Thursday, November 10, 2011
Monday, November 7, 2011
Last year while visiting the historic waterfront town of Port Townsend, WA, I heard rumors of a stretch of shore so famed for excellent beachcombing that it had come to be known as "Glass Beach". I set out from downtown in search of a spot to match my optimistic mental vision: pale sands strewn with Japanese glass fishing floats, studded with cobalt chunks of patent medicine bottles.
Hours later I had found anemones, kelp, detached crab claws, and even a gumshoe chiton, but no glass. Tired and discouraged, I flopped down on a stretch of sand and looked out at the grey waters of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca.
When I finally turned my attention back to the beach, I saw that I was surrounded by tiny pieces of glass. In 15 minutes of pecking and hunting I garnered a small pile of pebbles--amber, green, clear, and, rarest of all, cobalt (perhaps Port Townsend was never big on patent medicines?). Other than their color, these tiny bits barely hint at their former forms, being so much closer to sand itself than to anything that ever held liquids or sliced unsuspecting feet.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
"Chainmail: Strength in Numbers"
Pratt, October 15-16 2011
Like knitting or weaving (or doing sit-ups, maybe? I'm not sure), making chainmail is satisfying in a way that only something so tediously repetitive can be. Open a jump-ring, close a jump ring, and eventually a fabric appears, like a trace record of your gestures.
The principles are simple, and once I'd managed to make up some vocabulary and sound effects to describe them, my students were off and running. As in my wood jewelry classes, I was amazed to see the variety of ways in which each person used the same materials and techniques to express their own ideas, from bias earrings and a rosette chain (above)...
to stamped-link and color-block samples (left) and a twisted tube bracelet (right)...
to a necklace combining 4-in-1 tube and spiral (left) and a multicolored spiral chain (right)...
to a set of finger-puppet armor: a 6-in-1 tube with a 4-in-1 cape. If you aren't a little bit crazy at the beginning of a chainmail weekend, you will be by the end!
Thursday, September 29, 2011
North Carolina's Penland School of Crafts has exerted a huge influence on me ever since I first attended a workshop in the summer of 1997. When I look back on the pieces I've made at Penland--however crude, however experimental--I can see dozens of little kernels that eventually grew into my "real" work. What would I be making now if it weren't for Penland?
Over the years, I've been a work-study student (washing dishes), a scholarship recipient, a studio assistant, and, finally, an instructor: Penland was where I taught my very first wood jewelry class, back in 2007.
And now I've had the thrill of experiencing Penland from yet another perspective, as a participant in the 2011 Craft Educators' Retreat. When I opened the email inviting me to apply it was almost like getting one of those "YOUR NAME HAVE WON 60000GBP" messages. A week in the woods with 100 other teachers, talking and learning and teaching in any of a dozen well-equipped studios? Too good to be true!
It was a whole lot of silver lining stuffed into one small dark cloud: my inability to attend three demos simultaneously. Other than that and self-imposed sleep deprivation it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I deeply believe that one of the most important qualities a teacher can possess is indiscriminate generosity, and this week hammered that idea home. Not only was I surrounded by people who are at the top of their game, they were unanimously willing to spill their secrets, whether in scheduled demos or informal tutorials sparked by a lunchtime chat.
Mark Gardner taught woodturning and Stoney Lamar shared his signature surface texturing and finishing technique (that's metalsmith Suzanne Pugh looking on).
Sculptor Sabiha Mujtaba (my awesome roommate) showed us how to transfer a design from model to block in preparation for power carving. Dean Pulver wowed silversmith Julia Woodman with an impromptu demo of the "Ming Ding".
Sculptor Critz Campbell shared a low-tech trick for steam-bending wood, and I ventured out of the wood studio to see papercut artist Béatrice Coron's overview of materials and tools.
Perhaps even more inspiring than the expert instruction was seeing the experts take a risk on trying something new. The hotshop schedule quickly filled up as teachers like master blacksmith Jim Cooper jumped at the chance to blow some glass.
I hadn't blown since last year, but to my surprise some of the skills I accumulated at Pilchuck came back to me, while the overriding anxiety didn't. Patiently coached by gaffer extraordinaire Sami Lipscomb, I made a hip flask that's a big step up from my last attempt.
I took advantage of tools I don't usually have access to and made a little progress on my ongoing doll project. Mark Gardner helped me to turn some tiny wood versions, and Ben Elliott showed me how to make similar shapes in flame-worked borosilicate glass.
And I finally got to cast some glass rings that I'll eventually clean up and carve into signets.
I brought along a handful of empty vitrines, which turned into mementos of this very memorable experience: a sample of Dolph Smith's "forged paper" technique reminds me to be a generous teacher, a collage of leaves and mica simulating the Penland view reminds me to me resourceful, woven shavings from Stoney Lamar's turning demo reminds me to enjoy the process as much as the product, and a set of wings removed from a squashed bee reminds me that aiming for beauty often involves overcoming squeamishness. Quite a lot of lessons from just a week in the woods!
Thank you so much to the funders, my fellow retreaters, and everyone at Penland who worked so hard to put this amazing experience together.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
At long last, I have a website of my very own! Visit to see a gallery of completed work, find out about upcoming classes and private lessons, or shop for my vitrine pendants. The site is still very much a work-in-progress so I am grateful for comments, corrections, and constructive criticism.
You can access this blog through a tab on the website, or reach it directly at julia-harrison.blogspot.com.
Monday, September 5, 2011
Many years ago I fought and won an epic eBay battle for a 1920's souvenir pendant from Rio. Two glass discs were reverse-painted with the silhouette of the city's skyline and sandwiched together around slices of iridescent blue butterfly wing, which fill in for both sky and water. The whole thing was then fitted into a thin silver bezel, protecting the fragile contents.
I've always been mesmerized by souvenir jewelry--exotic materials and exotic forms combining into a portable talisman of some faraway place--but this pendant really got to me. I love both its particulars (the craggy shapes, the hot, shimmering blue) and its general mechanical principle, the fact that a couple of pieces of glass and a little silver could enable their ephemeral contents to survive a century and travel the continents.
So now I make my own vitrine pendants and my own, personal souvenirs. Over the last couple of years I've traveled much less than I used to, so the curiosity I once expended elsewhere now drives me to explore Seattle and to preserve my experiences by making stay-cation souvenirs.
This piece shows Elliott Bay and the Magnolia Bridge, as seen from my apartment window. In keeping with my Making Do challenge, it uses gold leaf given to me in England 15 years ago, and the wing of a blue Morpho butterfly that I've been carrying around since high school.
Monday, August 29, 2011
You know that saying about good intentions? Here are just a few of the things that pave my own personal road to hell:
hand-blown bell jars
a childhood's worth of beads
a sheep's-worth of New Zealand wool
soap for casting
soap for carving
jet for carving
a hunk of jelly opal for carving
500 mother-of-pearl buttons
10 pounds of blue-and-white porcelain shards
ink, watercolors, acrylics
wood, wood objects, wood shavings, sawdust
All of these things and many more were acquired with the noblest of intentions: I meant to make them into art.
But I haven't. Instead, I've made them into a hoard. A hoard that overspills my drawers and shelves, takes up a valuable chunk of my parents' garage, and breaks my back every time I move. It's a pain, but even more than that, it's hurtful.
A year or so ago I read about a study of different types of stress and their effects on your health. Before that I would have assumed that the fight-or-flight adrenaline rush that always makes me feel like puking would rank as the least healthy kind of stress, but it turned out to be something more insidious. The study determined that the greatest emotional and physical damage is caused by the stress of things left undone.
I began to realize that my stockpile of supplies is, by definition, a teetering stack of things left undone. And talk about stress! If you tend to run yourself down for being uncreative or unproductive, a heap of crumbling Sculpey, yellowing sketchbooks, and crusted-over paint sets is just the kind of corroborating evidence you don't need. For every time that some ancient acquisition enabled me to act on a bright idea, there must be at least fifty times that the sight of a stack of unused, thwarted, and reproachful art supplies has caused me to turn off my desk lamp and leave the room.
Something desperately needed to be done, so I've embarked on a kind of self-intervention. I am challenging myself to get by on the supplies I have for as long as possible. There are no arbitrary dates, no insane impositions; I'll buy stuff if I absolutely need to for a class or a client, and I'll get rid of things that I decide are unusable or simply not for me.
In the short term, I hope to clear up some shelf space. In the longer term, I hope that this challenge will stretch my creative practice in new directions. By making do with with I have on hand, I expect to make and do things that I might not otherwise have thought of or gotten around to. Many years ago I went to a show of drawings by Gabriele Ellertson, one of my beloved college art teachers, where one standout series came out of an ill-starred residency. Somehow Gabriele's materials were lost along the way and she had only a limited and uncharacteristic palette to work with: two bottles of ink, one black, one virulent yellow. Did she throw in the towel? Nope. She made a series of hilarious and lovely ink drawings of anthropomorphic slugs.
And ultimately, I hope that this experiment can help me to address the fears and distorted perceptions that are probably at the root of my Depression-era tendency to hoard art supplies against the coming of a long, cold, creative winter. Perhaps I will learn to recognize when enough is enough--or to trust that even when it isn't, the world doesn't necessarily end.
I am trying think of on my self-imposed restrictions as a barrier placed between a plant and a window. Please check back soon to see what new directions I try while puzzling my way towards the sun.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
This was my fourth time teaching "Jewelry That Grows on Trees" at Seattle's Pratt Fine Arts Center. By now it shouldn't surprise me, but it does: I give the same information to a new group of students, and out comes yet another stunning collection of unique pieces.
Friday, July 8, 2011
photo by Dan Kvitka
75 Gifts for 75 Years
Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland OR
July 28, 2011 – February 25, 2012
Curated by Namita Gupta Wiggers
Happy birthday, Museum of Contemporary Craft! What do you get for a 75-year-old who has almost everything? Everything they don't have, apparently. In honor of this milestone, collectors near and far have donated or promised gifts that will enable the Museum to fill gaps in its permanent collection. Many of these works will be on display in a special exhibition that starts later this month and continues into 2012.
I am thrilled to report that my Veneer pendant will be part of the action! Thanks to a generous Seattle collector, the Museum of Contemporary Craft will own a copy of Victoria Beckham's cleavage (which is itself a splendid example of contemporary craft and has been displayed worldwide). Most of my series of maple cleavage pendants are more subtle sections of A, B, C, or D-cup frontages that can sometimes actually suction in place if properly fitted. Then I started thinking about the "what if" extremes and carved Veneer while looking at a paparazzi photo of Posh Spice. Almost any wearer fails to fill her "shoes", the gap behind the spherical lobes casting questioning shadows on the real chest beneath. The name refers to the practice of covering furniture and other objects with wood veneer, a thin skin of real material; it amuses me that the word also hints at Venus, and the related word, venereal.
And here's me at the opening reception for the show, in front of the case that my work shares with Keith Lewis'...
Monday, June 20, 2011
I've now lived in my current apartment for just over two years, the longest I have lived in one place since I left home to go to college. In that two years some things have stayed the same (the general awesomeness of the view, below right, the nightly ruckus from the downstairs neighbors), while others have changed beyond recognition.
Our street cuts diagonally across a hill so steep that several blocks are split into double boulevards by sloping medians. When we moved in the medians in front of the house were overgrown amalgams of Himalayan blackberry, parked cars, and abandoned furniture. Then last year a team of tireless neighborhood volunteers transformed the flattest section into what is now a jolly patchwork of thriving gardens. Earlier this year, the less hospitable section directly in front of our apartment began to get the same treatment (below left).
One morning before work I was eating breakfast and enjoying the view when I glanced down at the old apple tree out front. To my horror, I saw one of the gardeners looking it up and down, a chainsaw waiting at his feet like a muzzled rottweiler.
If you've seen my blog, you know my art depends on the cutting down of trees. But I generally prefer them alive, and I especially like this one. It's weird and hunched and totally asymmetrical; it grows beautiful blossoms and thousands of tiny, terrible apples. Birds nest in it.
So I ran outside in my jammies like a flustered hen and demanded that Mr Gardener tell me just exactly what he planned to do to that tree with that chainsaw. In my head I rehearsed calling in sick to work in case I needed to bind myself to the trunk in protest.
It turned out that he had consulted with the city arborist and was planning to selectively prune some damaged branches in hopes of reinvigorating the tree.
Well, ok then.
The next day the pruned branches were out for garbage collection so I helped myself to a chunk. I sanded down a couple of thin slices, and voila!: locavore earrings. I love that the flaws--the greenish tinge along the bark, the central starburst of stains, the punctuation of insect holes--are all records of the tree's trials and tribulations. And I love that the cross-section reveals a couple of rings that embody two years of the life I've shared with a man, a cat, and a neglected apple tree.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Intro to Kitchen Table Jewelry
4 Wednesdays, 6 July - 27 July 2011, 6pm-9pm
University of Washington Experimental College
UW Main Campus
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Art by Attrition
Featuring work by:
Teresa Faris, Julia Harrison, Shinji Nakaba, Jon M Ryan, Emily Watson, Hiroko Yamada
KOBO at Higo
Openings Friday, May 27, 5-8pm
and Saturday, May 28, 5-8pm
Even after all these years, the process of carving still fascinates me. It's mysterious in a way that only something so simple can be. In essence, you just take away the material that doesn't belong, then stop when you see the shape you want: ta-daaa. But of course there's more to it than that. I love the tools and the tricks and the physical challenge, and I still get chills from the notion of extricating one form from inside another.
On the other hand, it's a totally absurd thing to do all day, attacking tiny pieces of wood with even tinier pieces of metal until my hands cramp and my butt falls asleep. Sometimes when things get tough (or when I breathe in too much varnish) my internal coach borrows Jesse Jackson's voice to bark out a kind of carver call to arms:
"You've got to negate to cre-ate! RE-duce to PRO-duce!"
When the owners of KOBO at Higo asked me to organize a group show for the SNAG conference, I decided to focus on artists using subtractive techniques to create jewelry and small objects. My hope is that the show will pique people's curiosity about both the technical and conceptual skills that working negatively requires. My ulterior motive was to surround myself with the work of other people crazy enough to create beauty by committing tiny, repetitive acts of violence.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
While there are plenty of flowers that I like the looks of, irises have always exerted a special pull. As a mythology-obsessed little kid I learned that the flower borrows it's name from Iris, the Greek gods' errand-girl. The iris is the state flower of Tennessee, where I grew up, and around this time every year, gardens bulge with everything from waist-high ruffled and bearded versions to absurdly delicate miniature varietals native to Siberia. The flowers are a startling rainbow: from every shade of purple, to green, yellow, peach, black, and the twinging red of a skinned knee. Along with unicorns and rainbows, they were one of my favorite things to draw, with that fascinating arrangement of opposed and off-set petals that seem to do-si-do each other around in some botanical take on square dancing.
When I moved to Japan, the irises came out around the same time that homesickness hit me, and I took a therapeutic trip out to the country to see a famous flooded garden that boasts--if I remember right--upwards of 400,000 blooms. It was an amazing sight, and so very Japanese; I got into line with hundreds of other tourists and we wound a slow conga around a mile-long wooden boardwalk, stopping every three feet for photos.
Irises are endemic to Japan, but they have also been cultivated for centuries, and the three main types (Hanashōbu, Kakitsubata, Ayame) are a staple of traditional poetry and visual arts. Because the leaves resemble swords, the iris is also a key symbol of the Japanese holiday that is now Children's Day, but used to be Boys' Day (May 5th).
My carved iris is equal parts therapy and homework. Over recent years, I've set myself various carving assignments based on old forms or masters in order to build my skills (like my holly chain). While most of my own work is figurative, I find super-carver Grinling Gibbons' limewood carvings of flowers and foliage both intimidating and inspirational. I decided I would give flowers a try and somehow a single flower seemed a more reasonable starting point than an entire garland. For my material I chose a twisted branch of boxwood that's been seasoning in my closet since one of my neighbors chopped down the bushes in his yard about 18 months ago. Typically used for Medieval rosary beads and Japanese netsuke, boxwood holds crisp details and begs to be touched; it starts out the color of old cream or fresh butter, and darkens to caramel after years of human contact and soaking up skin oils.
And of course, it had to be an iris. In the aftermath of the disasters in Japan, irises were on my mind, as a comforting symbol of the tenacious and adaptive beauty of a country than means so much to me. And as I worked to find the ghost of the form inside the rough branch, tornadoes and then flood waters ripped through the South, giving me even more to think about.
So it's not a glossy calendar iris that I'm carving. It's twisted, drenched, and bedraggled, but most importantly, it just is. Or it will be, in another twenty or thirty hours.
Here are a few of the things I've been mulling over during the long hours of carving:
-The absurdity of making stuff
-The absurdity of "growing" a flower inside a tree branch
-How different cultures accommodate natural forces and cycles
-Individual fragility and group resiliency
-How misleading our perceptions of safety and vulnerability can be
-Borrowing concepts of seasonality and "locavorism" from food and applying them to art
My intention was to cut off the rough ends and mount the flower as a large brooch, but now I'm not so sure. Does everything I make really need to be wearable? I think for now I'll keep it as it is.
I take a picture more or less every time I change CDs (listening to Alan Hollinghurst's novel Line of Beauty). I'll keep adding pictures below until I decide to leave well enough alone.