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Jewelry Designers Return to Tradition in Unusual Ways

July 31, 1987|DIANE REISCHEL | Times Staff Writer

It's a recurring dilemma: freedom versus security. Even jewelry designers feel the tug.

In the 1980s, these artists may be using safety pins, rubber piping or other unlikely materials--yet many are coming up with jewelry that looks downright traditional.

At an upcoming exhibit, "Craft Today: Poetry of the Physical" (Laguna Art Museum, next Friday through Oct. 4), jewelry is just part of a show that includes textile, wood, glass, metal and ceramic handcrafts.

Everything was made since 1980--a less-than-wild era for jewelry design.

"After the absolute freedom that occurred in the '60s and '70s, there's a security for artists to return to some form of tradition," Mike McGee, Laguna Art Museum programs coordinator, says of this mix of strange materials and familiar forms.

"The work of this decade is not as experimental as in the '60s, but it shows a refinement and maturity," says show curator Paul Smith, director of the American Craft Museum in New York.

If not as brash as in the '60s, jewelry is more sophisticated and wearable now, he said.

Smith visited 36 states in search of handcrafts to illustrate "the state of the art of the craft movement." Works by 286 artists, including 37 jewelry designers, are shown.

Typical of '80s jewelry, Smith said, is "an elegant use of non-precious materials," such as plastic, titanium and paper.

San Diego commercial artist Gerhardt Herbst, 27, uses anodized aluminum--electrolytically colored metal--for his folded collar necklace. The piece is intended "to make metal look like fabric," Herbst said.

Other artists also choose the unlikely: Debra Rapoport works with urban scraps, or "found metal"; Vernon Reed with computer chips; Marjorie Schick with rubber piping and wooden dowels. Yet the shapes of the pieces are often as recognizable as a classic Egyptian collar or a symmetrical Aztec necklace.

The show also tells of a revival in precious metals, said participant Arline Fisch, a San Diego State University professor. Fisch knits and weaves gold in large, lightweight necklaces and headpieces. She sees simplicity as an '80s obsession.

"The whole jewelry movement went through a time of technical innovation and overdoing that expertise," Fisch said. "Now that people have the technical information, they don't feel they have to show it off so blatantly."

Carolyn Benesh, associate editor of L.A.-based Ornament magazine, notes that these '80s artists care about "harmonizing jewelry with the body."

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