Over the past several weeks, we have been delighted to introduce you to the exceptionally talented winners of the 2014 Saul Bell Design Award, one category at a time. Today’s featured artists Christi Anderson and Anna Mazon were winners in the Metal Clay category.
Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with both of these talented and interesting artists. Read on to learn more.
Molly Therese Bell: Tell me a little about your childhood. What influences did you have growing up that led you to art making?
Christi Anderson: I was raised by my grandparents. My grandmother was a seamstress and my grandfather was a locksmith and a carpenter. (I grew up with a lot of splinters.) In their retirement years, they made porcelain dolls entirely by hand, from slipping the molds to tailoring the custom clothing. I painted the faces.
Too bad they had their heart set on me becoming a concert pianist. 14 years of lessons and I can’t even remember how many recitals and competitions. I won a national competition at 15 and promptly quit piano. What I really wanted to be was an illustrator.
MTB: How did you become an artist?
CA: I love all things art, especially painting, etching, book making, and photography. After college, I started a black-and-white fine art photography business, which I operated for 11 years. The turning point in my work came the year my sister had a baby who was afflicted with Trisomy 18 and only survived for two hours. She barely had enough time for photos, but we managed to capture some.
As I watched my sister carry those pictures around it hit me that no one was photographing terminally ill children in the hospital or at their homes. I offered my photography services to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. After working with them I was picked up by Hospice of the Valley. I offered my photography services to families free of charge. The more I gave, the more business returned to me.
MTB: And how did your art making evolve into jewelry making?
CA: After relocating to Iowa, I decided that I did not want to continue with photography and I began putting jewelry together for fun. I came across PMC® in a magazine and thought it looked like a fantastic option. I borrowed money to purchase a kiln and clay and because there were no teachers in Cedar Rapids, I had to figure it out for myself. It was six months before I had something I could sell and recoup some funds for more clay.
My first year at the Bead and Button Show was 2006 and I sold everything I brought with me—mainly birdhouse pendants. I had discovered that I could recreate the illustrations from my sketchbooks into silver story lockets and pendants. And that was it: I was hooked.
MTB: Your work is made up of so many layers of texture, and you develop such detailed, magical environments. I can imagine your pieces as a fantastic movie set—have you ever created these environments on a larger scale?
CA: The best large-scale environment I’ve created was the aviary I built for my small colony of canaries and finches. It’s 24″ x 48″ x 60″ and built like an armoire with a forest scene I painted on the background. It has branches coming out of the scene with little houses for the birds, nests, and lanterns for feeders.
MTB: Tell me about everyday life experiences that inform your work.
CA: Movies of all kinds are a passion for my family and me. We watch new ones every weekend. While I work at my desk I always have movies playing from all genres and time periods. I love old movies from the 1930s and 40s, and sometimes documentaries. I also have a weakness for Seinfeld reruns. My favorite movies are fairytales like Pan’s Labyrinth and Stardust.
The Book of Counted Sorrows is my favorite book. I use that one, in particular, to inspire new works. My goal is to illustrate good and evil in a beautiful way. Writings by my daughter are also a common element in my work.
Architectural details and books are everywhere in my work. I adore windows with shutters, doors with ornate hardware, gates that open, and books for hiding secrets in. A great example of this is my piece, The Ruins. It’s a locket/book that opens to reveal an interior scene with a poem by my daughter printed tiny on a vellum transparency visible thru both sides.
I’m also obsessed with cemetery art: the expressive emotions it evokes are my passion. I try to recreate those in story lockets like the one I entered for last year’s Saul Bell Design Award called The Garden of Good and Evil, which won second place in the Metal Clay category.
MTB: What is your favorite design motif, and why?
CA: I adore the Victorian style of mourning, with jet jewelry and fantastic cemetery art. I enjoy William Kerr and Unger Bros. silver Victorian details and ornamentation. The mourning jewelry has such a personal connection to the wearer—especially the hair braid pieces.
Other favorite motifs are spiders, spider webs, bees, and birds. As much as I love these living elements, I adore the architectural details even more, and keys and padlocks bring another story element when combined with the architectural details.
MTB: What are you working on now?
CA: I just finished my 2015 Saul Bell Design Award entries, and now I’m working on a haunted house special order. It’s an art piece—not something wearable.
MTB: How has winning the Saul Bell Design Award competition impacted your life/work?
CA: Winning the Saul Bell Design Award has had a great impact on my work both personally and publicly. I pushed myself to the limits of my abilities for this competition. Since the competition, I’ve been finding more techniques that I can go further with. The fame has brought an audience of collectors that commission works and that keeps my schedule full. I believe that being a winner has helped to make my Etsy shop a huge success. Also, the award money has afforded me the opportunity to purchase tools that I would not otherwise have the means for.
Best of all, I love the pride and respect I saw in my husband’s eyes when I accepted the award.
Thank you Christi for sharing your story and your magical creations. To see more of Christi’s extraordinary work, visit her website, Elemental Adornments or find a huge collection of images on Christi’s Pinterest board.
Molly Therese Bell: When did you know that you wanted to be an artist? What experiences led you to that choice?
Anna Mazon: I think that, in a way, I always wanted to be an artist, but I was simply afraid to admit that. I used to draw, paint, dance classical ballet, and write poems and short stories, but I never dared to think about it as something “serious.” So when it came time for university, I studied sociology and psychology and pursued internships in these “serious” fields. It was during this time that I discovered metal clay and began playing with it and making jewelry.
One day I was having a walk with a few friends and I was talking about making jewelry out of metal clay and how much I enjoyed it and how I could do it all the time, etc. Just blabbing. And one of my friends asked, “Would you really like to do it all the time?” After a moment of silence I said that, actually, I would. I think that it was the very first time I admitted it out loud.
As soon as I decided to take my hobby seriously things happened quickly. At my university, I found a wonderful program that supports young entrepreneurs and I got a subsidy from the European Union. With that money I bought everything I needed to begin and I set up my little business.
MTB: Your work is heavily inspired by nature and reminds me of magical, woodsy fairy forests. Can you tell me how that theme evolved?
AM: It was the most natural thing in the world to make pieces like this. In fact, the very first piece I made (which was quite ugly!) just appeared in that style. Thanks to my dad I always loved science fiction and fantasy literature, especially J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. My dad used to read them aloud to my brother and I. His books made me dream about elfin jewels, ancient trees, dragons, and other fantastic creatures. Later this led me to study mythology and folklore–another big source of ideas for my pieces.
My family used to hike a lot in the Polish mountains, so despite living in a big city I had a deep connection with Nature. Also, as a Naturalistic Pantheist, I have huge reverence for Nature and I want to express this in what I create.
Lately, I have focused a little bit more on folklore and mythologies, especially those of Slavic origin, but I have a sketchbook full of drawings inspired by other themes.
MTB: How did you choose jewelry making as your medium? Are there other artistic mediums that you dabble in?
AM: The main reason I started to make jewelry is that I never could find pieces that were exactly what I wanted to wear. I always loved jewelry and I wanted to make something perfect for myself. Funny thing is that as soon as I started making jewelry I stopped wearing it. I still haven’t made anything that I would be fully happy with. One day I’ll make an “ultimate” piece and keep it for myself. So far I don’t own a single piece that I’ve made. I only wear my pieces when it’s good for advertising or I have to troubleshoot some technical solutions. I still draw, paint and dance a little bit.
MTB: What is your favorite design motif? And why?
AM: I guess this would be a tree, in all possible forms. It can have so many shapes, so many textures. It’s present in all times and all cultures, and it has so many different meanings. It is rooted in the ground but can reach the sky–isn’t this a wonderful source of inspiration for any creative person?
MTB: What kind of influences did you have growing up? Can you share a story from your formative years that was artistically important?
AM: When I was a child I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house with my cousin, Agnes. Agnes is super talented and she has a wonderful hand for drawing and painting. Our grandfather would regularly read a wonderful book to us called “Fairy Tales From the Mountains,” which was folklore stories from all different mountain ranges of Europe. It had the most beautiful illustrations in the world. The stories inspired us to draw, paint, and sculpt things. This time spent at my grandparents’ really developed my imagination and hand skills.
As I think about it, my whole family was quite gifted in arts of all kinds. We still have a few wonderful oil paintings, made by my great grandfather. My grandfather writes amazing diaries, my grandmother liked to draw and work in polymer clay, and she still does wonderful embroideries. My mum did some really lovely drawings, my dad has great taste and an eye for color, and my brother also likes to draw and is a talented photographer.
MTB: What books, movies, music, and/or experiences inform your work?
AM: I’m definitely inspired by fantasy books – just to mention a few authors: J.R.R. Tolkien, Andrzej Sapkowski, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert Holdstock, and folklore stories and mythologies from all around Europe. I also love folklore music (especially Celtic, Norse, and Slavic). These are just a few bands I enjoy: Hagalaz Runedance, Wardruna, Garmarna, Percival Schuttenbach, Zywiolak, and Arkona.
Each walk to the forest or hiking trip to the mountains also brings new inspiration. I just came back from vacation at Polish Pomerania and my head is full of ideas about how to use Baltic amber (which you can find there) in my work to tell the folklore stories of this region.
MTB: What are you working on now?
AM: Right now I’m working on a really big piece, a necklace inspired by Kupala Night, which is the celebration of Midsummer Night in Slavic culture. I just finished sculpting faces of three rusalki, which are female water spirits–beautiful and dangerous. This piece will be made of silver, 18K green gold (metal clays) and labradorites.
MTB: How has winning the Saul Bell Design Award competition impacted your life/work?
AM: After the competition and attending Santa Fe Symposium®, I decided to begin learning traditional jewelry making techniques. I spoke to so many talented and experienced people and I realized that it’s time to try my hand at other things (metal clay is still my first love though).
It’s not so easy to find good learning opportunities here in Poland, but I really want to widen the range of techniques I can use. I’m also thinking about starting a permanent collection of cast pieces, using metal clay for prototyping. Right now I make only one-of-a-kind pieces–this is the most satisfying for me, but I know that casting would allow me to reach far more people who simply can’t afford unique pieces, but still would like to have something designed by me.
Anna shares detailed step-by-step projects and fun accounts of her travels on her blog, Unique Jewellery by Anna Mazon. You can also see an extensive gallery of her work at her website, Drakonaria and at her Etsy store, Drakonaria—Artistic Jewellery.
It was an enormous pleasure to talk with these two talented artists. I am inspired by their diligence, their mind-boggling attention to every detail, and their magical view of the world.