2nd Place – Alternative Metals/Materials
It is hard, if not impossible, to separate the art jewelry produced by Ezra Satok-Wolman from the processes he has created to make his designs work. Take his winning piece, “The Torus Bracelet for an Astronaut”: This complex, intricate, flexible and magical piece deserves recognition. This jeweler/artist/scientist has a workshop north of Toronto where he makes magic happen in new and exciting ways.
Where did you get the title for this piece?
This bracelet is basically the result of a lengthy project that started six or seven years ago, inspired by space-age technologies, materials and concepts. I started by designing a universal component that I could use to create a system for building flexible, customizable, geometric structures that could be compressed and self-deploy, while also having the ability to stretch and adapt to the human body.
How long did it take to make the piece?
The bracelet takes several days to assemble, but there are weeks of work involved leading up to that stage.
What obstacles did you have to overcome in making this piece?
The biggest challenge was the cost. It is so costly just to get enough parts so I can play around and get my shape-plan down. For the first bracelet of this type, I used components that were cast. Since then, I have reduced the cost per component by 60% switching to a process called DMLS 3D printing. This method of production was too expensive to consider when I started the project, but technology caught up with my needs over the last few years.
Will this piece inspire other pieces?
It certainly has, and I have now produced a full collection, including a number of colored pieces that have been anodized. The collection will be presented for the first time to the public in a gallery in Barcelona in June.
What did you feel when you heard?
I was very excited. It’s always nice to have my work recognized by the jewelry community.
Have you won other awards? If so, what?
Yes. I haven’t applied to anything like this in a number of years. I placed in the 2007-2009 MJSA Vision Awards and the 2013 Niche Awards, and I was a finalist several years ago in the Friedrich Becker Prize competition.
Name some facts about yourself.
I love to travel, which my wife and I do quite a bit. I enjoy puzzles and problem solving.
Creative. Determined. Stubborn. Perfectionist. Fun-loving.
Of all the arts and crafts, why did you choose jewelry?
I fell into it accidentally. I always loved jewelry before I ever considered making it. I loved the feel of working with metal. It felt less restrictive than working with glass, which had been my medium before. It opened up my mind in a different way.
What was the first thing you ever made?
Sitting at a jeweler’s bench where my wife worked back in the 1990s, I tinkered around and made this little toy “thing,” a coiled disk of wire that moves along another wire that it sits on. We still have it.
Who do you think has been the strongest influence or inspiration on your work?
The architects Antoni Gaudí and Buckminster Fuller. They both knew that nature is the best teacher when it comes to design and architecture, and that has had a profound impact on me as an artist and designer.
In such a competitive industry, what do you credit your longevity to?
Determination, and the fact that I love what I do.
Do you have any advice for those starting out in the jewelry world?
Be prolific but not redundant.
What would you say you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were 20?
I have learned to not sweat the small stuff and to pick my battles wisely.
What do you want your legacy to be?
Just to be able to leave behind some works that qualify as something new, and that inspire others to push the boundaries of jewelry-making. I hope some of the pieces I make are around for a while.
Do you follow long-term trends? If so, why or why not?
No. Jewelry is a very broad field, and I don’t fit into the commercial jewelry area. I gravitate to art jewelry. Fifteen or so years ago when there was a big shift away from traditional materials, I stayed my course and continued to work as a classical goldsmith. While I have done some experimenting with other materials, I always return to gold and platinum.
What is your favorite quote in either business or art?
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”- John Muir
What is the best advice you have received?
Learn how to be patient. It has definitely paid off.
What was your training/academic background in metalsmithing?
First, my wife and I went to the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine. I wanted to take a glass-blowing class, but it was full, so I ended up in metals—which I loved immediately. When we moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, I did a two-year jewelry, art and design program at Vancouver Community College and a certification program with the Canadian Gemological Association. I also studied goldsmithing and diamond setting at Le Arti Orafe Jewelry School in Florence, Italy, and studied with Giovanni Corvaja in Todi, Italy, for three years.
Is the product or the process more important to you?
Product is a result of the process; this is the big lesson I continue to learn. You can’t take shortcuts because they become visible in the long run; they are both equally important. Without the right process, you are not going to end up with the right product.
What is your favorite type/piece of jewelry?
I am a brooch man.
What do you like most about making jewelry? What do you like least?
I love taking raw materials and turning them into something. The whole thing for me is like therapy, and in this crazy world where everything is out of our control, in my studio everything is in my control, and that is very comforting to me. I enjoy almost every stage when making a piece, but I can say with certainty that sanding is my least favorite thing to do.
What is the biggest change you have seen in the jewelry world since you have been around?
The two biggest changes I have seen are the shift to non-traditional materials and the rise of computer-aided design and manufacturing.
What is your strongest metalsmithing skill?
I am very pleased with my ability to move metal with a hammer and to solder. I am a fabricator. I move and connect metal.
Describe your studio.
It is very spacious. We live an hour north of Toronto. We moved to a house with a three-car garage and renovated that space into a spacious, bright studio. It’s very comfortable. I spend more time there than anywhere else, and the commute is awesome.
What metals, gemstones and processes are most important to you?
I am a big fan of gemstones but don’t use them a lot. I collect mineral specimens and faceted stones. Occasionally, one will find its way into a piece of jewelry. I love working with gold and platinum, and I begin a project starting from the alloying process, which is the foundation for every piece I make.
Interview by Marlene Richey