2015 Saul Bell Design Award Finalists-Metal Clay Category: PART 4 of 5

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“Gentle Hands” bracelet Janet Alexander made for a charity auction to benefit “HEAL” helpendabuseforlife.org.
Untitled-1I have admired Janet Alexander’s work for many years. She has contributed articles to Metal Clay Artist Magazine and she took part in a very special charity bracelet project two years ago. We featured her bracelet on the cover. Her innovative design is a match of beautiful imagery of the mountains in her area, the helping hands of the charity she was spotlighting, along with the complexity of a hidden link system. Knowing her work, I was not surprised to hear that she is a finalist for the Saul Bell Design Award!

Creative Fire: How long have you worked in metal clay?
Janet Alexander: I had been introduced to metal clay in 1999 but then started working in metal clay in 2009.

Do you have a favorite kind of metal clay?
Not really. I decide on the clay type by what it is I am making. I sometimes mix PMC Flex with PMC 3 which allows me to easily carve into the clay but give me less flexible clay if it is something that must be stout and not bend after drying. Sometimes I mix the PMC Flex or PMC 3 with the PMC Sterling clay when I need the finished product to be stronger, like for a bracelet.

Do you have any favorite tools for working with metal clay?
Again it depends on what my final product will be. If I need a domed item then my favorite tool is the Perfect Match™ Dome kits. If it’s something that involves carving a design, then my favorite tools are my small micro files and an altered dental tool I use for carving.

Have you run into any trouble or obstacles while working in metal clay?
Oh yes! I tend to look forward to obstacles. I love a challenge when creating jewelry. In fact, that is why most of my pieces are one of a kind. After I figure out how to work past an obstacle, then it’s no fun anymore and I go onto a new challenging piece. My “Mom’s Jewelry Box” had lots of obstacles while working with it. The bracelet that fits on the outside is made of sterling silver metal clay and has a different shrinkage rate than the box made with fine silver metal clay. It was challenging figuring out the size needed in wet clay so that it fits around a fine silver box after shrinkage. I think shrinkage and warping are the most trouble causing obstacles while working in metal clay.

Have you worked with metals other than metal clay?
Yes, I work with gold, silver, sterling silver, and bronze metals. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metalsmithing from the University of North Texas and worked as a bench jeweler for two jewelry stores.

Were you influenced by any other artists past and present?
I’ve been influenced by my college professor who taught me to make metal art with a story.

2015 Saul Bell Design Award Finalist: Janet Alexander “Mom’s Jewelry Box”

Could you tell us more about your Saul Bell Award piece? What were your inspirations? Did you use any special techniques?
I started carving the mother and child pendant first and then decided it needed a special box to sit inside. As I created the box I decided I wanted to decorate the outside. I came up with making the decorations detachable. So it is decorated with a bracelet, earrings, and a ring that sits on top of the lid.

Metal Box 1Sm2
Jewelry box–with design and detail on the inside and the outside. Bracelet, earrings, ring and pendant necklace.
Metal Box 4Sm1
Detail of pendant inside the jewelry box. Bracelet can be seen wrapped around the outside of the jewelry box.

My mom suddenly passed away in 2009, I miss her. When I was a child she and I worked in a flower garden together. We would cut the flowers and she taught me how to make flower arrangements. The pendant of Mom and Child sits inside the box surrounded by rose bushes and large trees, the tree of life. The roots combine together illustrating our family roots. There is a hidden heart above the pendant in the tree’s leaves.

I wanted the top to be domed in an unusual shape. It was difficult finding a dome, so I cut out a plastic sheet and formed it into the dome shape using a heat gun. In order to figure out how match the top and sides together, I created the box using cardboard and tape. I have a hidden compartment under the ring so the ring fits into the lid.

Additionally, there is a compartment under the pendant for the chain to fit into.
Mom’s Jewelry Box, holds mom’s jewelry on the outside and keeps safe her most prized gem inside, a portrait of her and her child.

Did all of the parts work out the first time or did you have to remake or repair some?  The engineering involved is amazing!!
I had a hard time figuring out what I cold use to form the box’s base around. I ended up using the folder board. Its the only time I was  truly afraid to fire something in the kiln! I worked out the problems using folder board. It took me 6 months to make with several firings.The first firing was with the box’s base and lid. Decorative items were put on in subsequent firings. Due to shrinkage, I had to saw the lid away from the bottom portion. It had shrunk more than the bottom. I sawed around the connection until I could pry the two pieces apart while holding my breath! Below are a few photos I took while creating the jewelry box.



Thank you Janet for sharing your work and your touching story with us.

(Photos by Doug Baldwin.)


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