2017 Silver/Argentium® Silver - Second Place
Matthieu Cheminee has had a fascinating life and jewelry career. He is a master at stamping patterns to create wonderful textures on his jewelry. He has traveled the world, which is his school and classroom. Matthieu learns from every artisan he meets, and he tries to incorporate what he has seen into his work. He gives back to the jewelry world with both his knowledge in the book he wrote, Legacy, Jewelry Techniques of West Africa, and by making it his personal mission to improve the world of jewelry makers with his nonprofit, The Toolbox Initiative. Matthieu literally takes knowledge from the world he experiences and gives back his own knowledge, skills and thoughtfulness. Matthieu was a Saul Bell Design Awards finalist in 2006 in the Gold/Platinum category.
The Winning Piece:
Sterling silver and 18K gold with diamonds.
I started making the piece by stamping. I made a stamp out of steel and then stamped the silver to make the entire texture. I then cut out the bracelet and formed it by anticlastic raising (I lifted up the edges) almost if I was starting an anticlastic piece.
I have been doing stamping ever since I started making jewelry, and I always try to go a little further. I did a series of rings called "Bubbles," where I created pieces with tubes. I had the tubes 3D printed to fit into a bracelet.
It is hard to tell. There is so much time spent physically stamping on one piece of metal. I start with an ingot and roll it to a nice, long piece. Just to stamp the piece took about four hours. So probably a day or so for the entire piece.
Are you going to sell it?
Yes. It is for sale.
Do you think this piece will influence your work going forward?
Yes. Definitely. This was a step forward in my designs. The first one was the "Bubble." I would like to go deeper into this line of patterns.
What do you like most about the piece?
I like the contrast of the gold and diamonds and oxidized silver. And I like the contrast of old traditional stamping mixed with new technology like 3D printing.
Did you try it on?
I always have my wife try on all my pieces.
Where have you lived and what projects came out of your moves?
I have lived in Montreal for the past 16 years and Africa before that. I wrote book called Legacy, Jewelry Techniques of West Africa published by Tim McCreight at Brynmorgan Press. Tim and I also started The Toolbox Initiative, which as our website (www.toolboxinitative.com) states, “The goal is to assist jewelers with limited resources through the collective strength of the metalworking community and to create new connections worldwide”.
Did you study jewelry?
I did. I am initially from France, and when I moved to Taos, New Mexico, that is where I learned to make jewelry; by watching Navajo jewelers. Then I moved to Africa for three years and learned about the techniques I experienced there. And then it was on to Canada because I felt I was missing some classical craftsmanship skills. I studied for a year and half and then started teaching in Montreal. I still often take workshops to improve my techniques. I love to go to Africa and just sit and watch, and I absorb so much in just a few minutes.
When did you discover that you loved making jewelry?
The first minute I moved to Taos and saw native American jewelry. I also love photography, and it was a big switch for me to go from that to jewelry. My father was a volcanologist and traveled all over the world and brought my mother back beautiful pieces which piqued my interest. Navajo and Tuareg jewelry are among the strongest influences in my jewelry.
How long have you been making jewelry?
My first piece was about 28 years ago. I have been making living at it for the last 15 to 20 years. There were times when I was teaching and didn’t make much jewelry then.
Do any of your other passions influence your work?
Photography. Traveling is the most influential.
Do you have a design/jewelry mentor?
I am self-taught. No one person but many people are my mentors, including people who opened their shop to me and share their knowledge.
What other types of work have you done in your life?
I was a photographer when I was younger. Construction. Restaurants.
When are you most creative?
In the morning between 6:00 and 10:00.
Do you have a jewelry design business?
I have a workshop in my basement. My business is called Matthieu Chemiee. I sell work in galleries and am always looking for new ones to carry my work.
What is your artist statement/design philosophy?
“I have a passion for ethnic techniques from around the world. I am fascinated with the know-how, the transmission of the craft and the transformation of raw or recycled material into beautiful ornaments by gold and silversmiths of those different countries.”
Do you have a staff?
I do it all. Sometimes I use a stone setter for pavé work or someone to print 3D.
Saul Bell Design Award:
What did you feel when you found out you were a winner?
I was so excited that they chose a piece that had been stamped. Stamping doesn’t get as much recognition as it should. Each little triangle is hand stamped. It becomes a texture. Stamping has its own place in contemporary jewelry. Anyone can make a stamp and it takes nothing to make the tool. I am working on a second book on Stamping Around the World.
What made you decide to enter the competition?
I saw the ad from Rio and just did it. I applied 10 years ago and was a finalist and this is my second time.
What is your favorite material to work?
I love 18K or 22K gold and pure silver.
What do you love about making jewelry?
For me it is like being in a little cocoon, allowing me to get lost in the process. It is like traveling everyday. It really seems like that. There is so much freedom making jewelry. I could travel anywhere in the world and only take a hammer and stamp and make jewelry. It is about freedom.
Are you influenced by trends?
I don’t think so. Sometimes if I am reading a magazine and see something it might stick with, me but it is not voluntarily.
Studio and Surroundings:
What is the one thing you most love about your studio?
I love my bench. I made a bench out of a big piece oak and carved out the indented space to work in. I feel like I am encased in my jewelry. African artifacts surround me in my studio.
What is the one thing you would change about your studio?
I am always dreaming about a large loft with big windows. But I love my current space. In the country we have a farmhouse with a workshop where I can make work. Hopefully I might start a school there.
What is your favorite tool?
Stamps. One stamp would be enough. Old Navajo metalsmiths would have one (maybe two stamps) and transform it for each project.
Do you listen to anything when you work?
One word of advice you received when starting to make jewelry/run a business?
The best advice I got was to stick to one style and push it for a year. I went forward with stamping and that was the big switch in my career. This was the best advice I have ever received.
What work inspires you?
Any kind of blacksmithing, leatherworking, craft; to just watch someone who has the know-how is the most beautiful thing to experience.
What achievement in your jewelry life are you most proud of?
The book I wrote on Africa and The Toolbox Initiative.
What jeweler would you most like visit their studio?
Navajo jeweler Charles Loloma. He produced extraordinary inlay work. If I could be in his shop, I would love it.
You can see more of Matthieu's work at www.matthieucheminee.com.
Interview by Marlene Richey