Monday, December 9, 2013

More than meets the eye - Narrative jewelry by Sarah Joyce

What makes a piece of jewelry valuable to us?
The worth of its diamonds?
The superior craftsmanship?
The artist signature?

While all the above certainly contribute to its value, it is my personal belief, that the piece of jewelry we never want to take off - is the one with which we made a personal, intimate connection. 
Whether it reminds us of a person, a place or a time that is dear to us - this necklace or brooch tells a story that strikes a chord in our heart.
Black Jet Victorian Mourning Buttons and original thread..with initials

As an art history and visual arts major, Sarah Joyce has a deep understanding of the world that hides behind the aesthetics of an art piece.
Taking a course called ‘conservation of antiquities’ channeled her attraction to historic figures and their stories, into a career dedicated to saving fragile, vulnerable objects.

After years of working in museums, galleries and conservation projects around the world, Sarah went beyond saving other people’s art, and started to create jewelry.

I actually began making found object jewelry in 1987.  I was in a few exhibitionsand there was interest in my work…but it wasn't the right time for me.   I was working full time at a very demanding job and I found it difficult to sustain a creative practice.  But the thread of Poultice Jewellery is definitely connected to that early work…and extends back to my earliest interest in saving and recombining fragile, vulnerable objects.  I began operating under 'Poultice' in 2009”

The model Ashley wearing Navdanya
Sarah’s creating process starts with research and the discovery of people’s stories, here is an example:

Let me tell you about Lodore, Rescue Chatelaine.  Lodore was the result of my obsession with the story of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.   I had been reading every biography I could and was making  pieces about Mary and Percy Shelley the poet.   I began reading letters between Mary, her family and friends, including some from her mother the amazing Mary Wollstonecraft.   I kept coming across little snippets of information about a half-sister Fanny.
 I went in search of Fanny…who has been largely forgotten in this very famous, creative and emotional family.  When Mary ran away Fanny became very depressed and committed suicide at the age of 22, right at the time Mary was nearing the end of her famous book.  It became very important to me to understand what drove Fanny to take this terrible step. The more I read, the more I began to understand how she must have felt; abandoned, helpless, without hope.  This is how Lodore began; me searching for a vulnerable, lost soul.

Only after the pieces of the stories came together, does the jewelry creation begin.   

I use certain elements again and again as a recurring material language.  For example a white Victorian button always means domesticity or 'women's' rolesIn the case of Lodore the role of domesticity (and the white button) take on a darker meaning.  I've combined it with a hookedforktang…I think it looks a bit like a claw.  I needed a way for Fanny to dig holes so the seeds I have included in the bottle could flower (because she never had the chance). I'm not sure how I arrived at a claw…but it seemed right…and the shape of it feels a bit desperate.  
Lodore, Rescue Chatelaine with the bitten gold heart
Lodore had been sitting on my studio table for some time…I couldn't find a way to finish it.   I kept changing the elements….but nothing seemed quite right.    I was living on a gulf island at the time and a friend told me that an old house was being torn down and they were going to have a big bonfire. The next day he arrived with a box…in it were the most amazing old finds. Delicate Victorian jet beads, other bits and pieces and a little gold heart.  It was obviously a child's necklace…with a delicate gold thread chain.  The heart was covered in tiny bites right into the soft gold.  I imagine from a child teething…I knew immediately it connected with Fanny as a little girl.   I recalled Fanny's mother had written about baby Fanny biting her as she nursed. This letter opened a window to an intimate and tender moment between a mother and child.  So…the bitten heart became Fanny's… connecting herback to her mother…the wonderful Marry Wollstonecraft who died when Fanny was 3 years old.    
Fanny was also a writer…of letters.  She wrote with feeling...and her sweet character jumps off the page. I always use pen nibs to represent writers.   I knew she deserved a pen nib. This nib is bound tightly…as Fanny was bound.  When poor Fanny was found in a hotel room in Wales, she was wearing her Mother's corset.  This was so meaningful to me...I began to do an awful lot of research on corsets of the time.  I worked out how old the corset must be…and tried to find instances of her mother mentioning a corset.  The construction of the corset-like form around the bottle has the appearance of being locked…though I have added a little jewelled hinge…but I've also added a partial key.  There always has to be a key to desperate situations.  The whole necklace refers to the domestic Chatelaines women wore around their waists.  So that is how Lodore came to be! 

Every one of Sarah’s pieces is accompanied by a card that tells the piece’s story. 

I create a card containing the narrativeOn the front is a unique collaged image that relates to the piece of jewelry. Because they are one-off cards I just go to our trusty printer and have a couple printed at a time.  One card stays with me, one goes with the piece of jewelery. “ 
A narrative card for Endymion

In a world filled with mass produced jewelry, where every piece is exactly what meets the eye – how wonderful is to find pieces of wearable art, that beyond adorning our favorite dress also expand our world intellectually and emotionally?

The pen nib with burned wings used in the piece 'Caged'
Why would someone spend days, weeks or perhaps months creating one of a kind pieces rather than go for a more commercial approach?

I am happiest when I am being creative.   I prefer being inspired by objects that have past lives and histories, rather than creating new objects.
I enjoy creating pieces about women in history who have faced challenging times. Women who are creative and wear their humanity on their sleeve.  I have a soft spot for the late 18th and early 19th century. I love to immerse myself in this world.  I try to make my pieces intelligent, unconventional…suggestive of something quite magical in the use of combined materials.

Spanish Steps (Angels), a labour-intensive piece.
My approach probably does come at a bit of a price. I work slowly, so my monetary return is probably lower than someone who makes multiples.  Although some pieces come together faster than others…very few of the pieces come together quickly.  The conceptual stage (reading, research) takes a long time.  But research is also a great love.... so I'm quite happy doing it. I do feel I am making art.  I choose to work this way because this whole process I have developed engages me in a very deep way. Every new piece I work on becomes a completely new creative challenge.   The process combines my favorite areas of interest - historic research, writing stories, searching for and combining found objects, telling stories. I don't create with any specific audience in mind …unless I'm doing a commission.  I want to create work that is meaningful for me and then I hope others will like it too.”

Sarah in her studio
As someone who started creating  jewelry just a couple of years ago, Sarah’s voice is an inspiration to me. An acknowledgement that it is perfectly OK not to go with the general design wisdom of selecting your audience and only creating what they want. It is OK to create work that is meaningful to me – and to hope, maybe even actively look for :) people that will like it too.

Thank you Sarah, for inspiring me, and maybe others as well.
I am sure you would like to see more of Sarah work:
Here are links to her Facebook page and her web site,

Until next time,

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