Artist Profile: Kris Kramer interviewed by Julia Rai

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.

Website http://www.kriskramer.com/
The Silver Pendant on Etsy https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheSilverPendant
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/KrisKramerSilver/
Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/kk999silver/
Instagram https://www.instagram.com/kkdsilver/, https://www.instagram.com/ilovesilver962/ , and
https://www.instagram.com/shamantotems/
Kris Kramer Coach http://www.kriskramercoach.com/
I Love Silver for Online Courses http://i-love-silver.usefedora.com/

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.

Artist Profile – Anna Siivonen by Julia Rai

Swedish metal clay artist and designer Anna Siivonen has a very distinctive style which makes her work endlessly interesting if a little disturbing at times! She’s uncompromising in her subject matter and is equally comfortable producing cute or disquieting pieces. I’ve never met Anna but have admired her work for quite a while so I was really interested to find out more about her.

“I live in the suburbs of Stockholm in my grandmother’s old house,” she told me. “I live with my man, daughter, and cat. I work from home and spend most my days creating, dancing, doing yoga and hanging with my family. My childhood home is just a few kilometers from here and my mother still lives there.”

Anna has always been creative. “I don’t remember a time where I wasn’t creating in different mediums,” she began. “During the summers I spent weeks with my grandmother in the country side in Finland and she didn’t have any crafting materials so I came up with my own. Among other things I made monster sculptures with old newspapers that I wrinkled together and twisted thread around. I was an introvert kid with lots of imagination and time to kill. So I read and drew and crafted.”

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…

Artist Profile – Iwona Tamborska by Julia Rai

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…

INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION IN FRANCE: Metal Clay

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.

AUSTRALIA
Kim Booklass –  www.facebook.com/KimBooklassWearableArt

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.”

Continue reading…

Artist Profile – Marco Fleseri by Julia Rai

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…

Artist Profile: Gordon K. Uyehara Interviewed by Julia Rai

indexMetal clay artist Gordon K. Uyehara has been a well-known presence in the metal clay community for as long as I can remember. He was always one of the first people to offer help and advice to newbies through the Yahoo metal clay forum which he also helped moderate. When I was setting up the Metal Clay Academy website in 2007, Gordon was one of the first artists I approached for permission to use images of his work on the site and he was instrumental in helping to get the project going.

e616081b3da1c51c74fa9dc2f9b82910The first time I actually met him was at a conference in the UK in 2008. Taking a class with Gordon is a study in clean and neat working! My workspace is always chaotic but my over-riding impression of watching Gordon’s demonstrations was how cleanly he worked. He is a quiet, thoughtful artist and teacher and being in his presence was a lovely, calming and supportive experience. Continue reading…

Artist Profile: Cindy Miller Interviewed by Julia Rai

2016-branch-with-labradorite-and-drops

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

cindy-miller-taz-helping(Photo: “Taz helping”)

Growing up in Huntsville, Cindy credits her parents for nurturing her creative spirit. “I’m not really sure how old I was but it must have been around five years old because I was sleeping on the top bunk bed (my sister got the bunk below),” she began. “I woke up one morning and decided to draw eyes all over the wall.  I can remember being fascinated with the shape of eyes and I guess this was how I was working through it in my mind. There must have been 50 eyes on the wall.  You can imagine the surprised look on my mother’s face when she came in to get us up for the day.  Luckily I had parents that were very patient when it came to creative expression.  I never got in trouble for drawing on the wall or cutting off my mom’s drapes to use as material for my doll’s clothing, or any number of things I did as a sprouting artist…they just made sure I had more art materials around.”

cindy-miller-french-court-necklace(Photo: “French Court Necklace” by Cindy Miller) Continue reading…

Artist Profile – Linda Kaye-Moses Interviewed by Julia Rai

1Khaleema Neckpiece 300 dpiLinda Kaye-Moses has been a leading light in the metal clay community since its earliest days. I first encountered her on the Yahoo Metal Clay Group, the original community forum for metal clay artists, which was the go-to place for information and answers before Facebook came along. A regular contributor to the group, Linda’s posts in response to questions were notable by their thorough and considered answers, always based in her personal experience and depth of knowledge. (Image: “Khaleema Neckpiece”)

7THE WAY IN Continue reading…

Artist Profile: Jennifer Kahn Rich by Julia Rai

This interview appeared in the 2nd anniversary issue of Metal Clay Artist Magazine in 2011.  We loved Jen’s work then and continue to follow her career as a jewellery designer.  (Note: New pieces from 2016 appear at the end of the article along with contact information to see the entire collection.)

MCAM 2.3_Page_37_Image_0003MCAM 2.3_Page_37_Image_0001Jennifer Kahn was born in Miami, Florida and spent her childhood in Marietta, Georgia. At age 10 she moved to Westchester, New York, where she lived until she left to attend the University of Vermont. As she put it, “I seem to have slowly worked my way up the East coast, despite hating the cold!”

MCAM 2.3_Page_37_Image_0002I asked Jen about her earliest creative memory. “My mom would say that it was the way I dressed, mixing colors, patterns, putting outfits together at a very young age. She gave me the freedom to be creative in everything I did. I loved to draw, paint, pretend, decorate things, build forts and create exotic mud stews. I remember making copper jewelry in camp and really loving it.” Jen told me that she always has loved making things and working with her hands but that she didn’t take those activities seriously until she was in college. “I was an English major and wrote poetry, but I didn’t know how those things could have real world applications. I loved my art classes more than anything and my teachers were very encouraging, so I switched to a double major in English and Art. I took every art class available but nothing quite struck me. I knew I liked working small and I most liked the working properties of clay. After working with PMC for a while, I knew I wanted to be a jewelry artist.”

MCAM 2.3_Page_36_Image_0005 MCAM 2.3_Page_36_Image_0004Jen discovered PMC in 2000 during her senior year at the University of Vermont while she was working at the Frog Hollow Gallery in Burlington, VT. “They carried Celie Fago’s amazing jewelry. When she was the featured artist of the month they had a wall of photos of her working with PMC and a display showing a lump of PMC and her finished work. All I could think was, ‘This made that?’ I couldn’t believe such a material existed and it was coming along at a perfect time in my life. I loved the fact that you could work it like clay but that the finished piece was pure silver. I also loved jewelry, so the idea of making my own was very exciting.”

MCAM 2.3_Page_36_Image_0002 MCAM 2.3_Page_36_Image_0001Jen didn’t take to it instantly, though. “Initially I ordered some [PMC] and started working with it in the air, sculpting a little moon. It was drying and cracking before my eyes and the whole experience was very frustrating. I asked my pottery teacher to fire it for me and he was a bit put off [about] using the huge kiln to fire this tiny little cracked moon. I took Celie’s class a few weeks later and learned to work on top of Teflon and under a sheet protector to delay the drying and cracking. The pieces were fired in a small jewelry kiln. By the end of the class I felt confident about working with this strange stuff.”

That experience changed Jen’s life. “Upon graduation I became Celie’s live-in apprentice and teaching assistant and I accompanied her on her travels around the country and abroad,” Jen explained.

MCAM 2.3_Page_35_Image_0003 MCAM 2.3_Page_35_Image_0002I asked Jen what influences her work. “I’m drawn to and inspired by primitive and ancient artifacts and adornment because of the meaning infused into them. These pieces tell stories. They are connected to rituals, history, the land; they carry powers of protection, prosperity. They are culturally rich and full of identity. These days, it’s hard to feel connected, to feel meaning. Everything is so
anonymous and mass-produced. I like the idea of reaching back into time, reaching out into distant lands and pulling those primitive styles forward, adding my voice and giving them a contemporary edge.”

She continued, “I’m fascinated by the way things are put together –patched, hinged, riveted, stitched – and often incorporate such connections in my pieces. I gather inspiration from a pattern on a textile, the texture of a leaf, beautiful, old rusty things. I’m constantly trying to fuse old and new, industrial and natural, urban and ethnic.” Jen cites her Journey Necklace as a good example of her influences.

MCAM 2.3_Page_36_Image_0003Jen does most of her work at a desk in her room. She’s just now setting up a studio space in a spare room for her flex shaft, kiln and torch. “I end up doing a lot of wire work and finishing at the kitchen table by the fire – Vermont winters are long and cold!” Her favourite tool isn’t much of a surprise: “Celie’s Nesting Tube Set! She makes a set of brass tubes in eight different sizes that all telescope on a beautiful spiral holder,” Jen explains. The tubes are used for cutting holes or small clay circles.

Her creative process is interesting and she sketches out designs whenever inspiration strikes. “I keep a few sketchbooks. I’ll start one and too much time will pass so I’ll start another, and before I know it I have three half-used books sitting around. More often I’m sketching on the back of receipts or envelopes. My sketchbooks aren’t organized at all. I guess I think of them chronologically and can find things that way.” “Some ideas spring from designs I’ve made already. I like to take [existing] pieces that I make in new directions. When I need inspiration I search the web and through books on ancient and ethnic jewelry. I also flip through fashion magazines. Sometimes an idea will just come to me while I’m driving or as I’m falling asleep. I’ll do a quick sketch and try it out the next time I work.”

MCAM 2.3_Page_35_Image_0001She uses several different techniques in her work. “I use wire work – lots of bead wraps. I love stitching with wire and making metal clay bases for things I can add wire to. I also love riveting.” I asked her what other skills she felt were important for metal clay artists to develop. “Basic metalworking skills: fusing, soldering, cold connections. The more skills you pick up, the more complex your jewelry will become.”

I asked Jen what advice she would give someone who is new to metal clay. “Well, this really is a tip for any artist. Celie told me early on that it’s important that every part of a piece has been thought about. She would say that the back is another opportunity for creativity. For this reason, many of my pieces are reversible. It is a joy to watch people turn my pieces over and be surprised by the other side.” Her necklace with nine large, bezel-set Chinese turquoise cabochons is a perfect example; the backs of the settings are as beautiful as the fronts. I asked her how she constructed this impressive piece. “All the stones were set after firing. The backs of the settings were textured and the bezel walls were made with PMC Sheet. I made the settings 118% bigger than the finished size so that the stones would fit right in after firing. Then I set them as a metalsmith would with a bezel pusher and a burnisher.”

MCAM 2.3_Page_35_Image_0004Jen’s work has appeared in several prestigious publications. “I wrote several articles on setting stones in PMC after firing, followed by a chapter on that subject for Tim McCreight’s book PMC Technic. I was so honored to be a part of that! I also have work in Tim’s book PMC Decade and in Robert Dancik’s Amulets and Talismans. Last year I wrote a chapter on fabric earrings for a Lark book [by Marthe Le Van] called Stitched Jewels and my work was on the cover!” Jen also has won a couple of awards. “In 2003 I won second place in a national juried exhibit by Fred Woell called ‘Positively Precious Metal Clay’.

jk2

She sells her work through several venues. “I have an Etsy shop and I sell my work at an outdoor Artist Market in Burlington on Saturdays from May through October. I also have my work in a lovely accessory boutique in Burlington called Trinket and I do a few local holiday craft shows and trunk shows.” I asked her what tips she had for artists who want to sell their work in the same way. “If you’re selling online, take fab photos. If you’re selling at a craft show, find or make great displays that jive with your work. And for selling in shops, approach shops/galleries very professionally and creatively. Remember, every part of everything is an opportunity to be creative! Use letterhead with an image of your jewelry on it. If you’re delivering work in a box, make the box beautiful. These are all chances to show how passionate and how good you are and to impress that on people.”

jkFor more information about Jen and to see more of her work, visit her web site at www.jenniferkahnjewelry.com or her Etsy shop at www.jenkahn.etsy.com.

 

 

 

Julia Rai iMCAM 5.1_Page_34_Image_0001s a teacher, writer and artist working in a variety of media. She is the director of the Metal Clay Academy and runs the Cornwall School of Art, Craft and Jewellery.

She finds inspiration in science fiction and fantasy and loves a good story where disbelief can be suspended in favour of wonder. Her practical and ultra-organised side is always vying for attention alongside her creative and messy side. Each is trying hard to learn from the other and live in harmony.

 

Artist Profile-Kathy Van Kleeck by Julia Rai

Kathy Van Kleeck“I was born and raised in Florida, a very suburban, milquetoast, upbringing,” Kathy says. “Considering that upbringing, I find my aesthetic a miraculous transformation and am deeply grateful that I somehow managed to transcend suburbia,” she smiles. “I call my style of jewellery Urban Primitive. It took years to get that dialed in, but I think it perfectly describes my work.”

6, moon goddess kathy van kleeckImage: “Moon Goddess” by Kathy Van Kleeck. Fine silver PMC3 and BronzClay, hand-hewn lapis lazuli nuggets, artisan lampwork glass by Barbara Metzger on leather cord. Metal clays were oxidized straight out of the kiln and not polished or tumbled.

She’s been creative from an early age. “There’s the really early mud pie phase, but my first efforts at actually making something would be when I was about six or seven and my grandmother taught me to sew on her Singer treadle sewing machine. Not sure how I reached the treadle, but I’ve been sewing ever since. I was hell bent on becoming a fashion designer. Now I’m relieved that never happened and I still enjoy making my own clothes.”

She continued, “I was pushing 40 when I began making and selling my jewellery. Before that, my resume reads like a novella. I worked in clothing retail, was a department store buyer at 19 and assistant manager of a mall store boutique at 21, then moved on to more clerical work, working in offices, then banks and real estate lending. My favourite job title was File Librarian for the Medicaid Billing System for the State of Florida … talk about a paper pusher! I’m a firm believer it’s never too late to discover and follow your bliss.”

Kathy considers herself to be a designer/maker rather than a jeweller. She lives in Gainesville, Florida with her husband. “Dave and I will have been married for 36 years in July 2016. We currently share our home with one senior citizen kitty, 18 year old Miss Zoe. Last year we bought a classic mid-century, concrete block and terrazzo floors ‘atomic ranch’. It’s an east/west orientation and has the most wonderful morning and afternoon light, perfect for leisurely mornings sipping tea and reading the NY Times.”

Her work is so unique, I asked her what her main influences are. “It kind of depends on what I’m making. My more minimal CORE body of work tends to be inspired by patterns in nature and clothing. Repetition of form is a regular theme in my work. How many ways can I use just one element? And in clothing, I’m kind of obsessed with a whole genre of European and Japanese designers whose work is raw and somewhat avant-garde.”

“I get a regular dose of inspirational juice via the designers I follow on Instagram and Pinterest like Jaga Buyan (http://www.jagabuyan.com/), Kapital (http://kapital.jp/, Yohji Yamamoto (http://www.yohjiyamamoto.co.jp/en/), Marc le Bihan (http://www.marc-lebihan.com/), Avant Toi (http://www.avant-toi.it/), Rundholz (http://www.studiorundholz.com/).”

“My Urban Primitive work is inspired by the ornament of ancient cultures of the South Pacific, Oceania and South America as well as Japanese folk potters. And for general visual juice, the NY Times Style magazine and the Wall Street Journal monthly magazine always have at least one little inspiring bit of something.” I asked Kathy which of her pieces she feels reflect these influences best. “My ‘Stacked Cubes’ necklace is an excellent example of the clothing/repetition inspirations and ‘Aegean Muse’ very much speaks to the Oceania/tribal influences.”

3,stacked cubes kathy van kleeckImage: “Stacked Cubes” by Kathy Van Kleeck. Hadar’s low shrinkage steel and BronzClay on hand-plied linen cord with fossilized bone fragments.
4, aegean muse kathy van kleeck
Image: “Aegean Muse” by Kathy Van Kleeck. Fine silver PMC3 with assorted gems and artifacts.

Like many of her contemporaries, Kathy first heard about metal clay in the article in Ornament Magazine in the 1990’s. “I can honestly say that article changed my life,” she explained. “It was about the first group of makers with Tim McCreight at the helm, set up for a week or so by Mitsubishi at Haystack School in Maine.

Coming from a clay and pottery background and having no real interest in traditional metalsmithing or fabrication, it was literally a dream come true.” “My clay background was immensely helpful – no fear of kilns! Late ’97, I bought a 100 gram lump of original PMC, hauled out my clay tools and dove in with a tiny clay test kiln with manual controls that I rigged up with a digital pyrometer. I had to watch the temperature and dial down the controls until I could get it to hold at 1650 for the 2 hours. Tedious, but that was long before there were any small, affordable digital kilns. I think the first things I made were some dangly bits for earrings and beaded necklaces.”

1, first metal clay earrings kathy van kleeck 2,mixed beaded necklace kathy van kleeckImages: First metal clay earrings and mixed beaded necklace by Kathy Van Kleeck.
She went on, “I was a founding member of the PMC Guild, got my PMC Certification soon after it began and used to teach quite a bit. I was the first person to teach metal clay workshops at the John C Campbell Folk School in NC as well as the long running ArtFest retreat in WA.”

“I loved sharing the excitement of my beloved metal clay. It was like being a wizard and sharing alchemical secrets. My interest in teaching waned once all the different types of certification started happening and metal clay began to catch on. It was becoming too competitive and I turned to the quiet of my studio and being a maker. I’m often asked if I teach and still think about diving back in. I’m just not sure what I could share that would be new or inspiring. I’d love to hear any feedback or ideas your readers might have.”

She continued, “My way of working with metal clay is decidedly different from most of what I see online in the forums and in publications. In the earliest days, I dove into testing the limits of metal clay using the techniques of my handbuilding clay background. I created elaborate constructs, like the ‘Scabbard Pendant’ made from fine silver PMC+ and 24k gold; holes in the lid are the result of diamonds burning up in the kiln. I found out about a week later that diamonds start to burn up around 1250F. What I initially perceived as a disaster worked out nicely as it allows a peep into the locket!”

8a, scabbard pendant kathy van kleeck 8b, scabbard pendant detail kathy van kleeckImage “Scabbard Pendant” by Kathy Van Kleeck
“A few years later I made my ‘Fairy Box’ made using PMC3 with a white beach glass knob and glass frit accents. The silver fumes the white glass, turning it amber in the firing.”

9, fairy box kathy van kleeckImage: “Fairy Box” by Kathy Van Kleeck

“These are what I think of as my fancy, ‘look at what I can do’ show pieces. Each new version of metal clay allowed an expansion of techniques and experiments which led to my jewellery getting more and more elaborate as in my ‘Vertebrae’ collar.” This is PMC3 and white beach glass fumed by the silver, recycled glass beads wrapped with PMC3 strips, and the pendant is beach glass and glass frit. It’s all lashed together with linen.”

10, glass vertebrae kathy van kleeckImage: “Glass Vertebrae” by Kathy Van Kleeck
“Then I reached what felt like maximum capacity in my work. I had begun to see things that I wanted to translate into my jewellery, especially difficult since a great source of inspiration was world music videos. I mean really, how would I go about translating the feeling I got from those videos into jewellery? But those videos had a look and feel that I wanted in my work. Two in particular, Juno Reactor’s ‘God is God’ (https://youtu.be/v8LY2VgiikE) and Gjallarhorn’s ‘Suvetar’ (https://youtu.be/-e_7C99bOgU) were pivotal in helping me identify the style I was aiming for.”

“In August of ’05, with family visiting, I was out of the studio for several weeks. When I went back to work, something clicked and everything changed. Layers of complexity were peeled back and I started making components that were as minimal as possible, which led to my signature piece, ‘Coin Necklace’ using PMC3 and silk cord.”

11, coin necklace  kathy van kleeckImage: “Coin Necklace” by Kathy Van Kleeck
12, rustic portal kathy van kleeck“I wanted to celebrate the clay, not hide it. I wanted someone to look at a piece and see my fingerprints, the edges that had been nudged and smushed, the smeared openings where the clay had been pierced. I wanted them to look at the piece and know it was different, created in the magical, alchemical way of metal clay. This ‘rustic portal’ component sums up everything I love about metal clay. “

I asked Kathy about her creative space. “My studio is in my home,” she began. “I work at all hours and whenever inspiration strikes which would make having an outside studio less than ideal. I tend to be a neat freak when I’m not working. But in the midst of creating a new piece or series my worktable can look like an explosion went off. I’m in my studio most week days. I start off with my mondo mug of PG Tips, getting caught up on emails and a bit of social media and then try to be working by 10. I’ll work until it’s time to start dinner, usually around 5. I try to take weekends off with my husband, but if I’ve got a big order or a show in the queue, I’ve been known to work 12 or 14 hours a day for the duration until I’m done.”

5, worktable kathy van kleeckImage: My 8’ long worktable, scavenged from an old elementary school where I rented studio space in 1994

13, thoughts made real kathy van kleeck

The nature of Kathy’s work is pretty organic so I was interested in how much planning goes into each piece. “I sketch a bit, but not much. I’m more likely to write descriptions of ideas with very rough sketches. In addition to bigger focal elements, I like to make a whole bunch of components, lots and lots of the same element. My CORE group of work is all about repetition of form and it’s always a joy to sit at my worktable working out all the ways an element can be used.”

“For the Urban Primitive pieces, I sit down to my worktable, see where my gaze lands and start pulling out gems and artifacts and bits and bobs. It feels very much like composing through improvisation. I assemble my palette and let intuition guide me. The completed piece is always a delightful surprise.”

As such a lover of metal clay, I asked Kathy if she used any other techniques in her work. “I do utilize some silver smithing skills, mostly very simple soldering with a butane torch and easy solder paste,” she explained. “I make all my own findings, ear wires and clasps. My variation on the “S” hook is forged and soldered. And cord, golly do I love making cord. I’ve taught myself how to ply cord into various thicknesses in lengths up to 6’ or 8’ and, via YouTube, how to braid 3 and 5 loop cords. The loop braided cords are time consuming and the length is limited by my arm span, not much as I’m 5’2”, but they are complex and lovely and a nice complement to my more minimal pieces. The cords in combination with hand cut leather and stitching provide a beautiful, earthy element to the work.”

I asked Kathy if she had a particular piece of work that really means something to her. “I remember the first big piece I sold. It was called ‘Le Monde’. It was a statement piece of graduated, highly textured original PMC beads alternating with artisan lampwork glass Basha beads by Barbara Metzger and Rory Ross’ raku beads. I was at a really teeny local craft show and had the piece with me, basically for show. A couple I knew, well known collectors and art patrons, wanted to buy it. I was stunned. ‘How much was it?’ Uhhhh, $800? SOLD! I packaged the piece up, sent the lovely couple on their way and then promptly burst into tears. I felt like I had truly arrived.”

7, le monde kathy van kleeckImage: “Le Monde” by Kathy Van Kleeck

I asked Kathy to tell me a bit more about where she sells her work. “At first, I sold my jewellery at juried craft fairs and wholesale to small galleries and women’s boutiques,” she explained. “In ’06 I designed a lovely little wholesale collection and connected with a team of sales reps. Through what was then the Gift Show circuit, they got my work into museum stores like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Seattle Art Museum and high-end craft galleries like Real Mother Goose in Portland, OR and the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite.

I’m really proud of the fact that at one point I had close to 50 wholesale accounts, all done by me, all fine silver PMC. I supported our family and put my husband through his first librarian certificate degree with my jewellery. These days, I have a couple of galleries that I still work with, but now I sell my work mostly through my own website.”
landscape rings kathy van kleeck
landscape trio 3 kathy van kleeckImages: “Landscape Rings” and “Landscape trio 3” by Kathy Van Kleeck

I asked Kathy what she is currently working on. “Interesting thing, this question and it’s got me quite gummed up. I’ve been developing a new group of jewellery with the working moniker of Bare Bones, looking to the ornament of very primitive cultures for inspiration and how to loosen up my already minimal work, make things less pristine. I’m exploring how I can further deconstruct what I do, make it less refined, almost crude, but still wearable and durable. I thought I was moving right along on this recent track, but deciding on an image to share stopped me dead. I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of tweaking, more exploration and revisiting some themes of past work.”

“Whatever I do next, it will be the most authentic expression of my aesthetic to date and since it’s all still very much in my head, I don’t have any images to share. As of right this moment, the ideas feel very fresh and exciting, making me want to step immediately away from this keyboard and get to work!”

She went on, “PMC3 remains my favourite metal clay as it allows me to work very dry, folding and layering components till they barely hold together. To a lesser degree, I also use BronzClay and Hadar’s Steel. I’d like to do some larger, focal pieces in combination with other mediums. Right now, concrete is calling to me and maybe fused glass or eco resin or some combination of all of the above mediums and metal clays. A lot of what I do is pretty minimal and rustic. I want to go even further with that, in the vein of “art brut”, create work that is raw, but full of heart and life, work that is stripped to the absolute and essential core, but fully resolved and engaging.”

ruby landscape ring kathy van kleeckImage: “Ruby Landscape Ring” by Kathy Van Kleeck. Sterling PMC, patina is straight out of the kiln and a result of how it was situated in the charcoal. The intention is for the ring to develop a “personal patina” as the ring is worn over time, polishing is not encouraged.
Finally I asked her where she sees her work going in the next five years or so. “I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer set long range goals. Through my 20 + years of making jewellery, lots of goals and aspirations have come and gone, many have been met, others have lost their significance or priority. An example, for years I was a huge fan of Ornament Magazine and had visions of being on the cover. But a few years ago that shifted, I gave away my huge magazine archive, dropped my subscription and now rarely buy the magazine.”

“Ultimately, I will always be a maker, working with my hands and creating, staying open to new things and new avenues of expression. I hope that whatever I make, along with the intentions of love and respect I put into everything I do, will be well received. I’m enormously grateful that my maker’s journey continues, no end in sight.”

To see more of Kathy’s work, visit her website http://www.kathyvankleeck.com/

12347681_10154340055124045_4667653997826735386_nInterview Author: JULIA RAI is a teacher, writer and artist working in a variety of media. She is the director of the Metal Clay Academy and runs the Cornwall School of Art, Craft and Jewellery.

She finds inspiration in science fiction and fantasy and loves a good story where disbelief can be suspended in favour of wonder. Her practical and ultra-organised side is always vying for attention alongside her creative and messy side. Each is trying hard to learn from the other and live in harmony.