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.
Maurer-Zilioli Contemporary Arts has set up an exhibition space in Munich, Germany, in addition to its space in Italy, and the gallery recently showed the work of Swiss-born Therese Hilbert. This is a rare opportunity for us to interview her for the blog. Hilbert’s interest in volcanic landscapes has lasted for many years, and this body of work is no exception. Her work is minimal and clean, but beneath the surface is possibility of the churning lava flow. This is a powerful feeling if you can capture it.
Susan Cummins: Therese, can you tell me the story of the moment when you knew you were going to be an artist?
Therese Hilbert: Already, at the age of 15-years-old, I knew that I would like to do something creative in the future. It was actually a high school teacher who suggested that I should apply to the Kunstgewerbe Schule in Zurich. This turned out to be the first and most important step on my long way to become an artist.
Who were the professors that had the most influence on you?
Therese Hilbert: The Swiss gold- and silversmith Max Fröhlich (1908–1997), as the dean of the metal department at the Kunstgewerbe Schule and my teacher from 1965 until 1969, had the most influence. The entire school was based on the ideas of the Bauhaus and the Ulmer Schule. Hermann Jünger was a great example for all of us on how to live a real artist’s life as a goldsmith. However, as my professor from 1972 until 1978 at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich, his advice was not particularly suitable or helpful for my own work.
Which jewelers and artists do you admire most?
Therese Hilbert: I appreciate and like very much the works by some artists, and among them are also a very few jewelry makers. Certain preferences have changed over the time. Others stay and are sustainably interesting to me. Admiration is a word I would not use in this context.
Who do you think is an overlooked jeweler at the moment?
Therese Hilbert: New names turn up almost every day. As I know that it easily takes 10 years of growing until one is able to make strong and substantial works, I also believe that there is plenty of time to get “discovered.” And knowing that being discovered doesn’t really mean that much, I ask back, “overlooked by whom?”
For a number of years you have made work based on the idea of a volcano. Is this show a continuation, and if so, can you explain how?
Therese Hilbert: All of my work has always been a kind of a continuation. But it has been, at the same time, always a development, a challenge, and a change. I remember pieces I made 15 years ago featuring shapes and manifestations of the volcano in a more literal and recognizable way than my recent pieces. But yes, the volcano inside of me is still alive!
Why are you interested in volcanoes? How do you connect them to jewelry?
Therese Hilbert: There are some rather abstract aspects and connections. In Greek mythology, Hephaistos—the god of fire, of the goldsmiths and the artists in general—had his workshop as a gold- and blacksmith deep inside of the Vulkanon on Lemnos. During the Romantic era, not only the eruption of the volcano with its ejection of material from within, but also the volcano itself, were interpreted as metaphors for the human artist, as symbols of an autonomous creativity with urgent emanations no external agency could delay. But, I am actually not so much fascinated by the mere eruptions of the volcano, but much more by the pairs of antagonists, such as gentleness and aggression, protection and threat, love and hate, that metaphorically lie deep on the bottom of my own personal volcano.
Is there a psychological meaning to the use of a volcano image?
Therese Hilbert: The following quote by Eugène Ionesco has been accompanying me, and my work, for a long time.
For the moment, I exist.
Passion slumber in me that may explode, then be held in check again. Jets of rage or joy lie within me, ready to burst and catch fire. In myself I am energy, fire, lava. I am a volcano.
Most often, I am half asleep: my craters wait for this continual boiling to rise, emerge, satisfy its instincts; for my incandescent passions to pour out, ignite, and spread forth in an assault on the world.
Are you reading something at the moment that you can recommend?
Therese Hilbert: I read and read and read. Here is a sample: The Swimmer by Zsuzsa Bànk.