Defying Genres (Though Perhaps Not Defying Technology)
First, a warm welcome to the many new people who joined my newsletter this week, and as always my deep appreciation to all my subscribers, many of whom go back more than 10 years. May this twice monthly space provide inspiration for all your aspirations.
Second, a big oops tonight because instead of this newsletter going to my entire list, the information for registered students of my 3-D Filigree class went to the whole list instead. Alas, no the whole world is not privy to that handout, but if you’ve already gotten it by mistake, enjoy but please don’t share it! (Note to self: Don’t create a blog post when you intend to create a webpage and vice versa…and perhaps take breaks from the computer now and then…)
Ours is a brave and odd new world that allows one to be wildly accessible while still being a relative hermit. Being in the studio as much as I want might be an introvert’s delight, an extrovert’s possible hell, and this ambivert’s not-too-bad pergatory of peace with Zoom connected highlights. Being here most of the time, however, does not exclude being out there, and this week, I’ve been all over the world.
Mega thanks to Rio Grande for making me their July featured artist on their esteemed email publication For the Love of Jewelers. Much gratitude also to Shawna Kulpa editor of MJSA Journal for interviewing me about unique studio storage solutions in their recent Buyers Guide edition, to Mark Nelson at Rio Grande for all the suggestions that led to my bench makeover, and to Metalsmith magazine editor Adriane Dalton during the recent Society of North American Goldsmiths member meeting, for acknowledging my article in Metalsmith Tech as pushing the envelope toward more integrated multimedia publishing. It’s been a helluva good week for shout outs for my art, my tools, my teaching, and my rather unusual story.
It’s also been fun to hear from folks who knew about my books, but not about my tools or who knew about my tools and classes but had no idea the very unusual path that led me to where I am now – where I am career-wise not just where I am holed up in my studio, or more acutely at this very moment under the water oak, hickory, and magnolia tree canopy of my back yard, taking a moment to soak it all in.
Reflecting on my long and curvilinear path, for any artist, there are the moments when you know you’ve arrived. For my artwork, it was at the 2010 SNAG conference when I was instructed by a mutual friend to stick with Tim McCreight as we toured the exhibit Xtreme Tea at the Houston Center for Craft so Tim didn’t get waylaid by groupies and keep us from making our dinner reservations. Bruce Baker said, “OMG, Victoria, stay with Tim and run interference, or we’ll never get out of here!”
My tea infuser and strainer, Darling, Lotus Have Some Tea… was in that exhibit, and somehow, one moment I was genuinely thrilled to be escorting Tim around the gallery and discussing the work we were viewing, and the next moment I remember him gallantly guiding me by my elbow away from my fans who wanted to ask me more questions about my work and Tim’s politely apologizing that he had to drag me away. As Tim, our other friends, and I walked outside, I remember thinking, “You know you’ve made it when your heroes have to drag you away from your fans…”
Darling, Lotus Have Some Tea took over 80 feet of wire and months to create. Although I’ve gone on to make even more complex structures in filigree, that piece remains a peak moment in my artwork. It is fully functional as an infuser and a strainer, and will likely one day land in the collection of an extreme tea enthusiast if not a museum. My design inspiration came from, of all things, a video game. I’d been playing a lot of Myst III with my son and got obsessed with a puzzle structure that functioned as a giant pinball chute in the fantasy landscape. When the ball dropped down, it came out of a Japanese style pagoda that hovered in the air. Initially, the infuser was going to be a ball with a 4-sided, concave, pagoda-like removable roof to insert the tea.
I had no idea what the strainer would be until I was watching the fish in my small backyard pond and thought of the lotus flowers I could never get to grow because of the heavy shade. A few more days of obsessing over how to integrate all these shapes, and I abandoned the pagoda idea for the whole lotus concept. The dragonfly at the end of the infuser’s chain is a nod to my heroes of another era, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Rene Lalique.
It seems now like 100 years ago that I got the idea to create my first instructional video, Russian Filigree, but really it was only 2006. I had just been contacted by Home and Garden Television to appear on their show “That’s Clever,” when a conversation with a friend about a book idea I had morphed into, “ok, so maybe a book won’t show enough, but if I made a DVD…”
There were very, and I mean VERY few fine craft instructional videos on the market back then, and even fewer that offered decent camera work, easy to see close ups, and the ability to actually learn remotely. Technology and resolution still had a ways to go. Fortunately, I had a friend from college who had access to good equipment and who knew how to film tutorials in detail. I paid careful attention to how things worked while the HGTV crew was in my studio, so between a little experience and a lot of chutzpah, I directed what became a benchmark for fine craft how-to videos.
Once I’d filmed all the segments and editing was under way, I bravely contacted Rio Grande to ask if they’d be interested in carrying the video. They were interested, but understandably, they wanted a copy in their hands before making a commitment.
It was less than a week before Christmas of 2006 when the copies were delivered to my house. As a then single mom with absolutely no discretionary income, I remember taking a deep breath and forking over the cost of overnight shipping to send a review copy to Rio. I figured the odds of anyone watching it before the holidays was slim, but I’d promised to send the DVD as soon as I could, and keeping my word has always been the hallmark of how I operate.
The next morning, my phone rang and the voice at the other end was Spencer Baum, Rio’s assistant product manager for tools and equipment at that time, telling me that he and Product Manager Diana Montoya, and their whole team, had been watching my video all morning and were eager to let me know that Rio wanted to carry it.
It was a huge break, the best Christmas gift I could have asked for, and the beginning of a long and wonderful relationship with a company for whom I have the utmost respect. The success of the video prompted more of them, the Eastern Repousse Tools, the Russian Filigree Powdered Solder, and eventually the downloadable versions of the videos, not to mention the invitations to teach many in-person workshops on two continents.
Pre-COVID I traveled to Albuquerque at least once each year, sometimes more frequently to teach workshops, judge the Saul Bell Design Awards, or attend the Santa Fe Symposium. Albuquerque’s Sunport might be the only other airport I can navigate as well as my home turf of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Times have changed, roles have changed, everything I do now has a Mac and an iPhone in place of an airplane, but I’m grateful that in our ever-evolving field, I still get to work with so many smart, talented people in my roles as a vendor, customer, artist, and teacher. They remind me that The Metal People, as former Rio Tech Team member Sessin Durgham once described us, are a family, however distanced we may now be.