As a Pittsburgh-area native who had left some time ago I was thrilled to have the opportunity to return there to meet and interview Sharon Massey, this year’s AJF Emerging Artist Award winner and a recent transplant to the Pittsburgh-area. While this interview focuses on the emerging artist award, during our conversation I was excited to learn about the burgeoning art scene in my old hometown.
Susan Kempin: Has being named the AJF Emerging Artist Award winner helped your work/career? If so, in what ways?
Sharon Massey: Since the official award presentation hasn’t happened yet, I feel like it is a little bit premature to know how the award has affected my career, but there have certainly been some immediate effects on my work. The biggest effect is the sense of validation that the award provides. Having been out of graduate school for three years, opportunities for critique and feedback are rare and sometimes I question whether my work is moving in the right direction. Receiving this award has given me confidence that my work is relevant and worthwhile and has inspired me to keep working on this series.
Has the award opened any professional doors?
Again, I think that it is a little early to know, but my work will be shown by Charon Kransen at SOFA Chicago and he recently used an image of my work in his ad in Metalsmith magazine.
What is the value, other than the monetary stipend, of awards such as the AJF Emerging Artist Award?
First of all, it has been such an honor for me to be recognized by my peers as the recipient of this award. It is also very validating to receive an award from such a well-respected organization and group of jurors.
How has your work changed since your submission to the award?
I am still working with iron wire and cotton muslin fabric, but I have introduced color into the fabric and I have been exploring new ornamental-iron patterns. One of the challenges of my work is creating forms with the ornamental ironwork that will accept the fabric and so it is a fairly slow process to make finished pieces with new patterns.
AJF has increased the monetary value of the award last year to $5000. Would the size of the stipend influence whether you would apply for such an award?
The size of the award is definitely appealing, but I had applied in years past as well, so I don’t think that money is the most important aspect of the award.
Does presenting the award at a commercial venue such as SOFA matter to you?
I am excited to have the opportunity to present my work at SOFA because it is such a prestigious venue for contemporary craft. SOFA is also exciting because there are so many collectors, curators and artists who will see my work.
How has the state of the economy affected your work?
I have definitely sold less work in the past year than I have previously and I have assumed the economy is at least partially responsible. I have also been affected by the rise in prices of gold and silver. Luckily my work is made primarily of non-precious materials, but it is still hard to make as much work as I used to.
Do you have any advice for emerging jewelers who might consider applying for the award?
I think that emerging jewelers who are interested in applying for this award should try and make their work distinctive and honest. It seems to me that there are a lot of people making well-made jewelry that lacks an original voice. I’m not exactly sure how to tell people to find that voice, but I know that it took me years of long hours in the studio and a willingness to experiment and fail until I figured out the unique process that works for me.
Is there any other information you’d like to share with AJF members?
This award came at an ideal time for me in my career and I am very thankful and honored. After several years of moving around the country for teaching jobs that left me feeling unsatisfied, I decided to move to a city that I love and share a studio with a dear friend from graduate school. In August, I moved to Pittsburgh and I have a spacious studio on the north side. I also started working at Society for Contemporary Craft, a non-profit arts organization dedicated solely to craft. I am very happy with my current situation and the award from AJF helped not only financially but also gave me the confidence to make this career change. I hope to have the opportunity to meet members of AJF to express my thanks and also to talk about the passion we share, contemporary jewelry.