By Irene Ruddock
Jessica Randall fabricates, casts, designs and forges unique contemporary jewelry. A graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, she has shown her jewelry in the Portland Museum in Oregon, the Holter Museum of Art in Montana as well as galleries such as the Young and Constanin Gallery in Vermont, Stones Throw Gallery in Massachusetts and the Carlyn Gallery in Texas. I recently visited Randall at her studio in East Setauket where this metalsmith of over 20 years hand makes every piece of original jewelry.
How did you get started in jewelry making?
I initially enrolled in art school as a fashion design major. On a lark, I took a jewelry class at MassArt and fell in love! I have been making jewelry ever since.
What is your inspiration for the creative process?
The impulse to collect is at the heart of my creative process. I collect all kinds of natural debris like: found animal bones, skulls, beach stones, pine cones, crab claws and shells; found turtle shells, semiprecious stones, sea shells and beads. These found objects are then catalysts for designs. I will either use a material directly or use just a shape, line or texture from something I’ve found in nature.
What else influences your art?
As a little girl, I loved to visit the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art with my family. I was fascinated with medieval weaponry, taxidermy, ancient Egyptian art and Pacific adornment. As a young woman, I had the opportunity to travel through Europe and North Africa, experiencing the art from these cultures firsthand. Later in life, I lived in Texas with my husband and three sons, which instilled a love of Native American and Mexican silver jewelry. Midcentury design and Scandinavian modern design have also influenced my jewelry.
What tools and equipment do you use?
I own lots of tools I have collected over the years, each with a specific purpose. I also modify tools. For example, I grind down the jaws of steel pliers, then polish them to create a smooth surface that won’t mar metal. I use various shaped hammers for forging and chasing, various shaped pliers for bending and shaping and digital calipers for measuring. I use a mini drill press, a flex shaft with assorted attachments, a tumbler, polishing motor and an ultrasonic cleaner as well.
What materials do you work with?
I like to work with both traditional sterling and argentium silver because they are relatively soft and easy to forge, yet strong enough to cut easily with a jeweler’s saw. Argentium silver is brighter and whiter than traditional sterling silver and tarnishes at a rate 70 times slower than traditional sterling silver. It is virtually tarnish-free!
What else can you tell me about the process?
I hand make or “fabricate” most jewelry in my studio. “Fabricating” includes forging, soldering, stone setting, tumbling and polishing. I also work with a casting and plating company. The caster uses an ancient process known as “lost wax casting” to reproduce silver multiples, which I finish and then use in designs. The plater submerges silver jewelry in a bath that chemically coats the pieces in 24-karat yellow or rose gold to produce “vermeil.” Vermeil jewelry has a thick, durable 24-karat gold finish over sterling silver, at a fraction of the price of solid gold jewelry.
Is there a material that you wish to experiment with in the future?
24-karat gold! 24-karat gold is 100 percent pure gold, as you probably know, not alloyed with any other metals like 10k, 14k or 18k gold. Goldsmiths love working with it because it is “like butter” … so soft and malleable. I would also like to experiment with a small-scale 3-D printer to produce resin models that could be cast. I would like to figure out how to utilize 3-D printing technology in my work, if that’s viable.
Is there a period of jewelry making that you most admire?
My favorite period is the 1950s and ’60s. I love the American studio jewelry movement and also modernist Mexican and Scandinavian jewelry from this time period. At midcentury, American universities across the country began offering serious metalsmithing programs. Because these skills were taught in a conceptual, university setting, jewelry began to be seen as contemporary art or miniature sculpture, not just wearable craft.
How do you decide on an individual design?
I make multiple versions of designs, sometimes three, five, even 10 variations of the same piece. After experimenting, I choose the one I like best and then scale back details until the design is distilled to a simple, clean piece. I also take commissions and make one-of-a- kind commissions at a client’s request.
Are there jewelry makers whom you admire in the past or present?
Some of my “art heroes” include Alexander Calder, Georgia O’Keefe, Andy Goldsworthy, Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hube, Betty Cooke, Art Smith, Coco Chanel and Jill Platner. There are too many to list and I discover new influences every day.
What was your favorite piece that you designed?
A favorite piece in recent memory is currently on view at Studio 268 in Setauket. It’s a large sterling silver and moss agate flower mounted on black canvas, displayed in a shadow box. I made it to illustrate the idea that jewelry is not just a functional, wearable medium; jewelry can also be viewed as “art” displayed and hung on a wall.
Did you ever have a piece that you couldn’t bear to sell?
Yes, I made a pendant from sterling silver, horsehair and a cast plastic fishing lure that I found on the beach for our senior thesis show at MassArt. The finished pendant resembled a tiny, abstract broom, almost like a miniature African totem. I loved how it came out and wanted to use it as an inspiration for future work, so I put it in the exhibit with “Not for sale” on it.
Where can we see your jewelry?
My work was recently included in the Setauket Artists Spring Show at Deepwells Mansion. It is currently part of the Small Works Show in Studio 268 where my jewelry will continue to be shown through June on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Look for me in September at Gallery North’s Outdoor Art Show and Music Festival on Sept. 7 and 8.
I can be reached at 214-906-4425 or [email protected]