April 2020

Barbara M. Berk

Website: BarbaraBerkDesigns.com
Instagram: barbaramberk

  • Barbara M. Berk
  • Barbara M. Berk
  • Barbara M. Berk
  • Barbara M. Berk
  • Barbara M. Berk

Credit line for Portrait of Barbara in the studio:
Photograph courtesy of Irene Searles, PUNCH Magazine

Tell us a little about yourself.

I explore strength and beauty, transparency and movement through the interplay of metal with traditional fiber techniques and structures. Using Renaissance lace stitches, I play with line, plane and pattern. Using industrial wire, I play with texture, volume and scale.

Working directly with the metal, I make Bobbin Lace with stainless steel and phosphor bronze wire by hand, working flat and straight. I then curve, loop, twist, interweave, sew and weld my flat ribbons of lace into 3-dimensional forms.

Domestic/Industrial.  Soft/Hard. Solids/Voids.  Reflections/Shadows. Looking At/Looking Through.  Process/Material. Animated by these dualities and seeming contradictions, my handmade lace “fabric” becomes intriguing, mesmerizing pedestal-supported, wall-mounted and suspended sculpture.

What is your favorite tool and why?

My favorite tool is the one I need right now to accomplish a specific, immediate task:  

It could be a pair of Delrin jaw pliers, so I can shape my weavings and lace without marring the metal.

It could be an Orion pulse arc welder, so I can easily ball the ends of my stainless steel and bronze wires.

It could be my husband’s electric drill – which has taken up permanent residence in my studio – so I no longer have to twist 30ft lengths of wire with a hand drill.

But sometimes my favorite tool is a needle, because it is so much easier to sew metal elements together with a needle on a length of thin round wire.

I have the best of both worlds:  I can use both bench and textile skills and tools to accomplish the tasks necessary to create my sculptures.

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

I work with stainless steel and phosphor bronze.  These industrial metals are far less costly than precious metals, so I no longer worry about making mistakes, which is incredibly liberating.  And they are hard, so I can build larger scale pieces. I love what I can do with the industrial metals.

But my all-time favorite metal is Platinum.  I loooooove platinum:  the color, the density, the weight, the way it moves (it’s wonderful for weaving!), the way it work hardens, the way it looks once woven and the way it feels on the body.  The “finger feel” during the weaving process is not unlike that of sterling silver, but platinum doesn’t tarnish, it’s hypoallergenic and it holds its shape. Platinum is also a metal that my jewelry clients are familiar with and appreciate for its historical antecedents and intrinsic value.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I’m inspired by fluid lines and organic shapes:  the Art Deco ironwork of Edgar Brandt; Renaissance jewels; flowers; Indian paisleys; Paul Poiret’s opera coats; Japanese bamboo baskets; Paris’ Art Nouveau Metro entrances.

I love Alexander Calder’s stabiles and mobiles, and necklaces.  I’m in awe of Ruth Asawa’s creations.

And I’m inspired by and indebted to Arline Fisch and Mary Lee Hu who not only taught me to apply textile, rug-making and basketry techniques to metal, but encouraged me to play.

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

Mine has been a circuitous journey, encompassing a love of fabrics and sewing as a girl, a Master’s Degree in Russian and European History, and over 15 years in magazine publishing.  

I’ve been playing with metals since 1986, though I did make a copper wire link chain in summer camp decades before that. My career started with a chance encounter with period jewelry at an antique show:  images of Etruscan Revival bracelets and Edwardian lavaliere necklaces dancing in my head led to studies of jewelry history and styles, appraising and gemology. I learned to string beads and make chains.  But when I realized that I had lots of product knowledge, yet knew nothing about its manufacture, I enrolled in my first formal bench course at the Fashion Institute of Technology (NY). I learned that I could solder without burning up the bench and I could saw pierce without going through a gross of saw blades.  But it was the move from New York to California for my husband’s career, and the opportunity to study with Arline Fisch at San Diego State University, that brought everything into focus.

In my first semester with Arline, I learned that metal can be worked like fiber, that sheet and wire can be woven.  I made gobs of samples and a series of large woven and knitted brooches, discovering in the process that my true passion is working with the metal itself.  Most exciting was the realization that structurally sound 3-dimensional forms can be fashioned from the metal “fabric” I make. 

During that same semester, I earned my Graduate Gemologist (GIA) diploma, which enabled me two months later to attend the wholesale gem shows in Tucson, Arizona.  As I explored booth after booth of fabulous gemstones, the dealers asked about the brooches I wore. This was the first indication I had that there was interest in my work beyond the classroom.  Six months later (mid-1992) I founded Barbara Berk Designs to create sculptural jewels with my handwoven high karat gold and platinum. In 2013 I expanded into industrial metals, and now I create pedestal-supported, wall-mounted and suspended sculpture.

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

Define your focus:   Identify what you like most about metals, and figure out what you want your day to be like.  Then Network, Network, Network: while Who You Know is important, Who Knows You will be far more impactful.

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?

Very early I learned that it’s critical to understand the physical properties and working characteristics of the metal, so that I don’t have to fight with, but can take advantage of, those properties and characteristics.  I turn to my vendors for product knowledge about materials, recommendations for tools and equipment, and introductions to outside technical experts when needed.

It was Jurgen Maerz, then Technical Director of the Platinum Guild International, USA, who opened the door first to Dr. Richard Lanam, then Director of Product Development at Engelhard-Clal, who helped me identify the proper platinum alloys for weaving, and then to BJ Williams and his magicians at Johnson Matthey who worked with me to determine the correct tempers for those alloys, and produce wire made to spec.

Similarly, it was Dr. Christopher Corti, then Managing Director, International Technology at the World Gold Council, who diagnosed the problem with the 22kt gold wire I was using, and the wizards at Stuller who worked with me to determine the correct combination of alloy and temper, and produce the appropriate round wire.

Currently, I’m looking into a stainless steel alloy that’s suitable for outdoor use.  The biggest challenge I expect will be finding a supplier with smaller minimums, as I cannot purchase 100 lbs of wire at a time.

Favorite resource/vendor or website

I am so fortunate to have the encouragement and technical support of these very special resources:

Myron Toback Inc

Otto Frei

Rio Grande

Stuller, Inc

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March 2020

Nyya Lark

Website: Nyyalarkjewelrydesigns.com
Instagram: nyyalarkjewelry

  • Nyya Lark
  • Nyya Lark
  • Nyya Lark
  • Nyya Lark
  • Nyya Lark

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a self-taught metalsmith artist who has been creating (and growing) in the medium of wearable art for the past 30 years. Imagination and creation has always been at the forefront of my life from early youth. I consider myself to be a research hound and lover of puzzles and details. Skill sets of which definitely offer great assistance in creating designs and reflecting on how what has been imagined can become reality.

What is your favorite tool and why?

I believe that you can never have too many tools, but if I must…My favorite tool is the jewelers saw. More specifically the Green Lion jewelers saw. The shape and design lends itself to a much more enjoyable experience in metal piercing. I’ve discovered that the different steps of the metalsmithing process may not appeal to everyone. Some may not be a fan of the metal sawing portion but enjoy the filing, but I find it rhythmically relaxing and allows for me to connect with the piece that I am working on with each stroke. It’s almost zen-like if you will.

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

I have adopted citrine as my signature stone for its color and connection to my logo (the sun) which represents creation. The materials that I primarily use are sterling/fine silver and semi-precious stones and occasionally other natural materials. I prefer sterling over gold because sterling provides such pure simplicity to my designs while allowing me to use and experiment various metalsmithing techniques. I am always seeking ways to take metal sheet and wire to different places and I’m usually on the hunt for unique cabochons and have had a few favorite go-to lapidary artists that I have used in my creations over the years. In the past few years I have moved more to confirming that all stones used in my work have been ethically resourced. It is also important that I learn about the area where the stones have been mined, and this information I pass on to my collectors and interested parties. I have found that the public has become more eco conscious and I am glad to be able to share the information.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Inspiration comes from various places, unexpected places at times. If I were to whittle it down to specifics – I would say that nature, as found in the types of stones that I discover provide great inspiration. At times they merely need a setting, a background to bring forth their unique beauty. The other is shape and form. A simple line, or curve can spark my imagination.

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

I’ve been working in metals for the past 20 years. I started out creating production pieces involving beading. But I was creating designs with metal parts from the outside, belonging to someone else’s idea. It became too limiting. The production designs were well received but I sought more freedom of expression and the inherent knowledge that research, experimentation and practice would provide.

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

I have given the following advice to my students over the years:

  • Don’t be afraid. It may feel foreign at first but ultimately you are in control. The tool is only as good as the one who holds it. And in time it should feel to be an extension of your hand.
  • It’s not a race, it’s a process, take your time and forgive your mistakes. The beauty is once you’ve erred you now know what doesn’t 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?

I am (as a good number of creative souls are) an introvert and tend to work in a vacuum. And periodically stepping outside of my cocoon is a work in progress in and of itself! I know the value of and importance of being in community with other artists. Being a part of MAG and taking occasional metalsmithing workshops on different techniques has gotten me away from the jeweler’s bench and out of the studio.

Favorite resource/vendor or website

Ganoksin.com

Riogrande.com

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February 2020

Sharon Zimmerman

Website: sharonzjewelry.com
Instagram: sharonzjewelry

  • Sharon Zimmerman
  • Sharon Zimmerman
  • Sharon Zimmerman
  • Sharon Zimmerman
  • Sharon Zimmerman

Tell us a little about yourself.

Being a business owner and a professional jeweler wasn’t part of my original path – I was going to be a musician and performer. Even after 17+ years in jewelry and metalsmithing, I feel like I come at it with an outsider and observer’s view. But being a performer, I think that’s where my deep desire to communicate stems from – wanting to understand my characters in acting isn’t that different than trying to understand people in a classroom. Interpreting their needs, motivations, and desires is like researching the character in a play. Understanding people is central to how I work and teach.

What is your favorite tool and why?

My favorite tool is one of my hammers. I bought it used online 8 years ago, refinished it and it is one of my most flexible and trusted tools. Using it to transform and strengthen metal is such a magical process for me, even after so many years of practicing it.

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

I use sterling, 14K and 18K gold as well as platinum. All have properties that I like to work with for different reasons. Silver allows me to be more avant garde and expressive, since the metal is both flexible and economical, 14 K gold is strong and beautiful, 18 Karat yellow gold is my favorite to work with for its density and flexibility and hello! to that gorgeous color. Platinum is so heavy and bright. I love polishing platinum and watching that glow reveal itself.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

 I draw my inspiration from all kinds of places. A lot of it comes from observing the world around me. Nature, sure, and architecture, and of course a reasonable dose of Sci-Fi movies. I love futuristic aesthetics — it feels optimistic.

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

I started in 2003 with my first metalsmithing class. A couple of years later I picked up and moved to San Francisco to live here, but also to attend the Revere Academy. I met other passionate and motivated jewelers there (some I am still friends with to this day). I had spent a lot of time working retail and customer service jobs – a must for anyone wanting to run their own business! You learn so much about how to work with people. But even before picking up metalsmithing I was always keeping my hands busy – sewing, crafts, beading – but I was searching for more. A guidance counselor heard me say that I really liked making jewelry as a hobby and told me about a local community college metals course. I took a class where I learned that I could make my own rings and I was hooked!

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

Try everything! Even if it frustrates you, even if you don’t think you’ll be totally into it, even if you think you won’t want to use a particular skill, try it and find out for sure. Also, try your hand at working in the jewelry industry. Nothing like having to do production work to find out if you want to keep doing it for decades. And working in the industry can teach you so much about how to work efficiently and consistently.

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?

Figuring out the intersection of what I like to make vs. what people will want. There is a big push/pull of making work that is expressive and represents my aesthetic ideals, while also making sure that it connects with an audience. I do in-person shows and events to find out how customers interact with the jewelry, and to hear how they respond to and describe my work. This has helped me to be better at designing with the customer in mind. After all, if I don’t connect with people, then I don’t get to keep doing what I love.

The other challenge is that a lot of old ways of thinking and working pervade the industry at the upper levels. When I started my business, finding enough companies that provide transparency of their sourcing was a challenge. Overall, the jewelry industry has been so slow to respond to demands for greater ethical accountability, and it has been slow to realize that it has lost the younger generation of consumers because it didn’t provide traceability and accountability. I am happy that a number of organizations like Ethical Metalsmiths and the CRJC are shifting the conversation and putting pressure on larger companies to change their models, but it’s deeply unfair that it is falling to us as individuals. There have been real positive changes – Fairmined certification, a push for Mercury-free mining, thriving partnerships with mining collectives that benefit source communities and a dedication to providing mine-to-market transparency to name just a few. I am excited to see where this will take the industry over the next decade. Joining these organizations and learning from their forums or attending conferences and meetings has helped me discover better resources and has helped with actions like becoming a Fairmined Licensee.

Favorite resource/vendor or website

Favorite resources! OK, so let me give a shout out and a follow to @metalsmithsociety on Instagram for creating an amazing and sharing community of jewelers and metalsmiths. So many good tips on there. For as long as I’ve been doing this, there is always something new that I can learn. Rio Grande is still my go to vendor for so many things, especially tools (their Rio Pro membership which is totally worth it!) and I love Hoover and Strong’s continued commitment to traceability for their raw materials. It’s where I get my Fairmined gold and silver from. Also my caster Jena Hounshell who has been an incredible resource for me over the years that I have worked with her. And her mold and sprue class last year was mind-expanding – I learned SO much. (PS – she’s teaching it again March 14th and 15th – https://www.sharonzjewelry.com/events/sprues-and-molds-with-jena-hounshell-n973z)

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January 2020

Jim B Herbert

Website: wavesofsteel.net
Instagram: waves_of_steel

  • Jim Herbert
  • Jim Herbert
  • Jim Herbert
  • Jim Herbert
  • Jim Herbert

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in San Francisco, CA, and later moved to Santa Cruz. I grew up during the 60’s, amongst a large family of 10 children and a single mom. Having no other choice but to be independent and self-sufficient, I started working at an early age, and eventually opened and operated my own auto collision repair and restoration business. 

In this business, I restored old classic cars: Porches, Alpha Romeos, Volkswagens, old trucks etc. Replacement parts for these old cars were sometimes impossible to find, so I used whatever metal was necessary to fabricate the vehicles. Then I’d measure, cut, shape, bend, pull, reform, weld and grind the metal to fit together to restore the car back to its original beauty. I learned metal work is hard work.

Now, in my retirement, I have moved away from cars, and have a whole new passion and desire to create art.  Instead of fabricating cars for others, I get to fabricate what is in my own imagination.

What is your favorite tool and why?

My welding gun is my favorite tool. I love playing with metal and fire. I like adding and subtracting. It is exciting, and almost seems a little dangerous. My welding gun is a like a magic paintbrush of fire. 

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

I create my sculptures using any kind of scrap metal. I will select the type of metal, or steel, or rod that will fit best with the image I have formed in my imagination to create. After selecting the metal, I begin cutting, grinding, shaping, forming, and welding the pieces of metal into the shape I want. Metal is a great medium to use because it enables me to try a piece here, move it around over there; each piece makes a contribution to the building of the sculpture.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

My art mostly revolves around the ocean.  Often, I see something in my environment that inspires me, and I want to turn it into a tangible sculpture. By creating and sharing my art sculptures, I am able to be part of the beauty of what I love and admire. My intention is to create an artistic experience that will inspire an emotion, recall a memory, ask a question, cause a smile, start a conversation, or replicate a sensation.  I love using my imagination, and I hope to inspire others to use theirs as well.

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

I’ve been working with metals since the age of 21. My career choice of auto collision and restoration is what originally brought me into this field.

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

Create what you are drawn to, and what inspires you. Go with your own mind. Go into the unknown and explore. Expect to work hard, be patient, be careful and never give up.

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?

The physical demands and risks of working with fire and metal is always challenging. It is dangerous. It is hard, very physical labor. It is demanding of my concentration. I have to be alert, and stay in the zone. Sparks are always flying, and grinders are always cutting. 

I think the more I do, the more I understand the precautions that need to be in place. I am always adjusting and growing and learning through my experiences.