Sunday, November 16, 2008

Beth Rosengard: Stunning Color, Texture & Pattern

Beth Rosengard

Mixed Media Wall Art
I have the great privilege of friendship with Beth Rosengard.

I met Beth a few months ago when she had a home sale in Los Angeles where she was offering local jewelry designers some of her rather immense collection of unusual, interesting stones. At that time, I first saw some of her amazing jewelry and it quite simply took my breath away. Not long after that first meeting, Beth generously allowed me to watch her create a commissioned pendant piece, offering me valuable tips throughout the process that improved my own work immensely.

Beth's use of extraordinary stones, with her distinct style and superb craftsmanship results in some of the most stunning jewelry I've ever seen, making her among my most influential jewelry artists as I move forward in my new career.

As you look at her work, the first thing you can't help but notice is...the color! And, those stones!

I have lots of stones – too many stones! – and when I’m designing I pull out my stone boxes (which are organized loosely by color) and start playing. I usually start with whatever stone catches my eye on that day and then start looking for others to complement it. Or I might start with a set of stones (a group of tourmalines, for instance) and play with them until an interesting, balanced pattern emerges. Once I’ve got a grouping I like, I then start considering how to connect them, using gold in complementary and interesting ways ... unless I’m working with broom-cast gold. In that case I work simultaneously with the gold pieces and the stones, but always searching for balance and a pleasing combination of color, texture and shape. Most of it is intuitive; I have never taken a course in pure design.

You work with diamonds and what you refer to as "the big three" but you also specialize in unusual stones. How did you first develop an interest and knowledge of these stones?

What attracts me are color, texture and pattern. And I must confess that I’m also drawn to the unusual and rare – in part for their own sake. In my very first metalsmithing class, the instructor had us make a ring composed of two layers of silver. The bottom layer was solid and the top had a pierced design. When the two were soldered together, the idea was to see a pattern of relief. Everyone else in the class stuck to the plan, some additionally patinating the underlying layer of silver so the pattern in the top layer stood out more. What did I do? I hammered some turquoise and some lapis into a powder, mixed them with epoxy and inlaid the blue and green mixtures into the pierced areas in the top layer of silver. I just had to have color, even in that first project! I still have that ring.

My knowledge of the unusual stones I often work with comes from asking many, many questions of the stone dealers I have bought from over the years. That’s the best way to learn (unless you wish to become a gemologist and then you need formal education).

Your work has a very distinct style. How would you describe it?

People do say that my work has a distinct style and I’m always very glad to hear that! But I’ve never quite understood what it is myself; at least not so that I could explain it. All the words I’d be likely to use – color, texture, pattern, balance, geometry, and more – could be used equally to describe the work of numerous other artists as well. So I guess I’ll have to leave it to the viewers/wearers to decide for themselves!

Your work uses only cabochons rather than faceted stones...what do you prefer about cabochon bezel settings?

To be perfectly honest, bezels are easier! Especially when you’re using irregularly-shaped stones. I did take a few classes in prong setting and flush setting, but I never bothered to become proficient at either because I had pretty much perfected bezel setting and seldom felt the need to stretch – one of my faults. And I do very much prefer cabochons, which look better, I think, in bezels. For most of the opaque lapidary materials I use, cabochons are the only way to go. Where the translucent and transparent gemstones are concerned, I’ve just always preferred the depth of color of cabochons over the glitter of faceted stones.

You mention that gold is your favorite metal. What do you love about it?

People who knew me when I began metalsmithing (about 15 years ago) would be amused by that statement. I started out, like most beginners, with sterling silver and I loved it. When I first began using gold, I hated it because it kept melting on me when I didn’t want it to! The fact is that silver is a very good conductor of heat and gold a very bad one. That means that you have to heat the entire piece of silver you’re working on in order to get one little area hot enough for solder to flow. With gold, on the other hand, you can “spot solder”: heat just the small area (spot) you care about and the heat will stay put, instead of radiating out to the edges of the piece. Once you get used to it, it’s wonderful. Until then, it’s a bitch!

Beth uses a little-known technique called "broom casting" for many of her most original designs. The technique was photographed at the Venice Adult School jewelry class in California and was featured along with Beth's work in the June, 2007 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine.

Briefly, broom-casting involves pouring molten hot metal over the soaking wet, upturned bristles of a straw broom. This results in unique pieces of organic-looking metal that are reminiscent of stalactites. It’s the latter comparison that attracts me. I don’t particularly like “blobby-looking” pieces of metal, but broom-cast metal – while random and organic – is also linear and geometric.

In reading Beth's bio on her website, it's clear that she's had multiple and various successful careers...and now she's heading in a new direction creating mixed media wall art.

I’ve gotten to a point where I’m a bit burned out on being a smith. I could be happy designing forever, but I no longer enjoy getting my hands dirty, so to speak. The transition to mixed media wall art was sort of accidental. I wanted something for an empty wall in my house and I didn’t want to spend a fortune purchasing it. I saw a gallery brochure with some painted work I thought was great and said to myself, “I could do something like that with paper.” And I did! It was so much fun that I kept going and now there’s no stopping me. I’m amassing a decorative paper collection to rival my absurdly large stone collection.

Her advice to those of us starting out on a new path....?

Love what you’re doing!

Good advice for all of us, no matter what path we choose. I wish Beth the very best in her latest pursuit of happiness.

Thanks for stopping by!

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