SHERRY WAN, Emerging Artist, First Place. Photographs courtesy of Rio Grande.

Saul Bell

metal arts



Full disclosure: I was one of five jurors in the second round of jurying for this year’s Saul Bell Design Award competition. Joining me were Charles Lewton-Brain, Wayne Meeten, Maria Samora, and Tina Wojtkielo Snyder. Lewton-Brain is a goldsmith and program head for jewelry/metals at the Alberta College of Art+Design, in Calgary, Canada.

A noted master of hollowware, Wayne Meeten from the United Kingdom won both First Prize in Hollowware and the Grand Prize two years in a row, 2010 and 2011, for the Saul Bell Design Award. Another metalsmith, Maria Samora, from Taos, New Mexico, combines both tradition and innovation in her beautifully refined jewelry and now shows regularly at the Santa Fe Indian Market. The Editor in Chief of MJSA Journal, which provides technical and business information to its readers, Tina Wojtkielo Snyder was the other editor representing a publication on jewelry, and she is based in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

Sponsored by the RioGrande Company of Albuquerque, New Mexico, since 2001, the Saul Bell Design competitions have celebrated the art of jewelry and more. In an age when competitions are very much on the decline, the Saul Bell Design Award is a supportive outreach to artists who are creating the beautiful and challenging, and exercising their diversity by working in various materials.

The competition has six categories which can be entered: Gold/Platinum, Silver/Argentium® Silver, Hollowware/Art Objects, Beads, Metal Clay, and Enamel. Another category that of Emerging Artist has been added for a younger demographic of eighteen years and younger (this category is still open for 2013, with a deadline of November 30, 2012 for online or mail entries).

KRISTIN HOLEMAN, Enamel, First Place.

The works culled by a separate set of evaluators from the first round of the competition are drawn from mounted renderings or photographs. Five finalists are chosen in each category and ranked from excellent to poor. After reducing the pool of several hundred artists, the second round commences with jurors examining the actual artworks, now numbering thirty.

In the second round of jurying, there are three elements for consideration: design, quality of work and overall execution. The jurors are asked to inform their decisions based on whether the entry was designed within its specified parameters, such as the use of sterling silver, and was it cast, fabricated, forged or a combination of techniques. The jurors are asked to judge how unique was the piece; how well were design principles applied, such as emphasis, harmony, unity, and opposition; how strong was it from an aesthetic viewpoint; if wearable, how comfortable was the jewelry to wear and how does it present on the wearer. The group of five views the quality of work in order to determine whether the original rendering has resulted in a successfully executed piece. Was it well-finished and strong from a technical viewpoint? And to wrap it up, for overall execution, what were their impressions of each entry?

Jurors don white gloves, so that each piece can be picked up, turned around and examined upside down, brought near to the eyes, evaluated for its individual aesthetic and technical values. For professionals long experienced in their respective fields, it was agreed by all just how exciting it was to hold artworks once again. To view a piece at close range makes possible a positive determination of whether it meets the criteria that the Saul Bell Design Award competition seeks to reward.

DREW ABTS, Emerging Artist, Second Place.

Aside from the work itself is the original photographic submission, with comments by the artist regarding design development and inspiration, techniques and steps taken to complete a work: whether it is cast, fabricated, forged, assembled, as well as a list of all the materials used, including metals, stones, beads, karat or carat, size, shape, and weight.

The five experts sit together at a round table and are invited to engage each other with their opinions, and they eagerly do so, bringing varying and vigorous impressions of the artwork. The final call concerns wearability, and staff members from Rio Grande model the jewelry. Many of the jurors adjust their opinions once the pieces are worn, some gaining or losing favor when they are displayed on the dynamic human form.

Each year culminates with an invitational dinner held in early June during JCK Las Vegas. At that time Rio Grande publicly announces the Grand Prize winner and the twelve winners from each of the categories. The panel of judges meeting earlier in the year will have reviewed and reduced the thirty finalists to the twelve winners who will be rewarded with Grand Prize and First and Second Places. More than thirty thousand dollars in prizes and awards are presented to the recipients in the form of gift certificates from Rio Grande.

This year the Grand Prize went to Robin Waynee of Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a stunning bracelet in the Gold/Platinum category, and crafted from eighteen karat gold and blackened sterling silver, and featuring a hidden clasp. The rainbow moonstones are set off with tiny blue sapphires, spessartite garnets and diamonds. The entire bracelet is fabricated by hand, and Waynee crafted it in such a manner so that each element would achieve the highest standards of detail and finishing.

ROBIN WAYNEE, Gold/Platinum, Grand Prize.

In an interview on Rio Grande’s Blog “The Studio,” Waynee says: “Many times throughout the process I grumbled about why I couldn’t at least cast parts of it. The answer was always the same—I wouldn’t have been able to finish it to the level that the piece demanded. I stamped out discs, domed, forged, lasered, soldered, pierced, sandblasted, patina-ed, and bezel- and flush-set stones.”

Rio Grande is to be commended for its sponsorship of the Saul Bell Design Award, named for its founder, Saul Bell, who began Rio Grande in 1944. This design award is a tribute to his legacy, one that considered learning and mastery crucial to a creative and productive life. Continuing to further its founder’s path, Rio Grande keeps investing in the future, unflagging in its determination and emphasis on the importance of developing skills and of becoming a creator of beautiful art.

As Grand Prize winner Robin Waynee celebrates the act of creation, she points out: “What’s not to love about a career that allows me to dream big and create freely. It has taken me to places I’ve never been. I have learned and grown as a jeweler from the first and every moment that I am at my bench.”



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