The 17th Biennial Juried Exhibition of the
The Washington Guild of Goldsmiths is proud to be presenting a juried exhibition of jewelry, hollowware, sculpture, and functional art created by guild members. The exhibitors in the show include nationally recognized artists in addition to members who are exhibiting for the first time. Jurors Andy Cooperman and Namu Cho judged the entries from the actual pieces not images resulting in an exhibition that will delight all viewers.
Some of the exciting work in this show includes nationally recognized, Torpedo Factory Artist, Barbro Eriksdotter Gendell. Her Emergence Series – New Growth pendant, pictured on the front, illustrates not only exemplary design but also precision in fabrication. Dorothea Stover’s exquisite enamel cup, also on the front, is not only well executed but illustrates a whimsical theme to enchant all ages.
Namu Cho is a renowned metalsmith, who works mainly in the art of damascene inlay, an ancient technique that he brought from Korea, where he received his BA from Kook-Min University in Seoul. Later, he received his MFA from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, returned to Korea to teach for 10 years, then, came back to stay in Maryland, ever since. He does juried shows around the country such as, The Smithsonian Craft Show in DC and The American Craft Council Show in Baltimore, and has also won several prestigious awards, like The Louise Comfort Tiffany foundation Award.
I was extremely honored to have been chosen as one of the jurors for the Washington Guild of Goldsmiths Metalwork 2014 Show. This let me “give back” to the art world and gave me a chance to make a difference with these artists. As the jurying time neared, I began to worry. Would I be able to be fair and judge, not only the novices, but the professionals, too? How could I keep from comparing them to each other, let alone 25 years of acquired skills of my own?
So the day of jurying came. I met some of the guild members, Michael Schwartz (owner of Creative Metalworks), and Andy Cooperman (the other juror). I was immediately relaxed, and drawn to Andy’s open charismatic charm. While he needed to talk things through on each of the pieces as he juried, I was quiet, trying to get an idea of the artist’s thought process when building each piece. I had two questions for every artist. First, how creative were they when they approached the project? Then, how well did they execute the techniques that they used?
Basically, I was introspective, and not very verbal. I loved seeing the creativity in the designs, and had worked through my fear of fairness, so was able to really enjoy all the depths of workmanship that makes this guild special.
I am writing this from my aisle seat in row 30 on United Flight 357, cruising at thirty thousand feet from the Washington in the east to my Washington in the northwest.
This five-hour flight home is just what I need to organize my thoughts and reflect on my experience as a juror for Metalwork 2014. Before I begin, let me say what a pleasure it was to be invited into this guild and to spend time with the work. The Washington Guild of Goldsmiths really is a broad and diverse group and I appreciate how that quality was reflected in the work.
As a working metalsmith I’ve come to understand that even a solid resume of shows is no passport into future exhibitions.
I still get rejected sometimes. So I know that sting and it reminds me to be very careful when I am a juror. It is an honor to be asked to jury an exhibition and if you take the job seriously, as I think most jurors do, it can be tough and can leave your heart both wrenched and aflutter. A juried exhibition is by definition exclusionary: some pieces make it in and some don’t. And jurying a group show that represents all members, from hobbyists to professionals, can be especially tricky. You have to keep in mind the variety in experience and be as fair as you can, considering the evidence in front of you without comparing it to the ones that came before. There were pieces that I immediately resonated with and there were those with which I didn’t. Some grew on me. Several times I turned to my scribe (I love that word) and said, “You know, this is really not my cup of tea, but there’s something about it that keeps calling me back. I really like this fill in the blank aspect of it.” In the end, no matter how fair and impartial you try to be I suppose it boils down to a matter of opinion. But a juror’s job is to set personal preference aside and give each piece its due.
So, what is a jury looking for? Well, it depends on the jurors and the media. Each brings its specific set of criteria to the table. For a jewelry and metalsmithing exhibition a juror is taking a careful look at the whole piece: the front and the back, the fit and finish. Personally, I am very interested in how materials—whether traditional or alternative—are being utilized.
A fresh approach to a traditional stone or metal will always grab my attention as will a material that I just haven’t seen or considered before. But whether classic or unexpected, I am looking for innovation, a commitment to the making, a respect for the materials and a consistency of craft or aesthetic across a group of pieces.
Here’s some words that I have used to describe a piece that makes me look twice: elegant •
beautiful • funky • transcendent • improbable • unexpected • dynamic • dimensional • fully-realized • well-made • buttery • fluid • gutsy • tight/loose • delicious • consistent • crisp/clean • honest • fresh • exuberant • surprising • powerful • hilarious.
I want a joint to be clean, a patina even and a surface to be free of scale and mountains of spilled solder. If a piece is meant to have a “primitive” or “organic” sensibility that intent should be clear: even a crude aesthetic can be rendered with care. I want to know that a person thought enough about what they made to go back if they needed to and make it as right as they could; that they considered the piece as a whole. Jewelry needs to work on some level and sculptural pieces need to be fully considered, mounting boards and woodwork included. Brooch catches need to latch securely. If they were store-bought they should be installed correctly and without wobble. (Nicely handmade findings always make me smile.) As I looked at the work and considered individual pieces I asked that some be put on by a scribe or facilitator so that I could see for myself the balance and orientation on the body. If I’m starting to sound like the Craft Nazi, I make no apologies: I believe in putting whatever you can into your work.
All this being said, I think that there are things that all exhibition jurors are looking for and chief among these, I would venture to guess, is an object whose qualities add up to something more than the sum of its parts and is in its own way sublime. Maybe a piece where compelling design, material and superior craft meet. Or an object with a “hook” such as wit or an over-the-top presence: a piece with real heart or cojones. That special quality that makes your head turn and your heart beat faster.
This biennial exhibition is an inclusive show in that everyone who submits on-time and according to the rules will have a piece in the show. But the piece or pieces that make it in are, in the opinion of the jurors, the best of each group of submissions. This makes for a well-rounded and strong exhibition that is the product of not only the work selected but of also a careful process executed smartly by those in charge. The scribes, the method of scoring, the serious and respectful way that everyone handled the work and how careful everyone (but the jurors) were to not voice their own feelings and opinions—even as we stood anonymously before their own work—all helped to lay the groundwork.
My co-juror was Namu Cho, a metalsmith whose work I have long admired. We made a good team. Each of us has a strong personal aesthetic and we both care a lot about craft. Namu and I worked separately, beginning at either end of the string of entry-covered tables, each with our own scribe who feverishly recorded our numerical scores and our comments about the work. It wasn’t until we were finished that we came together to decide on awards. Neither of us wanted to begin. Finally, Namu moved among the tables, pointing out the work that he felt the strongest about. With almost no exception we each were drawn to the same work and our reasoning meshed right down the line. There was one piece in particular that we were both independently jazzed about and maybe surprised that the other felt that same strong tug, since it was nothing like the work that we made ourselves. Assigning awards was difficult and in the end we added two more to the original number.
Perhaps what struck me most about jurying Metalwork 2014 was the request from the exhibition organizers for honest feedback from the jurors about the work, which was recorded by the scribes to be passed along to the makers. This is invaluable and rare. When I was a young, thin-skinned metalsmith the pile of rejections were made somewhat less painful by the one or two exhibitions that added feedback to the rejection letter. It turned a bad day into a bad day with a learning experience. So in much the same way The Washington Guild of Goldsmiths’ Metalwork 2014 becomes an exhibition that educates both the public and the show participants, which is maybe the highest purpose for an art show.
After we had completed jurying and assigning awards, I left the room tired but inspired. I had seen some work that took me by surprise and opened my eyes; that excited me and got my heart beating faster about new possibilities. Things that reminded me why I got excited about metalsmithing in the first place. Seems like the hard work and responsibility of being a juror has its personal rewards.
Winging towards Seattle
Photos by David Terao