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School of Jewelry & Metal Arts Exhibition Opens at 435 Jefferson Gallery

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Precious metals and smiling faces were aglow at the 435 Jefferson Gallery on Nov. 3, when a cross-section of works by jewelry and metal arts M.F.A. students and alumni went on view in the exhibition Past, Present, Future.

“We have such a history,” said School of Jewelry & Metal Arts Director Charlene Modena. “We’ve been doing this for a long time, so I was thinking about the lineage of past, present and future. A couple of the students are getting ready to do their midpoint, some are just recent graduates, and some are getting ready for their final review. It’s a good time to show what we do, to give an overview of all the materials and the concepts that we work with.”

Ranging from runway worthy necklaces made from slip cast porcelain and laser-cut acrylic by Hsin-Yu “Candy” Chu to a Zen-like wall installation of flattened and elongated silver/copper alloy orbs by Ximao “Derek” Miao, the work on view embodied an outstanding level of craftsmanship. But while design and fabrication methods were impressive, the most remarkable aspect of the exhibition was how each piece conceptualized underlying narratives that explored various societal and emotional issues.

A mysterious bronze apparatus by Li-Yun “Rita” Cheng hung down the back of a black dress form enticingly fusing feminine delicacy with gleaming menace. A nearby photo showed a woman wearing the piece, her arms pulled up behind her back, wrists encased in gleaming cuffs.

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Hsing Li-Yun “Rita” Cheng.

“My concept is about women’s feelings and women’s sacrifice and the suffering of women in regard to our clothing,” Hsing explained. “This project shows the gesture of taking off our bra. Every morning when we do this, it’s like we’re shackling ourselves.”

Chiu-Jou “Yolanda” Chiu’s piece, Lena: Natural vs. Artificial, also explored aspects of body image. Red stitching ran across cast bronze doll parts set within the plush velvet interior of a wooden box. Part of her thesis project, which focuses on the contrasts between Eastern and Western cultures, this particular piece referenced plastic surgery.

“I put it in a box because it symbolizes that our body is like merchandise right now, every part is a product,” she said.

Some of the students drew inspiration from past experiences. When designing a bronze bracelet and choker reminiscent of barbed wire, Shaoyang “Sean” Chen recalled his time as a prison guard in Taiwan, a post he held while serving in the Taiwanese army.

“I wanted to make something that would serve as a reminder,” said Chen, whose thesis examines ideas of emotional scarring. “I had listened to the inmates’ stories about the things they had done. Some of them were extremely regretful. I wanted to make something to remind myself about that and to remember not to make that mistake.”

Initially part of the sculpture department within the School of Fine Art, the School of Jewelry & Metal Arts, otherwise known as JEM, broke out on its own three years ago. Instructor Patty Nelson (M.F.A. ‘15), who has been teaching at the Academy for 17 years said it’s an exciting time for the department. “We really changed when we became our own department,” she said. “That’s what this is a celebration of really, breaking away, becoming our own department, and it’s so innovative—the technological advances, the digital aspects, the 3-D printing, the laser cutting—it’s amazing. Our department is cutting edge, it’s very innovative, and I love being a part of it.”

Students, like Dale Beevers, whose piece, Vulnerability, explored themes related to addiction and mental illness, were honored to be included in the exhibition. “It’s gratifying to be able to show my work alongside both established and emerging artists whose skill, craftsmanship and execution of concept is at such a highly developed stage,” she said. “It’s also great to be part of a retrospective show that honors and shows the evolution of the art jewelry tradition at this institution, which I feel highlights just how innovative and exciting the work produced here really is within the field of art jewelry and wearable art as a whole.”


All photos by Bob Toy.