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Variations on a Theme – 25 Years of Design

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BY JEAN DRUESEDOW
Director of the Kent State University Museum

The Kent State University Museum is currently holding a retrospective show displaying works of 41 jewellery designers to celebrate 25 years of artistry and growth of the American Jewelry Design Council.

When the American Jewelry Design Council (AJDC) was formed in 1988, its members were concerned with asserting their own legitimacy as artists. Indeed, the organisation, a non-profit educational corporation, was created with the aim of fostering appreciation for jewellery design as art and proving that American designers could make jewellery that rivalled that of the European tradition.
Twenty-five years later, a retrospective show that brought together work by over 40 AJDC members debuted at New York’s celebrated Forbes Galleries, occupying a space that had, for years, housed the world’s largest collection of Fabergé jewellery. It was a symbolic triumph for a group of designers who had by now attained a long-sought recognition.
That retrospective show, which opened in September 2013, was “Variations on a Theme: 25 Years of Design.” Now the show will be exhibited at the Kent state university Museum in Kent, Ohio, beginning October 23, 2014. The show will remain open at the Kent State University Museum through April 26, 2015.

John Iverson, “Jaxs Earrings” Sterling silver, rhodium- plated sterling silver, polyester resin.

JOHN IVERSON, “Jaxs Earrings” Sterling silver, rhodium- plated sterling silver, polyester resin.

“Variations on a Theme” is so named because it collects work from the AJDC’s annual design projects, which challenge members to create work based on a common theme that changes year to year.”

“Variations on a Theme” is so named because it collects work from the AJDC’s annual design projects, which challenge members to create work based on a common theme that changes year to year. Themes may be elemental (“water,” “ice”) or geometric (“sphere,” “spiral”), suggestive of an action (“flight”), ritual (“peekaboo”) or cultural referent (“Mona Lisa”).
One of the great joys of the exhibition — in addition to the craft and ingenuity of each individual piece of jewellery — lies in observing the diverse responses a given theme elicited. The theme “wheel” returned a body of work spanning the automobile, interlocking gears and a child’s pinwheel. “Key” yielded not only an old-fashioned skeleton key but also a bar code etched into a silver ring. “Tear” inspired jewellery attached to either sense of the word (a synonym for “rip” and a drop of fluid shed from the eyes) as well as both senses at the same time.

“Variations on a Theme” is a document of the evolution of an art form, tracing the output of AJDC artists across decades. One of the AJDC’s foundational goals was to reintroduce artistic inventiveness in contemporary American jewellery making. As council member George Sawyer writes in the exhibition catalogue, the American jewellery industry of the 1980s was “dominated by manufacturers who did not consider original design to be even a minor component of the ‘product’. Distinctive design and artistic content were considered risky and an irrelevant added expense.”
The annual design projects highlight the individual approaches of each of the AJDC artists. Materials and techniques appear, disappear and resurface over time; ideas transcend specific themes. In total, “Variations on a Theme” collects 167 pieces of jewellery by 41 artists responding to 19 years of annual design projects from 1995 to 2013. Those artists are: Sandy Baker, Jane Bohan, Whitney Boin, Michael Bondanza, Petra Class, Jaclyn Davidson, Falcher Fusager, Geoffrey Giles, Cornelia Goldsmith, Michael Good, Sarah Graham, Alishan Halebian, Ron Hartgrove, Barbara Heinrich, Susan Helmich, José Hess, Cornelis Hollander, John Iversen, Scott Keating, Christo Kiffer, Paul Klecka, Steven Kretchmer, Pascal Lacroix, Anthony Lent, Linda Macneil, Gregoré Morin, Adam Neeley, Mark Patterson, Jennifer Rabe Morin, Kent Raible, Paul Robilotti, Todd Reed, Alan Revere, Susan Sadler, George Sawyer, Mark Schneider, William Schraft, Tina Segal, Diana Vincent, Takashi Wada and Barbara Westwood.
The Kent State University Museum houses one of the largest collections of contemporary and historic fashion in the United States. Meanwhile, the closely allied fashion school at Kent State ranks among the top in the nation. The museum has eight galleries with changing exhibitions that cover a wide range of subjects. Currently the exhibitions include “Entangled: Fiber to Felt to Fashion”; “The Great War: Women and Fashion in a World at War, 1912 – 1922”; and “A Timeline of Fashion”, which places objects from the collection in their historical context. Welcoming visitors from around the world, the museum serves as a cultural gateway to the university.

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