This article originally appeared in the Association for the Study of Jewelry & Related Arts (ASJRA) newsletter.
The Sixties term “mind bending” isn’t a phrase I usually use, but going to Amsterdam with the Art Jewelry Forum (AJF) was what I would call a mind-bending experience, one that made me see jewelry through different eyes.
Like everyone reading this, I love jewelry. Until now, my study and knowledge of jewelry has been focused on antique and estate jewelry, everything up to and including contemporary jewelry, but not specifically “art jewelry.” Much of what I like and wear might fall under the rubric of art jewelry because the pieces are unique, but within conventional bounds.
But the term “art jewelry” does not adequately describe the innovative type of jewelry we saw in Holland. I would describe this jewelry as avant-garde and “edgy.” Amsterdam was the cradle of this revolutionary take on bling. And, whether I liked the pieces I saw or not, I respected all the creativity, heart, and soul that went into creating them.
I initially joined AJF, because of their organized trips, but I hadn’t had the chance to take part in. At last year’s ASJRA conference, I met Karen and Michel Rotenberg who told me how worthwhile and well-organized the trips abroad were. I resolved to go on the next one, and just as they’d said, it was a fabulous experience.
It’s always great to be with people who really love jewelry. The 27-strong group comprised aficionados, collectors, “makers” — a term I had not heard before — and gallery owners. Most came from the US – as far as Alaska – as well as one each from Sweden and Australia. The group was together for most of the time including most lunches and dinners. This provided a wonderful opportunity to get to know people.
AJF’s driving force is Susan Cummins. Members Linda Peshkin and Susan Kempin also contributed a tremendous amount to the success of the trip. Through the efforts of these individuals, we enjoyed remarkable experiences.
We met some of the stalwarts and founders of art jewelry with global reputations — people I never would have had access to on my own. For instance, we went to the studio and home of one of pioneers in Dutch art jewelry, Gijs Bakker. He and several others we met with live and work in these wonderful older homes fronting the canals, so we were able to get a peek inside places that others can only wonder about. We also met with emerging artists who are future of art jewelry.
Curators toured us through the jewelry and design collections of several of the country’s museums that had been closed for years and just re-opened including the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and another branch of the Stedelijk Museum in Hertogenbosch, among others. On a rainy Sunday which I will never forget, we took a chartered bus throughout the countryside to visit several museums, one of which opened just for us. We also visited Galerie Marzee, a highlight of the trip, not only because of its extensive art jewelry collection, but also because of the gallery’s architecture and interior design.
As a newcomer to this art, I found it fascinating that no matter what medium they worked in these professionals considered themselves “jewelers.” Although they had solid technical training in working with precious as well as other metals and were trained in classical jewelry techniques, the term “jewelers” first took me by surprise because their materials included wood, Lucite, clay and zinc. This made me rethink my own perception: Why can’t someone working in zinc be a jeweler? Who said jewelers have to work in precious metals? I was also struck by these artists’ determination to bend, both literally and figuratively, physical objects to what they saw in their mind’s eye. They would not give up trying different methods with their material until their creation fit their vision.
As they did on the trip, people ask me what kind of jewelry I collect. My usual answer is that I don’t collect anything, that I buy what I like – everything from antique jewelry to American Indian to art jewelry. If you just buy what you like, as I do, are you a collector? Rethinking the question, I’d say that I do collect after a fashion. Everyone has their unique style and ends up “collecting” what speaks to them. In fact, Susan Cummins suggested that she could read my jewelry and tell me what it said about me.
I did not realize how much my travels opened my eyes until I returned home and, glancing at the top of my dresser, mistook a little piece of felt with string attached for an item of jewelry. Before this trip, that interpretation never would have crossed my mind. I saw this material in a new light, underscoring how my perspective had been changed during my trip.
I would highly recommend this experience to everyone. I can’t wait for the next AJF excursion, and hope to see you there.
ASJRA member Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Corp. Marketing & Public Relations