Jean Shaffer is a new artist in our gallery at Danaca Design and we are happy to have her work! She has some beautiful one of a kind enamel items in our gallery right now and recently I got to ask her about her work and herself as an artist.
How long have you been making jewelry and what got you started?
I started making beaded jewelry in the early 1990s, replicating the trade bead necklaces that my Chinook Indian ancestors wore. I was gifted with a trade bead necklace that had belonged to my cousin’s grandmother, the daughter of Chief Taholah, dating from the 1850s. Later I began rockhounding along Washington and Oregon beaches finding fabulous agates, petrified wood, jade, and more. I wanted to make these treasures into jewelry, so I signed up for a Continuing Education class at North Seattle College in 2002 to learn how to set stones. Dana Cassara was my first instructor. After one class I was hopelessly hooked. I kept taking night classes and workshops for years until I retired from my first career in 2011 and entered the credit program at North Seattle College. I earned my Certificate in Jewelry Design last December.
What is your background? Is it in art or something else?
As a youth I was drawn to art, especially painting. I used to paint the wild landscapes that I imagined when reading my favorite science fiction novels. But in high school and college I made (what I thought were) more pragmatic choices. I earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in Geography from the University of Washington, and had a lengthy career with local governments as a planner, program evaluator, and program and project manager. I worked for the cities of Kirkland, Seattle, and Bellevue and Snohomish County.
Even though I enjoyed career success, I felt a growing urge to return to making art. That set me on the path I described above.
Is there anything in particular that you like about jewelry as a medium?
So many things to love about jewelry…. It is portable art that is in intimate contact with the owner. It gains added meaning from how it is acquire and from whom, where and when it is worn. It can become a part of family heritage passed down generations. And jewelry is communication from the maker and the wearer to the outside world wherever it is worn.
What kind of imagery or inspiration do you use? Or, can you tell us about any recurring themes in your work?
I usually seek highly abstract patterns to render in my jewelry. From the natural world it could be plants like cactus, pods, roots, sea creatures, sand dunes, desert playa, waveforms, glacial crevasses, constellations, novae or infinitely more. In the developed world it might be maps, cityscapes, street layouts, or window patterns. Sometimes it just starts with a geometric form that I become obsessed with for a while. My Chinook Indian heritage also influences some of my work such as My Spirit Box and Two Turtles Rattle that are currently on display at the Seattle Metals Guild’s Biennial Exhibition.
I have some favorite jewelry techniques that I come back to regularly. Firstly, I am always on the lookout for unique cabochons such as picture jasper and plume agate that can inspire my designs. Larry Osler and West Coast Mining are my favorite sources of great stones with interesting shapes. Secondly, I love drawing abstract images and transferring them to metal by acid-etching. The etching process creates remarkably precise renderings that can be enhanced in the jewelry fabrication process. Thirdly, I love vitreous enameling, especially on hydraulically pressed metal that gives the pieces form and depth.
Your work mostly features beautiful enamel work. What is it you like about working with enamel?
Enameling is a traditional method of adding a wide range of colors to metal. Enameling techniques date back to antiquity, but are also fresh with contemporary innovation and vision. I like blending colors, adding glass beads and glass frit. The possibilities are limitless. I combine two of my favorite techniques by applying champlevé enameling to acid-etched metal. Some of my pieces at Danaca Studio were made that way.
What is your favorite type of jewelry to make and why?
I love making brooches more than any other form. To me, they are stand-alone works of art and clothing becomes the matt and frame. Recognizing that brooches don’t work for everybody, I also make a lot of pendants and necklaces. Usually when I make a brooch, I add a hidden loop or bale so it can be worn as a pendant if desired.
Do you have a website or where else can we see your work?
I have a maker profile on the Society of North American Goldsmith’s website that can be found at: http://www.snagmetalsmith.org/members/JeanShaffer
Thanks Jean! We love having your work in our gallery and look forward to watching your jewelry making continue to grow. Want to see more of Jean Shaffer’s work? We have a selection of Jean’s jewelry in our gallery at Danaca Design. We are open Monday – Friday from 11am-6pm and Saturday 10am-6pm
Bill Dawson is one of our talented instructors here at Danaca Design. He teaches a variety of classes covering hollowware, forming, forging, metal inlay, engraving, fabrication, and tool making. We also sell a variety of his chasing and forming tools here in the shop. Bill got his start in metals with blacksmithing at the University of Oregon, and has been a working metalsmith and teacher ever since. Recently Sophie asked him a few questions. I loved reading through his responses, especially his take on functional art and artless objects- it definitely made me want to take a class with him!
Okay, here you go!
What’s your background? Is it in art, or something else?
I never really imagined doing anything much beyond art, because I never imagined being able to hold down a job. My childhood hero was Georgia O’Keeffe, and I wanted to grow up to be more or less just like her. I started out as an oil painter, at around four years old. Though I no longer have it the first painting I can remember making was of a grey dog on a green background. I do however have the first metal sculpture I created, an iron pony I made when I was eleven.
You work in all kinds of mediums and styles, what are your favorite materials to work with, and why?
I divide creative work into four broad categories: Additive, assembly, fabrication, etc; subtractive, carving, stock removal, etc; transformational, casting, and shaping; and ephemeral, performance and time based art. I’m going to give you a favorite for each. Painting is the medium with which I have worked the longest, and is my favorite additive art, though textiles come a close second. Each new painting is a unique challenge, and they never become routine. I like to carve all sorts of material: bone, amber, jet, antler, stone and so forth, but if I had to pick just one to work from now on it would be cedar, and specifically Port Orford Cedar. It is a variety of yellow cedar that grows in Western Oregon, and has a texture similar to redwood. I love its smooth strength, carveability, and smell. .999 silver would have to be my favorite transformational material, though there are many metals that I love working, including copper, bog iron, and high karat gold. The thing about pure silver is that it is just about the ideal material for so many techniques: forging, inlay, casting, etc. It is both beautiful and profoundly workable. I don’t do much ephemeral art, but I do enjoy playing music. My voice is not much to talk about, but I like playing woodwinds, especially playing early music.
Everything from tools to jewelry to sculpture to wood, you do it all. As a bit of a Renaissance man; what aspects of your artistry do you enjoy the most?
I most enjoy seeking the balance between the functional and the artistic. I find that mass produced functional but thoughtless items have no life to them, and art without function is a bit like hothouse flowers that are inedible. Making a beautiful tool is what I consider the highest form of creativity. I don’t think of myself as a Renaissance man, but more an Arts and Crafts man. I take far more inspiration from Hubbard and Morris, than from Brunelleschi and DaVinci. I love to do a good job of creating, but I want others to be able to do that good work as well. I think that the most exciting times are when I am working to rediscover some lost technique that I can revive and pass along to other artists.
What kind of imagery or inspiration do you use? Or, can you tell us about any recurring themes in your work?
The main themes in my work are place and history. I very much believe in the importance of context, and creative honesty. Much of my work is either rooted in the Pacific Northwest, or steeped in history, or both.
Aside from the skills outlined in your class, what do you hope to bring to your students?
I could go on about this at length, but I will try to keep it to something reasonable here. The first thing that any creative person needs is the courage to start a project. Modern society tells us to fear making mistakes, which are part of learning anything, but too often that fear kills the creativity in us, before we can even get going. The next thing that we all need is the humility to pay attention to our materials and change plans as they dictate. You can’t force your work to be something that it is not, and if you listen the nature of your materials will come through in your work, just as your creativity will be expressed through your materials. The final thing I want students to develop is the grit to see a project through, not to rush it, but to stay with it until it comes to a natural conclusion.
In what kind of environment do you work best?
I do most of my best work alone, even when working on a collaborative project. It is not that I don’t want people around at all, but I like to have a direct and intimate connection to my materials, and this is easiest in private. When I take breaks I like to get out of the studio and if possible outdoors or on the water. I find that a long walk, a ride on the motorbike, or a paddle on the canoe helps clear my mind so that I can come back to my work ready to give my best.
Bill is currently revamping his website, but you can still visit and check things out while it’s under construction: http://billdawsonmetalsmith.com
We’ve also started a new class series with Bill, Hollowware Fundamentals Beginning Series. Look for our Spring quarter schedule to see what’s next in the lineup! Join our mailing list for early access to each quarterly schedule: http://www.danacadesign.com
I first started making jewelry my freshman year of college.
In what kind of environment do you work best?
I like a studio with lots of windows, and a garden setting. Light is important and also the sense of letting the outside in.
What are your favorite materials to work with, and why?
I love sterling silver. When I am chasing or forming sterling sheet it is ductile and responsive yet resists just enough to allow for specific detail and crisp edges. It can look soft, organic, industrial and architectural. I also like to work in copper for its softness and warm color.
Have you had any teachers who have shaped you as an artist?
The teacher who had the biggest impact on my work and my career as an artist is Eleanor Moty, my major professor in graduate school. She introduced me to chasing (detailing the surface of metal with shaped steel tools) and repoussé (punching up the back side of sheet metal to create form on the front), the techniques that have become my passion and the basis to my teaching career. Eleanor is a consummate jewelry artist and perfectionist. She has also become a friend and mentor. Working with Eleanor Moty changed my life’s trajectory in so many ways. Without her support I would not have had the confidence to write my technical and gallery book, “Chasing and Repoussé: Methods Ancient and Modern”, which has lead to the wonderful experience of teaching around the world.
Are there any other art forms close to your heart?
I love ceramics and collect as much as possible, from plates to sculpture. I have worked in clay a few times and although it is not my main technique or material, I find it very engrossing. I also collect copper vessels from Santa Clara, Mexico. These are beautifully raised and chased pieces made by families who have been working with these techniques for several generations.
Of the many gallery shows and exhibitions you have been in or worked on, which was the most engaging for you?
Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery exhibition entitled “Louder than Words.” The jewelry artists were asked to respond to the phrase “Jewelry speaks louder than words, but not nearly as often” and the concept that artists create contrasts and communions between the visual language of jewelry art and the literary language of the printed page. Story telling has been a significant part of my life, both verbally and in the writing I have done related to the artwork I produce. This theme brought up several stories from my past, two of which are represented in the attached images. I used to live in Florida and experienced a minor but still unnerving hurricane. The winds and the darkness were frightening of course, but the eye of the storm is what I remember most – the glowing sun and the sense that I was in a tunnel of light and quiet. The name of this piece is “Silence is Golden”. The second piece, “Heart on Fire” is based on imagination rather than experience. The fire and hot lava at the center of a volcano has always fascinated me. I love the theme shows at Facèré as they spark many new ideas and often cause me to expand my technical experience.
What recent piece are you most proud of?
I have been adding color to my work through colored pencils. For the 3×2 show I collaborated with Larry Scott, glass bead maker, on a piece we called “Late Harvest” – a brooch with a branch theme that I chased and formed, colored with pencil and then added Larry’s beads. We enjoyed working together and the end result pleases us both.
Love her work as much as we do? Take her Chasing and Repoussé Class! Coming up February 6th-8th Megan Corwin’s three day workshop will be the one not to miss. See website for more details:
Cynthia has been working with polymer clay since the 1980s. While she is known for her figurative micromosaic pieces, in the last few years she has been concentrating on thin sheet work, creating the cone and claw necklaces and the rolodex series. Most of her work is inspired by ethnic jewelry and ancient beads which she and her husband collect. Cynthia has a BFA in printmaking from the University of Washington and a BA in Biology from Drake University. She spends long hours researching and planning work with Dan Adams, her husband and collaborator. Besides her jewelry work and teaching, she enjoys sushi.
What’s your background? Is it in art, or something else? I have a BA in Biology from Drake University and a BFA in Art (Printmaking) from the University of Washington.
You often use unusual materials in your work, when did you start making experimental jewelry? What do you like about it? I work primarily with polymer clay. I started making beads in 1986 and then made small brooches and necklaces. My first necklace included glass and stone beads and found objects combined with my polymer beads. This was inspired by African jewelry where they use disparate material. Glass is another medium I have worked with – micromosaics and enameled glass pieces. I also enjoy dry felting but developed frozen shoulder and trigger finger which necessitated a temporary haitus.
What attracted you to polymer clay? I cam across polymer clay during a visit to Hong Kong. It is a very accessible material and requires very little equipment or outlay that was a big attraction to a beginning artist.
Your works exhibit huge attention to detail, have you always worked this way? I like to work small, especially on micromosaics because I hate conditioning clay!
What kind of imagery or inspiration do you use? Or, can you tell us about any recurring themes in your work? Lot’s of times the image is dictated by the theme of the gallery show. When left to my own devices, I often use folk stories or animal imagery. Sometimes I incorporate simple everyday life (e.g. knitting, hiking, enjoying a cup of coffee, etc…) into my pieces. In my necklaces they are often about color, textures or playing with different shapes and materials.
You regularly collaborate with your husband, Dan Adams. How is working as a team different from working on your individual work? The first thing we have to decide on is a piece that is exciting to both of us. It could be a color theme or story line. Then we work separately on the beads and then discuss whether they work together or if its back to the drawing board. It is more difficult that working on your own, but sometimes the piece is richer because of the additional challenge.
Have you had any one teacher who have shaped you most as an artist? I think Glen Alps, my advisor at the University of Washington Printmaking program, is my biggest inspiration in regards to work ethic. Even into his 80’s he still spent time in the studio every day. I believe in hard work and commitment which often means long hours.
If you like what you see and would like to learn more from such a great artist sign up for her class at Danaca Design Today. Cynthia’s Class “Polymer Micro Mosaics” will be on January 10th and 11th 2015, come visit or give us a call before all the spots fill up! Check out our website for more details, http://www.danacadesign.com/index.php?p=index