Thursday, December 10, 2009

ASU Workshop

I just spent two exhausting but enjoyable days in Tempe, leading workshops for jewelry students at Arizona State University.

Since these were very experienced students with unlimited access to really good facilities (including the best-kept wood studio I've ever seen), I had the luxury of doing things a little differently than usual. Our first day was a fast-forward version of the wood jewelry class that normally takes me 2-4 days to teach; I powered through one demo after another, pausing only for a Chipotle burrito (which somehow tasted even better than they do in Seattle).

On day two we switched our focus to carving basswood spoons. Because they include a variety of forms and surfaces, spoons are a great way to gain experience with carving tools and techniques. By the end of the session everyone had a recognizable spoon to show for their efforts and a new set of skills to apply to more complicated projects.

Thank you to ASU Metals chair, Becky McDonah, grad student extraordinaire Lynette Andreasen, and everyone who attended my workshops or lecture!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wooden Chain

This project has been my very own white whale for an embarrassing number of years.

It all started when I read anthropologist Simon Bonner's study of elderly woodcarvers in Pennsylvania, The Carver's Art: Crafting Meaning from Wood. Bonner's subjects were mostly retired laborers, looking for a way to way to reestablish social bonds, identity, and a sense of validity in the absence of a professional context. In ways that I found very moving, many of these men create a new niche for themselves as "trick" carvers, producing mind-boggling items such as chains, "Crown of Thorns", caged balls, and pliers. While some of the guys just carved as a solo hobby, others became demonstrators at local museums and fairs, where their abilities were justifiably appreciated. I mean, it takes a pretty jaded fairgoer not to be impressed by a guy who can turn a matchstick into a tiny, fully articulate chain.

When I read the book I was headed to Penland to teach my first ever wood jewelry class. I needed an ego boost and something to wow my students; "A-ha!" I remember thinking, "I'll whip out a wooden chain; that should impress them." The diagram included in Bonner's book made it look about as hard as connecting A to B. Here's the general principle: imagine a chain compressed and arranged so that each link is oriented perpendicular to its neighbors (the cross-section looks like a +); links A and C are butting up against each other in the middle of link B; to transform the rigid plank into a wriggly chain, "simply" cut away the material between the links.

It was vastly simpler to diagram than to do, which leads me to my long-standing beef with the majority of craft ethnographies: they're rich in detail on everything but the practical minutiae of the craft. Over the years, I've spent a lot of time trying to learn how to do odd things from such books and have almost always found that key information is missing, glossed over, or just plain wrong. When I started to pursue anthropology and my own ethnographic studies, my suspicions that many researchers don't bother to learn the technique they're writing about were largely confirmed.

Does this matter to anyone but a craft nerd who sees every craft ethnography as a potential how-to book? I think it should. When an author fails to grasp and/or attend to the very details that a craftsperson has spent years mastering, I can't help but question the validity of the ethnography's other observations and conclusions. How things are made matters, and resonates throughout an object's lifetime (for example, consider the different associations you have with a homemade chocolate-chip cookie and a Chips Ahoy).

But back to the chain. That "simple" matter of removing the wood between the links turned into a 3-year ordeal (admittedly, I made things harder on myself by choosing to make a graduated chain, fatter in the middle than at the ends). The trick I came up with (which might or might not have been used by Bonner's informants--who knows?) is a little harrowing: carve away as much wood between the links as you possibly can, using successively smaller tools, then hold your breath and snap the remaining wood (not the links themselves, ideally). Once the links are free you can work them around to get at the leftover splinters with your knife.

Having freed the final link, I was unable to put my not-quite-finished chain aside. That same night I fastened it (pencil marks, bloodstains and all) around my neck with a handmade padlock, and headed off to an event at the Seattle Art Museum. At the museum I joined an informal tour led by Dan Webb, a fantastically talented Seattle-based carver whose work is in the SAM collection. When I approached Webb afterwards to compliment him on his work, he asked me about the chain. I went red and started to stammer that it wasn't finished, wasn't very good, etc. Webb stopped me: "I've carved a few chains, and that is a good chain."

Maybe there's something to the notion of establishing an identity through trick carving after all.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wood Jewelry Class at Pratt

Jewelry that Grows on Trees
October 17-18, Pratt Fine Arts Center

It was my first time teaching at Pratt and I couldn't have asked for a better experience. All 12 students showed up raring to go, despite Saturday's treacherous downpour.

Some had experience with wood, others with jewelry, but everyone was pleased to find how well their skills applied to creating wooden jewelry. Check out the gallery below to see some of the amazing work produced in just two short days!

Want to hear about the class from a student's POV?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Signs of Life Opening

Signs of Life 2009
Facere Jewelry Art Gallery
October 7-28

Every year the Facere Gallery puts together a show with an interesting twist: each invited artist submits a photo of a major work, which is then is given to a writer to serve as inspiration for a poem, essay, or story. The two are published together in a lovely glossy journal.

The exhibition of the submitted works opened on October 7. A number of the artists and writers showed up for a public presentation beforehand, where we showed slides and read passages from the journal. It was fantastic to meet so many of the participants, to see their work, and to hear the stories read aloud--it really brought the whole project to life!

My catalog piece was Choros, a necklace made of 11 torsos carved in the classical style. In the accompanying short story, writer Erica Baumeister cannily describes a visit to the Louvre--the very place where I got the idea for this piece.

I also submitted a large maple pendant, Veneer (not shown), that looks sort of abstract but is in fact a portrait of Victoria Beckham's overengineered cleavage, and two brooches depicting cleavage of another kind. I carved the plain version, Low Rise (below, middle), a while ago, after trying in vain to find jeans that were neither matronly nor obscene. Further thoughts on sacral display led to Swallowtail (below, top), which is "tattooed" with a wood-burning tool, and Formline (below, bottom), whose lacquered thong also alludes to the sinuous lines seen on much native Northwest Coast art.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Doll parts

My repressed childhood preoccupation with dolls seems to be resurfacing. This pearwood piece-in-progress is made up four unattached limbs that can be restacked into different configurations--doll as building blocks. My friend Gary's trenchant assessment: "So did Hans Bellmer and Louise Bourgeois meet in a dark alley?"

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I've been wearing this carved maple cuff around Manhattan today, and as far as I can tell, no one has taken any notice of it.

On the other hand, I have been getting an unusual number of complements on my dark pink leather gloves (which are thin enough that I can wear the cuff on top of them).

Friday, February 27, 2009

Hanging at the Baum

I just spent the day at the
Baum School in central Allentown, PA, where my friend Janna Gregonis teaches jewelry classes. The Baum is a fantastic regional resource for artists of all ages and the jewelry students are an enthusiastic mix; I squeezed into the bench between a high-spirited emergency room PA and a white-haired firecracker celebrating 61 years of marriage (or to be specific, "Twelve good years!").

My own "studio" is comprised of hand tools stuffed into a plastic box, so I get a little tunnel-vision when I have the chance to use torches, rolling mills, anvils, and the like. I worked on 4 rings, including 2 cocktail honkers that I started planning last year when such things were in style. Since I never really had much basic training as a metalsmith Janna had to provide some coaching, and I can now say with certainty that if I lived within a 3-state radius I'd sign up for her classes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Another carved alder panel--similar to
Daphne, but Glance is a single panel and the eye is considerably larger.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Well Done

In addition to my recent forays into larger work (by which I mean 6 inches rather than 2), I've also been trying to relax my finishes a little, to leave something to chance or nature. Hence, I've been soaking pieces in water, throwing them down the stairs, or, as here, going after them with a hot torch and a vigorous wire brushing. This example is beech (I think), about 11".

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wooden Earrings at the Y

I had an absolutely fantastic time leading my wooden earring workshop at the 92nd St. Y over the weekend. Two days is not a lot of time to adjust to a new material, but my students threw themselves into it and made some very hot earrings.

We learned how to use woodworking tools and how to appropriate metal-working tools for our purposes.

We learned how to enhance wood's natural properties and how to transform them by using gold leaf, makeup, paint, a steam iron, or fire.

Check out Margaux Lange's stunning cherry earrings with silver pique and resin inlay (why didn't I think of that!?!?).

Friday, February 20, 2009


I had a great friend in college who was a fellow fan of TS Eliot. We used to quote "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" to each other, especially the heartbreaking bit:

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

This torque is my meditation on the longing and timidity expressed in that passage. The loop is solid oak, the hands are boxwood.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gearing up for Earrings

I'm off to New York in about, oh, 3 hours (!), to teach a weekend workshop at the 92nd St Y. The class will focus on wooden earrings like the demo pieces pictured above. I'll emphasize using readily available tools and materials to achieve a wide range of effects.

The students will have only 2 days in the studio (Friday and Sunday, with Saturday off), so I'm trying to think of ways to help them hit the ground running. Since I didn't really get hooked on woodworking until I'd tried a number of kinds of wood and learned to appreciate their different properties, I've put together class pack that include 11 kinds of wood, as well as bamboo and a tagua nut; above, my pack factory.

I know I've forgotten

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Daphne was inspired by the Greek myth about a woman who escaped a god's lecherous advances by turning into a tree. I've always assumed the myth itself was inspired by the ease with which one can perceive human bodies and features in trees and wood grain.

The two panels of alder, each about the size of a sheet of paper, are shallowly carved and lightly painted with gouache. The panels are unattached and changing their relationship to one another changes the expression of the eyes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Since Christmas was canceled due to snow, my parents and I just now got together to exchange gifts. For my dad, I carved a small sculpture of our mini white schnauzer, Tucker, napping in a tiny heat-conserving ball.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Stuffed Bears

Thanks to all my reproducing friends, I've recently rekindled my childhood passion for making stuffed animals. These floppy polar fleece bears are destined for my faux nephew, Thomas, and my friend Yukari's impending baby. I hope they enjoy them as much as I did!

Sunday, February 1, 2009


This necklace-in-progress (currently held together with dental floss) is based on images I took last year of damaged classical statues at the Louvre. It's far and away one of the most challenging pieces of jewelry I've ever attempted, and I'm still not sure how it will work out. The wood is holly; some sections of the block were dead white, others have a blueish tinge.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Little Ladies

After years of attacking the human figure one feature at a time, I've started trying to tackle the whole thing--albeit in miniature. The figures pictured here are around 5" tall.