In Old Town Albuquerque, 1962, San Ildefonso Pueblo potter Maria Martinez and then Governor Ed Mecham presided over the first-ever New Mexico Arts and Crafts Fair. Fifty shows later, the NMACF is thriving along with the breadth of talented artists and craftspeople in New Mexico.
The first NMACF featured around 100 New Mexico residents with creative talents. This year, the three-day juried show featured more than 200 artisans with an extensive range of work including paintings, pottery, fabric arts, wood-working and (of course) jewelry. It was easy to get lost in the creative energy of the show, but eventually I came upon Richard and Beth Elkin’s well-lit and inviting booth, which sported a big, blue ribbon. Richard and Beth were selected by the jury for the Rio Grande-sponsored Best Precious Jewelry Award for their exquisite work. Beth warmly greeted me as I ogled a pair mokumé gane earrings that looked as if the edges had been dipped into molten gold.
After the show, I chatted with Richard and Beth via email to come to know more about them. The jewelers were drawn to jewelry-making along different paths, but together they create rustic yet refined precious jewelry inspired by combining metals and textures, and the philosophical underpinnings of wabi-sabi. Richard is a bench jeweler and designer who graduated from Elmira College with a studio arts/art history degree. He was a potter for 25 years before taking to the jeweler’s bench 10 years ago and brings his background in metalsmithing, ceramic arts and sculpture to his work. Beth is a self-taught jeweler and designer who focuses on fused metals in bold textural relief and traditional mokumé gane.
Richard introduced her to jewelry-making during the long winter months in New Hampshire as a form of entertainment. She fell in love with it and was soon spending time in the Claflin Jewelry Studio at Dartmouth College (where she was a graduate student) learning lots of techniques, including the making of mokumé gane.
A Japanese inspiration is subtle in Richard and Beth’s design, as I observed at the New Mexico Arts and Crafts Fair. Elkin Studio Jewelers, their business based in Mesilla, bears the tagline “poetry in precious metals”—a phrase Richard created when thinking of mokumé gane as a form of haiku. This concept comes across in their work as a streamlined blend of design, material and function. The pieces that incorporate the Elkins’ hand-forged mokumé gane highlight the natural, wood-grain-like beauty of the layered metal and are accented with conflict-free diamonds and gemstones. Like haiku, their work is simple but masterful.
Richard and Beth’s more “rustic” line marries the hearty elegance of textured, twisted metal to settings with fine gemstones, embodying the wabi-sabi aesthetic: asymmetry, simplicity and the ingenious integrity of natural objects.
Richard and Beth came to New Mexico for its enchanting beauty, multi-cultural environment, incredible weather (important since they are also avid cyclists) and for its affordability, which makes being self-supporting artists a lot more comfortable. Reaffirming to me why New Mexico is known as an art mecca! To see more of their work, visit them at www.elkinjewelers.com or swing by their studio at 1950 Calle del Norte in Mesilla, just outside of Las Cruces.
The Elkins also teach a variety of classes including stone-setting and bracelet-making—visit their website for full details.
Congratulations to Richard and Beth Elkin for winning Best Precious Jewelry at the 50th annual New Mexico Arts and Crafts Fair. What a great and well-deserved honor! Check back next week to read about the winner of the Semi-Precious Jewelry Award, Mary Sharp Davis of Albuquerque and her Chinese bronze-inspired ceramic pendants.