2015 2nd Place - Alternative Metals/Materials
The American poet Muriel Rukeyser is known for saying that "the universe is made of stories, not of atoms." Perhaps more than any other piece in the 2015 Saul Bell Design Award competition, Sandy Mikel's "Phases of the Moon" necklace tells us a story. It may not be apparent at first, but dig a little deeper, and you'll find the tale of one night encapsulated in the black water buffalo horn, rivets and moonstones of her winning necklace.
Sandy took the time to share a little more about the winning piece and her own story as a jeweler with us.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR WINNING PIECE?
For a long time I wanted to make a necklace showing the phases of the moon, but I couldn't find a black material I was happy with for the sky. When I came across cut slabs of black water buffalo horn, I realized it was exactly what I needed and got to work. The design I came up with required two pieces of horn for each segment with a moonstone set between them in a beveled opening. I wanted to incorporate stars as well, so I decided to use silver rivets to connect the two pieces and place them where the stars would be for the night represented.
To select a specific date to base the necklace on, I asked myself what was the most memorable full moon I had ever seen. I knew immediately that it had to be the night I saw the space shuttle arching across the just risen full moon directly in front of me as I drove home from Gainesville, Florida on February 7, 2001.
Even though I live about 130 miles inland, any time the weather was clear across the state I could see shuttle launches from my front porch. I watched all the launches I could, but the rare coincidence of clear weather and a launch after sunset was something I really didn't want to miss. Unfortunately it looked like I wasn't going to get home in time, and since I was going to be even further west I wasn't optimistic about my chances of seeing anything. I was hurrying home hoping for enough of the usual short holds in the countdown when I came around a curve and saw the huge full moon directly in front of me with the shuttle rising over it. Luckily the road was straight, giving me a perfect view for as long as the shuttle was visible. I wish I had been able to get a picture so that I could show it to other people; I will always remember that sight.
The large silver rivet above the moonstone on the center segment of the necklace represents STS-98, and the rest of the rivets are stars in the sky at the different phases of the moon, starting on the clasp with the new moon on January 24, 2001. I used software from stellarium.org to see what stars would have been in the right part of the sky, but I did take the liberty of removing the Earth's atmosphere and selecting which stars to show based on aesthetic and structural needs. And yes, there is a moonstone on the clasp, but it's the new moon so you can't see it.
YOU WORK WITH A LOT OF UNEXPECTED MATERIALS, INCLUDING THE BLACK WATER BUFFALO HORN YOU USED IN YOUR WINNING PIECE. WHAT DRAWS YOU TO THEM?
I think what usually interests me is the texture and pattern of a material, the variations and imperfections. If you start with the idea that jewelry can be made out of almost anything you like, you notice materials everywhere. I keep my eyes open for anything that appeals to me. As long as it's not too large, heavy, or fragile, I figure I'll eventually find a way to use it. Sometimes that means using the material or object as the starting point of a design; other times, if I have an idea that I can't quite work out, I just pull out a bunch of different materials and see what clicks.
WHO HAS HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON YOUR WORK?
The fact that I even have any work is probably due in large part to The Splendor of Ethnic Jewelry, France Borel and John Bigelow Taylor's book documenting the Colette and Jean-Pierre Ghysels collection. I came across it when I was first starting to work with metal clay, and it was a revelation about what jewelry is and can be. You can't look at a photograph of ear ornaments made from beetle wing cases, seeds, and toucan feathers and not realize there may be possibilities that you haven't considered.
TELL US HOW YOU BECAME A JEWELER.
I think of myself as an accidental jewelry artist and a reluctant metalsmith. I enjoyed fiber crafts like knitting, quilting, and weaving. I loved working with wood. But I never even thought about making jewelry and couldn't see how anyone would want to work with metal. As an owner of an old house, my experiences with metal involved work hardened copper wiring, recalcitrant plumbing, and metal plaster lath that shreds knuckles—all very useful and necessary … but not very enticing.
My epiphany came in the library when I saw a book on metal clay. Intrigued by the idea of being able to actually shape metal with my hands, I took a few minutes to glance through it and thought: "Wow, I could do this!"
I read through the book and started thinking about the possibilities but didn't pursue it until I saw a metal clay class being offered by the Santa Fe College community education program. The opportunity to have someone show me how this stuff worked was too good to pass up, and six weeks of classes was enough to get me hooked.
As time passed I found myself working unnecessarily hard at doing things with metal clay that could be done more quickly and easily with traditional metalsmithing techniques. As much as working with metal clay had made me appreciate the material, I was still less than enthusiastic about the idea of sawing, filing, and soldering, but I finally had to acknowledge that it was time to broaden my range of skills.
I signed up for an excellent jewelry construction class offered in the community education program, and it gave me a good introduction to basic skills and techniques. Because the instructor, Dieter Dohrmann, is so patient and willing to share his expertise, I have been able to return to that class as a way to work on specific skills, focusing each session on whatever I feel the least comfortable doing in a setting where I can get the help and advice I need. Feeling comfortable mixing materials and techniques in whatever way seems best gives me a lot more freedom in design.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE TECHNIQUE OR PROCESS?
I really like working with a hammer, fold-forming and forging, but I also like etching, maybe because they're all processes that add dimension.
YOU MENTIONED WANTING TO MAKE "ANCIENT AND ORGANIC LOOKING THINGS" WHEN YOU STARTED WORKING WITH METAL CLAY. DOES THAT DESIRE STILL UNDERPIN YOUR WORK?
Yes, I think that's still where much of my work comes from. I sometimes base my designs on examples of ancient jewelry. Shortly after I started working with bronze, I came across an article on ancient scripts that have not yet been deciphered. I have incorporated examples of them into much of my work. The ten scripts span four continents and over 3,000 years and are dramatically diverse in style, so they provide many design opportunities. When I use bronze and copper clay I have the additional advantage of being able to tear or break pieces before firing to create fragments of text with a more realistic aged and distressed look than I could achieve otherwise. And while much of my work is "organic" in a general sense, involving natural materials and texture, I have also incorporated leaves and vines into a lot of my designs, as well as the occasional insect.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF MAKING A NEW PIECE OF JEWELRY?
What I really enjoy about making jewelry is that it requires working with your brain in a creative way to imagine a piece, working in a more precise and analytical way to design and engineer the piece, and working with your hands to create the piece. The best part is when all that comes together and the idea becomes a design, and the design becomes the actual piece of jewelry you imagined.