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.
AJF Board Member Susan Kempin describes her journey to becoming an art jewelry collector 'as a "long and winding road," to quote the Beatles.' Susan began collecting antiques while in nursing school and then 'when I moved to New York City, where space is limited, I realized I needed to contain my collecting,' she sighs. 'Jewelry is small and it doesn’t take up much space, so I thought I could collect a lot of it, yet I felt I needed a niche.'
Fast forward to California. 'While I was living there, I took Christie Romero’s antique and period jewelry course. Christie is a wonderful teacher and guide and she introduced me to the American Society of Jewelry Historians, where I continue to be a member and to AJF member Karen Lorene’s gallery, Facèré, where I treated myself to my first purchase of contemporary art jewelry ten years ago.'
'Next, I was off to Jewelry Camp, a week-long series of lectures and workshops about jewelry,' Susan continues. 'It was there I saw work by Calder, Braque, Man Ray – fabulous pieces, but clearly out of my reach. The next year I went to a lecture given by William Harper, and that was my aha moment,' she notes. 'I’d never heard of William Harper or his work, yet I left the lecture eager to learn more. When I asked Christie where I could find books about art jewelry, she told me to contact Charon Kransen,' Susan says, 'and I credit Charon for completing my transformation to a serious collector.'
When Susan thinks about her purchases over the years, these images come to mind: 'A cat sitting up with its paw out, holding a can of Pet milk, by Roberta and David Williamson; a brooch of slumped glass by Julie Mihalisin that is beautiful and simple and elegant. A favorite piece, a brooch by Giovanni Corvaja.' She describes the Corvaja brooch. 'I had read about his work in Metalsmith and couldn’t get it out of my mind. I feel serene, at peace, when I look at this piece because I find it so remarkably beautiful. I have a weakness for artists from the Padua school and also have a bracelet by Stefano Marchetti and a necklace by Daniella Boreri.'
'Another of my favorite pieces,' Susan continues, 'is a brooch by Sondra Sherman from her Anthophobia series. I relate to it, perhaps because I’m in the medical field, or perhaps it’s because my experiences with corsages were also somewhat anxiety-provoking in high school!'
Last year, Susan purchased a bracelet by Andrea Janosik, the AJF Emerging Artist winner for 2007. 'Wearing her bracelet is like walking a dog in New York City,' Susan laughs. 'All the other "dog lovers" come over and talk to you about your dog! When I wear Andrea’s bracelet, it attracts art-jewelry lovers. People come up to me and ask what it’s made of, they want to touch it and they ask about how it opens and closes – it’s very interesting.'
When asked how she’s building her collection, Susan admits, 'I don’t have a plan for building my collection. I feel I should have one, but I don’t. I do consider my purchases more carefully now than I did when I first began collecting because I’m more knowledgeable. There are artists whose work I know I want to have in my collection so I try to limit spur of the moment purchases. However, when I see fascinating work by an artist I hadn’t previously known of I want to add that too. It’s difficult to balance between the two. I like to know what the artist was thinking in designing the piece, like Sondra’s piece, for example. I also have a piece by Sergey Jivetin [AJF Emerging Artist winner for 2005] titled Brazil because this plume-like projection on the piece reminded him of the explosion in the movie Brazil, so I rented the movie because I hadn’t seen it in many years and couldn’t recall the scene.'
Susan was raised on a farm in western Pennsylvania and has since lived in both New York and California. She’s a masters-prepared oncology nurse and describes her work, 'I’ve spent my entire career working in cancer clinical research, primarily in hospital settings, but for the past five years in the pharmaceutical industry. My husband is a hematologist/oncologist and I have two stepsons. One is an architect and specializes in hospital architecture: the other is a photojournalist who works for Getty. We have two grandsons, Zachary, five, and Jacob, three.'
When asked how she balances her work and life, Susan replies, 'Well, I don’t, unfortunately. I work way more hours than I should! I do wear most of my jewelry to work and I have attracted a group of jewelry watchers there. Interestingly, for a team-building exercise a few weeks ago, we were divided into small groups and told to come up with as many uses as we could for a large red plastic drinking cup – one of the groups suggested it could be a piece of my jewelry!'
Susan credits Charon Kransen and AJF with helping her continue her education about contemporary art jewelry. 'I’m very fortunate Charon lives only a few blocks from me,' she says. 'I’ve learned a tremendous amount from him and he’s exposed me to artists’ work I wouldn’t necessarily have considered on my own and I’ve become more adventurous in my collecting.'
'Patti Bleicher has worked with the Montclair Museum, the Newark Museum and the 92nd St Y in scheduling lectures in the New York area this winter,' Susan says. 'And I’ve attended receptions with presentations at Gallery Loupe, one with Andrea Wagner and another with Vered Kaminski. Patti has really been instrumental in raising awareness of artist jewelry in the New York and New Jersey area. I also attend American Society of Jewelry Historian lectures, which are excellent and a good opportunity to learn about the field of jewelry.'
'I’ve probably learned most from being a member of AJF,' Susan concludes. 'Going on the trips and attending SOFA, meeting other AJF members, seeing what they collect and talking with them and with artists about the work. AJF has really opened up a world of new artists and venues for learning about artist jewelry and has also helped sharpen my eye and the way I look at pieces.'