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Mind the Gap: Contemporary Jewelry & The Creative Economy

Art Jewelry Forum, 23 April 2018

In 2016, I submitted a dissertation on the history of craft communities, with an emphasis on contemporary jewelry education and its institutionalization in the 21st-century art school. It is almost exclusively primary source material relating to the founding of the American Craft Council and the Society of North American Goldsmiths, but despite the dense historical survey that it became, my study of these communities is immensely personal.

For years after I graduated with my BFA in jewelry design and metalsmithing, I struggled to reconcile the practitioner that I was within academia, the goals and beliefs that I held for and about myself, with the reality of the creative economy that I faced. I felt shocked by how inaccessible people found my work, how bewildered they were by my process and my price points. I had been praised within my program for my work ethic, my designs, my craftsmanship, and my concept—so why could I not get anyone to care now? What was I missing?


My studio practice grew increasingly self-conscious as I grappled with the shame I felt at my failure to gain gallery representation, start selling my pieces, and support myself as a contemporary artist.... Read more

Conversation Starter Exhibition Catalogue Introduction

Co-Adorn Art Jewellery Society's Annual Juried Members Exhibition

held at Studio 21 Fine Art, Halifax NS June 8 - July 5, 2018

In a world where your name is a brand, professional life can feel like a solitary endeavour—but it is not the nature of the craftsperson to act alone. Skills are honed in the moments between classes and workshops and late nights alone at the bench: they are honed in commiseration and shared experience. We find our voices in conversation.


I’m sure there’s not a single jeweller in this exhibition that didn’t at one time or another wish for a solitary studio—their own mess, their own pickle, listening to their own music without headphones, or just silence. Space.


Perhaps it’s the nature of the creative mind to romanticize isolation. It plays nicely into the deep, sometimes unconscious but always motivating belief in our own singular genius, doesn’t it? Many of us are so used to being misunderstood that allowing acceptance and support into our creative lives and recognising compassion within criticism is a process. Fruitful, generous collaboration is a skill; perhaps the most important skill we learn as practitioners and yet it does not necessarily come naturally. It requires lifelong effort to maintain which is something we so often take for granted as students, insulated as we are in readymade communities of like-minded individuals that we are forced to critique and be critiqued by. On the other side, the conversation isn’t always easy to start. Isolation turns out not to be romantic. Collaboration can be elusive when we need it most.


Co-Adorn Art Jewellery Society, its formation and rapid growth, embodies the collaborative nature of the discipline and the readiness of practitioners to rebuild connections and create opportunities for their collective benefit and the benefit of the larger community. Co-Adorn has tapped into a legacy of contemporary jewellery that has run deep in the province for decades and provided visibility: a platform for the community to not only recapture the fervor and motivation of collaboration, but to engage in a conversation with the public.


“Conversation Starter”, Co-Adorn’s inaugural exhibition held June 8th to July 5th, 2018 at Studio 21 Fine Art in Halifax, Nova Scotia represents the start of a multitude of conversations as techniques, materials and concepts converge around a subject to which we can all relate: the body. Jewellery is personal, the practice and the wearing is personal-- but it is also devotional. The practice and the product are outward facing as much as they are inward looking. Jewellery shows the world who we are: it’s a conversation waiting to be started, and the maker and consumer are bound together in that conversation. “Conversation Starter” has demonstrated that the public is ready for a conversation about art jewellery, and Co-Adorn’s members are more than ready to engage.


Art jewellery is a complicated discipline, though I’d venture to say few of us realised it going in: at once technical and expressive; visceral and academic. Conversation is an essential, natural element, and yet many practitioners struggle to lend the full force of their voices and points of view to the dialogue surrounding it. There can be a tension between the concept of jewellery and the consumption of jewellery, but perhaps there doesn't need to be. The thick skin that practitioners develop is evidence of an unspoken but pervasive belief that the work can't/won't be understood or accepted by the public. There's an assumption of misunderstanding in much of art jewellery’s academic discourse, but it's time to reject that assumption: start the conversation and see where it leads. 


Conversation itself if a creative act. Draw in comments and critique, look past ego and recognize what the reaction indicates about the observer-- what they are telling you about themselves. There is much the artist can learn from the response of the public to their pieces and to view this as a part of the creative process as much as the input of those in the field we think of as “credentialed” enough to offer critique, is to deepen artistic practice profoundly. 


Co-Adorn and “Conversation Starter” has demonstrated that the art jewellers of Atlantic Canada are not singular in their creative genius: individuality is not dependent upon isolation or exclusivity or obscurity. It is a conversation to be continued.

More about Co-Adorn Art Jewellery Society


More about Conversation Starter

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