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.
What is it about the Westin Hotel in Seattle that I find so offensive? Is it the tasteless and blandness of the décor or the airlessness of the space that bugs me? During Flux, the 2011 Society of American Goldsmiths (SNAG) conference, the place was crawling with metalsmiths of all stripes, but they were placed against a backdrop of spring green and pastel accents that diminished their flamboyant displays of pink and purple hair and oversized ornamentation. Imagine this flock existing in more elegant surroundings. It seems a shame that craft conferences can’t be held in beautifully crafted places. Or am I just old guard?
Despite the ugliness of the environment, AJF managed to put together a great show called Geography in the Grand Crescent room (sounds elegant, doesn’t it) which was on the fourth floor of the hotel where all the action took place. It was the first time we had done anything like this and it both looked great (we overspent on display units!) and included high-quality, international work from all the AJF galleries. The exhibition was accompanied by a catalog we published, which included images of the jewelry, artist statements and four essays examining the concept of geography from different points of view.
AJF also sponsored an international group of writers to meet and discuss how they were going to approach writing for our book, which will be published by Lark in 2013. This group included Monica Gaspar (Spain/ Switzerland) Ben Lingel (France) Kevin Murray (Australia) Damian Skinner (New Zealand) and Namita Wiggers (United States). Damian is the AJF editor and brought these writers and thinkers together and SNAG smartly took advantage of their presence to have a short hour-and-a-half session called ‘Nothing if Not Critical’ to present some papers and have a critique. It would have been more successful if the speakers could have been heard and if it had lasted twice as long at least. But it was a start to introducing the process of writing and the relationship it has to making. In that sense I think it succeeded. Our ambitious editor, Damian, also gave a talk called ‘All the World Over: The Global Ambitions of Contemporary Jewelry,’ which among other things, juxtaposed the heavenly aspects of global jewelry by the Swiss maker Otto Künzli with the regionally located and earthbound work of Warwick Freeman.
We planned a trip around this conference that was loosely arranged to allow each participant to choose day (for studio and collection visits) or evening (for dinner) events depending on his or her individual interests. Since we have added arts professionals to our ranks it was wonderful to have makers attend some of these along with the regular group of collectors and gallerists. A nice mix.
Visual highlights of the trip were the exhibitions scattered around town. We were especially taken with the following:
- Kiff Slemmons’s exhibition called Pride of Paper/ Orgullo en Papel at THREE BY TEN.
- Us in Flux at Greg Kucera Gallery, curated by Ruth Koelewyn and Seth Papac.
- Sondra Sherman’s exhibition called Found Subjects at Marquand Books.
- ABeCeDarian at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery.
One day we visited two studios in the Ballard section of Seattle and were treated to the wonderful hospitality of Andy Cooperman and Lori Talcott. Andy loves his tools and we had a lot of fun going over all of them with him. Lori had more to say about the role of the jeweler in society and how connected she feels to this place. Notice her familiar sitting in the basket right behind her.
Another day we visited the collections of Edie Adams in the Queen Anne hills of Seattle. She is a collector and great supporter of local art and has been interested in the work of Maria Phillips and Seth Papac for a while, so she invited them to come and speak about their work. Since Maria had been Seth’s teacher in the past, there was a great compatibility between the two. They talked about each other’s work, which was displayed on the counter and AJF members took it all in and then wandered around the house enjoying the architecture and the artwork. One favorite was a video in the downstairs bedroom of a woman in a landscape behaving like a deer.
We also visited the home of Sally von Bargen, AJF board member and treasurer (soon to retire). She invited the young jewelers Stephanie Tomczak, Molly Epstein, Julie Harrison and Midori Saito to join her. Sally planned an unexpected treat for us. As we entered her home we were each given a piece of paper with a statement or two on it about someone’s life. For example, one said, ‘I work three jobs besides doing my jewelry.’ We were presented with groupings of work by each jeweler and were asked to place our statement with the jeweler it belonged to. This proved to be a daunting task and most of us got it wrong, but in the ensuing conversation we learned a lot. The jewelers also asked the AJF trip members some questions and it provoked a lively conversation. It was fascinating how disconnected the life of a jeweler is from the way their work appears to the viewer. Hmm, something to consider! Finally, before we left, I presented Sally with a gift of an ounce of silver from the board for all her work with AJF and expressed our immense debt to her. She will be spending more time working as a jeweler in the future.
We finished up the trip with a bus ride to Bellevue Museum of Art. First we spent some time enjoying the Think Twice: New Latin American Jewelry exhibit, which was beautifully installed in this venue. (MAD in New York, eat your heart out!) It looked like a totally different and much more interesting show here. Then we saw this year’s version of SNAG’s Exhibition in Motion. It was hard for the audience to see what was going on, but offered an experimental way of showing jewelry.
To wrap it up I would just mention that we all enjoyed several meals together. In particular, the Friday night dinner at Wild Ginger, with the international writers in attendance as well as some of the jeweler members of AJF, was the most memorable. We really got a chance to talk and engage in a deeper discussion and that is what it is all about.
We all owe a huge debit of gratitude to Nancy Yoneyama for her amazing organizational skills and for doing a seamless job of planning for this trip. Thank you, Nancy. And to all those who helped set up and organize the Geography exhibit: Mike Holmes, Tom Hill, Nancy (again) Linda Peshkin and Bin Dixon-Ward. And to Damian Skinner for directing the meetings with the international jewelers and for supplying AJF brainpower to the conference.
Next year Schmuck?