April 13, 2016
Metals artists marry new and centuries-old techniques
By Karen Sandstrom
Pamela Argentieri and Matthew Hollern ply their art in jewelry and metals. Partners in marriage as well as in their trade, they bring distinct styles but a similar seriousness of purpose to their work.
From the well-equipped studio of their suburban Cleveland home, they turn ideas into exquisitely crafted rings and bracelets, candlesticks and creamers. They work in traditional jeweler’s metals — sterling and gold — but love new materials and techniques as well. They maintain active careers, including exhibitions and commissions, and have work in museums and private collections, but perhaps their favorite is a trio of vases that was acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
As a full-time professor in the Jewelry + Metals department at CIA, Hollern is proud of the range of equipment and technologies in the department. Students can still hammer out copper or they can create 3D printed forms in many materials using computer-aided design (CAD) software. Or they can make a hybrid by combining practices and materials.
Argentieri is a CIA graduate (’87) and a full-time artist and designer.
Team teachers of the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Pre-College class in Jewelry + Metals, they are eager to share what they know about designing and making jewelry, objects, and sculpture.
What’s your background and how did you end up at CIA?
Pamela Argentieri: I grew up in Shaker Heights, took classes [at CIA] as a high school student and became interested in the material. I searched for an interesting college, and ended up at the institute — it was my first choice. I was really drawn to the school, to the seriousness of it. My instructors were all professional artists that were very generous, and we felt like we were working with these artists. It was difficult and it was very exciting. And I liked the rawness of Cleveland at the time.
Matthew Hollern: I had jewelry in high school — that was my homeroom. It was called ‘Art Metal. ‘ I went to [the University of Wisconsin —Madison] and continued taking jewelry and metalsmithing. I did junior year abroad and studied in Aix-en- Provence. That was a full-time liberal arts program in French. I also had a day and a half a week at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and learned traditional blacksmithing.
I went to Tyler School of Art and earned an MFA in jewelry and metalsmithing. I finished that, applied to teach at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and moved here in 1989.
What drew you specifically to work with metals?
MH: I liked making things as a kid in my dad’s little workshop in the basement. I did like art classes a lot. I still like woodworking. As a little kid, we had a little bit of ceramics and papier-mâché – good fundamental art classes. And the last thing I would say is chance—I happened to be in the Art Metal classroom!
PA: The love of the material kind of sucked me in – the preciousness. And working in a three-dimensional way was very exciting.
Does working in jewelry and metals become limiting? Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?
PA: That never seems to be an issue for me. Sometimes I wish I could work faster so I could move through my ideas while they’re fresh. I sketch for a couple of hours in the morning while I drink too much coffee. I have a book full of ideas. I’m working on a set of flatware now, sterling flatware, and they’re traditionally made – tedious, lovely — with CAD-produced handles. I need them to be finished now. I’m just ready for something else.
MH: I didn’t really address this question with you; got an answer now?
There is no shortage of ideas or opportunities. Jewelry, functional objects, and sculpture have offered endless challenges and frontiers. The key is to focus on what matters most, new and novel ideas, in any form.
How do materials and new technologies influence your work?
MH: When I was at Tyler, I was introduced to CAD/CAM software. It was 1988, and it was the first class taught anywhere in the world: CAD/CAM for jewelry. It was really different, because there was no graphic visualization. You were writing code to tell the machine what to do.
But I also felt the argument for new technology was very compelling. I read an article that said artists needed to be pioneers, and they needed to establish new frontiers, and shouldn’t just dabble in new techniques. They should take it in deeply and be a part of that exploration. And by doing so, there’s a chance that the work you do will be a reflection of the time you’re working.
PA: The way I work now is using new materials with traditional materials, and seeing where they overlap. Those intersections are where I have concentrated my new body of work.
At first, I experiment and play with the materials, and not everything is beautiful. At times objects you make can look like other people’s objects, so it’s really important to take the time investing in the material, and inserting yourself and your personality into it. That’s my challenge with new material: to find out what part is uniquely mine.
Given all the other demands on your time, how do ensure that you’re making time to make art?
MH: I have to say yes to things, which gives me an excuse to stop doing all the other stuff and do the studio stuff. I’ll say yes to an invitation for an exhibition, or we try to keep our eyes peeled for competitive exhibitions or just announcements that portfolios are being reviewed. Pam works in the studio every single day.
PA: When you’re working at home, you really have to discipline yourself, because there’s so many things in life that are always pulling you away. I really have to be very disciplined. This is a wonderful career, I love it. So since I’m doing it, I have to do it with commitment and try to be good about it.
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