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An Artist's Voice

Process, technique and inspiration add up to one artist's creative expression

Someone once said, "Writing about art is like dancing about architecture." No one is sure exactly who coined this perceptive phrase, but nothing could be truer for almost every artist I know. In the end, art needs to stand on its own: you either like it or you don’t.

In early February Artful Home, an online purveyor of handmade art objects with whom I’ve worked for many years, asked me to respond in writing to questions about my artmaking. To my surprise, their insightful questions helped to diminish the gap between making art and writing about it.

I hope you enjoy.

What do you hope to communicate through your Art?

In the pieces themselves, I hope to communicate a vision of beauty. That vision includes ideas about balance: conceptual balance, balance of light and dark (I love pattern), balance of shiny and matte, which is expressed through materials like oxidized metal in contrast to lustrous white pearls, and balance between something dense and something light.

In making a life as a creative person, I hope to communicate the value of creative expression in all people. Society claims that art is the highest expression of a culture. That shouldn’t make it off limits to anyone. We are all born creative. We are all entitled to experience our creativity.

Is there a connection between your process and your artwork’s message?


Mannequin wearing dress made of chain link and white pearls.
A perfect example of elevating "women's work" to high art. Pearl and chain link dress, Paco Rabanne, made in the period 1980-1989

When I first started my jewelry line in 1991, I was making a conscious attempt to translate traditional “woman’s work” into high art by working crochet, knit and weaving techniques in silver and gold.

I’ve grown stronger as a designer, an artist, and as a person. I still love to use fiber techniques in my jewelry work where they fit, but I no longer use them to make a political point.

Are there unique techniques and tools that go into your process?

Yes. While not unique to other jewelers, playing with fire on a daily basis is kind of unique. Although perhaps that’s not so true if you’re a professional welder or a chef.

If we’re talking about my crocheted metal pieces, then yes, a crochet hook is a tool unique to that way of working. I crochet my work in a number of different ways. Sometimes I crochet a chain, which I call a cord, like a cord on which you wear a pendant. It’s similar to what knitters might call I-cord, or Viking knit, but I developed my technique myself, so I’m not sure that its exactly the same.

When I make a piece

Right and left hands holding a square of crocheted yarn.
Sometimes I crochet a fabric like this first, but in metal. Then lash it to a frame.

that uses a 3-dimensional framework that I put together, I crochet that in one of two ways: one way is where I crochet a “fabric” first, like how you crochet a sweater sleeve.

Then I use other stitches to lash the crocheted piece onto the frame, like in my Nest pieces or my Crocheted Cocktail Ring. So that’s sort of a two-part process. The other way is when I cast onto the frame itself and integrate the stitches into the structure, like in a Bamboo Cuff.

I make a lot of other pieces that do not rely on the crocheted technique, like the Zephyr Earrings or the Galaxy Ring. Those pieces depend on traditional metalsmithing tools- the torch, mandrels and stakes for shaping, files and sandpaper.

Are there aspects of your identity and lived experience that influence your work?

Oh yes. My grandmother taught me to knit when I was a young child. Her experience as a milliner (hatmaker) is the Saint Louis Garment District was tremendously influential to me. In addition to her skill set, there was an acceptance of me as an arty/craft kid in our house that I imagine not every child receives. My brother was the musician.

Also, an idea that I’ve only begun to really scratch the surface of is that my brother and I were adopted babies. Having been adopted made a difference to me in that I grew up both knowing how much my family wanted me, while wondering why I was given up by my birth mother in the first place. That tension made me seek to be worthy of everyone’s love. Making art, as a child, and becoming a professional artist, as an adult, are definitely outgrowths of that tension.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I never know how to answer this question. Life is inspirational. Beauty is inspirational. Seeing good design makes me want to design something else good. Or well, as the case may be.

I love clothes, jewelry, products for the home. I always have. I can’t separate which was the chicken and which the egg- the love for objects of the making of objects to feel the love.

Who are some of the artists that have most inspired you?

Pouty little girl in party dress on left, smiling grandmother on right putting on chiild's shoe.
Getting ready to party! My grandma who taught me to knit, 1972.

Number one, my grandmother on my mom’s side who taught me to knit. Number two, my grandmother on my dad’s side, who had one spectacular shoe collection! I remember rows and rows of her shoes with their high heels, metallic fabrics, gorgeous shapes. She also had beautiful jewelry in materials from plastic beads through high-end gemstones. Whether you choose to define these glorious women as “artists," both of them inspired me when I was young.

Artist with face paint, resembling snake sculpture she carries
Artist Niki de Saint-Phalle

On a more academic level, I would say Niki de Saint-Phalle’s work has delighted me always. Her use of color and feminist iconography, her mosaic sculptures, speak to how I love tiny, repeated patterns making up a bigger object. For similar reasons, I love Alexander Calder’s mobiles, Jackson Pollock’s paintings. I remember being entranced by Philip Pearlstein’s paintings of nudes at the Saint Louis Art Museum when I was in high school. Their languid shapes drew me. They remind me of the Baroque pearls I use in my work now. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Our museum also has a lot of Max Beckmann in its holdings. Some of his work can be so sad and emotionally dark, but I love his use of black outline in his paintings. I love black lines.

Japanese fashion designers like Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake are also big inspirations. I love how they look at garments we think we understand and subvert them into something else. Meaning changes in their hands. That’s powerful. And that’s art.

Sculpture of female form, body painted yellow, area covered by 1-pc swimsuit mosaiced in color and mirrors.
Sculpture by Niki de Saint-Phalle

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