Sally von Bargen holds a BFA from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a Masters in Teaching from Seattle University. She began making and collecting contemporary studio jewelry after an accomplished career as business leader and founder of PhotoDisc, the first company to deliver digital photography via the internet. After PhotoDisc merged with Getty Images, she led Getty’s global commercial photography division until 2001 when she left to pursue her interest in art jewelry. She served on the AJF board focusing on web strategy and finance.
Trish Rodimer’s career has taken her from suburban Philadelphia to New York City to Chicago to San Francisco, where she’s worked in corporate communications for companies as varied as Avon, Kraft and Pacific Gas & Electric. Trish served on the AJF board as the past president. In 2007, Sally von Bargen talked with Trish about her interest in contemporary art jewelry.
Sally von Bargen: How did you learn about AJF and why did you join?
Trish Rodimer: Carol Windsor, a local jewelry artist and AJF member, invited me to attend a Metal Arts Guild panel discussion with collectors and AJF members. As the panelists talked, I found myself jotting down tons of notes, like 'Have they done this or thought about that?' Afterwards, I went up to them and essentially said, 'Where have you been hiding? I’ve been looking for a group like this.' Next thing you know, I was not only a member but also a board member. Classic case of beware of what you ask for!
Art jewelry lovers often have personal stories about how they discovered it. Where and how did your interest in art jewelry begin?
I’m not sure there was an 'aha' moment. Like many people, my interest with craft began at a fairly young age with street fairs and the like. I gradually began to be exposed to higher levels of work. I still remember my first ACC show in Northampton, Massachusetts and the feeling of having found some sort of holy grail, so perhaps that was the true beginning of my art jewelry interest. However, none of my friends were into this and thought I was kind of artsy/eccentric.
Do you have a favorite artist or type of work? Do you have pieces that are not wearable?
Brooches, earrings and rings, because they are easily wearable, predominate in my collection. I have a couple of pieces that are challenging to wear and I’m definitely of the bigger is better school when it comes to scale.
Do you wear your jewelry? If so, what do you like most about wearing art jewelry?
I have always worn my jewelry. I’ve worked in large corporations most of my career and decided long ago not to give my personal style over to the little blue suit and a demure strand of pearls. That may not have been the best career decision, but it was so much who I was that I couldn’t deny that aspect of my personality. I love it when people stop and ask about the work and we can engage in a discussion about the artist, materials and intent. Each opportunity is a chance to do a tiny bit of education and share my enthusiasm for the art form.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy that effects the jewelry you acquire? Do you pick whatever seems important to you, or do things just strike you as interesting?
I don’t think I have a philosophy or strategy per se, but looking back I can see that, as with other craft forms, I’ve been attracted to texture and materials. So I have pieces in rubber, paper, ceramics and wood– not just metal. Because I’ve always liked to wear my jewelry, I’m sure I’ve been somewhat influenced by wearability.
Do you collect other things? Do you have an area of specialization in your collection? Do you also collect other art forms – paintings, sculpture, or craft?
Like many people, I collect in more than one area. Living in a small San Francisco flat, my space is precious so my collection of contemporary American craft work is of fairly small pieces across media. Again, texture is evident in most of these works and, unlike my jewelry, many items are figurative.
How do you go about collecting jewelry? Do you contact individual artists, go to galleries and shows? Do you read about them first and see their work in books?
I am not collecting much at all these days. But when I see a new-to-me artist and love the work, I do my best to make contact to see more of the work and to get to know the artist. This may be directly through email, when an address is provided, or via a gallery if that is where I first encounter the work. I read about the work if there are materials available, but all this doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll acquire the work.
What are your plans for your collection?
I have already started planning for this as no one in my family will want or know what to do with the jewelry I have. One necklace has already gone to Museum of Arts and Design in New York; another is promised to the Tacoma Art Museum; and several other items have already gone to the Racine Art Museum. I don’t have many pieces that are museum-worthy but it is important for me to get those that are placed as appropriate. I am doing this for my craft collection as well.
What is it about art jewelry that continues to captivate you? What would you like to tell new collectors?
I still enjoy the discovery of new work that speaks to me and the interaction with artists. Meeting emerging artists has been wonderful and watching them grow in their careers is rewarding as well. I would tell others that they should enjoy seeking out the work, get to know the artists, educate themselves to some degree about the field and not get distracted over whether or not they should self-identify as a collector.