1st Place - Hollowware/Art Objects
A metalsmith and instructor, Tom Ferrero crafts exquisitely detailed work of metal art. He spent four years creating his winning piece, a mace inspired by Medieval art and architecture. Tom is an assistant professor of jewelry and metalsmithing at NSCAD University in Halifax, Canada. He spends summers as the department head of metalsmithing at Camp Laurel in Readfield, Maine. He has won two NICHE Awards, has work in the private collection of the Kamm Teapot Foundation in California and has exhibited in galleries across the United States, as well as in South Korea, New Zealand and Canada. This is his second Saul Bell Design Award.
MARLENE RICHEY: TELL US ABOUT YOUR WINNING PIECE, THE "MACE."
Tom Ferrero: There is something very regal about the "Mace." I like creating objects that are treasures. Maces started out historically as weapons and later evolved into ceremonial objects and symbols of power. They are also inherently stable forms to design around. The piece is silver and copper. There is, however, some 24K gold over fine silver. Citrine, rhodolite garnets, amber from the Dominican Republic, Swiss blue topaz, blue zircon, diamonds and rectangular stones carved from Italian acetate (like in eyeglass frames) are the stones I used, as well as resin and enamel inlay. I heat-treated the copper to bring out the red patina. Once you have done this, you can only hold the piece with gloves (white jewelry gloves) because the heat-treated copper will change color if it comes in contact with body oils. All the stone setting was done wearing gloves after the heat treatment.
MR: WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND THE PIECE?
TF: Medieval art and architecture has always been a huge influence on my work. I am inspired by fantasy and science fiction movies. My work is inherently balanced. The "Mace" is a group of ideas. When I taught a class on making spicula, some of those techniques became part of this design. I wanted to design something large and complex. The piece is two-feet tall and was built in sections. It easily unscrews, and everything comes apart in individual units. It is very stable and structurally sound.
MR: WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THE PIECE?
TF: Perseverance! I am a glutton for punishment. This is by far the most complex piece I have ever made. To keep the vision of the final product in my mind was paramount.
Soldering all the wing units on was a challenge. It took so much heat to solder onto the central piece while making sure things didn't fall apart. The torch had to be at the right temperature. I used an electroforming technique, which was a learning experience. I etched all of the feather pattern into the electroformed copper before I soldered on the silver wire trim only to discover severe blistering between the copper substrate and the electroformed material. This meant I had to file all of the etched pattern and electroformed copper back down to the base metal, solder my silver wires on again, re-electroform the unit and apply the pattern and etching a second time.
I made a lot of tools to use in forming this piece. Sometimes I had to build something three or four times to get it right.
MR: DID YOU STUDY JEWELRY?
TF: Yes, jewelry was my focus for my undergraduate work at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Then I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in New Zealand at the University of Auckland and Manukau Institute of Technology for a year. It was a year of professional freedom. Everything was paid for. They encourage you to go into the country and experience it. I studied the Maori culture, and I was there when they were filming The Lord of the Rings. It was a wonderful experience. When I came back to the States I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do. That is when I started teaching at a children's camp. After that I went to Indiana University for my MFA and took extra classes in the K-12 art education program.
MR: WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER THAT YOU LOVED MAKING JEWELRY?
TF: Before college. I was in a high school in Connecticut that had an extensive art program. It was my junior year when I had taken everything in the art department except jewelry, so I tried it and loved it. It was a perfect fit. Jewelry allowed me to indulge my love of drawing and meticulous detail and was a vehicle to bring those drawings to life. The act of building in metal is fascinating to me, especially using the torch. Being able to marry all of those passions together was just what I was looking for.
MR: WHO IS YOUR DESIGN/JEWELRY MENTOR?
TF: Leonard Urso at RIT was a huge mentor in making sure my craftsmanship was held to a very high level, as well as Juan Carlos Caballero-Perez for influencing my early aesthetic. In terms of design, the 19th century English architect Owen Jones said "Decorate construction. Never construct decoration." An object needs to be well designed and harmonious first. No amount of embellishment will make up for weak design. Also, Donald Norman, the author of Emotional Design, has had a huge impact on the way I think about, design and create pieces.
MR: DO YOU HAVE A JEWELRY DESIGN BUSINESS?
TF: I make wedding and engagement rings, but the main thing I do is teach. I sell pieces and paintings on the side.
MR: WHAT IS YOUR ARTIST STATEMENT/DESIGN PHILOSOPHY?
TF: I believe in well-balanced, cohesive work that appeals to the widest audience possible. I want my work to appeal to both children and adults and to people with and without an art background. I love to make complex, beautiful pieces. I try to place things in all of my artwork that will capture people's attention from a distance, and then I try to include additional elements that will hold their attention once they get closer to elicit an emotion or feeling of discovery. I believe strongly in "the wow-factor" and work that brings about a visceral response.
MR: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TOOL?
TF: Calipers. They come in so handy. You always have to measure things in metalwork and you use them all the time. I need them for translating my two-dimensional drawings into metal.
MR: WHAT ONE WORD OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE BEGINNING DESIGNERS?
TF: The most important thing about going into the arts is to have multiple sources of income. It is not an easy path to march down. You might have to cobble together a paycheck from a variety of sources. Applying your creative skills to your career as well as your art is imperative. Creating and maintaining social connections and investing financially in your future as early as possible is essential. Take advantage of compounding interest. I started investing when I was 21 and now wish I had started at 16 when I got my first job.
You can see more of Tom's work at tomferrerostudio.com.
Interview by Marlene Richey