I have been fascinated by automata since childhood visits to the Science Museum in London. I remember turning the handle on the Archimedes screw exhibit and seeing the little man turn his own handle in time with me. As the water came up through this cause and effect, I was totally fascinated by how that worked. When I first saw Kim Nogueira’s metal clay automata I was blown away by the ingenuity of the technical aspects but also by the stories and themes behind the pieces.
Kim was born and raised in the small New England town of Northampton, MA and now lives in St John, in the US Virgin Islands. “For the past 25 years, this little island has been my home, where I raised my wonderful son,” she explained. “Two thirds of the island is protected by the National Park, and the hiking and snorkeling is fabulous here. It is a very tiny island however, measuring about nine miles by 12 miles. Elevation reaches from sea level to 1200 feet, which if you ever run or walk our annual famous 8 Tuff Mile Race, which runs through the center of the island from one end to the other, you will get to experience most of that elevation change. I have only done this once, and that was enough!”
I love texture and anyone who knows me knows my work typically features lots of it so when I first saw Kris Kramer’s work, I was instantly taken by the fabulous textures she uses. And the haunting faces of the animals in her work are so full of feeling. Kris is the owner and artisan at Kris Kramer Designs.
Kris lives in Whitefish, in northwest Montana, which is about 30 miles from the Canadian border. “I live with a little dog, Rose, in a wooded area in a small tourist town that offers recreation all year round. My daughter lives about 120 miles away, and we visit each other often.”
I asked her where she was brought up. “I was raised in Illinois and Wisconsin,” she told me. “I lived in New York in early school years and worked in northern Minnesota in summers during high school.”
Her first experience with metal clay was interesting. “I was working a stressful, 50+ hours, managerial job,” she began. “I wish I could remember the first metal clay piece I saw but can’t. I purchased some on a lark. I experimented with a small bit like I was in biology class dissecting a pithed frog. I fired it then turned it black with patina. It was a blob with pokes, prods, lines, stuff stabbed into it. I was hooked and it became my therapy on Sundays. Eventually, I quit the day job, as the expression goes, and . . . .”
I asked her when she first began creating. “In second grade an assignment was to make a panoramic scene inside a shoebox. I was at a loss. My mother not only helped, she did the entire thing herself. Needless to say it stuck out among the other kids’ projects. I was so impressed though by what she could do that I must have then and there jumped on the creative bandwagon. Thereafter I would pencil-and-paper draw miniature scenes every chance I got. All of these were tiny; so that, when I discovered a new tiny world in metal clay, I felt as if I were coming home.”
Kris creates her pieces in her home studio. “I have a studio in half my garage. My commute to work becomes then a walk across my drive. I am organized and running out of room. Each day on average I spend at least four hours in the studio plus three hours on related admin tasks at my desk in the house.”
With so many hours spent on her business, I asked Kris how she relaxes. “I put on TV a romantic comedy or some music with a good beat along with an apron and cook up or bake something new in the kitchen. Or I sit in a special wicker chair with striped silky cushions and a cup of tea and read something inspirational. Outloud.”
I asked Kris about her creative process. “Early in the morning when I’m fresh from dreamtime, mental images appear in my mind. When I actually take action on one of them, I draw a pencil sketch, which helps me see just how such a thing might be constructed. I find that I can plan in detail but the plan usually changes along the way, and I am more than okay with that. I wing it a lot, too.”
She has a particular piece that means a lot to her. “I made a huge, and I mean huge, pendant once. It weighs probably 100 grams—well, maybe not that much. I made everything from scratch—texture, shape, and more. It is a huge seedpod. It is birthing a new race of humans, a race that cares deeply for Earth Mother Gaia, appreciates diversity among humans, and is kind, sensitive and light-hearted. If you look closely you can see some nascent sprouts (faces) among the emerging seeds.”
Nature is obviously very important to Kris so I asked her about her influences. “My main influence is the level at which I can exist where I live,” she began. “I can walk into the woods and hear a dozen songbirds, feel the deer, bear or mountain lion watch me walk by, see more grasses than I could identify in a botany class in five years, marvel at the hues of only one color in the wildflowers, watch cottonwood fluff float by, catch a photo of an iridescent fly on a leaf …. need I go on? Someone else might walk up that same path and talk my ear off about something that matters little to me at the time, unless it has to do with nature, love, wisdom, or personal sovereignty.”
These influences are clear in Kris’s work. “Each totem animal pendant I make comes alive. Each one’s personality emerges in the process. Each one’s eyes say something different, but there is a theme. And the theme is laced with sadness and anger, is in their expression that says, ‘Wake up, people.’ Some look off into the distance, perhaps the future. Roads in my work always lead to horizons; maybe the animals are looking there also.”
I asked Kris what other techniques she uses alongside metal clay in her work. “I incorporate other metals, such as bronze, into silver pieces. I want to get back into setting cabochons. I make my own chains or improve upon purchased ones. I rarely solder and wish I could rivet. Mostly though, I’m a silver metal clay purist.”
She went on. “A theme to my work involves landscapes, wildlife, tracks, and flora. Anything I can do to bring attention in a beneficial way to the natural world is what I do.”
Kris told me her feelings about teaching metal clay. “I used to teach classes for up to six people at art centers and community colleges. Teaching to me was like doing shows — schlepping everything around is a lot of work. Now I teach out of my studio, share freely on my website, and build and offer online courses. What will never get old is the part in the metal clay process when you see your silver piece finished for real; there is always a pause, a reflection in appreciation, and a moment of ‘wow!’”
Kris also sells her work. “I sell in about half a dozen shops in Montana. I sell in five locations within Glacier National Park, seasonally obviously. I sell online on Etsy. I sell out of an online retail jewelry site based in Brooklyn. Let me be clear that my work consists of boring production pieces that sell in numbers and creativity-inspired, experimental, one-of-a-kind pieces. You can guess then where each best sells, or if I sell one or more at all.”
I asked Kris what she’s currently working on. “I am not working on anything right now!” she laughed. “What I am doing instead is tumbling each piece on display in my studio (mostly Etsy items) then placing each in a zip-lock bag, adding one anti-tarnish square. You see, I used so much patina this winter, all my pieces tarnished.”
So what about the future? I asked Kris what she wants to achieve artistically or creatively in the years to come. “Sweet question. A vision is necessary, and I do not have one. I think my work could use some more character and artistic infusion. Having said that I need to add that I still believe metal clay has not been fully explored, so whatever I create I want it to be unique, original, outside the box, and new.”
She went on, “As far as where I’m going with my work, I’ll have to ask my hands. Will they hold up and are they willing to give me another five years or more? They are telling me to give up the production work. And to experiment and stretch myself more in silver and other metals. They are telling me to teach remotely way more. And to keep my Life Coaching office in town—I help artists and artisans reach their goals, too.”
To see more of Kris’s work or find out about her coaching business, she has multiple places online.
Julia Rai is an award winning artist, teacher and writer well known in the international metal clay community. Her work has featured in a wide range of publications and she writes regularly for print magazines and online. She teaches in her home studio in Cornwall and travels to teach by invitation.
She discovered metal clay quite some time ago. “I first heard about silver clay in 2005 when I was searching the net for some information regarding ceramic clay. I got intrigued and signed up for the only metal clay class in Sweden that was available. I was blown away with the possibilities of the material but underwhelmed with the class since the teachers was nearly as new to the medium as me and didn’t seem to want to experiment and explore it as I did. The first thing I made was a G-clef that I later repurposed by melting it down to small balls that I made in to a raspberry. I continued to explore, experiment and learn by myself and I ended up writing the first book about silver clay that was published in Sweden and Finland. Continue reading…
As soon as I saw Polish artist Iwona Tamborska’s work, I knew I had to find out more about her. As a fan of fantasy, myth and fairy tales myself, her work really spoke to me. I asked Iwona what she considers her job title or profession to be. “That is a very good question as I noticed it is quite hard to explain,” she smiled. “I usually start with: ‘I am an artist and work with metal.’ If someone wants to know more, I continue: ‘My works are usually minimal scale sculptures and often have a use as jewelry’. I used to try to use the term ‘art jeweller’, but somehow people had the wrong idea of my work.” Continue reading…
At an invitational gallery show in France, Metal Clay jewellery by seventeen international artists is featured until June 11th. The show is the dream project for artist Angela Baduel-Crispin. PÔLE BIJOU GALERIE in Baccarat, France will display the works for the next four months. Are you unable to travel to France to see the show? We have a virtual tour of the show. The artists’ pieces and information is organized by country.
This exhibition is the first of its kind. It focuses on giving visibility to both this relatively new material and to artists of international renown who have pushed metal clay to it’s highest potential! Seventeen international artists (all women) each with her own their different styles and techniques. 70% of the work in the show is jewelry and the other 30% or so is composed of objects in metal clay. We were very thankful that number of artists were invited and submitted their work for the show. Selection was strongly based on originality of the work and technical proficiency.
The show started on January 16th and runs until the 11th of June. The official opening was on February 9th.
Tribal Warrior Woman symbolizes Every woman, at once simple and complex, guarded and protective, secure and vulnerable, functional and decorative. She stands strong, fights fiercely for her own, opens herself with love, enfolds all into her armour for both defense and nurture. Her chains are not only the ties that bind but also the connections between women around the world. Made from the very earth of Australia, Warrior Woman is accompanied by Wolf, a symbol of her visionary creator, loyal yet fierce protector/companion giving both strength and worldly knowledge.
Like every woman, Warrior Woman gives pieces of herself to nurture and enhance others, remaining whole in and of herself. Appearing to be nothing more than a statue, her armour is symbolic and trans-formative, revealing interconnected pieces of exquisite jewellery. Functional and decorative pieces include her arm guards becoming earrings; her shield, a stick pin; the bow and arrow across her back, a bracelet.
Warrior Woman was sculpted completely by hand from Aussie Metal Clay. Unlike traditional metalwork in which precise measurements remain true, metal clays shrink varying amounts during both drying and firing stages. Using five colours in two different firing temperature ranges, Kim combined beauty and functionality, seamlessly fitting the jewellery pieces, while accounting for the differences in shrinkage, malleability, and strength of the two High Fire colours of the armour and three Medium Fire colours of the body, the like types fired together. During her creation, Kim also perfected a unique metal clay glue enabling finer, more delicate pieces to be invisibly affixed.
Kim, a lifelong Australian, has been a renowned designer of dog jewellery and accessories for many years. She pioneered personalized pet sculptures using traditional metal casting techniques. A new world unfolded when introduced to metal clay. “Knowing No Boundaries” Kim’s motto, encourages her to be an innovator in metal clay. Warrior Woman’s inspiration appeared as both form and symbolism in a dream, with a personal message about life’s battles. Kim relates, “Sculpting Warrior Woman pushed me to areas I had not ventured before. She helped make me into the sculptor I am today, and for that I am forever thankful to her.”
Chicago based jewellery maker Marco Fleseri has been working with metal clay since 2003. “I made some crude dangly shapes and textured them using the point of a toothpick,” he told me. “I knew it had potential, particularly for creating things that would be difficult or impossible to produce using previous/ traditional methods.”
I asked Marco about his earliest memory of being creative. “When I was five years old I made some blobs that I thought resembled fish, using a papier-mâché I had fashioned by soaking crumpled facial tissue with glue. I sculpted the shapes and let them dry. I was later dismayed when I put my ‘fish’ into a bowl of water and they dissolved.”
Marco’s studio is in a building with other artists and I’m always interested to find out how organised other people are. “My studio is usually somewhat organized, unless I have several projects happening simultaneously.” I can relate to that! Continue reading…
Imagine chatting about the history and the future of jewelry design while sitting in a warehouse stacked floor to ceiling with boxes and boxes of mostly vintage beads and jewelry making components. What an astounding wonderland of inspiration! I metwithCarlandElyseSchimel,co-ownersofCJSSalesinNewYork City, one of my favorite places to head for a creative boost.
(Image: Wire wrapped stone necklace design by Carl Schimel.)
The CJS Sales warehouse is located on 36th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in New York City. Savvy jewelry designers can spend hours poring through this extraordinary trea-sure trove that holds literally millions of vintage beads and jewelry making supplies with limitless design potential. The Schimels are constantly seeking out great buys on anything that might be used for making jewelry and accessories.
“We bought a chandelier store that went out of business…[and] a rhinestone factory. We try to keep things that will be inspiration for people and [are] also unusual and different. We price at what we bought it at, so you can get quality vintage parts that are not found on today’s mar- ket at great prices,” said Elyse. To help designers compete and allow their work to stand out, Elyse and Carl sell only to wholesale customers who come to the warehouse. “We do not sell on the internet or show broad images. We do this to protect our buyers. Our customers are very knowledgeable. We believe in promoting design- ers, fostering new ones, to give them an edge.”
(Image: The Milwaukee Sentinel – July 31, 1969)
As a jewelry maker, I marvel that Carl stayed constantly ahead of the curve with his fashion-forward jewelry designs for more than 50 years. It was fascinating to listen to him talk about why he created the line and the manufacturing hurdles he had to overcome to get “Kim Crafts- men” jewelry out to buyers.
I was curious about how the Kim Craftsmen showroom and design space morphed into this vast warehouse of jewelry making supplies.
Elyse explained, “When Carl was liquidating [his jewelry manufacturing business] I started cold calling people. He thought it was cute [and] he was giving me a 100% commission. I started to bring in big accounts, he started to buy [at] fire sales and we started a wholesale liquidation business.” Carl adds, “If I had to describe the business I’d say it is a designer’s quarry. Designers come here to dig out treasures.”
I can personally attest to the digging! When I pay Carl and Elyse’s warehouse a visit, I come prepared by dressing as if I were to go climbing, I bring a rolling suitcase (after one visit where I lugged 30 lbs of beads in a shoulder bag thirteen blocks in NYC) and of course water and a cell phone—in case I get lost or to keep track of time. Losing a day in here is an easy thing to do!
As Elyse showed Art Deco glass beads, unfinished brooch components from the 1950s and mouth-blown glass beads, her father talked about how the artist’s hand should be apparent in his or her work. Carl used the term analog to explain how he worked. “To me [using] a pencil is analog. When you write with a pencil there’s pressure, there’s a difference in how it looks. You can write the same thing ten times…it will be the same each time but [also] different. When I caged stones using wire wrapping the concept being used was ‘mass individuality’; everyonecould have a caged stone but all of them were different.” Today he is intrigued by the idea of what he might have made if metal clay had been on the market when he was making fashion jewelry. “What happens is, as an artist you use the materials that are available at that time in the best ways that you can. But can you imag- ine what Alexander Calder would have done if [metal clay] had been available to him?”
Elyse models one of her father’s body jewelry pieces. This image is reminiscent of a photo from a 1969 newspaper article about his work.
Calder, a world renowned sculptor best known for inventing the hanging kinetic sculp- ture form known as a mobile, had a tremendous influence on Carl’s jewelry design. “When I got his…enormous book of jewelry it showed him working in his studio…a lot of his style of jewelry was much more understandable to me. He wasn’t using goldsmith tools, sized for jewelry making. His tools were large anvils with heavy handles, blacksmith tools, as he was used to making large mobiles and stabiles so there’s immediacy to the way Calder worked, and it showed in his work. If you look at his pieces, there’s a freshness still to his work. You can feel the hand, the way he twisted and moved to create his pieces. That’s analog!” Carl exclaimed. “You can always recognize his tools…for example if he used a hammer with a scratch on it, it would show on his piece like a fingerprint.” Carl went on to explain how metal clay is analog. “It is hands-on. In an age where a tremendous amount of design is going digital, the look is just opposite—180 degrees opposite. I’m sure [the artists using digital design tools] are very, very fine designers. It doesn’t look like jewelry that I’m used to. Metal clay takes me back to when we made jewelry. And we wanted to call it ‘Artistry in Metal’ because at that time, in the 50s and 60s and 70s, bench designers sat down and worked with the material, they under- stood the material. Metal clay is another vehicle for artists to express themselves. It is a phenomenal material….”
(Photos of jewelry by Kim Craftsmen, a company owned by Carl Schimel and his brother.)
I couldn’t agree more! Combine metal clay with some of the vintage beads and findings at CJS Sales and you’d have an exquisite combination of a modern material matched with vintage beads. If travel to New York City is not an option, seek out your own local charity, “antique” shops, or online for vintage elements to add to your own jewelry. When I find my creativity waning, a visit here spurs new ideas in new directions. It is like going to a museum for in- spiration, except that here you can take home the items that inspire you and use them in your work! Elyse showed me old pedals from a ma- chine. I forget what machine they were for because I was focused on the typeface used for the logotype imprinted on them! Inspiration for a new line of necklaces, perhaps? Now how to explain to the TSA agents at the airport that I need to bring home a half dozen metal pedals even though I have no idea what they are for!
CJS Sales: www.cjssales.com, 16 West 36th Street, 2nd floor, between 5th and 6th Aves., New York, New York 10018 (212) 244-1400
I’ve been an admirer of Cindy Miller’s work for a long time so I was really happy to have the opportunity to find out more about her for this profile.
(Photo: “Branch with Labradorite and Drops” Necklace by Cindy Miller)
Raised in Alabama, Cindy is now a full-time studio artist. “I’m single and live in Athens, Alabama with my Maine Coon Cat Taz – she’s a big girl and ‘helps’ me a lot,” she smiled. “I have also been adopted by several feral cats that live in the neighborhood so I always have an escort to my car. I live on the Tennessee River next door to my sister and her husband. They have created a beautiful retreat at the river and being there is very relaxing.”