Prior to the holidays I had the absolute pleasure of engaging in a conversation with artist jeweller Molly Vogel. I've been an admirer of her gorgeous and compelling work since I first laid eyes upon it. Molly was going to be the focus of a jeweller edition of The Swelle Life's Designers Series about a year ago, but commitments to her final year dissertation in the Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design program at Maine College of Art in Portland left her with very little spare time - understandably! Happily, we've stayed in touch and now I'm able to make the introduction.
One look at a piece of Molly's jewelry will tell you there’s something more to it than simple adornment. Her work bears a quiet calm that is anything but static; rather it captivates and intrigues, compelling the viewer to ask questions. Sometimes a piece may be seen as impractical. And that’s just as Ms. Vogel likes it. It’s not that she wants you to find a problem with it; it’s not a trick. Conversely, she wants you to evaluate it according to your own beliefs. What would art be without some kind of inherent challenge – in this case, one that nudges you to explore what adornment means to you? Indulge the curious, enchanting details and an intimate dialogue is bound to ensue.
Molly commits as much thought to the meaning of her pieces as she does her long hours creating them. Here is our discussion in which she shares what's behind her extraordinary work (it's a long one so you may want to make sure your seat is comfy):
Actually, it all started with black. I remember back in my undergraduate studies right before my department was getting into the thinking and making of our thesis work we were told to make a map of our influences. I started with a bubble in the center of a big sheet of paper which was representative of myself. From there I began branching off the categories of my own personal content. The very first category was color.
I have these color groups that keep popping up in all of my choices in life. Black has been the root of each of those color groups I am drawn to. I find that black is an anchor, one that I completely identify with. It has so many dimensions, it is sultry and seductive, steady and calm, bold and attention grabbing. I found that all of these things that black was representative of were also the answer for how I wanted my work to be described and how I wanted it to function. Of course at this point in my jewelry career it wasn’t such an obvious thing how this related to everything else I was thinking about, but pretty soon black lead me on a fabulous journey.
I’m quite sure you’ve just made me appreciate black a lot more than I did! Do you feel that your exploration of black through this collection has satiated your curiosity of what the colour can convey – and how powerful it can be – or will it continue to drive your work?
As far as I am concerned black will remain a driving force in my work for some time. Through my love of black I quickly came to find and work with the material all of my current work incorporates, jet (which is petrified wood that comes in lumpy rock-like shapes. I work this material by carving it). I fell in love with the qualities of the material jet. It has this amazing ability for a vast amount of finished surfaces. It is able to appear anywhere from matte with a brilliant and sultry luster, to high-gloss and polished making it look like plastic. The other seductive qualities of this material come from its historical baggage in the Victorian era. Jet was at its most popular during the reign of Queen Victoria and was used for mourning jewelry due to moral codes for the grieving duration of lost loved ones. Alas, black lead me to work with this fabulous material that has so much to offer. I am certainly not about to abandon all of these possible avenues of exploration just yet.
Your hand carved textures of the jet in your current work are absolutely exquisite, from the delicately ridged petals to the rich, smooth ones of your rings. Do you create these rings to be worn as much as you create them to be appreciated as an exploration of the properties of your chosen medium? I could see someone buying these and displaying them in their home as art.
This question touches upon the art vs. craft dilemma that is discussed ever so much in academic settings like the one I just came from! Regardless, I am of the firm belief that it shouldn’t matter. I take the route of humanity, preferring to focus on how objects connect to humans and relate to their psyches. I believe that people need objects in order to better understand themselves. The way one particular object will function for a person could never function the same way for another. I have created these rings in direct response to this forum that the art-jewelry world has created. There is a constant questioning that occurs when the subject of conversation is a piece of jewelery. This questioning revolves around the somewhat obvious aspects to the nature of jewelry. ‘Is it wearable?’ for instance is a huge, point-blank question. For some, these flower rings are the perfect cocktail ring, for others they are to risky to wear and act as an object that is only meant to sit upon the mantle and be admired from afar. Even still I am sure that there are those who look upon my work and are puzzled as to why they have even been created in the first place. To this crowd these rings may seem completely unwearable and silly to display because it is still a ring, not a piece of art. It is through these responses that my rings are able to walk a fine line of conversation.
I would wear them - hell I would flaunt them, one at a time during special occasions and I would display them some place special when they were not upon my finger. I personally look at these rings to be pieces of wearable art that signify the individual that boldly identifies with them. They become markers that celebrate moments in life by celebrating self. I would hope that the person that decides that they cannot live without one of my rings would wear it at least once after they take it into their personal collection, however this is entirely an individual choice and justifiable either way. What it comes down to is the understanding that occurs in the choice to want the ring in the first place; the ability to determine why and how one relates to this object and why/how they will celebrate it.
If I had one of your rings, I would wear it to buy milk so there would be no mundane events left in my life! There is an expert felt maker I know who creates these huge, amazing, elaborately detailed shawls which are very expensive, and a woman who was a fan of her work bought one and framed it. She said “Oh, I would never wear it.” I thought what a shame that she can’t feel the weight and the texture and how it molds to her body, and how she’s limiting this magnificent creation to one dimension. Never mind not sharing it with the world!
I think seeing extraordinary things on others whether they be friends or strangers expands one’s scope of what’s ‘normal’, and sets an example of how art can be interactive, an enrichment in our daily lives, rather than something to be admired from a distance. Thoughts?
There is something to be said for interaction and the way that something feels when it is put on the body. It is intimacy in all aspects of the word. What better way to understand an object than to feel it and feel how it makes you feel? Interaction also extends into display and sharing these choices with other people. I believe that what people choose to put on their body or even to hang up in their home is important. I agree that it has the capability to enrich our daily lives as well as communicate a plethora of information about the owner. The key in my opinion is making sure that people are true to themselves and make choices based off of their own relation to objects and take these choices seriously. I would ask people to take it that step further and identify the power that these objects chosen to surround daily life truly hold for them individually.
That's a driving force in our choices, isn't it - how we want others to perceive us? Hence the obsession with amassing 'luxury' labels. Not everyone appreciates, or is willing to appreciate, an object that is unique, of true value, reflects hours of skilled handwork and has something to say. Does that bother you? Or does that lend an exclusive appeal to what you do? If not (I'm thinking not) how do we persuade others to find personal meaning in objects they would not normally care about? A lot of it comes down to one's innate sense of taste, which unfortunately cannot be democratized!
I agree that for many people the perceptions of others end up becoming a driving force in their decision making process. I press onward with the ideal that people should make choices based off of their individual desires, opinions and reactions to the objects that are out in the world rather than how the rest of the world views those same objects. Anything can be utilized as a tool for expression and become an extension of self so long as our choices are self-aware. That being said, objects have this vast potential to become art; they are capable of a connection to the owner, of a kind of self-expression that helps one to actualize and communicate this self-understanding to others. I chose to promote my jewelery through art venues because of how it immediately allows me to promote these particular ideals. My viewer is able to walk into a new perspective about the work that is before them, not limiting it to labels. The art context of my jewelry inherently shares that there is a conceptual backdrop to the pieces I have created allowing for its meaning to become quite malleable and open for interpretation. This in itself is precisely how I feel about all objects and I share this by creating a type of forum that is able to open up the possibilities for a person to put value on my jewelery for their own reasons. I believe more meaning arises in this setting than say it would in a display case at a boutique where the setting directly limits the possibilities. This is how I push forward, break down hierarchies and boundaries as well as promote self-expression.
I’m curious – do you ever wear junk jewelry?
But of course! I have a wide variety of all different types of jewelery in my own personal collection spanning from a thick 24kt gold chain with a piece of delft (painted porcelain) set as a pendant, all of the way to chintzy costume jewelery including a variety of versions of Victorian reproductions made of nothing but plated base-metal and rhinestones. I even own an amazing pair of plastic clip on earrings that I wear, they are these luminous, pastel-pink flowers in a 50’s style, round cluster that is littered with tacky fake gems. I wear these in the springtime even though I have pierced ears because they make me feel so good!
What's next for Molly Vogel?
I am going to continue making jewelery, without a doubt. I keep a close and tight network of friends that are doing this as well and support the same hierarchies of good craft, design and innovation in body adornment and wearable art. I truly believe that there are big things out there for me and with this group of people at my side I fully intend to forge my path strong and find out.
You can view Molly Vogel’s current collection in full on her website. Just don’t expect to see the pink plastic clip-on earrings!