Working in miniature
to create art
By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer
"I’m Canadian. I’ve never been to the
Southwest," Michele Black said.
So, naturally, the Ketchum jeweler packed
up a camper with everything she’d need for a five-month journey to the desert
and took off for the desert. Her only company was her cat, Frank Sinatra, a
"cell phone and NPR on a lucky day," and mobile studio in miniature.
It was not inspiration Black was seeking
but time and space. She camped in Arizona in wildlife refuges until she found
the lowest elevation in the Sonoran Desert. Her schedule was to stay a week in
one site and then go for supplies. Then she’d set off for another locale.
One of the only encounters with people
came when she met up with the people from Barry Peterson Jewelers in Tucson for
a gem show in February. They saw everything from ganja smoking hippies selling
piles of crystals off a tarp on the floor to the high-end dealers, including "a
guy who had a gigantic emerald sitting on his table," she said while holding her
hands about a foot apart.
Readying herself for the Ketchum Arts
Festival was one motive for the trip. She created many new pieces for the show
that takes place this weekend, including one of a kind pieces and what she calls
her "bread and butter" bracelets. These pieces have multiple strands of
semi-precious gems from citrine, garnet, labradorite and peridot to pearls and
coral. The magnetic clasps on these eye-catching designs are her own invention.
"I do all the metal work, and all the
Her camper is fully rigged like a boat,
with a small head, kitchenette, bunk and a working studio. A small Honda
generator powers all her tools, including full soldering capabilities via a
small oxygen tank and propane tank.
"Like a Chinese puzzle every corner is
packed," she said, with items necessary for her work. She works with such
diverse metals as copper, sterling silver, 18 carat gold, and shakudo, a copper
gold alloy from Japan.
Black learned her trade while apprenticing
for Barry Peterson in Ketchum. She was an artist who mostly worked in wood and
with found objects. And she was already adept at metal work.
Going into jewelry design was her way of
"condensing all of that down into a feasible art. Barry has all the tools. It
was an amazing environment for three years," she said of her time in the studio
above the jewelry store.
It’s the art of jewelry that appeals to
her, not the mass production of it. Ideally, she’d love to draw and then hand
designs off to a craftsman. For now, though, she goes it alone, creating
elegant, fanciful, dramatic pieces. Her eye for color and shape are apparent in
all her work as she melds traditional techniques with contemporary design.
"It’s funky stuff but still fine," she
said. Indeed, her work has that weighty solid feel that gives it a sense of
Eventually, "I’d like to do one of a kind
work in small series and then move on. That’s when it really feels like art."