Wednesday, May 15, 2013
In October of last year I was contacted by film makers Michael Jacobs and Barry Jenkins of SF based Strike Anywhere Films and asked to participate in their series of short documentaries for Olivari Olive Oil for their "One Year of Little" campaign. Each film is a celebration of creating better things through obsessing over the details. It is Olivari's belief that "making olive oil, or making anything well, has always been about a series of choices. A celebration of little things. Small and seemingly inconsequential by themselves, but amazingly powerful when added up together." This series of documentaries is called “The Detailers” and is focused on artists/makers from the Bay Area who obsess over their craft and believe in carrying on a tradition of detail and care.
The first two films of the series feature master boat builder Robert Darr and glass blower David Patchen. I'm so excited to share my film - it was an honor to have been invited to share my jewelry story! There are still more maker profiles to come, so look out for them later in the year on the Olivari Facebook page.
Here is a little more background regarding the conversations we had during the day of filming. I found it challenging to talk and work at the same time in front of the camera! The entire team from Strike Anywhere Films was incredible to work with and they captured some gorgeous naturally lit shots in the studio. It was such a memorable day - thanks guys! They distilled 8 hours of film into two minutes, so here is an expanded version of the questions and answers from the shoot.
Spools of wire, cut links, metal dowels and finished bracelet and necklace
How long have you been working at your craft? When did you ﬁrst know you wanted to work in this ﬁeld?
I've always had a love of jewelry. I collected vintage jewelry when I was really young and had a real appreciation for it. My mother was an antiques dealer, so she instilled in me a curiosity about the history, craftsmanship and story behind each piece. I was also a collector of things - shells, rocks, seeds, pods, little beautiful things, and I would always put these objects on top of my hand or wrist and say, "I want to wear this, why can't I wear this?!" One day I think my dad finally got tired of me saying that, and he said “Let's go make something!” So I made my first ring when I was about 14 in my dad's garage. He had a workshop down there with a lot of tools... he isn't a jeweler, just the kind of person who can make or fix anything. We looked around the shop, found some metal, a copper pipe (a makeshift ring mandrel), put it in a vice and with a rubber mallet I hammered my first ring. Growing up, he really encouraged me to use the tools around me to execute my ideas, and not be afraid of them or be afraid of getting dirty. The experience of having an abstract idea and being able to make with my own hands a tangible thing that I could wear - well, that was it, I was completely hooked and I knew I was going to be a jeweler.
Hand spinning wire into a coil
Where do you ﬁnd your inspiration? What is it that you love about your craft?
Nature, unusual materials, ancient artifacts and crafting techniques inspire my work and process. I like to work with materials that have a story behind them - dendritic quartz, fossilized coral, dinosaur bone, sustainably harvested betel nut - as well as vintage components. I feel an amazing connection to the materials that I work with so it's important for me to know where my materials come from and whose lives they impact. We’re all connected. Handcrafted objects tell a story, carry on a tradition and remind us of the connection between every set of hands involved in the process or supply chain. I love the materials, my tools, my process. It's sounds kind of crazy but I enjoy doing repetitive work where I'm sawing or filing or making links for an hour (or five). The process can be meditative, rhythmic. But it's really all about that feeling I get from translating a conceptual idea in my head, into a tangible object with my hands - that's the best part.
Photograph of my Grandmother, her vintage glass buttons, dendritic & druzy quartz, Montana agate
What makes your craft unique?
It's amazing to work with your hands, to form, mold, shape and push the materials. You can see my process in the final piece — the bezel setting, the handmade chain, the selection of stones - each piece carries the mark of the artist. Every detail is carefully considered, whether it's hand carved in wax and then cast, or hand fabricated from sheets and spools of metal and raw stones.
Soldering a ring
Do you feel a connection to craftspersons of the past who do what you do? What don’t people know or appreciate about your craft?
Jewelry is an ancient craft. We still use a lot of the same techniques and tools that people making jewelry at the beginning used. Many of my pieces take significant time to create. In a world of fast fashion, mass production and disposability there is a great value & integrity in well made, beautifully designed pieces. My clients know and value the fact that I take great care in all the small details of my work, from the handmade clasp to the hand-scribed signature.
I'm the fourth generation of metal workers in my family - so I guess it's in my blood. My Great-Great-Grandfather, Ferdinand Muenster was a coppersmith in Mannersdorf, Austria. His son, my Great-Grandfather Rudolph Muenster, made boilers, copper stills, distilling equipment and brewery vats. My Grandfather Alexander was a coppersmith and stainless steel worker, designing and constructing industrial kitchen equipment. He was extremely active and the oldest living member of the sheet metalworker’s union in NJ and when he died at age 96 1/2, I was moved by the number of union members that attended his funeral. One of the guys pulled me aside and with tears in his eyes said that my Grandfather was not just a gifted metalworker, but a true artist. I still use some of his tools in my studio today and think about him and the craft that we share.
Photograph of my Great-Grandfather Rudolph standing next to a boiler that he made
Where do you see this kind of craft going in the future? As a craftsperson, how do you view your role in society?
I am an avid supporter of the green movement and feel it is my social, environmental and moral obligation to produce beautiful products in a way that does not destroy the earth's resources or its people. In the jewelry industry, most of the materials we use come from the earth. The production of 1 gold ring can produce up to 5 tons of environmental waste, so I believe that recycling metals is crucial. My precious metals come from Hoover & Strong and are 100% recycled. They do not buy mined metals. Over half of their metal supply comes entirely from scrap metal purchased from jewelers. The remainder comes from other refineries that also recycle scrap metal.
Studio jewelers and metalsmiths definitely have the power to influence the various mining industries. So I try to lead by example, source responsibly, and use my voice to aid mining reform efforts. It's crucial to generate industry demand for responsibly sourced metals and stones and to encourage others to get involved.
Drawing in the sun filled livingroom