YOU ARE HERE by Julia Turner. Brooch of steel, wood, enamel, paint; 6.0 centimeters diameter, 2010. Photograph by Julia Turner.
Signs of Life

jewelry arts



Artist Julia Turner’s perfectly circular, flat, black and white brooch is one of the most minimalist pieces in this year’s Signs of Life jewelry and literary exhibition at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery. Made of steel, wood, enamel, and paint, the brooch is a palm-sized abstract that could be a computer-generated map of some kind. Scratchy black lines, fine as strands of hair at the edges of the brooch, merge into a black mass at the center where they cross each other infinitely. The tracks are impossible to follow. Anyone trying to use this map would surely be lost were it not for a tiny red pinhead at the locus of the confusion that tells us all we need to know: You are here.

Turner, a San Francisco artist, calls the brooch You Are Here. And in response, the distinguished Seattle poet David Wagoner wrote a poem of the same name. Like the brooch the poem is lean, elegant and offers a metaphorical helping hand. It begins like this: “If you’re lost, you only need to admit it. You point at your feet. You point at the ground. You say, I’m beginning here.” The poem goes on to give suggestions about how to move forward. Look for landmarks. Re-orient yourself with each new distance covered. Put one foot in front of the other. The poet prescribed following this strategy “till you know you’re no longer lost, but here.”

The pairing of Turner’s brooch and Wagoner’s poem is one of several sublime happenstances in Signs of Life, which is now in its seventh year. Organized by Facèré owner Karen Lorene, the annual exhibition is Lorene’s way of celebrating her two great passions, jewelry and creative writing. Each year Lorene asks nine jewelrymakers to create a piece to be used by a writer as the inspiration for a poem, essay, vignette, or other short piece of writing. Lorene matches the artists with the writers, who generally do not know each other and rarely meet or speak to each other before the show. Lorene then publishes a journal with full-page images of the nine jewelry pieces, each accompanied by the creative writing it inspired. It is a quixotic endeavor and Lorene had a hard time explaining it in its early years. Writers were wary, and artists sometimes thought they needed to make highly narrative work.

ABOUT I TRY by Jane Martin. Necklace of sterling silver, copper, nickel silver, brass, bronze, jasper, agates; 61.0 centimeters long, 2011. Photograph by Douglas Yaple.

Lorene says that these days she has no trouble finding artists and writers who are happy to participate. And no wonder. The alchemy that sometimes occurs when the writers respond to the jewelry can be magical. Another searing pairing in this year’s show is the match up of Caroline Gore’s extraordinary memento mori jewelry with Sharon Goldberg’s ruminations on bones. Gore, a metals and jewelry professor at Western Michigan University, created a necklace she calls ...after.... It is an oval of jet beads, a large teardrop of black leather and a curious small black glass bone, all affixed like amulets to a sterling and hematite chain. Jet was one of the most common materials in Victorian memento mori jewelry, jewelry made in honor of beloved family members who had died, and the jet oval suggests a void, or a cameo with a missing portrait. The black leather hints at human skin preserved, but no longer alive. The small bone symbolizes what is finally left of a human body after all else disappears. Gore, who was at the opening for Signs of Life, said her work for the show “touches on aspects of grief and loss” and the “emptiness that transforms the personal landscapes” after grief and loss.

Seattle writer Sharon Goldberg responded to the necklace with a piece called Skeletal Thoughts, which bounds gracefully from her own broken bones from a skiing accident to the piles of bones discovered in Nazi concentration camps and the ossuary at an ancient church in Rome. In a larger sense, Skeletal Thoughts is a meditation on mortality and the natural human fear of death. Goldberg ends her piece on a note of bravado, hoping that when her time comes, her own bones will be cremated and the ashes scattered over the ski run where she broke her arm.

Davide Bigazzi is an Italian artist working in California who makes jewelry that looks forged from geologic maelstroms. His neckpiece called Ring of Fire is a sterling and eighteen karat gold collar of rough-edged sterling tiles pocked with gold. In response to his piece, Helane Levine-Keating, a writer and professor who lives in New York’s Catskill Mountains, wrote a poem called Vulcan. It describes “spewing lava” and “the air dark with ash” and a god of fire whose appetite for volcanic eruptions will never be sated. The physical world we live in is uncontrollable but it seduces us nevertheless. We want to see the volcano and gaze, spellbound, at its raging fire. Like Bigazzi’s bold neckpiece, the poem suggests a pulsing physical world that is powerful and entirely thrilling.

REMEMBER BRAILLECELET by Jack da Silva. Bracelet of sterling silver, freshwater pearls, cork, glass head quilter’s pins; 11.4 centimeters diameter, 2003. Photograph by M. Lee Fatherree.

Some duets are subtler, such as Jamie Bennett’s quiet brooch Mineralia, an enamel, silver and copper pictograph, and Shawn Wong’s piece on various forms of writing and speech. Bennett is a master jewelrymaker in New York State and Wong is an author and professor of English at the University of Washington. Wong’s piece is excerpted from his forthcoming novel, yet it seems in perfect pitch with Bennett’s brooch, a delicate, calcified-looking badge that seems to describe plants and other life forms springing from a rich earth.

Jack da Silva, a celebrated metalsmith and jewelrymaker who works in California, is likely the first artist in any of the Signs of Life exhibitions to make a piece in response to a writer. Da Silva submitted his first piece, a bracelet called Remember Braillecelet, which inspired writer Alice Derry, of Washington State, to write a poem about wearing a bracelet as a child to help remember which side is left and which is right. Da Silva’s Braillecelet is a sterling band punctuated with small corks, like tiny wine bottle stoppers, that spell the word “remember” in Braille. In a telephone interview da Silva said he became interested in Braille several decades ago as a way to visually show the idea that communication comes in many forms. He added “there are ways of communicating that may not be quickly understood. But that doesn’t mean the information isn’t there. So it’s incumbent on the other person to figure out how to understand that information.” But after reading Derry’s poem a few times, da Silva decided to make another silver bangle bracelet, this time with the words “right” and “left” spelled out in Braille in tiny pearls and glass head quilter’s pins. The piece is engaging—a spare bracelet decorated with little pearl pop-ups—even before you understand that the pearls and pins are encoded with language. Like the Signs of Life project, da Silva’s bracelets communicate in more than one way.




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Nubian Jewelry

Kate Mensah

Philadelphia Craft Show


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