I just came across last months issue of American Craft Magazine. There was an exciting article by Virginia based metalsmith and craft activist, Gabriel Craig, titled Studio on the Street. Studio on the Street articulates Craig’s investigations in taking his practice outside of his studio and into the public sphere. He started his explorations in a series of performance based pieces where he moved his jewelers bench onto the street for his Collegiate Jeweler performances. Over time, the Collegiate Jeweler evolved into the Pro Bono Jeweler project, which directly engaged public participation.
In today’s techno-centric culture, there is a disconnect between how craft objects are actually made and what peoples perceptions of where they come from are. It seems that people have a limited concept of how a hand made object comes into creation, they cannot fathom the processes that come together to create a piece of jewelry. The making of jewelry there for seems more magical and inaccessible than tangible.
I often consider the dilemma that arises from working sequestered away in my studio poses to the education of jewelry buyers and the public. When faced with explaining what I do, I am often at a loss. When trying to explain the basic concepts of metalsmithing, people have no reference for my processes, and consider me more plumber than metalsmith or jeweler.
By changing the location of his studio and engaging the public, Craig investigates the concept of creating jewelery as an educational and performative experience. Usually, the act of creating jewelry is a solitary venture, occurring strictly as an intimate action between the artist and the object. But, when this process is shifted into the spotlight, the creation of jewelry becomes a spectacle. Craig engages the public, encouraging them to invest an equal amount of time and energy into the rings as he does.
The dialogue between jeweler and observer become set in metal, archived in the rings that were made during this experience. And the most interesting part: Craig would give the rings away! The act of giving the rings away to the people who interacted with him allows for the ring to become an index of the experience, a memento that will travel far away from Craig’s bench and will still educate people on the field of jewelry and metalsmithing.
This performance pushes against the glass ceiling of understanding where fine craft objects come from. Check out a video of one of Gabriel Craig’s Pro Bono Jeweler performances here: