New Horizons for Jewelry + Metalsmithing Department

Three medallions on display at a SNAG exhibition by Ying Valerie Ho

In early June, industry professionals from across the country gathered in the Rhode Island Convention Center to attend the 50th annual SNAG (Society of North American Goldsmiths) conference. The organization has over 2,000 members made up of educators, students and studio artists involved in the craft of jewelry and metalsmithing. Approximately 750 members attend the annual multi-day event to meet with colleagues, listen to artist lectures and visit with vendors.

conference participants examine work on display
Yutaka Mingeshi and Jiho Choi examine Havagraph (spalted maple, aluminum, stainless steel, copper alloy, brass, nylon webbing, thermoplastic, HDF, lacquer, wax, electronic components) by Sean Eren 22 JM in an exhibition of Jewelry + Metalsmithing department work.

Lindström, a subsidiary of Snap-on tools, was among the vendors who cosponsored the conference. The top-of-the-line brand, founded in Sweden and now based in Spain, reached out to RISD earlier in the spring regarding a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Jewelry + Metalsmithing department, offering to supply students with tools for use and experimentation in exchange for feedback on new prototypes geared towards artists. At the conference, a few RISD seniors were given the opportunity to demonstrate Lindström tools in exchange for a home toolkit.

“This is an exciting moment for RISD to connect directly with a world-class toolmaker to think about how tools support and expand our material experimentation.”

Vice Provost for Strategic Partnerships Sarah Cunningham

“This is an exciting moment for RISD to connect directly with a world-class toolmaker to think about how tools support and expand our material experimentation,” says Vice Provost for Strategic Partnerships Sarah Cunningham. “So many RISD students and faculty adapt and modify their tools, so this is a great opportunity to be able to share their discoveries with Lindström, a maker of such high-quality products with an openness to innovation.” During the 2022–23 academic year, RISD staff and faculty may have the opportunity to visit Lindström factories in Spain, and Lindström staff will visit campus to see how faculty and staff are using the tools.

neck piece by Lucy Jockel made of beeswings
Bee Wing Lace Neckpiece, a RISD Museum commission by alum Luci Jockel MFA 16 JM, inspired by Dutch lace collars and made in honor of the honey bees that did not survive past winters on campus.

“There is an interesting intersection between academia and industry,” says Jewelry + Metalsmithing Department Head Tracy Steepy. “The partnership reduces some student expenses and provides more access to these world-class tools. I hope to be able to design classes around them, allowing students to learn and work in a way that they have never been able to in the past. As artists, we will be able to provide feedback on tool prototypes so that they are better suited to our work.”

At the conference, RISD Museum’s Emily Banas, assistant curator of decorative arts and design, and Critic Valerie James MFA 19 JM talked about the museum’s recent contemporary jewelry acquisitions, including how they respond to the existing collection and ways that historical practices influence makers today. The museum’s jewelry collection is currently made up of more than 1,500 pieces, and Banas is making efforts to acquire more work by BIPOC artists and RISD alumni.

necklace by alum Valerie James, who spoke at the conference
Valerie James MFA 19 JM discussed the inspirations behind pieces like this one during a conference talk called Historical Inspiration.

The two discussed a commission in progress by James, whose current work is inspired by Designing Brilliance, a sweeping 2019 exhibition of Gorham silver. “I physically touched a lot of the Gorham pieces in the museum and have spent more than two hours looking at the engraved pieces in storage,” says James. “I’ve always wanted to create a necklace inspired by the silhouettes and patterns in the platters from the exhibition, almost like ‘frankensteining’ patterns together into one crazy, outrageous necklace.”

James also talked about her past work, highlighting engraved, silver necklaces that she designs in fragments and then weaves together to illustrate the physical and psychological experience of long walks. “The moment of joining the pieces together is the most exciting moment of any of my work,” says James. “It is the completion of a path before it is worn by someone else.” James’ necklaces are designed so that the engravings are only visible to the wearer, allowing for a more personal connection with the piece.

“Our department strikes a balance between helping students understand their individual, authentic voices and preparing them professionally.”

Jewelry + Metalsmithing Department Head Tracy Steepy

Steepy says she is looking forward to expanding the undergraduate curriculum next year. “Our department strikes a balance between helping students understand their individual, authentic voices and preparing them professionally,” she says. “Whether they want to go into industry, start their own brand, or go on to graduate school and start a gallery, this Lindström partnership will better prepare our students for their future careers.”

—Isabel Roberts

June 22, 2022

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