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.
Thierry Vendome is a jeweler who shows his own work in a gallery connected to his studio in Paris. For this AJF interview, he was gracious enough to answer some questions about his work and how he approaches making his unique designs.
Susan Cummins: What is the story of your early connection to jewelry?
Thierry Vendome: My parents’ era, the 1960s and 70s, were the glory days of design. I grew up at the epicenter, watching the pioneers of contemporary jewelry, and my father was the spearhead. This effervescence drew me to the family profession and from age 16 I began working alongside my dad.
Where did you learn your techniques?
Thierry Vendome: My father was an excellent teacher. I drew on his skills and, with difficulty of course, I assimilated this profession made of patience and concentration. What I enjoyed most of all was the research process in the quest for new shapes, the pathway of creation, the reflection one plunges into when faced with a blank canvas.
You often use rust, driftwood, or nails in your jewelry, but they end up looking elegant. How do you manage that?
Thierry Vendome: I delight in introducing raw materials into my work, materials that are traditionally foreign to jewelry. I especially try not to distort their natural shape in order to preserve their respective essential forces. My ideas tend to occur to me whenever I walk the dunes of Normandy. There’s something about that place, there’s an overabundance of inspiration—barbed wire for example, made of rust and patinaed iron. I collect things off the beach and match them with gold and precious stones to make a necklace and to give these objects a more glorious life!
Much of your jewelry contains extraordinary stones. Where do you find these and what are you looking for?
Thierry Vendome: I find them amongst the minerals. I have a passion for picture stones—stones in which you can distinguish a shoreline, like opals or agates. Also, throughout my travels I always look to see what the ground of the places I’m visiting can offer, like the obsidian that I selected myself in the hills of Armenia and upon which I based my collection Armenia, Land of Inspiration.
Do you work alone in your studio or do you have others helping you?
Thierry Vendome: It may be selfish, but I’m lucky enough to be the only one in my workshop. I wouldn’t be able to work any other way.
You have a public gallery space. Do you show only your own work, or the work of other jewelers as well?
Thierry Vendome: The gallery is adjacent to my workshop in the oldest quarter of Paris, the Marais. Within it I exhibit only my own work.
How would you describe your custom work? How do you manage to give your clients what they want and still maintain your style?
Thierry Vendome: I am not influenced by new manufacturing techniques. The way I work has remained unchanged since my apprenticeship. Each order I receive from a client is a new challenge. One must understand the needs of the person and propose a convincing creation, but I would never create a piece of jewelry that wasn’t my style.
What inspires you?
Thierry Vendome: Travel, an idea resting on a piece of paper, or recent history. The pendant 1915 Cross, for example: A crucifix pierced and destroyed by a bullet, a symbol of human folly. For me it’s a means by which to demand the recognition of the Armenian genocide and also to testify to the current genocide of Christians in the Middle East. This is occurring before our stunned eyes and beyond the reach of our powerless arms. History repeats itself…
Are there any movies, books, or music you would like to recommend?
Thierry Vendome: To a desert island, I would take the film War and Peace by Sergei Bondarchuk, the novel The Story Of The Last Thought by Edgar Hilsenrath, and the music of water lapping softly on the shore.