Jewelry artist Kat Cole took the American Craft Exposition (ACE) by storm last year, winning the prestigious Show Directors’ Award. Cole exhibited as an Emerging Artist – A category which is open to those artists who have been practicing their craft for six years or less and have never previously exhibited at ACE. Needless to say, she blew the Show Directors’ away with her fresh, one-of-a-kind pieces. We had the opportunity to catch up with Kat from her studio in Dallas, Texas to learn more about her background, craft and what she is most looking forward to at this year’s ACE!
Q: You used to make jewelry from metals, such as copper and silver, but moved to recycling already used products and materials. Are you still using recycled material, and if so, how has this changed your process? How did you come to work with alternative materials?
A: I did start out working in traditional jewelry metals in undergraduate, but when I left school I found myself strapped for cash and looking for my voice within all the techniques I had learned in school. I began collecting bits of metal from the street and incorporating it into the work. I worked with mostly found materials and tins for several years before beginning to work with steel. These days I have retired the tin and only occasionally use found objects in the work, mostly focused on working with the steel and enamel.
Q: You have mentioned that you find meaning for your pieces through the observance and intimate awareness of the places you inhabit. Since you’ve opened a studio in Dallas, what’s changed about your pieces? What has influenced you the most in that area?
A: The work has gotten larger! Dallas is a newer city, not many industrial buildings, less old rusty stuff everywhere, which I loved about previous places I have lived. There are a lot of new buildings, clean lines, skyscrapers in the process of being built, these things provide beautiful formal qualities. That all makes its way into the work. I’m also beginning to use more imagery in the work of archival images of early Dallas since so much of it has been torn down.
Q: It seems the process of creating your one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry is incredibly labor intensive. Why is that? What is it about the process that speaks to you?
A: I am both a metalsmith and an enamellist. I love the process of fabricating an object, soldering parts together, cleaning it up, figuring out how to make a clasp. I sometimes wonder why I spend so much time putting things together and then run the risk of it all falling apart when it goes into a 1500 degree kiln to be enameled. But I love that part too, the magical mystery that happens in the kiln. The enamel goes from powdery grains of glass into a beautiful, glossy and rich surface in the kiln. The enamel lends color and surface to the work, the elements I used to look for in my found objects.
Q: You mention wanting to initially become a ceramics major when you began your undergraduate work, but ended up taking a beginning jewelry class instead. What is it about jewelry making that spoke to you?
A: There are so many techniques to learn, I felt from the beginning I could spend a lifetime learning how to be a metalsmith. I still feel that way – So many more things I would like to learn to do.
Q: Wearable art is such an interesting genre. The fact that someone can wear the piece creates an intimate and unique relationship with the artwork. What it is about creating jewelry that appeals to you as an artist? Are there things that you most want readers to know about you or your art?
A: There is a challenge to making an object that also has to function beautifully on the body. I enjoy that challenge, all of my work is very wearable. Not just that someone could put it on but that your experience is enhanced when you do. There are small sounds made, a comforting weight, the feeling of boldness or power. Is it heavy? That is one of my most commonly asked questions. I make the work to look monumental on the body, but it is made in such a way that it is not actually heavy, it is all hollow-formed.
Q: What are you most looking forward to when you return as an exhibitor at ACE this year?
A: I was in one of the Bonsai courtyards last year and just loved it. The long process to make these small trees, an idealized version of a huge ancient tree, is one that resonates with me. I am also looking forward to presenting a larger body of work at ACE this year since I will be in a full-sized booth.