Featured Member

Each month a new Featured Member is chosen from the completed member profiles on our website. Their interview and work is highlighted on our blog and social media.

February 2017

  • Alexa
  • Alexa
  • Alexa
  • Alexa
  • Alexa
  • Alexa

Alexa

Website
Benicia, Ca

Tell us a little about yourself.

My life experiences have been very diverse, and are all part of who I am as an artist. I speak many languages, have traveled around the world, and lived in Mexico and India. I have known the rhythm of life in villages with no electricity or running water. I have slept in a manger in the foothills of the Himalayas, lived in a temple compound in southern India, and participated in ritual dancing and visitations through the night disguised as a demon in a village in Mexico. These and so many other experiences have enriched my inner landscape. Although, I am not drawn to mimic ethnic styles, my work often has a textural feeling that is reminiscent of lives more connected to earth and nature and simple tools.

However, at the end of all travel there is an experience of coming home and reintegration into one’s own sense of self. Ultimately, the effect of so much exposure to other cultures has been to clarify who I am as a person, a woman and an artist. It is mostly from the unique forms, textures and themes of the world in which I live that I draw inspiration. Although an element may appear in my work that has an ethnic feel, I am driven to frame it with a simple, sleek shape or surface that reflects a more modern sensibility. The best example of this juxtaposition is a series of cuffs that consist of fold-formed, oxidized copper attached to polished silver with silver rivets.


What is your favorite tool and why?

I would be hard pressed to choose between my biggest investment in a tool, my electric jeweler’s saw from Knew Concepts and my mini-drill press from Micro-Mark. According to the inventor, Lee Marshall, the design of the electric saw is based on the action of a sewing machine. It can quickly cut even the most intricate pattern in metal sheet with very minimal effort. It was expensive, but well worth the investment to save wear and tear on the tendons and joints of my arms and hands, which had suffered years of abuse from carpentry long before I began making jewelry.

The mini-drill press drills holes at a precise right angle to the surface of the metal. However, the stem of any of my mini buffs, sanding discs, cut off discs, and burrs will also fit in the chuck allowing me to use both hands to hold and manipulate the piece I am working on. Micro-Mark is a great resource for inexpensive tools useful to a jeweler. I also have their mini combination metal shear/brake. I only use it for making crisp bends in sheet metal, now that I have a good quality shear from Rio Grande. Micro-Mark does sell a very inexpensive brake just for bending sheet metal.

Which materials do you create with most and what is your attraction to using them?

In the first few years my work was all highly polished Sterling silver. However, I eventually gravitated toward less precise, less polished surfaces. At one point, I was cutting shapes out of sheet metal with a hammer and small chisel. In a later series of pieces I began incorporating acrylic as a way to bring color into my work, mostly my favorite color, red. Currently, I am working exclusively in bronze because it is so much richer and warmer than either silver or American gold. It reminds me more of the color of gold jewelry I bought in India. The challenge I have to work around with bronze is that the solder Rio Grande has developed is not a perfect match.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I design jewelry not only as body decoration, but as wearable art. My jewelry often expresses in visual language themes drawn from my musings about life. An on-going direction in my work is a series of pendants and brooches that incorporate forms suggestive of cocoons or nests as visual metaphors for relationships. Each “cocoon” or “nest” is built-for-two (two pearls or semi-precious stones nestle inside), and is contained within the simple geometry of an outlined circle or square. The latter serves both as a counterpoint to the organic form and texture of the “cocoon”, but also as an abstract symbol representing qualities of relationships, like privacy, safety, and security, that support the potential of relationships to be containers for growth. When I am working on these pieces, I have the sense of creating from a very primal place.

A series of pieces that I call “Geometrics” is influenced more by my experience working in graphic arts. This group of brooches and earrings are a playful exploration of altered circles, squares and triangles that have been bent, pierced and corrugated. The designs are driven by my love of simple geometric shapes.

An element that frequently shows up in these pieces is an undulating line that I call a “squiggle”. Its earliest appearances were when I was working in clay. I still have an example of it from that period on the wall of my jewelry studio. You can see two large, glazed porcelain, black squiggles on the wall to the left of my main work area. A squiggle speaks to me of spontaneity, of playfulness, of movement and dance. It is the expressive gesture of a hand, the path of a bird in flight, the bounce of a ball. My squiggles are part of an ongoing conversation between elegance and whimsy, as exemplified in a piece I called “Whimsy Escapes”. The enameled strip along the top of this piece can be removed and replaced with a choice of three other colors, depending on ones mood.


How long have you been working in metals and what brought you into this field?

After earning a Masters Degree in Fine Arts from the University of California with a major in Ceramics, I spent several years creating and exhibiting both functional and sculptural work in clay. Following the hiatus that resulted from a major relocation, I found myself returning to an earlier love of working with metal. I realized that I prefer working with metal because it can hold crisp pattern and attenuated form, and it resists in a way that creates a dialogue between the material and artistic vision. So I abandoned clay, eventually began training as a bench jeweler, and have never looked back. I have been making jewelry for over 15 years.

What piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in metals?

If you aspire to making work that is unique to who you are, learn to sketch your ideas. If you want to make the most efficient use of your time and materials, learn to sketch so that you work out your ideas before picking up a hammer or saw. My other advice would be to participate in the MAG exhibits and challenge yourself to develop new work inspired by the theme of the show. Each year that I have done this, it has caused me to squirm and struggle with the theme, but each time that struggle has lead to a break through and to new inspiration and new work.

What has been the biggest challenge for you as a metal artist and have you overcome it, or how are you working to overcome it?

One word: marketing. I spent years on the craft fair circuit when I was making ceramics. Been there, done that! So, I am having to figure out another way to market my jewelry. I have found even the higher-end online markets to be not very useful. In any event, I prefer to deal directly with the owners of brick-and-mortal galleries who know their clientele. I am currently putting together a new portfolio to show.

Favorite resource/vendor or website

I have already mentioned vendors I like. As for resources, I like to have as much exposure as possible to what other art jewelers are creating, so I have collected the whole 1000 series from Lark Books (1000 Rings, 1000 Necklaces, 1000 Bracelets, etc.). They contain only very high quality photographs and no text except the title, dimensions, and name of the artist.

I have researched both galleries and artists on the internet. If I see work I like in a book I go to the artist’s website, and from there I can go to the sites of the gallery or galleries where her or his work is sold. There I might find other artists I like, then go to their websites. This is a never ending source of inspiration that helps me to think outside the box when designing my own work.

I have also just recently discovered an online resource, thanks to an eMail invitation to do an online course taught by the inventor of Fold Forming, Charles Lewton-Brain. It is offered by Craftsy.com and it is excellent! A few years ago I took a week long course in fold-forming at the Mendocino Art Center from a very accomplished jeweler who had studied with Charles, but this online course from the master still blew me away. It is interactive, so you can post questions for Charles and the other students, as well as share your work.