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Beyond The Plain Gold Band: An Artistic Proposal

Just in time for the spring wedding season, the exhibition "I Do...Do I?" showcases IU jewelry makers’ own take on the most iconic piece of jewelry.

Anne Fiala (Indian Head Park, Illinois) "Tin Can Romance" sterling silver, embroidery thread 2013

Presumably, an artist uses one medium over another because it allows her to communicate more effectively. So who better than a jeweler to answer the question: “How many ways can I say I love you?”

That question was the launching pad for a workshop that several metalsmiths associated with Indiana University ’s Hope School of Fine Arts attended in the spring of 2012.  As one might expect, when jewelers start talking about love and romance, the subject quickly turns to wedding rings.

The workshop inspired Associate Professor Nicole Jacquard  to conceive of an exhibition of rings or ring-like objects manifesting a jeweler’s own feelings about love and commitment. She would name the show I Do…Do I?

Public Art And Its Opposite

Showcasing art from around the country and abroad, I Do…Do I? offers the  rare glimpse behind the curtain.  Like a poet’s letters or the architect’s own house, the show gives voice to the way an artist uses her medium of choice to negotiate the emotional territory of  her private life.

“It’s really hard,” reports third-year metalsmith Anne Fiala, who is engaged,  “because he wants something very traditional and I want something unique.”

Fiala, who is 28,  will be receiving her MFA this spring, and getting married in the fall. Although most of her work is not in precious metal and not wearable, she is making the gold rings she and her future husband will wear.

“So, it’s just…it’s going to take a lot of trial and error,” she sighs.

As goes jewelry making, so follows marriage. But luckily for Fiala, during her engagement she’s been able to play hooky from such serious responsibility with a side project. While designing a set of rings meant to be worn for a lifetime, she’s created a more whimsical pair for the exhibition I Do…Do I?

Faraway, So Close

Inspired by the six-year long-distance relationship she and her fiancé have endured, Fiala made  two tiny cans out of silver–complete with the horizontal grooves that wrap a coffee can–attached them to silver band rings, and connected them with two meters of embroidery thread, producing a tiny tin-can telephone.

In addition to its playfulness, the conceptual quality of Fiala’s ring finds echoes in this exhibition, which is a one-night-only event at The Fuller Projects, the student run gallery located in the old McCalla School. Aric Verrastro and Vince Pontillo-Verrastro are first year MFA metalsmiths from Buffalo, New York, which is where they became legally married to one another.

The married metalsmiths in their 20s are used to speaking in a single voice and being mistaken for one another.  “Sometimes I get called Vince,” Verrastro laughs, “and he gets called Aric.”

Their real wedding rings remain on their respective left hands, but for the show Verrastro made a piece that speaks to their intertwining just as readily as Fiala’s tin-can telephone represents her long-distance relationship. Two strands of different metal begin as wedding bands before becoming twisted and eventually soldered together to create a three-dimensional piece of script reading “Duo”.

“We are on the same path,” Verrastro explains.  “We wake up together, eat breakfast together, go to school all day together, and come home,” adds his partner.

The abiding quality of their relationship comes through in the piece Pontillo-Verrastro created for I Do. It’s a series of knots tied from cotton rope and dunked in enamel for each month they’ve been together, with a gold knot representing the month they got married, or officially “tied the knot”.  The knots were all based on the Boy Scouts’ series of 40 basic knots.  “So it’s talking about boys being in relationships with boys,” explains Pontillo-Verrastro.

I’m Waiting For My Man

The subtext of MFA metalsmith Jennifer Wells’ ring is heterosexual. The circumference of the gold ring combines the  average female ring size with the average male ring size. “So no one person could wear it,” the twenty-something Wells explains, but in the future it is a ring that could potentially be sawed at two points to create two wedding bands. Inside the ring are inscribed the words “Mr. Maybe” and “Someday”.

Like Wells, Randy Long has designed open-endedness into her ring. Although she’s never been married, the head of Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design at IU created a piece that anticipates that possibility.  Passing Time assembles an 18-karat-gold ring, to which a jeweler’s file is attached by a gold chain, a glass vial, and an empty picture frame.

“I would file on the ring for every day that I was waiting for my soul mate,” explains Long, who is of a certain age, “then I would put the filings into this little glass vial, and then, depending on how long it took for the soulmate to show up, I would be able to polish up the ring again, and wear the ring.  But the filings would go into this file, so if the ring is really distorted from my having waited for so long, I could actually recast the ring, and turn it into a nice round wedding band.”

Recasting The Future

There’s hope in Long’s piece, but also bittersweetness.  As the show’s title suggests, ambivalence lives at the very center of I Do…Do I? With the majority of marriages ending in divorce, a show about wedding rings has to reckon with the long shadow cast by this most iconic piece of jewelry.

Using the ring from a short marriage that ended badly, Australian artist Kathryn Wardill created a new object that seems to perform a therapeutic function. For Toy, Damage with every movement,  Wardill melted down her 18-karat gold wedding ring, attached the lump like a tetherball to a tiny pole, and planted the pole in a small pan attached to a ring.  As the gold lump spins while being worn, the pan’s sides will abrade it until, eventually, nothing remains of the precious metal.

The Ring Is Dead, Long Live The Ring

Even as marriage is being questioned, redefined, postponed, and rejected, the traditional symbol of everlasting devotion seems to abide.   Jacquard is convinced that  people are always going to be wearing rings to express their commitment to a loved one.

“I really don’t see that ever fading away,” the curator avers. “It’s such a meaningful part of the ritual to have  that thing that’s worn every single day, and to have that visual commitment that’s on your body.  I don’t ever see that passing.

Event Information

“I Do…Do I?”

A one-night-only group exhibition about relationships by selected artists who all create jewelry and have personal associations with the wedding band.

The Fuller Projects, McCalla School, 525 East Ninth St., B'ton IN

Friday, March 29, 2013, 7:30-9:30 pm


Indiana University Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design

Yaël Ksander

WFIU's Arts Desk Editor, Yaël seeks out and shepherds the stories of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. In addition, Yaël co-hosts A Moment of Science, writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History, produces Speak Your Mind (WFIU's guest editorial segment), hosts music and news hours throughout the week, and lends her voice to everything from accounting courses to nature documentaries. Yaël holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature.

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