Elizabeth Shypertt is co-owner of Velvet da Vinci, a contemporary jewelry gallery in San Francisco. (The name was inspired by an old Perry Mason television episode.) She is also the outgoing AJF treasurer. Elizabeth recently answered some questions posed by Sally von Bargen. As always, her point of view is insightful and wonderfully light-hearted. As she likes to say, ‘You can gain or lose weight, but your shoes and jewelry are always going to fit!’
Sally von Bargen: How did you learn about AJF and why did you join?
Elizabeth Shypertt: Fellow-member Carol Windsor took me to an early AJF event at California College of Art and Craft to see the Ken Cory exhibit. I met a few fellow members who I liked very much and thought the organization was on the right path.
I recently bought a piece by Ramon Puig Cuyas. He told me he considered this his ‘masterpiece.’ It is a large brooch, which I don’t wear, but have on my bedroom wall. I think this is a wonderful piece by a master artist at the top of his field. Just as with fine art, this doesn’t mean Ramon won’t do another even better piece in the future.
Art jewelry lovers often have personal stories about how they discovered it. Where and how did your interest in art jewelry begin?
I started making jewelry in high school when it was just called jewelry. The ‘art’ part came later on, after college, taking more jewelry classes, first at the de Young Museum school in San Francisco, then at San Francisco State University when the museum school closed. I was always a hobbyist and after opening the gallery, I realized that my background in jewelrymaking gave me some insight. I knew I would never be as good a maker as the artists we were showing, but I did understand how things were made. The more good work I saw, the more I loved it.
What do you enjoy most about art jewelry?
The variety and scope of art jewelry is amazing. The different materials, techniques and, again, the intimacy. There is no other art form that I know of that is so personal. Think about the wedding ring. Often, people have a wedding ring made that they never take off and will wear to the grave. It’s a very powerful thing. I wear a Peter Macchiarini wedding ring and every time I notice it on my hand I think of Peter. He is now dead, so in a very real way his art is keeping him alive. From an artist’s standpoint it must be a remarkable thing, knowing that people are carrying around a little piece of you.
How does owning a gallery affect the jewelry you purchase?
I have the advantage of being able to ‘test drive’ my jewelry purchases before actually committing to them. I generally buy pieces that I fall in love with immediately, wear for a while and when they end up at my home more than at the gallery, I pay for them. Most of what I buy I want to be able to wear. I want my pieces to hold up so that I can wear them a lot. Occasionally, I buy pieces that are not really wearable and I buy them as art pieces, not jewelry. They usually end up as small sculptures on my walls.
What is it about art jewelry that continues to captivate you? What would you like to tell new collectors?
I am continually surprised by the range of art jewelry. Just when I think an artist can’t top the fabulous last batch of work, he or she comes up with something even better. I love how personal it is, how intimate. Another advantage I have over some other collectors is that I personally know almost all the artists whose work I own. Wearing something next to my skin made by someone with whom I have a relationship makes the piece even more special. I can’t wear work by people I don’t like.
When do you wear your jewelry?
I wear almost all my jewelry. I normally buy things because I think they look good on me. I’m not particularly into clothing and tend to dress down. My jewelry makes me feel much more dressed than if I don’t wear it. In other words, I feel I can get away with plainer, comfortable clothing and ‘fab’ jewelry. There is also the whole shoe-like philosophy: you can gain or lose weight, but your shoes and jewelry are always going to fit!