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VOL. 125 | NO. 187 | Monday, September 27, 2010

Museum Spotlights Master Metalsmith

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

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Master Metalsmith Michael Jerry of Santa Fe, N.M., is this year’s honored artist presenting contemporary jewelry and vessels made of gold, silver and pewter. The 50 pieces on exhibition push the range of function until it meets artistry.
Photo: Courtesy of Metal Museum

The current exhibition on display at the Metal Museum shows that bowls aren’t just for eating breakfast and pewter isn’t only for making faucet handles.

This year’s honored Master Metalsmith, Michael Jerry of Santa Fe, N.M., proves that dynamic artistry can be rooted in function.

“There are people who are involved in one media or another that are making straight functioning objects and occasionally they merit something visually, but I don’t think I’d consider function the driving force behind what I do and it hasn’t been for a number of years,” said Jerry. “I just like it as a starting point for my work, not as the ultimate goal.”

The Master Metalsmith exhibition, part of a yearly series that began in 1984, opened in early September and continues through Oct. 31. On display are about 50 pieces of Jerry’s work in the form of wearable jewelry and “hollowware,” or pieces inspired by vessels.

Most of the pieces, which are Scandinavian/contemporary in style, are recent works, although Jerry said some were created as early as 1959.

Among his chosen materials are traditional metals like gold and silver, but also one that is seen less in art: pewter.

“Pewter is a metal that only a handful of us work with in a contemporary way in this country right now,” said Jerry. “People are familiar with the material, mostly through commercially made objects. I think (museum audiences) will be quite surprised how they see it in the hands of an artist.”

For example, a large pewter bowl with a shiny finish has a ridge dividing one half from the other while leaf-shaped pieces line the bottom and sides almost as if they had been dropped but not quite landed.

Another pieces resembles a circular saw blade though with a distinct swirl originating from an upright wooden handle and finishing in a hooked bill like a duck looking over its shoulder.

Of his jewelry, Jerry said that function is a little more apparent.

“I still consider the human form for the jewelry,” said Jerry. “The thing that’s common to both (the jewelry and hollowware), there’s a thread of function that runs through all of it, though sometimes a very thin thread. They push the envelope of function a little bit.”

Some of the jewelry includes gemstones, glass, plastic and wood in addition to the metals.

“(This exhibit) is a little heavy on current work rather than older pieces,” said Jerry. “It gives people a chance to see how I evolved over the years.”

Jerry was born to two artists and teachers in Racine, Wis. His father ran a museum and art school, which was Jerry’s first exposure to visual arts.

“I knew before I got out of high school what I wanted to do and went directly into it,” said Jerry.

Jerry trained at Rochester Institute of Technology, School for American Craftsmen at RIT and Cranbrook Academy of Art. He taught for 30 years at Syracuse University’s School of Art and Design, where he is now professor emeritus.

His works can also be found in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Art and Design and the Brooklyn Museum, all in New York City, and in the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

The Metal Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. More information is available by calling 774-6380 or by visiting www.metalmuseum.org.

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