2017 Alternative Metals/Materials - First Place
Metalsmith, educator and writer Andy Cooperman works from his Seattle studio, where he builds jewelry and objects for exhibitions and private clients. His work and writing has appeared in blogs, magazines and books, including Humor in Craft, Art Jewelry Today (I, II & III) and The Penland Book of Jewelry and is held in private and public collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, Central College in Pella, Iowa, and the Tacoma Art Museum.
The Winning Piece:
Sterling, 14K, 18K, rattlesnake rattle, diamond.
Forged, fused and fabricated.
I had wanted to make one since I found my first rattle at a Western boot shop. I loved the improbability of a ring with a rattlesnake rattle and the idea of a ring as a warning device. Things really opened up when I tried to paint a rattle one evening.
Maybe three days.
What did you learn from the piece?
That I could paint a snake rattle and still have it shake—and that it could win an award. Since this ring is the second in a series, I also learned how hard it is to find nice, long rattles when you need them. The good ones are expensive and few and far between and even then need some repair.
Do you think this piece will influence your work going forward?
This piece was already part of a series of rings that incorporate organics—quills, feathers, bone, fur. So rather than a starting point, the Poison Rings represents the middle of an ongoing body of work.
Does it reflect your current look/designs/brand?
What do you like most about the piece?
The rattle. But there's also a few little details like the little bridge under the rattle assembly. I changed that from the first Poison Ring. I really like that.
Did you try it on?
Where do you live?
Did you study jewelry?
Yes, as art classes in college in Upstate New York in 1979. Along with a major in Studio Art, I also majored in English and minored in Creative Writing.
Where did you receive your training?
At college and at the bench in stores and shops. And on my own with the occasional workshop.
When did you discover that you loved making jewelry?
In my first class in 1979. But I should add that metal has always seemed like a strange fit for me.
How long have you been making jewelry?
Since then. 38 years?
Do any of your other passions influence your work?
I love to make—to build. Working on the house, building almost anything. How things are put together. And the biology and architecture of living things.
What other types of work have you done in your life?
Oh man, all sorts. When I was a kid I worked at a pet shop. I’ve made guitar picks in a factory, refinished furniture, worked on the grounds crew in college mowing lawns, digging holes and laying black top. Worked at trade shops and jewelry stores and made crowns and bridges at a dentist office. Even managed a little kiosk in a mall in upstate NY back in 1980 that bought jewelry, coins and tableware from the public for the metal content. This was when gold and silver had hit historic highs—right around the Hunt brothers. I learned a lot and I still use the pennyweight scale they let me keep when we closed down. They also let me keep the stones. My wife’s engagement diamond came out of there.
When are you most creative?
Early in the day and late in the day. I’m least inclined at those times to second guess things.
Do you have a jewelry design business?
I work by and for myself.
What is your company’s name? What do you sell?
Andy Cooperman; art jewelry, objects and custom and commissioned pieces.
What is your artist statement/design philosophy?
I make things for a variety of reasons. In pursuit of a specific interest, to reconcile an idea or situation, and to share an observation. Sometimes just to complete a joke—like my Chicken Jewelry. But in all cases, I try to make things well.
How do you get the word out about your work?
Facebook, Instagram, my website and through lectures, teaching and visiting artist engagements.
Do you have a staff?
Saul Bell Design Award:
What did you feel when you found out you were a winner?
Happy. Validated. Energized.
What made you decide to enter the competition?
My work had been featured in a Rio blog about gold. The writer suggested that I enter.
Have you entered before?
How did you hear about the competition?
I’ve known about it for years.
What is your favorite material to work with?
I really love strange materials. Especially those that can be manipulated or that are really unexpected. Like quills, rattles and ping-pong balls.
What differentiates you from other designs?
A high level of craft in service to an unorthodox aesthetic or idea.
What do you love about making jewelry?
I love to make. I like the scale of jewelry and I like its portability.
Studio and Surroundings:
What is the one thing you most love about your studio?
I like that I have pretty much what I need in a concentrated and easily accessed place.
What is the one thing you would change about your studio?
I would like more space.
What is your favorite tool?
I returned from a workshop where someone broke my favorite pair of homemade drawtongs/everything pliers. They were like old friends and went everywhere with me—even ended up in my pocket when I went to dinner. But I’d have to say my rolling mill. I make so much with it. Process ingots into stock-wire and sheet. Produce textures. Forge.
Do you listen to anything when you work?
Music, NPR, one or two talk shows and the occasional podcast. But lately, I’ve been listening to nothing. Without the punctuation of a song or news story it’s easier to get lost and sink into the flow.
One word of advice you received when starting to make jewelry/run a business?
Become a doctor.
What one word of advice would you give beginning designers?
Become a doctor. No; really It depends on what they want to do. Are we talking about designer/makers? Designing for the jewelry trade? Making art? Doing custom work? I think that the last one is a revenue stream and pursuit that most beginning and mid-career makers shy away from. I would tell them to not overlook custom and commission work. And drop the attitude: There’s always someone better than you. And always, always try to make things well.
What work inspires you?
The artist Martin Puryear. The crazy, sweet little kinetic pieces by Arthur Ganson. And any work that is thoughtfully made and transcends material and expectations..
What achievement in your jewelry life are you most proud of?
I have a piece –a fish server—that went to the Victoria and Albert Museum as part of a larger collection. The Saul Bell Award is also pretty cool. I just had 16 feet of wall space at the Bellevue Arts Museum’s Biennial exhibition for about five months. Jewelry and sculptural objects. But I'm also really proud that I've been able to build and maintain a career making—and teaching—without advanced degrees.
What jeweler would you most like to have dinner with or visit their studio?
J Fred Woell. He passed way recently and he was a lovely, witty and engaging man. It would be nice to see him again. ... My big fantasy would be to meet the person who first watched metal boil out of a rock, maybe in a fire, and then figured out what that could become.
You can see more of Andy's work at andycooperman.com.
Interview by Marlene Richey