The sources of inspiration for new jewelry ideas are various… but I suppose I would have to credit two, above all: the forms of the natural world, and what I would refer to as “other art”. Where I live and work in the woods and hills of north central Pennsylvania, the variety and beauty of nature is everywhere present… not only in the fine details of the plant and insect life, but in the grand changes in season, atmosphere, and mood which play out here every day.
To experience “other art”, my wife, who is a potter, and I have particularly been drawn to Italy, starting with travel first to Greece on a Fulbright in 1964, and then to Italy after that year. At this point I would suppose we have traveled to Italy over 30 times, wandering together to look, to draw, and to absorb the rich legacy of a culture which reaches back to the Stone Age from the present day. We often go together for a couple of weeks, and then I stay by myself in some new place to draw, design and actually make wax models to bring home to be cast in gold and finished. While we have been other places (mostly following our wandering daughter Bevan) like India and Japan, it is the rich residue of Italian cultural artifacts which draws us again and again. And of course the stone masons, iron workers, potters, jewelers, and wood workers who have created these treasures over the centuries were themselves inspired by the forms of nature and the artifacts of their own time.
And, I would be remiss if I did not admit that the enjoyment of the present-day culture of Italy is an important lure… the generally congenial attitude of the people, the wonderful food and wine, and what I would refer to as the “social” nature of the Italian lifestyle. One cannot take a walk in the evening during the “passegiata” without feeling the contrast to our own culture. I suppose the Italians have an acceptance of what I would call the “tragic” nature of our existence… that we have only the present moment, and that “improvement” of life is illusory.
Sometimes I wonder that I found my way to becoming a jeweler… one of my most influential teachers at RISD encouraged me to make big things, because of my large hands and tall build. But, I was always drawn to fine detail work, and I find that the practice of jewelry making satisfies a desire to make an expressive, sculptural piece which is worn on the body. This intimate connection to the wearer has a talismanic power… it is a place and a space for the wearer to refer to, and perhaps a place of refuge, vitality, or power. I feel an obligation to make my pieces comfortable and easy to wear, and evocative of the positive qualities of order, vitality, symmetry, and “beauty”… that last quality elusive and hard to define, but having to do with joy, delight, and discovery. The use of the “noble” materials, which do not rust, corrode, or abrade, is a symbolic assurance for the wearer in an impermanent and changeable world.
In Italy, the wealth of artifacts in so many places, even in the humblest of towns and cities, is a reminder of the human drive to express joy in the variety of life itself… and for me, provides an opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by this cultural treasure.