2020 Halstead Challenge
Sterling silver, red brass, yellow brass, nickel silver, enameled copper, blue stained glass cabochons, antique watch crystals (France, Japan), and cyanotypes on cotton, archival adhesive (for setting the fabric).
Pendant: 3.5” x 3.5” x 0.625”
Necklace length: 18” Long
The story behind this piece begins with my interpretation of connection. For me, as a medical illustrator, I connect science and art every single day. My art teaches and leads to a better scientific understanding of the outer world around us, and the inner world of our own bodies. There is no shortage of inspiration in connecting these seemingly disparate subjects. We as metalsmiths use science to create art all of time by combining alchemy, metallurgy, chemistry, physics, formulas, geometry, oxidation, electroforming, reactions and more. I’m inspired by the art I see in the natural world. I also admire many artists and scientists who came before and connected the dichotomy of art and science in many disciplines. Two of those people influenced the design of my 2020 Halstead Design Challenge creation. The first is Karl Blossfeldt (1865–1932) who was a German photographer, sculptor, teacher, and artist who worked in Berlin. He became known for his close-up photographs of plants and living things, which were published in 1929 as Urformen der Kunst (translated as Art Forms in Plants). He was inspired, much like I am, by nature and the ways in which plants grow. He believed that, “the plant must be valued as a totally artistic and architectural structure.” When I first discovered his work, I was convinced the botanical images he captured were ironworks; I could imagine fiddle-heads and succulents made in metal! I encourage you to learn more about Blossfeldt and his work in botanical photography. The second figure of influence is Anna Atkins (1799–1871). She was an English botanist and photographer often considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images. Some sources claim that she was the first woman to create a photograph. In 1843, her early botanical photographs were self-published in a book called Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. If you have never seen her work, you are in for a treat. Using the sun’s rays, she vividly captured various species of algae using a photographic process called the cyanotype. These plant forms dance across the pages in a ghost-like white on an ocean of blue paper. They are simply breathtaking! I love how the cyanotype captures a beautiful silhouette of something from nature, and that the sun becomes the artist, capturing images using a chemical reaction, recording beauty that becomes a permanent record of what once was fresh and alive. This lead to creating what you now hold in your hands. My approach to designing and fabricating this work of art was all a science experiment. I had sketched an idea, but that idea evolved as I tinkered. I found myself “testing” techniques I had learned, and pushing them in new directions. “Is it possible to solder these two things together even though there’s going to be enamel on them? What would happen if I took this bead and combined it with this blossom? How much should I immerse this etch for? What mathematical pattern will mimic the shape of a succulent? How long do I need to expose this fabric to the sun before I can capture my own image on it?” The more questions I had, the more tests I ran, the more I learned and the more my art grew! I imagine both Blosfeldt and Atkins might have felt the same way about their work. The biggest challenge: how can I incorporate a signature cicada into this project? I decided I had to let that go. Hence, the poem I wrote expressing that I’d have to wait until the next project to do so. Rather, I focused on capturing my own cyanotypes under vintage watch crystals as my found object.
Though I’ll wait 17 years to hear the songs they sing,
On the morrow, I shall wake to what the sun will bring.
What will the sun bring for you? May you see the beauty of art and science to your life too!
Very truly yours,