As a Harvard Art Museums employee for the past 25 years, senior exhibitions specialist Peter Schilling has become deeply attached to the museums’ ancient Chinese jade collection. And his familiarity with the collection has informed his creative work of carving jade.
“I think I’m lucky among jade carvers to be working here,” said Schilling. “I’ve had up close and personal time with fantastic jades, some of which are probably 7,000 years old.”
With their graceful curves and luminous hues, Schilling’s carved pendants and earrings have a striking presence. They are just some of the one-of-a-kind, locally produced jewelry for sale in the museums shop.
Schilling begins each jade work by shaping forms with diamond saws and grinders. Next, he creates details using the technique of loose grit carving, an ancient Chinese method of essentially grinding and sanding with an abrasive, muddy slurry. Finally, sanding and polishing yields sleek, shiny surfaces.
With a B.F.A. and M.F.A. in sculpture but primarily self-taught in jade carving, Schilling last year won a silver prize at a jade exhibition in Soujou, China, for a thinly carved white jade bowl shaped like an abalone shell (see similar examples on his website, TakingFormJade.com).
Another jewelry producer with close ties to the museums is Hawkmark Studio, co-owned by the museums’ marketing coordinator Antoinette Hocbo and her boyfriend, architect Jared Steinmark. (The studio’s name is a phonetic combination of the couple’s last names.) Hawkmark’s earrings and necklaces are made of various types of wood, including birch and mahogany. The materials are laser-cut into hand-drawn and computer-generated shapes and patterns, some of which are inspired by patterns in nature and textiles. Then, each wooden shape is hand-stained.
Hocbo and Steinmark began making jewelry in 2012 after Steinmark used a laser cutter to create earrings for Hocbo as a Christmas gift. She was impressed—so much so that she wanted to try it, too. Results of their collaboration were encouraging, and the business was born. Hawkmark now produces more than a dozen styles of jewelry, among other items.
“The fun thing about jewelry is that you can try a lot of interesting designs,” Hocbo said. “Jewelry is like wearable sculpture.”
“Wearable sculpture” is also a great way to describe the jewelry of Gideon Weisz, a Cambridge resident and Allston-based artist whose 3D-printed nylon earrings are sold at the museums shop.
Using CAD software, Weisz creates 3D models of his jewelry designs and sends them to be printed. “The printer starts with a smooth bed of fine, white nylon powder,” Weisz said. “A laser scans over it, fusing the nylon together in the first cross-section of the shape. A thin layer of powder is spread over that and welded in turn, gradually building up the shape a layer at a time. The finished, fused shape is pulled out of the loose powder that surrounds and supports it.”
Weisz bathes each piece in dye before attaching a sterling silver backing. “Printed nylon is colorful, lightweight, flexible, and strong—perfect for earrings,” Weisz said.
He finds 3D printing particularly effective with interlocking shapes, a trademark of his work. His “cube” earrings, sold at the museums shop, are inspired by his earlier kinetic sculpture featuring interlocking cubes. He calls these miniature versions “an extension of my sculpture.”
Nancy Roll’s jewelry also represents just a portion of her creative output. Her enamel earrings, produced at her studio in Wakefield and sold at our shop, go hand in hand with her work as a painter.
“I get inspired outdoors. I love to paint landscapes, and when I’m outside I get a lot of ideas for my jewelry,” said Roll. She takes cues from abstract shapes in nature. “I enamel the way I paint,” Roll said, “using thin layers of color to build up the surfaces.”
Roll (whose husband, Jon Roll, is the museums’ senior collections specialist) creates her jewelry using the uncommon technique of basse-taille. It involves placing transparent layers of ground glass (which becomes enamel) over textured metal such as copper. Sometimes she layers different hues, creating distinctive palettes. “I’ve spent a lot of time developing my technique and finding ways to make the enamel very clear, like a jewel,” Roll said. A single piece of jewelry might take up to 20 layers of enamel, each fired separately in an extra-hot kiln (up to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit). To complete each earring, she adds silver or bronze loops and 14K-gold ear wires.
A former fashion designer with an M.F.A. in metalsmithing and enameling, Roll said her colorful, incandescent jewelry is ultimately “art that’s a little bit fashion conscious. It’s something you want to wear.”