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The Art of Gold

April 3 - August 8, 2004


Gold is highly sought for its gorgeous, seductive color and brightness. Virtually indestructible, it is highly malleable and is loaded with mythical, cultural and personal meaning. Jewelry remains the largest single use for gold throughout time in all parts of the world. Examples of elaborate gold workmanship survive in nearly perfect condition from ancient Egyptian, Assyrian, Etruscan and Meso-American artists.(right: John Iverson, Sycamore Maple Leaf)

The Art of Gold, opening April 3 through August 8, 2004, at Charlotte, NC's Mint Museum of Craft + Design, presents 80 contemporary gold objects, including jewelry, hollowware, vessels and small sculptures in which gold is the essential focus. The exhibition curator is Michael W. Monroe, former Curator-in-Charge for the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The Art of Gold showcases studio jewelry and objects designed and made by hand within a small studio setting in contrast with mass-produced jewelry designed by specialists, then fabricated in a factory.

"The art referred to in the exhibition title references fine art influences on contemporary goldsmiths, such as modernism, minimalism, pop art, neo-Expressionism and conceptual art," noted Melissa Post, Mint Museum Craft + Design curator.

"The studio goldsmith conceives innovative, aesthetic designs to satisfy his or her own personal vision," wrote Michael Monroe in the exhibition catalogue. "They are creating meaningful statement through fabricated form, masterfully manipulating the elements of art to achieve a clarity and unity of expression." (right: Kent Raible, Pregnant Chalice)

Studio jewelers are a relatively recent phenomenon, fueled by the influx of WW II veterans enrolling in art schools on the GI bill. The sculptor Alexander Calder is credited as being the first of the breed developed during the post World War II modernist movement. Calder's wildly inventive brass and silver jewelry was shown alongside his sculpture in major galleries.

Modernism, with its dictates that useful design be rigorously functional, was the major influence on the first generation of studio goldsmiths. Ronald Hayes Pearson's Torque 18-142 exemplifies modernist jewelry with its smooth, minimal form, high polish finish and beautiful craftsmanship in showcasing an impressive amethyst stone. The majority of gold jewelry and objects featured in The Art of Gold are post modern, where craftsmen became free to play upon jewelry conventions in amusing and provocative ways. The scale of pieces expanded as the human body became a fashion pedestal for sculpture.

A post modern contrast to Person's Torque 18-142 necklace is Sandra Enterline's Motherlode Chandelier Pendant which provides wry commentary on the human penchant for ostentatious display of precious material. Raw bits of panned gold from the Sierras are immersed in clear liquid in eight glass tubes, encased by highly polished gold caps and stylishly hung as a chandelier-shaped pendant.

Jennifer Trask's Papilla Japonica at first glance appears to be an oval brooch set with six iridescent cabochons (cut convex and highly polished gems). Closer examination reveals the cabochons to be Japanese rose beetles. The colorful sheen of the beetles confounds expectations in transforming our view of a garden pest to something lovely and seductive.

Glenda Arentzen's Necklace is a masterful salute to abstract painting with its series of gold-framed panels. Each panel is a variation of the artist's abstract composition of manipulated shards of rose, white and yellow gold.

Like other craft artists in the later 20th century, goldsmiths began exploring new combinations of material, including glass, ceramic, fabric, rubber and even paper in place of precious stones. Don Friedlich's Translucence Series Brooch is a geometrical design framing a pair of dichroic glass rods that refract light into opposite colors. Ken Loeber's Brooch 109512 combines gold and coral. Perhaps most amazing is a ring created by Kathy Buszkiewicz, Omnia Vanitas II. A pearl is set within what appears to be a green oval of classic symmetrical design that is actually carefully shaped and finished paper currency. (right: Tom Muir, Changing Hand)

The beauty of gold can be conveyed in both conventional and unconventional ways. "Gold leaf" takes on a stunning, literal meaning found in organic works by John Iverson (Sycamore Maple Leaf) and Jim Kelso (Chrysanthemum Lady Bug Brooch). Gary Nofke's unconventional Bowl and Spoon combines a mix surface of matte and planishing (smoothing the metal by hammer) that produces a surprising, alluring luster without the glint of high polish.

The Art of Gold provides a multiplicity of styles and forms found among today's studio goldsmiths, from the beautiful and sinuous curves of the gold thread Choker #83 by Mary Lee Hu to Kent Raible's metalsmith tour de force entitled Pregnant Chalice (which humorously plunders art history design from ancient Etruscan and Greek gold jewelry through Faberge's extravagant Easter eggs).

The exhibition and tour is organized by the Society of North American Goldsmiths and Exhibits USA. Its Charlotte appearance is made possible by The Founders' Circle, the support affiliate of the Mint Museum of Craft + Design.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Mint Museum of Art / Mint Museum of Craft+Design in Resource Library Magazine.

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