Today is the fourth installment of my new inspiration series. Weekly on Muse Mondays, check in to see what is catching my eye. The goal is to nourish my own muse by following wherever she leads with amazement and study, but I’ll gladly share with you. Today’s artist is my longtime idol, jeweler Carolyn Morris Bach.
The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. -Albert Einstein
Carolyn Morris Bach
For many years, I’ve coveted the iconic jewelry of Carolyn Morris Bach. Her Woodland series carries the feel of talismans, objects that convey magic powers, good fortune, and protection. All are one-of-a-kind pieces, with stones and found objects carved by hand and mounted within narrative frameworks of precious metal. Her use of woodland creatures – birds, bears, foxes, deer, and rabbits – conveys mystical unity with nature and insight into Mother Nature’s special purview.
It’s hard NOT to construct stories around each delicate but strong vignette. Don’t you wonder what the dear and bird are whispering into the ear of this haloed woman? The handcarved stone faces were originally inspired by Inuit Eskimo art, but Carolyn extended and personalized that concept. While each element is somewhat primitive, the combination of multiple figures with frameworks and stones builds visual complexity and adds to the story of the piece.
While the artist revisits various themes (for example, the angel concept reappears again and again), each one is beautifully original. With such a broad theme and so many original parts, each meticulously cut and set, it’s easy to see how each piece leads to the next. This is a clear body of work, where the full range of the idea is explored with ever increasing skill.
The artist uses high karat gold, silver, copper combined with a range of carved stone, bone, and wood. She has a one-person studio, where she carves and forms each component entirely by her own hand. There is again that sense of building components, then arranging them into collages that are held in place by wire frameworks bundled like grass or branches. It’s easy to envision days of carving small faces for future projects, then days of carving bodies for a variety of humans or creatures, and then even more days of pushing combinations around on the bench until the proper story unfolds.
These complex constructions are typically articulated so that the pieces can move with the body. And pins are usually convertible to be worn as pendants, on simple collars or on the artists more stylized neckpieces.
While the bezels for stones look perfect, the wrapped and soldered connections of the wire frameworks are very spontaneous and imperfect. Texture on the metal, whether rolled or hammered or soldered into place, has the appearance of deliberate, handmade artist marks.
Carolyn rarely brings bright color to her creatures, instead sticking to a neutral palette that makes the work very cohesive. Black ebody and white bone coordinate beautifully with rutilated quartz, pearls, and dendritic agate.
These are all clearly statement pieces, from the over-the-top neckpieces to the more affordable, simplified pieces. They are built for those who appreciate art and beauty by an artist that I imagine sitting at her bench building from the heart with no regard for time and labor.
Beyond jewelry to be worn, they also read as art to be displayed when not on the body. I’m particularly in love with the non-jewelry pieces – the cosmetic brushes that are totally original (and I have the honor of owning one myself, which I display as art).
Trained as a jeweler and metalsmith at RISD, Carolyn Morris Bach lives in southern Rhode Island amongst the woodlands that inspire her work. Working for thirty years, she has made a following of corporate women looking for power amulets to wear into the workday battle.
A master of the high end fine craft show, where her booth reads like a gallery with white hard walls and shadow-boxed displays, she has developed a huge following over time. And her work has been collected by many museums around the country: Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Arts and Design in New York, Fuller Craft Museum outside Boston, and Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin.
As a fellow artist inspired by the garden and nature forms, I find these pieces compelling. When I try to analyze why they are so powerful, I struggle to define the source. What I can tell immediately is that they are imbued with a sense of spirit. I sometimes think that comes from work that takes much time and hand contact, where a bit of soul transfers from the artist to the object through the long dialogue. These pieces call for exploration. I want to move their hinged parts, flip them over to see the reverse, and find their hidden secrets. I do believe that some of my more intricate pieces carry this sense of spirit. There’s a lot of detail, front and back, that takes time but carries meaning. Once again, I must “go for it” and begin anew on a series of statement pieces.
I find the variety of materials inspiring and feel yet again that I need to bring more gold into my personal constructions. By carving the stones into creatures, this artist has distinguished her use of stones from that of others, adding personality along with perceived value. While I don’t envision copying her approach, perhaps I should review how I use stones in my own work. I’ve played repeatedly with reverse painted enamel on glass, including buying lapidary equipment to shape and facet these “stones.” I just haven’t put enough time into moving that forward, and this reminds me that it’s a way to individualize my work further. So that’s something to put back on the experiment schedule.
I’m also drawn to the use of negative space, with the open areas, freeform borders, and three-dimensional stacks of components. I tend to use a fairly restrictive border construction on my designs, just as a matter of history. I like to let my small components peek up and over that border, but maybe I need to break the border more deliberately as an experiment. Or add a wire framework in some way to bring more movement. Just doing a few sketches of ideas for this has brought a lot of life to the work, so this is something important to explore further. The idea of articulation is also something to incorporate.
My pinterest board for Carolyn Morris Bach
Carolyn Morris Bach website
Carolyn Morris Bach’s home & studio