Dona Sturmanis: Romancing the Stone
Is Okanagan jewelry design and creation craft, artisan or high art? It depends on the maker.
Being a lifelong fan and part-time maker of jewelry, I became fascinated with jewelry designers and creators in the Okanagan and the question arose: Do people know or care about the difference between those who just string beads together, sell it - or, holy hematite - approach it like high artistry?
Believe me, I've found some amusing classic and eclectic costume pieces at the dollar stores (most of which I have unstrung for the beads), but I've also invested in a collection of one-of-a-kinds by the jewelry designer/makers I consider artists. Just the thrill of owning one of these amazing wearables, even if it's more studied than adorned, is as ecstatic as possessing a remarkable original painting.
I paid a good part of my university tuition at UBC by crafting elaborate, beaded wire and chain necklaces and selling them in the Student Union shop. The fascination with creating custom body-adornment was inherited from my father, Leon Kraintz, a professor whose hobby was collecting antique silver-and-semi-precious-stone Hopi silver, Navajo turquoise and Zuni inlay pieces from the Southwestern U.S. He also loved collecting varietal semi-precioous stones and incorporated them into his own casted silver pieces.
As a kid, I was a faithful rock hound, scouring North America with my dad for beach or boulder jade from the BC coast, opals, rutilated quartz and copper-flecked anything from the BC interior. When I heard multi-coloured sapphires were available in Montana, I just about went to heaven.
I was always fascinated with tales attached to famous precious gems like the Hope Diamond. At the age of nine, I insisted my father take me to the Smithsonian in Washington, B.C. to see it.
As an adult, determined to move forward and make it again rather than just collect it, I took a variety of courses from the Canadian Gemological Institute. I traveled through North America collecting strands of semi-precious stones from warehouses in St. Louis, antique beads from New Orleans and the Southwest, agate and blue trading beads from the Queen Charlottesnot a cheap hobby. Deterred by a lack of time because of writing, I gave up the jewelry making and instead became satisfied focusing on the true artists of this form in the Valley. Here are four of my favourites (in addition to Betty Gordon and Kalli Brinkhaus, who I have documented in other publications).
MATTI MARTIN: Award-winning architectural artistry
"The difference between craftsmanship and art is an age-old argument, and has been around since the American craft movement of the 50s and 60s," says young goldsmith Matti Martin, who recently opened his shop under the Cannery Lofts on Cawston Street in Kelowna. "Most art institutes now have gold and blacksmithing departments. The borders between craft and art have lessened. I don't see it as a major argument."
Martin enjoys the design and craft of smithing gold and other metals to compliment diamonds, yes, but also other exotic stones.
Besides 18k yellow gold, the usual choice, Martin enjoys palladium, white gold and stainless steel. He likes to fuse together a mixture of metals to create a wood grain pattern, derived from a Japanese technique.
He enjoys "obscure, chunky stones" such as rutilated quartz, alexandrite, color-change garnet and multi-coloured, hardy sapphires.
Martin's work might be described as architectural -- he creates medium to high end custom pieces for people who like modernistic style.
"If you love what you do, you don't work a day in your life. I find the magic of design borders between craft and art."
Martin's background reflects his enthusiasm for his jewelry designing art. Ten years ago, he blacksmithed in Victoria, where he was introduced to the work of Albert Paley, American forged-metal architectural sculptor who had started with jewelry making. Inspired, Matti took some silver smithing courses, studied arts at the University of Manitoba, then chose to complete a one year diploma course in jewelry making. After apprenticing for another year with a "high-end" jeweler, he spent three traveling to festivals across Canada with his wife selling his own silver pieces - "oversized, chunky, architectural, experimental with textures and design, unusual stone settings."
He's won two awards, for a pendant and pin, from the Manitoba Crafts Council. He designed graduation rings for architecture students at the University of Manitoba.
Martin likes to execute techniques on his pieces that make other goldsmiths scratch their heads trying to figure out how he did it.
"I like to be inventive. I like to bring the strength of design to a piece where the organic shape of a ring meets the mathematical precision of a cut stone. This sparks an interest in the process on the part of the wearer."
GAYLE LIMAN: Integrated, ethnographic, adornment art
"I vehemently disagree that jewelry design is a craft," says Gail Liman. "The first art in history was wearable art. A fibre artist puts a lot of time into knotting and weaving as does a jewelry designer into execution of their pieces. You can't just box people in. It's up to the artist as to what their work is."
Liman, who works at the Kelowna Museum as associate director of education and public programming, has a global reputation for her jewelry creations combining fibre techniques with unusual beads and ethnic flair. She is widely exhibited, internationally collected, and even has a piece on display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Liman thinks it's up to the jewelry artist, or any artist for that matter, to share their enthusiasm and educate others, which only enhances appreciation and respect for the process involved. "Believe in passion and what you're doing and comments from those not in the know will just roll off your back."
The outspoken designer started out as a textile artist, her first exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1974. She traveled extensively - to Central and South America, and Europe-and began collecting beads of ethnographic fascination and provenance - "I became addicted."
While living in Minneapolis, she opened a gallery and started creating custom "integrated sculptural wearable art pieces" for people who would bring in special pendants and beads. Liman accentuated these often heirloom centrepieces with silk and linen, incorporating whatever knotting and weaving techniques she thought most suitable.
Liman doesn't just work with silk and linen, but also with finely spun wool, even suture thread. She used to dye her threads, but says now she's not a purist.
Liman's favourite "famous beads" are highly sought after Tibetan agate dZi beads, "that are considered dropped from heaven. She has heard of them selling for up to $65,000.
It wasn't long before she began teaching her art to others. "It's interesting seeing students develop their own style and voice," she observes, as if she were inspiring writers. Interesting, because Liman is something of a creative writer herself.
Her position with the Kelowna Museum is full-time, so she doesn't have the hours she'd like to work on her pieces. She has one in progress, however, that has been in the making for over a year.
Just like an author doesn't decide when her book is done, Limon lets her wearable art pieces tell her when they are finished: "You can't time art."
SHELAH PANSEGRAU: Continuing the ancient art of glass bead making
"True jewelry artists lack respect, maybe because people don't know enough about their knowledge and experience. People just don't realize the complexity of the art. At first, they think I'm just pouring glass into round molds. When people see me at work, they are astonished. They don't know that one of my glass beads is a complete, intricate work of art."
Shelah Pansegrau has in only five years become renowned with jewelry collectors throughout the Valley and beyond for her glass beads that she painstakingly makes, layer upon layer, over a torch in the studio at the back of her Kelowna home. Each one is different, with different colours and shapes contained within.
The history of glass beads is as fascinating to her as her art. They have a long and fascinating past, she relates first made in Mesopotamia in 3500 BC. "The Romans kept glassmaking a secret on the island of Murrano and quarrantined their glassmakers there. The beads were reserved for royalty." She relates how glass beads were traded for gold, spices and people. "It's amazing that we can hold in our hands beads that actually bought another human."
Although Pansegrau only started making her beads five years ago, she had a lifelong passion to become a glassblower and would visit glass studios whenever she had the opportunity. Self-taught she is continually influenced by the work of glass bead makers around the world.
"It's a very introspective and intense process, as well as potentially dangerous, working with fire and poisonous gases."
Pansegrau sells pieces privately through shows like Lake Country's Artwalk and Ars Longa, an exhibit she stages with other artist friends, mail order, word of mouth, or to people who visit her studio, which she prefers.
One of her more astonishing visitors at the studio was the great nephew of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the famous turn-of-the-century stained glass master.
"He didn't know about glass bead making," says Pansegrau. "He was dumbfounded,speechless and amazed. He bought a piece and treasured it."
Pansegrau makes her beads into bracelets, earrings and necklaces, all finished luxuriously with fine clasps, chains and hooks.
"I make my pieces knowing that my clients will be wearing them next to their skin," she says fiercely. "Jewelry really is the only art to be worn on the body. I think that makes it very special."
JANICE FINGADO: Globetrotting, globally trained
"What sets a jewelry designer-maker apart from others as a true artist as opposed to artisan is the desire to make something as perfect as possible," observes Kelowna's Janice Fingado. "It may take weeks. You don't just turn them out."
Fingado's technique of choice is silver smithing, which she uses to enhance unusual stones and pearls she collects from around the world. Her style might be described as contemporary, influenced by southwest First Nations.
"Some jewelry makers might say that stones talk to them, but you really have to know the physical properties of different stones to achieve harmony and balance in the piece. In other words, you have to have knowledge and technical skill."
Fingado has a monumental three-plus decades studying and making jewelry. She moved around the globe with her late husband, learning gold smithing in Zurich, examining stones in Rio, taking courses in Spain and England over a decade. Coming to Canada in 1980, she purchased her own tools, and took more courses in Tucson during the winters while attending the world's largest gem show. This is still where she buys most of her stones.
Fingado adores fabulous, bold opals from Australia, Mexico, Brazil, and Idaho; Chinese yellow, pale green and mottled jade; amethyst, tourmaline and dark blue lapis lazuli, and large, freeform pearls. She's also become fascinated with multi-hued ammolites, mineralized fossil of the ammonite shell, which she buys raw, then shapes, stabilizes and polishes herself.
She does not make many custom pieces anymore, but makes what she likes and spends an inordinate amount of time teaching jewelry design and creation in her studio at the Kelowna Rotary Centre for the Arts.
"To plan a fine jewelry piece takes as much time as planning a work of art," says Fingado. This is evident in her one-of-kind creations, each with a very distinct personality.