Space Light Structure

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That is the name of the current exhibition on jewelry maker Margaret De Patta @ the Museum of Arts and Designs (which I highly recommend as a boutique museum that has a very strong focus on jewelry design).

I had never heard of her prior to my visit yesterday, but apparently she is considered a pioneer in the studio jewelry field, particularly for her innovations in how to cut gemstones.  She was also the first who treated jewelry as wearable sculptures rather than simple adornments for the body.  For those of you who aren’t hiking to NY anytime soon, here are some of my “that’s so cool!” moments from the visit.

She is a self-taught jeweler
I’ve always been fascinated by women who take a chance to try something new and from it discover their lifelong passion.  Julia Child was another classic example (went to France at the age of 40 not speaking a lick of French and not knowing what shallots were).  De Patta’s relationship with jewelry began when she looked in vain for a suitable wedding band in a modern style.

Quartz and light
Did you know that 10% of the earth’s crust is made of quartz?  De Patta experimented a lot with cutting quartz (which is normally transparent and sometimes with hairlike inclusions inside), so that light is refracted with every movement of the wearer.  I was impressed that she took the “vanilla” of the gemstone world and transformed this humble and abundant material into fascinating beauties.  The respect she had for her stones was clear.  She would angle her entire design based on the direction of the rutilated inclusions within the stone, so that the stone’s natural imperfections (and thus beauty) come off as intentional acts of the creator.

Layering and Composition
De Patta was extremely thoughtful in how she put together elements of a design (she was famous for her rings, brooches and necklaces).  Inspired by Russian Constructivism, which focused on abstract forms, geometric forms, the interplay of light and shadows, De Patta’s jewelry pieces are often composed of disparate geometric elements brought together in harmonious balance.  What’s more, she often layers them in such a clever way to create optical illusions.  For example, in the piece below, the large piece of faceted quarts is placed in front of the metal, thus breaking up the fluidity of the line, while also magnifying the reflections from the stone.

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Here are some other of my favorite pieces from the exhibit.  Enjoy!

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