Vicki Mason has been wearing jewelry since she was two and making it since she was six or seven. Born in New Zealand, she lives and works in Melbourne, Australia. Mason completed her undergraduate studies in New Zealand, and her master’s degree (research) in Australia, at ANU. Making jewelry fulfills a need she has to create objects that can be worn, that hold special meanings. For Vicki, jewelry has the capacity to provoke a viewer to respond or interact with a worn jewel, and therefore the wearer. A dialogue is opened up—jewelry then acts not only as a portable tool for the communication of ideas, but as a social object.
Now in its second year, the professional development residency offered at New York City’s 92Y Jewelry Center offers artists the time and space to pursue a self-directed brief. Jonathan Wahl, the director of the center, speaks here about its history, studios, faculty, and open-to-all policy. A practicing artist himself (read an interview about his art work on AJF), Jonathan is knowledgeable about what New York City, as well as this exciting new residency program, can offer a visiting artist.
Vicki Mason: Tell us about the history of the 92nd Street Y, and the Jewelry Center specifically. How did it come into being?
Jonathan Wahl: 92nd Street Y’s (92Y) Art Center was founded in 1930 with three classes. (92Y is a not-for-profit cultural and community center, now in its 143rd year.) A class known as “Arts and Crafts Group,” taught by Reuben Leaf, was the first incarnation of what we now know as 92Y’s Jewelry Center. During the Depression, an array of metalworking classes were taught here as part of the largest WPA program in the United States.
Can you tell us what the impetus was for the development of the 92Y international jewelry artist residency?
Jonathan Wahl: I wanted to create an opportunity for a jeweler where none existed before—this is the only residency for a jeweler in New York City. It offers an amazing opportunity for an artist to develop their work and have time to do research, and to open up the Jewelry Center to a larger international audience.
Your first resident artist, Göran Kling, spoke about New York being “such a crazy place to be!” For those who are interested in the field of jewelry and metals, what are a few things New York offers that you might not find in other large international cities?
Jonathan Wahl: Well, yes, the energy of New York City is undeniable! It’s one of the three most important trading centers for diamonds, along with Tel Aviv and Antwerp. I think every city has its own flavor. New York’s mix of industry, the central diamond district, its world-class museum collections and galleries, and its diverse population make it an interesting and sometimes very idiosyncratic place to observe jewelry.
The aim of the artist-in-residence program is professional development, and artists at any stage of a career are encouraged to apply. What one or two key things do you hope artists will take away from their time at 92Y, beyond what they hope to achieve as specified in their brief?
Jonathan Wahl: I would hope that being in a different environment would give any artist a new perspective. The time to be in a new space and think about one’s work is invaluable. I would also hope that the artist leaves with new connections to a broader network of people in the field. Whether it’s a 92Y faculty member or a museum curator, there are numerous opportunities for the resident to interact with the NYC community.
Artists are required to teach a workshop/class and lecture as part of the residency. Who attends these lectures/workshops? Are they regular local students, or do you attract a mix of out-of-towners, non-jewelers, etc.?
Jonathan Wahl: The 92Y Jewelry Center has a broad reach. We recently hosted a jeweler from Norway who came to take an enamel intensive, so one never knows! For Göran’s workshop, there were quite a few students from our 92Y Jewelry Center community.
Göran also talked about his experience in terms of the people he met, who made his time so special, and the conversations about jewelry he had. Can you talk about the team that looks after resident artists while they’re under your care?
Jonathan Wahl: 92Y is an amazing organization with an international community of speakers, performers, and instructors. Although I’m the main contact person for the resident, I’m supported by an incredible team that helps make our yearly programs successful. From our donor, Kathy Chazen, who has supported the residency, to our 25 faculty members, I work with a team from marketing, public relations, development, and the larger 92Y Art Center staff (ceramics, painting, design)—all of this really makes the residency run smoothly.
What have you and your colleagues in the Jewelry Center—and 92Y more broadly—taken away and learned as a result of hosting an international jeweler?
Jonathan Wahl: It’s been a wonderful opportunity for us to get to know an emerging artist better, and I think that’s the plus for us. 92Y’s Jewelry Center offers 60 classes a week, and we have a lot of interaction on a day-to-day basis with faculty and students. But since the artist is here during our intersession with no classes running, we have the chance to get to know him/her on a much more intimate level.
The 92Y Jewelry Center serves 1,400 students each year. Can you tell us about the key programs, special equipment, or expertise the studio offers?
Jonathan Wahl: We have four studios: a main studio where we hold classes and workshop and three additional studios dedicated to goldsmithing, silversmithing, and enamel/wax carving. What I feel is very special about the center is the amazing faculty we’re able to draw from in the city at large. From artists who work in the industry to those who trained in academia, our faculty offers an incredible range of talent, experience, and points of view from across the jewelry spectrum.
Is there any ethos the center promotes or seeks to foster with respect to how jewelry is taught and viewed?
Jonathan Wahl: My goal when I took on the directorship was to offer a completely open space for any type of jewelry. I want students to make jewelry they want to wear, whether it’s a simple wedding ring or a fantastic piece of “art jewelry.” Because we draw such diverse faculty members, the 92Y Jewelry Center really offers many point of view. And each class is different.
What have some of your students gone on to do with the training the Jewelry Center provides? What impact has it had on their lives?
Jonathan Wahl: Last year, the work of one of our students was worn by Beyoncé on the Grammys! Not everyone has that trajectory, but many, many people have built on the training they’ve received here to go on to wonderful careers. Overall, the 92Y Jewelry Center is a strong community. Many of our classes are filled with students who have made the Jewelry Center part of their lives, and have built lasting friendships and connections that go beyond our walls.
You offer a broad spectrum of teaching programs and courses with respect to jewelry—have you observed new trends or current directions in the field of late?
Jonathan Wahl: “The field” is hard to define. There’s the fashion jewelry world, the art jewelry world, the commercial jewelry world—so it depends on your particular point of view. As a general statement about jewelry, I would say that it’s really wearable. It was interesting to see how the field reacted to the recession 10 years ago. Gold prices went through the roof, and costume jewelry exploded with big nonprecious, statement pieces. Now it seems that tiny jewelry is back, but nonprecious materials and deconstructed techniques are still are very pervasive.
Do staff or students from the Jewelry Center cross disciplines or work collaboratively with other artists within the broader 92Y community? If so, can you give some examples of any projects or outcomes?
Jonathan Wahl: Collectively within the 92Y Art Center, we have almost 100 faculty members. There’s a lot of daily interaction, in addition to our faculty art shows in 92Y’s Weill Art Gallery.
What does a typical day working as director of the 92Y Jewelry Center look like for you, or is there no typical day?
Jonathan Wahl: There isn’t a typical day. I have a very diverse role here. Number one, I oversee the faculty and student body, but I work collaboratively with many institutions and publications on creating programming and collaborating on lectures. I also organize biennial trips abroad to visit artists’ studios and historical collections. I’m currently working on a trip to Israel in April. We have previously been to Italy, India, Japan, Vienna, and Prague.
What’s next for you and the Jewelry Center?
Jonathan Wahl: I’m very excited about the inaugural New York Jewelry Week, taking place from November 12–18, 2018, which I’ve been asked to consult on and which the Center will participate in. A lil’ bit of NY Fashion Week meets Schmuck—I hope!