, I have a habit of wearing the same jewelry and clothing over and over mom uniform is made up of the same Lands' End cardigans, striped shirts and LL Bean capris in pretty much every color available.  I do it with shoes - I have multiple pairs of the same shoes in different colors, and occasionally, I double up on pieces of jewelry.

One of my favorite Austin jewelry artists is Laura Gibson, who sells her jewelry on Etsy under the name Metalsgirl. I met Laura at the very first Cherrywood Art Fair, in 2003, and I think either my daughter or I have purchased something from her every year since.

Photo credit: finntastic2006 on Etsy
This past December, she had her Seven necklaces on display and I fell in love with the labradorite version.  The stones are a beautiful, opalescent grey - and I knew they would go with lots of earrings (these two pairs are just a couple of them) and outfits I already owned.

Labradorite and turquoise
versions of the Seven necklace
Sure enough, I do love the necklace, so I asked Laura about another one in turquoise.  As it happened she was in New York City when I first contacted her, and promised to find the perfect color for my necklace.  She did, and like her other pieces, I've been enjoying it since its arrival. 

Of course the beauty of handmade is that even when I order the same item from the same jeweler, they are unique - and that makes them all the more special.

This month Laura has embarked on a month long project to create a new piece of jewelry every day in June.  Not only is she creating amazing new one of a kind items - that you can buy in her nifty Etsy store - she's donating the proceeds to Blue Dog Rescue; just look for the items labeled "30 Day Challenge".  She's only halfway through - and I don't know if I can resist for the rest of June.

Until next time.

Monday, June 8, 2015

06.08.15 More June jewels

June has two other birthstones, alexandrite and moonstone.

Alexandrite - a member of the chrysoberyl mineral family - which was discovered in Russia in 1831, during the reign of Czar Alexander II, and named for him.

Natural alexandrite is extremely rare, and prized for its color change properties. Depending on the lighting, it can appear red, green or blue.  The only piece of natural alexandrite I have is very small, in my mother's heart pendant.

I would love add to my collection, but with a price of $5,000 per carat for a strong color change and the difficulty of finding jewelry with natural stones (there are lots of created alexandrites on the market) this is probably it for me.
Photo credit
The third June birthstone is moonstone.  Moonstone, a member of the feldspar mineral family, is much more affordable than either real pearls or natural alexandrite.  I love the iridescence of moonstone,  and I have a number of pieces made with it in my jewelry box.

My favorite piece of moonstone jewelry, was a Mother's Day gift from my husband many, many years ago when all the kiddos were little.  It is a silver pin from Sundance, with a mom, dad and three children - all of whom have moonstone faces.

I also love this pair of cascade earrings, with moonstone drops and blue calchedony rondelles. The facets give the moonstones extra sparkle and iridescence, and the purple in the rondelles is kind of an homage to the bluish-purple found in alexandrite.

So if you, or someone you love, has a June birthday - you have lots of options...enjoy them all.

Until next time.

Monday, June 1, 2015

06.01.15 Pearls of wisdom...

Can someone please explain to me just how it got to be June!?  Wasn't I just writing an April post about diamonds?

I'm not sure how it happened, but since it's here, I am happy to write about June birthstones. Three different stones are all considered to be "traditional" for June; pearls, moonstone and alexandrite - depending on the source.   Three different stones is really too much for one post, so today I'm starting with the pearl, the oldest of them.

Photo Credit: Becca Knox
Pearls have been used in jewelry since antiquity.  They were prized by the Romans, and have appeared in works of art for centuries.

Recently, a friend who reads my blog, and lives in Seattle, tagged me in some photos she took when she went to the Pompeii Exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. She commented "What was old is new again?"  She couldn't be more right - and how appropriate, as I was in the midst of writing this post about pearls for June.

Photo Credit: Becca Knox
For these 2,000 year old baubles, the item description reads  "Earrings of this style were very common in the area around Vesuvius.  They were described by the contemporary writer and historian Pliny the Elder, who died when Vesuvius erupted.  Women particularly loved that these earrings made sounds whenever they moved their heads."

I don't know about you - but I love earrings that jingle a little bit when I wear them.  Some things (pearls and jingles among them) are truly timeless. 

Photo Credit: Mauritshuis Museum

Pearls are also frequently featured in works of art other than jewelry. One of the most famous depictions of pearl jewelery is by the 17th Century painter Johannes Vermeer, The Girl with the Pearl Earring.  Author Tracy Chevalier wrote a work of historical fiction by the same name, in which a young woman sits for the portrait wearing pearl earrings belonging to the artist's wife.

Another famous work of art featuring pearl earrings is
Venus in Front of a Mirror, by Peter Paul Rubens which hangs at the Metropolitain Museum of Art.  The pearl you see on Venus is white, the one reflected in the mirror is black.  
Photo Credit: Met Museum

So iconic are the earrings in the painting, the museum shop has carried a costume jewelry quality pair for years - and they continue to be a best seller.
Photo credit: Met Museum Store
Pearls aren't really stones - but concentric layers of calcium carbonate - built up over time in the soft tissue of mollusks (clams or oysters).  Truly natural pearls are rare and incredibly expensive.  Cultured pearls are produced in the same manner as natural pearls (except that a starter is inserted into the oyster).  In both cases, the desire is to have pearls that are round and have a high lustre.

I love pearls - cultured, freshwater, faux - and have lots of them in my jewelry box.  I think everyone should have a simple strand and pair of studs (real or not) for dressing up.

Among my favorites are two pieces I have had the longest.  The first is a graduated strand of Mikimoto pearls.  My father traveled extensively when I was in college - including managing a project in Japan.  He brought these back to me for my twenty first birthday, I still treasure them, and and I love wearing them with a simple tee and cardigan as much as when I dress up.

In the summer of 1985 I moved to Austin to start graduate school.  It didn't take me long to scout out some wonderful local jewelry stores. I spotted this vintage pearl and sapphire pin in one of them - and had my eye on it for months.  When I got my first real paycheck (post graduate school) I decided to splurge.  It was the first (of many) pieces of fine jewelry I bought for myself.

So, if you don't have pearls in your jewelry wardrobe, add some.  They don't have to be real, or expensive - but they are classic -  and dress up any outfit.

Until next time.

Czar Alexander II