Susan Cummins has been involved in numerous ways in the visual arts world over the last 35 years, from working in a pottery studio, doing street fairs, running a retail shop called the Firework in Mill Valley and developing the Susan Cummins Gallery into a nationally recognized venue for regional art and contemporary art jewelry. Now she spends most of her time working with a private family foundation called Rotasa and as a board member of AJF and California College of the Arts.
Instinct is an apt title for Eric Silva’s show at Gallery Lulo. As a self-educated artist, Eric uses his natural impulses to work with interesting materials to make his jewelry. The results are varied and original. There isn’t too much material written about him, so I was very grateful that he was interested in answering a few questions.
Susan Cummins: The name Silva has Portuguese origins. Is that your background? Can you describe where you grew up and a little about your family history?
Eric Silva: No, I am Mexican. I am third generation born in California. I grew up in Norwalk, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. I was raised by a single mother and I have one younger brother. I came from a family of carpenters.
When did you know you wanted to be a jeweler?
Eric Silva: Being a jeweler isnʼt something that I planned to be or do. What I was most interested in was carving small objects. Because of the scale that I enjoyed working in, it seemed most appropriate to turn them into wearable items.
What person, books, or videos have been most important to you in developing your work?
Eric Silva: I didn’t pay much attention to books and videos. I would only look to books to learn a skill I wanted to acquire. There wasnʼt a particular person that influenced my work, but I was always open to suggestions. The person who had the most impact on me was my grandfather. He never had a problem making a tool that he needed or lending me a tool that I didnʼt have. He used to tell me, “You can make anything you want as long as you are willing to give up the time.” Those comments always helped me when I was working on something that wasnʼt coming together.
The materials you use and the way your work feels brings to mind the idea of the American West and frontiersmen and hunters and adventurers. The antlers, fossil ivory, rustic metals, and stones you use could be picked up off the desert floor. Is that a conscious reference in your work
Eric Silva: Not necessarily. I think of these things more as something you would find at a flea market or swap meet and ask yourself, what is this? How can I use this? Antler and fossil ivory were chosen more for their carving properties. When I first started carving, I was carving gemstones, which were really tough. So when I found fossil ivory, carving it was such an easy task.
I also understand that you use herbs, teas, and coffees as natural dyes. Again, this reminds me of the self-sufficiency of the Wild West. How does this process work for you?
Eric Silva: I used old coffee grounds and strong teas as a way to expose more details in my carvings.
Do you know how your jewelry affects the people who buy it? Has anyone told you a story about his or her relationship with a piece you made?
Do you support yourself making and selling jewelry? What has worked and what hasnʼt worked for your business?
Eric Silva: Yes, I support my wife and four children. I found that I have to diversify my business, from gallery work to retail and production. I think it important to have your foot in many doors.
What do you do when you aren’t making jewelry?
Surfing—I surf every morning when Iʼm not out of town. I also love searching for great finds at flea markets, swap meets, and local thrift stores. I call myself somewhat of a collector.