DIAMOND RING PIN of brass; chemical milling, constructed, soldered, 2009. Photograph by Jim Threadgill.
Linda Threadgill

The Structural Origins
of Ornament


One question in particular gave focus to her investigations: if the utilitarian aspects of an object were not affected by whether or not that object bore ornament, would the nature of ornament be significantly changed if it were no longer bound to utilitarian form?

The idea that ornament is superficial and superfluous, merely a skin-deep addendum to the utilitarian objects that it adorns, is a strictly modern invention that can be traced in particular to dissatisfaction with Art Nouveau flourishes in the early decades of the twentieth century. Following the lead of modern science—in which progress depended upon a paring away of the extraneous elements from any object of study in order to reveal the essential and universal principles beneath—early twentieth-century designers dropped ornament from their repertoires as if it were a disease or, in the famous characterization of architect Adolf Loos, a crime. How much more accurate would have been those denigrators had they instead recognized that ornament can often be likened to vestigial structures in organisms following a long process of evolution? In fact, historically ornament has been very rarely arbitrarily applied. More often it possesses logical links to the structures that it adorns. Blind to that logic, modern designers lost the opportunity to grasp one of the very kinds of fundamentals of human-made objects that they sought to reveal.

With the dismantling of the modernist aesthetic in the last decades of the twentieth century, artists such as Linda Threadgill felt liberated from the design constraints that had dominated the studio production of metalwork and jewelry for so many years. Recently, the integrity of the ornament-and-structure relationship has become a deliberate focus for Threadgill in three significant series of jewelry that delve deeply into abstract aspects of spatial relationships, modularity and repetition without sacrificing anything of ornament’s visual appeal. Her Facet, Pattern brooch and Rosette brooch series constitute three distinctive stages of an analytical process. In the first she has carried out a reduction of three-dimensional ornament to two dimensions and a conversion of mass to line, with the result that a common ornamental element, the faceted gemstone, is rendered abstract and skeletal. The second series begins with skeletal structures that take on the characteristics of pattern, becoming scaffolds for motifs that are repeated. In the third series Threadgill retains the sense of scaffolding in rigid linear structures but decks these with ornament that seems to emerge and expand as naturally as buds and blossoms shoot forth from twigs. Together the series constitute a process of reduction to bare essentials, a gradual reintroduction of complexity and finally a full flowering of ornament that clearly recalls its origins in primary structures.




More Linda Threadgill jewelry images.



Glen R. Brown is an art historian at Kansas State University. Brown remembers visting Linda Threadgill’s New Mexico studio in 2008 and seeing a large drawer full of the curious schematic “gemstones” that the artist had just begun creating for her Facet series necklaces. Three years later, with the Facet series firmly established and two new series of brooches well underway, Threadgill’s jewelry made an enticing subject for an essay. “I’m always interested in how someone’s work has developed,” Brown says, “but it’s rare to be able to see a series in its infancy and later get to write about it in its full flowering.”


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