Feature Articles

January Issue 2002

Mint Museum of Craft + Design in Charlotte, NC, Features Work by Ramona Solberg

"I'm not the least bit interested in precious jewelry. I don't want my jewelry to go into deposit boxes. I want it worn to Safeway and to ball games." - Ramona Solberg

The fifty year career of Seattle jewelry artist Ramona Solberg, and her influence over succeeding generations of jewelry artists in the Pacific Northwest and across the country, is featured in Findings: The Jewelry of Ramona Solberg at Charlotte, NC's Mint Museum of Craft + Design, through Mar. 31, 2002.

In contrast to the conventional use of precious material in making fine jewelry, Solberg delights in the use of humble objects. She is a historic innovator, having long ago incorporated pieces of cultural materials and curios collected from her prolific world travels before the terms "found objects" and "cultural appropriation" entered popular art dialogue.

"I have been influenced by the ethnic jewelry I have collected from around the world," she stated. "The well-worn, warm, primitive quality is something I enjoy. The richness of old amber and dull silver, the color of red coral, the tinkle of bells or coins that hit against each other have shown up in my jewelry."

Solberg's necklaces and pendants consist of unexpected juxtapositions - glass beads from Africa, shells, milagros from Mexico, dominoes, miniature and antique tools, game pieces, worn ivory buttons. Her passion for junk stores, antique shops, street fairs and bazaars supplies her with an endless array of ideas to explore. "I have a terrible time passing up any sort of game pieces, old compasses or miniature tools - pieces with a past or an intrinsic symbolism," she admits.

The mastery of Solberg's work lies in her genius for arranging forms, textures, combinations of objects and materials for its associative value. An accomplished silversmith, she often uses cast forged and fabricated metals to frame her curios in subdivided rectangle pendants which are hung from cords, thongs, beads or silver neckpieces. Her innovative combinations lift the individual elements out of their primary origins into new forms and meanings, more out of free association than deep deliberation.

Solberg necklaces can be described as contemporary talismans, carrying contemporary myths. Shamon's Necklace, made in 1968, refers to the magical medicine man of the Northwest tribes. The piece suspends bits of Alaskan ivory, stylized silver fish, a small totemic figure, a pointing hand and an old coin bearing the image of an Indian. Ampersand, a neckpiece incorporating cast and fabricated silver and bronze, ivory and an antique ruler, suggests succeeding generations of craftsmen - the maker of the ruler, its original user and the jeweler.

Solberg views jewelry as an object of personal adornment, a living art with its own spirit, a form of presentation and self-definition. "Jewelry," she once explained, "should communicate warmth and kinship. It succeeds best when it connects with people."

The 80 year-old Solberg confesses that her necklaces are initially, secretly, made for her, which accounts for their consistently personal iconography. The directness, simplicity, humor and vitality are qualities integral to Solberg's own personality.

The exhibition Findings: The Jewelry of Ramona Solberg will feature 60 of her jewelry pieces over a 50 year span, as well as 13 works by former pupils Laurie Hall, Ron Ho, Ruth Pennington, Kiff Slemmons, Don Thomkins and Nancy Worden. The exhibition is organized by the Bank of America Gallery, Seattle. Following its exhibition in Charlotte, the exhibit will travel to the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Franciso, Apr. 16 - June 16, 2002 and the Ornamental Metal Museum of Memphis, July 15 - Sept. 9, 2002.

Solberg will talk about her techniques and inspirations in a gallery walkthrough at the Mint Museum of Craft + Design on Jan. 19 at 11am. For reservations, call Mary Beth Ausman, education director, at 704/337-2050.

Vicki Halper, former curator at the Seattle Art Museum, is the author of the accompanying 72 page, illustrated book, published by the University of Washington Press and available at the Mint Museum Shops for $19.95

For more information check our NC Institutional Gallery listings, call the museum at 704/337-2000 or on the web at (http://www.mintmuseum.org).

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