Art jewelry expands on conventional ideas at Downtown Gallery

Sarah Lack

Alumni from the School of Art’s jewelry, metals, enamel program expand on the traditional concept of jewelry in the Downtown Gallery’s current exhibition, Reassembled, on display through Oct. 30.

The exhibition features more than 40 alumni with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts or Master’s of Fine Arts degree in jewelry, metals and enamel from Kent State.

It coincides with the Centennial Alumni exhibitions in the School of Art gallery, and celebrates the strong history of Kent State’s jewelry, metals, enamel program, according to Crafts Professor Kathleen Browne, who chose the works that are featured in the gallery.

Browne spent weeks contacting alumni from across the country and sending out a call to submit recent works to be considered.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exhibit is that most of the pieces are what Browne calls “art jewelry,” not paintings and drawings typically found in most art gallery exhibitions. Many of the pieces are designed with the intent that the owner will wear them.

“The work doesn’t sit on the wall. It becomes public very easily,” Browne said. “It’s also a collaboration between the artist and the owner because the owner wears the work out into public and has to interact with people about it. It’s a very performance-based art form.”

Browne said that many people typically think of jewelry as the kind that’s available in stores like Jared’s and Zales, but the jewelry, metals, enamel program is housed in the School of Art for a reason.

“We look at jewelry and metalwork as a form of artistic expression,” Browne said. “It’s just a different medium than painting and sculpture and ceramics. Our students are thinking how jewelry, metal and enameling are forms of artistic expression rather than a commercial product.”

However, many graduates go on to work in industry or production, and the program at Kent State gives them the skills to do so.

Stow-based alum Jak Figler designs high-tech eyewear for AlphaMicron, the Kent company affiliated with the Liquid Crystal Institute. In addition, he designs jewelry for his own company, Jak Figler Designs. His works in the exhibit include a pair of glasses made from cellulose acetate and sterling silver, and several renderings of custom-designed jewelry.

“Jewelry is so important. It’s an art form that holds so much value to the person wearing it,” Figler said. “I love the fact that my creations can mean so much to someone. The function for me is in the intrinsic value.”

In addition, a handful of alumni who make moderately priced production pieces have their work for sale in the display cases in the gallery. Browne said the gallery does well with selling the pieces, especially around the holidays.

Lesley Sickle, a graduate student at the School of Art, helped to come up with creative solutions for displaying the jewelry, which proved to be a challenge.

“We knew some things were going to be framed images, and that’s straightforward,” Sickle said. “But filling the gallery with pedestals didn’t seem like an exciting installation. It would be hard for people to navigate through the gallery.”

The solution is a mixture of pieces on pedestals and on a table in the middle of the gallery, which allows for people to view the jewelry up close. In addition, some pieces are hanging on the wall behind Plexiglas.

“We had to order special-sized nails, screws and hooks,” Sickle said. “Whatever we used had to be discreet and couldn’t damage the work in any way. Because the pieces are so delicate, we didn’t want people to be able to touch things and take them off the wall.”

For Browne, this exhibition functions as a way to make people see jewelry in a new light.

“Everyone understands what jewelry is. It’s not such a big leap to imagine what it looks like on the body,” Browne said. “Yet, it’s so surprising in terms of its scale or color and nontraditional aspects. It’s a way for people to expand their own understanding about art.”

Contact Sarah Lack at [email protected].