Greek Glory And Roman Grandeur In Today's Art

Walters Art Fair Traces Evolution Of Jewelry

November 19, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

Jewelry makers Cynthia Alderdice and Lois Mansfield are meticulously forging the past to the present with chains of silver, copper and gold.

The pendants and necklaces for sale in their Annapolis shop use such modern-day tools as computers to help them replicate designs and effects that are nearly 2,000 years old.

For example, a necklace called "Awakening" features a pendant made from 22-karat gold and featuring cloisonne, a type of enameled jewelry that remains as popular today as it was when it adorned the wrists of high-born women in ancient Greece.

Equally eye-catching is the gold and silver chain on which the pendant hangs. The braiding, more accurately described as a hammered, pinched-loop design, is modeled after a necklace fashioned in Rome in the 2nd century.

"We make our chains the same way they made them back then," Alderdice says. "There's no soldering in our jewelry. The chains actually are fused together."

The women will be among the 20 artists represented in "Classical Links," the sixth annual art fair running this weekend at the Walters Art Museum.

The fair, which is sponsored by the museum's Women's Committee, aims to raise money for the Walters by showcasing fine jewelry as the holiday season gets under way. But this year, the fair will have an educational component as well. As is implied by the event's title, "Classical Links," a new series of gallery talks will trace the evolution of jewelry-making methods from ancient to modern times by pairing six exhibitors with conservators and curators on the Walters' staff.

For instance, Meg Craft, the Walters' aptly named senior objects conservator, will be paired with Alderdice and Mansfield to demonstrate the history and various forms of enameled jewelry. (Enamel is made from intensely colored glass that has been ground to a fine powder, then melted into a liquid, cooled and polished to a high gloss.)

Craft will be repairing an elaborate timepiece that is an early precursor of a pocket watch, and which was made in Switzerland between 1640 and 1660. On the back of the case, an image of the Holy Family with St. John has been painted in enamel.

The watch was damaged after a fall. Working under a microscope, Craft will use a reversible glue to reattach slivers of the original enamel - many no thicker than an eyelash.

"People ask if I will refire the case, and I say 'absolutely not,' " she says. "If I make a mistake, I want the option of redoing it safely."

The tiny case is just 2 inches round, but it abounds with painterly effects. Look at the way the angel's cloak creates a "shadow" over his bare shoulders, or the shiny spot where sunlight appears to be hitting the cloak covering the Virgin Mary's knee. It's difficult to believe that those images were created by glass and not by oil-based pigments.

"It's very beautiful, and it was very labor-intensive," Craft says. "And a modern audience can see the development of a style toward something that's being used now."

Alderdice and Mansfield learned many of the ancient techniques during the 15 years that they took courses at the Jewelry Arts Institute in New York. But some effects couldn't be replicated without newfangled creativity and innovation - not to mention advanced computer technology.

For example, the women are fascinated by guilloche, the name given to complicated patterns consisting of fine lines and spirals. You can see an example of guilloche in the borders of dollar bills, but Alderdice and Mansfield are more interested in applying these patterns to metal jewelry. The technique was a favorite of the famed Russian goldsmith Peter Carl Faberg?, but he used a lathe that is no longer built.

So Alderdice hunted until she found a software program that can create patterns that replicate the engraving effect. The patterns are then printed out via a machine that uses toner cartridges, beginning a multiple-step process of transferring the lines and spirals onto a malleable clay that has been mixed with silver or gold..

The rough jewelry is placed into a kiln and fired for two hours at 1650 degrees Fahrenheit.

"The clay burns away, and what you're left with is pure silver or gold that has a pattern on it," Alderdice says. The pattern becomes the background for cloisonne, a form of enameling in which the different colors of molten glass are kept separate by little wires that form raised "cells."

"All of our jewelry is influenced by what went before, but it also has a modern edge," Alderdice says. "It's exciting to bring together the classical and contemporary worlds."

If you go

"Classical Links" runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday at the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St. Weekend admission costs $10. Call 410-547-9000 or go to www.wamwc.org.

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