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.
Suzanne Klemm studies nature, and specifically in this show at Galerie Ra called Oceanum, she is paying attention to deep-sea life. The mysterious world of sea creatures has inspired many jewelers over the centuries. However, Suzanne doesn’t claim to be interested in any precursors and finds her own way to a translation from the deep blue sea to wearable jewelry.
Susan Cummins: Can you tell the story of how you got interested in making jewelry?
Susanne Klemm: I have always made jewelry. As a kid, I turned the necklaces of my mother into rings with metal wire. She was not amused. In the schoolyard, I swapped these rings for sweets. Later, I did training as an optician because my parents advised me not to do Art Academy training, but rather learn skills for a “real” job. During this training, I used the optical frame material to create jewelry. My teacher was not amused. My wish to have professional training for jewelry design became so strong that I felt I had to go to the Art Academy when I was 24. First, I went to the Hochschule für Kunst und Design in Zurich, Switzerland, and then the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten in Utrecht, the Netherlands. During my whole life, jewelry making was my cup of tea. Why? I have no idea.
You have worked on some series over the past 10 years that are related to nature. What is it about nature that inspires you?
Susanne Klemm: I’m an urban child and always lived in cities. Nature probably is inspiring to me because I have not been exposed to it very often. It’s still very mysterious and a little scary to me. I feel more secure with 1000 people than alone in a forest. At the same time, nature interests me a lot in terms of variety of shape and color, and from a more biological point of view, growing and reproduction.
You have also worked on rings a lot during this time. Why?
Susanne Klemm: I love hands—especially my own. Not for how they look, but for what they can make and feel. For me, a ring is the best form for a wearable sculpture. The wearer can see and feel his or her object all the time. I always include the opening for the finger in the design of the total shape instead of creating an object and then adding a ring shape to it.
Do you have some favorite historical rings or pieces of jewelry inspired by nature that you look to as models or that you find informative? Which ones?
Susanne Klemm: I’m not interested in historical jewelry, or let’s say, in jewelry before 1960. Nor do I have any feeling for precious jewelry created purely as a status symbol or decoration.
Your rings are pared back to a sleek form but your necklaces are massive accumulations. What explains this variety?
Susanne Klemm: The reason for accumulations in my necklaces is the same as for my rings. I like to include the function of a piece in its shape. If it’s not worn, the piece must appear as a well-balanced object with the ability not to be immediately recognized as jewelry. It can either be freestanding or hang on a wall.
The new series Oceanum is based on sea creatures. When did you start looking at the ocean for design ideas?
Susanne Klemm: When I moved from Switzerland to the Netherlands, the presence of the sea was new to me, and the coastline offered many found objects. I’m watching the amazing documentary Deep Blue over and over again. It’s about sea creatures deep down there where no daylight comes. It’s mysterious, a little scary, and an unknown world with beautiful and/or ugly creatures.
Did you get most of your images for the series out of books, or do you deep sea dive?
Susanne Klemm: I could never, ever deep-sea dive. I prefer seeing the sea in films or in a well-controlled aquarium.
Is there a great book you can recommend on jewelry? How about on the ocean?
Susanne Klemm: I try to collect all the books about contemporary jewelry. It gives me a good feeling to see so many colleagues busy with the same creative drive and/or fear of creating jewelry. The books are so different that I cannot choose one to recommend. I love to read mystery stories by Swiss authors of things that happen in the mountains and dark forests, deep in nature and far away from civilization.