Is it “Art” or is it “Craft”?

I know I recently posted a very philosophical post on “The Zen of the Process”, and it just might be the mood I’m in right now.  I’m creating a lot and have a lot of time to think while I’m at my bench.   So I hope you will read this, as it’s the best definition I’ve ever heard of “Art” verses “Craft”.

My mentor Harold O’Connor was recently visiting.  As we sat after breakfast discussing what’s going on in the European jewelry scene, we got on the topic of craftsmanship in our jewelry.  Now, if you have even seen Harold’s work, you know it as immaculate craftsmanship and it is pure art.  I respect and admire both the man and his work. In fact, Harold’s work is in the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian, the Victoria and Albert Museum in  London, the State Art and Work School in Pfozheim, Germany, and more of the world’s most more prestigious museums and galleries.  Need I go on? (Just Google him, he’s probably the most famous art jeweler/teacher in the world, and totally makes every piece himself.)  Let’s just say the kid knows his jewelry.  I am so honored to have him as a friend.

So I asked the simple age old  question:

 “Harold, what is the difference between art and craft?”

He picked up one of my very old first pieces and said:

“If you forgive me for saying so, this is craft.”

The piece was simply a large sharped angled piece of Chinese Writing Stone from Gary B. Wilson that I bought years ago.  The silver backplate extends beyond the stone, and has some holes and a cut out space that replicates a shape in the stone.  Design-wise it’s not so great, this I knew, but the craftsmanship is excellent.  The bezel is tight against the angled stone, and each point is a tight angle with no  rounding of the corners of the bezel around the stone.  I was not upset that it was looked upon as “craft”, for I kind of felt that myself.  But I loved the piece for its simplicity.  (OK, for the “Zen” of the piece.)

So I asked Harold, “What’s the difference?”

and Here It Comes: words of the master,  though he said he could not take credit for this, it came from someone else…

“A maker of chairs makes 6 chairs.  They all look alike, the first one and the last one.  Each is identical.  That’s a craftsman.  The artist doesn’t know exactly what  his finished piece will look like.  He may have an idea, but doesn’t know exactly because he may change his mind during the construction. That’s art.”

So I added “The true artist knows when to stop.”  Harold smiled.

I have held these words close to my heart since he said that.  Its the best I’ve ever heard.  And now I know how to design.  Thank you, Harold.

The Zen of the Process

As I go around the country teaching jewelry making workshops, the students are astounded when I push certain techniques like hand filing and burnishing.  To my full time students at Baum School of Art in Pennsylvania, and at the different colleges I have taught, it’s just part of a natural process.  In fact, in Pennsylvania, it was joked that if you took my classes, you would learn to make Amish jewelry….that is, I use no electricity, and expected my students to do the same thing.  Yes, it has paid off, like the night that I had my pieces due for a gallery show the next morning, and one of those severe Pennsylvania thunderstorms struck, and I was without any electricity all night   So I finished the pieces with hand sanding and by the light of 4 candles and my cell phone!  They looked just fine.

While teaching a week-end workshop a few months ago, a student from the third semester class left the room, and I asked where she was going.  She said  innocently, “Over to the belt  sander to  sand my piece.”  “Oh NO NO NO!” , was my horrified expression as I handed her an #0 Grobet.  “Here. Learn the old fashioned way.” She grumbled a bit, and sat back down at her bench,  tried to sweetly glare at me, and a few moments later  was learning to work a file.  I was shocked that she had ALWAYS just put her work on the belt sander, and had never really held a file, much less a #6  finishing file (Oh be still my heart–such a delight to hold and fondle–such a magnificent little file!  But I digress.) But, 15 minutes later she said she was really enjoying putting her “spirit”  into the piece.  And she was humming and smiling.

Last week, Kathleen Krucoff, my sister, student and best friend, wrote a post on her Talking Tools blog about files.  While she was really writing about files, if you read between the lines, what she was really blogging about was The Joy of Filing, kind of like “The Joy of Cooking” and that other more infamous “Joy of”  book.  (blush). But anyway, as my student,  she has learned to sit at her bench and simply file.  We recently participated in the Boettcher Mansion Arts & Crafts festival, which celebrates the joy of the Art & Crafts period.  Yes, there was electricity back then, and even a treadle buffing wheel or two around.  But part of the the Arts and Crafts philosophy was the rejection of the industrialization of goods,  furniture, pottery, jewelry, etc.  and the lack of fine craftsmanship as everything was made by a machine.    However,  the joy that came to Kathleen as she sat there and simply filed one of her elegant  pieces was a thing of beauty.  She smiled, no, she beamed, as she looked at her handiwork, and I know her blood pressure dropped.

So as I think about it, yes, as I get ready for 3 large upcoming shows,  I do find myself panicking and wanting to whip out 5 pieces this afternoon.  But life is full of compromises.  I don’t make my living through doing shows, so I admit I’m a bit spoiled. But I do have a hectic teaching schedule, so  I only make about 150 pieces a year.  While I’m not saying this will work for you, give it a try some afternoon when you are not so rushed.  Cut your pieces out by hand, and go from a #0 file  to a #2, then a #4 and finally, if you have one, a #6 ( pattter-patter-patter goes my heart again).  And then hand sand, (YES!)  using the 3M finishing film, no buffing wheel or flex shaft.  AND THEN…..use a burnisher and hand burnish your edges.  (horrors!  No one uses a hand burnisher any more, do they?!)  Hey, I even have a set of Thrumming strings…. I’m really antiquated!  But by doing this, and when I hand my piece to someone at a show, they usually say  “WoW!  This piece feels powerful” , or  “This has a great feeling to it.” It makes me smile.

So what I’m saying is, enjoy the “Zen of the Process”.  Maybe you already do this, but if not, try it.  It’s not for everyone, but give it a try.  My mentor and good friend Harold O’Connor says “If you don’t enjoy the process of making jewelry, why are you doing it?”  He has given me so much good advice over the years.  My “Conversations With Harold” series is dedicated to him and  his years of sage wisdom.

And  if you are in a dry spell right now, with no new ideas coming to you, don’t dispair.  Know that as you were full of creativity  and ideas 2 months ago, now you will need to plant new seeds to germinate for your new ideas.  Its a simple yin/yang thing… involution and evolution …yin…spiraling inward to darkness,the esoteric, the involution,  and contemplative self examination,  growth. Then, sometimes, and even without warning,  here comes the yang, the evolution, as you spiral outward,  and you create and manifest your new project. It’s something I believe in strongly, partially because I grew up in the American Southwest. The people of Taos Pueblo celebrate “The Quiet Time,” as Mother Earth sleeps and prepares for Spring,  when her greatness bursts forth in all it’s glory.  But it’s a natural process, and its all around us with Mother Nature, with the dark seasons and the light seasons, the dark of night and the brightness of day.  So enjoy the entire Zen of the Process….the involution and evolution, the contemplating and the creating. And know that when your evolution comes, the sun will shine brighter than ever before.   Enjoy the blessed Zen of the Process.  End of lecture.

Crying may endure for the night, but joy commeth in the morning.  Psalms 30:5

Love and peace to you all–

Lexi

Our First Denver Botanic Garden Show

OH WOW!  I can’t even begin to explain how I feel right now.  First, to have the gorgeous Denver Botanic Gardens as a venue for us was astounding, especially when we are showing alongside of  a fabulous presentation of Henry Moore sculptures.  Second, it was two of those Colorado fall days—not a cloud in the turquoise sky, and snow clad mountains in the distance, while Denver was a balmy 70 degrees.  And then, add  25 spectacular tables filled with glowing and colorful baubles.  OK,  now you have a picture of our First Jewelry Show at the Denver Botanic Gardens.   We were inside Gates Courtyard, with full picture windows and tall glass doors behind us.  It was spectacular.  Just as much fun was looking at the individual diplays of each artist.

Harold O’Connor’s display was elegant and sparse, with trays lined with white Japanese paper, which showed off Harold’s exquisite craftsmanship to a “T”.  His newest collection, “From My Backyard” was composed of artistically cast elegant rings and pendants of twigs, string and unusual pods he found  in his Salida, Colorado yard. Exquisite Spectrolite from Finland accented several of his pieces. It was such an honor to show alongside of one of the True Masters of Metalsmiting in the world.

Kathleen Krucoff had a stunning display of lanterns, which showed off her earrings and pendants.

For my usual art festival display, I dress in my archaeology gear, and have trowels and archaeology tools in my display cabinets. But for this truly upscale show I had a collection of “antique” suitcases, from which spilled my treasures, and I forewent my archaeology khakis.  Since it kind of went along with my adventure and travel themes, I was happy with my display.

For weeks before  the show I had nightmares that here we were all at the Botanic Gardens, all dressed up  and just standing around visiting with each other because no one came in to see our jewelry.  Well, nothing could have been farther from the truth.

We opened at 9 on Saturday morning, and our first customers started arriving at 9:27. By 10:00 we were having a light stream of customers, and by 11, we were constantly busy.  Jennie Milner said that she didn’t expect it to be like a cocktail party.  There was a constant flow of new people.  The wine and music started at 1:00, and there was not a moment to stop after that.  Sales were brisk, and there were lots of questions about our jewelry, the artists, and  Colorado Metalsmithing Association.  We were packed with customers who were actually buying, not just “thinking about it”.  Customers returned to tables several times to make their final choices.  Gallery owners talked to many participants about showing in their galleries, and the jewelry market seems to be returning.  It was a joy to watch everyone.  It was so great to see so many of you COMA members and friends, and I really appreciate each of you for coming out.  And in addition to that, it was great to sell so much jewelry. As artists we felt validated and appreciative that so many of you like our work well enough to purchase and wear it.  We are truly honored.

I have already started plans for next year’s show.  New ideas are flowing, and I want to start drawing in my sketch book right now.  But my precious 4-year old grandson is spending the week with me as his mom and dad return to Austin and pack and move back to Denver.  I am thrilled. They will live nearby, and I don’t have to make that 1100 mile trek down to Texas 4 times a year!  They are just as exited to be returning to Colorado.

So to each of you, I had a vision.  I acted upon it and didn’t let anything stop me.  The Denver Botanic Gardens Show was the result of that dream.  So follow your dream, follow your passions. Were there some nay-sayers? Oh yeah. And one really hurt my feelings.  But I knew in my heart that this would be a hit, and with the talent we have in Colorado, this would be a stunning show.

I want to thank Harold O’Connor for the initial inspiration from something that he said about 3 years ago, and I thank my sister, Kathleen Krucoff, for the poster and postcard designs.  She made us look beautiful before anything ever happened. And to the artists and Board of Colorado Metalsmithing Assoc, thank you in letting me, as a new Board member with a dream of where we could go, have free rein in doing what I visioned.  To each of you, GO FOR IT!   Follow your Passion! And watch this space for updates about our next show.

Passionately Yours,

Lexi

THE New Tucson Stone

Hi Everyone,

As I promised, I will share  what we think will be the hot new stone from Tucson this year.  I have heard that it’s the turquoise shot with bronze, which, while pretty,  I believe, (and I’m not positive about this since we have only talked to two people about it) but we think it is a reconstituted block of turquoise, with bronze shot into it.  I did not see any cut into stones, but did see lots blocks of it ready for cutting. Helen and I discovered this stone at The Clam Shell. (Sorry for the bad photo)  This was the stone which made Helen buy me that first margarita.  This was our first purchase and it had to be pretty spectacular to make Helen lose that bet!   It’s brand new and comes from China. It’s called Red Creek jasper, and the colors are breathtaking. It’s yellow, with green, orange and red, or some just have subtle tones of red and green. There is hematite infused through the pieces in straight lines, which gives the stone a bit of elegant sparkle without being overpowering.     Here I have paired it with my old favorites of a round petrified palm wood and an oblong red jasper from Gary B. Wilson.  It’s a work in progress, so the design may change, but I really do like this combination.  Since people like jewelry with movement, I will either do tube hinges or jump ring to give it some motion.

Look for this stone cut as cabochons at the Denver gem show in mid-September. I think it will greatly appeal to those who love a lot of movement and color in stones.  It’s impossible for your eye to go to just one place in this stone.  It promises to bring new excitement to your designs.  Lovers of Picasso marble and tiffany stone will really like this one.  I don’t know how large the find is, or how much will be out there on the market.  All I know is it is gorgeous, and  there was not a lot of rough in Tucson.  I can give you no specific info about it, except the importers say it’s “not quite a jasper”, whatever that means.

A new cutter for me was Jason Penn, thought I have bought his designs from The ClamShell for several years.  I met Jason in Denver a couple of years ago, and what a nice man.  The ones I bought this year were long marquis cuts, a black onyx and a red jasper (I can’t seem to get away from that stone), and they were sandblasted, with elegant highlighted Oriental-influenced designs of un-sandblasted  area showing through. (There must be a word for this technique though it escapes me at the moment.)  I see some Oriental influence creeping into my my designs, and it must be from my friend, potter Mary Sharp Davis, who we had the privilege of staying with in New Mexico, and who joined us on our adventure.  Also, the day before we left for Tucson, Harold O’Connor brought some of his pieces over that had been on display in Japan.  They are  typical O’Connor’s, exquisite, so delicate and beautifully designed and executed.  A few of these pieces can be seen at Patina Gallery, in Santa Fe, NM.  Helen and I stopped by to view his new additions, and some other fabulous jewelry.  Check them out.  I love the excitement of a new idea, so I was awake most of last night, mind whirring with a new way to go.

I’m still recovering from Tucson.   The experience is both exhilarating and exhausting, but you get to talk to so many knowledgeable people, other jewelers and designers. I got to meet up with my old friend from Pennsylvania Society of Goldsmiths, and sister Lapidary Journal contributor, (and winner of one of their design awards) Maxine Rosenthal. We sat in a vendor’s RV and bought ammonite casts, laughed a lot and drank lot of water.   It will take me a while to process all this.  My stash of rocks on the dining room table needs to be categorized, which leads me to this subject.

How do you categorize your stones?  I have the glass topped Riker cases, and find those work better than the little trays with divisions, since my stones are all different shapes.  Some of my friends separate by shape or color or type of stone.  Now this sounds crazy, but I separate by vendor. That way, if I need another stone from a cutter to match a shape or finish of what I already have, I automatically know who I got it from.  Now to some people that will make no sense.  As an archaeologist, I learned to categorize  pottery shards by maker/Pueblo, so I guess that’s why I do it this way.  Sure, when making a multi-stonepiece I have to get out all my stones and look at them.  Oh darn!  It only inspires me more.

So let me know what you think of our pick for the hot new stone.  As soon as I find out who has it, I will let you know, but I do think  Mark Lasater will have cabs of it at the Holiday Inn show in Denver in Sept.

Off to categorize all my loot. More later…

Cheers,

Lexi