You might say Gabriel Ofiesh stumbled upon jewelry-making as a career. While studying in Colorado one summer during college, he learned the basics of his craft and his skill and artistry has been growing and evolving ever since. What began as the pursuit of an interest has blossomed into a 30+ year career handcrafting one-of-kind pieces of jewelry that delight with hidden movements, clever use of gemstones and a sense of architecture that is both organic and sculptural. Gabriel has been a mainstay of the American craft movement and has served as a Trustee on the American Craft Council since 2008. We had the opportunity to catch up with Gabriel from his studio in Charlottesville, Virginia.
After my second year of college at the University of Virginia, in 1971, I went to summer school at the University of Colorado, mostly to hike in the mountains. A friend of mine was making jewelry for a living, I was intrigued; I spent time with him to pick up some basic knowledge and learned about the equipment I would need. I set a bench up when I went back to the University of Virginia in the fall of 1972. My last two years of college, I made jewelry on the side. My first craft show was in a cafeteria of an elementary school in Danville, Virginia in May 1973. That same month I graduated from the University of Virginia.
2. Your career has included a longstanding relationship with American craft. What does the American craft movement mean to you personally? How has it shaped your work?
The American craft movement gave me the opportunity to make my living making jewelry. In the late 70’s I started doing national shows sponsored by the American Craft Council. It was at an ACC show in Baltimore, 31 years ago, that I met Judy Gordon and Chris Robb, the founders of the American Craft Exposition (ACE), and was invited to do the first ACE show in Evanston. I also made life long friendships with other craftspeople along the way and that sense of community is as strong today as it was when we all were just beginning.
3. Do you see a resurgence of the handmade movement in the U.S.?
I’d say it’s evolving rather than resurging. The resurgence of the handmade movement in the U.S. was in the 80’s and early 90’s. Making and marketing handmade objects today is more varied and challenging. The craft show model we have today is still valid for the clients that have aged as we have aged, but younger and emerging artists are creating their own market.
Their inclusion in our shows is more important than ever because they are more in tune with what the new craft show model may look like. I think people are always going to want to gather to see high quality crafts that feature the craft artist, but what that’s going to look like in 10 years is a work in progress.
4. Your Artist statement shares “my jewelry is designed to move as the body moves.” This seems particularly true for your Orbit Collection. How did the inspiration to mimic human movement in your jewelry begin?
That’s a question I’ve never been able to answer. I never learned to draw as a way to develop my designs. I design by playing with elements at my bench. And, put simply, I like to make things that have parts that move. I like the subtle nuances that you can create in the small scale of a piece of jewelry. When I make a piece of jewelry I think about rhythm and balance. But I also like unexpected details: things that move, flash, hide or surprise.
It’s very satisfying to have my work featured in the marketing for the show. As I mentioned previously, I exhibited at the first ACE 31 years ago and have exhibited every year since except for one. Over the years, it’s become my favorite show and a marker of my life and my business. The show also has the strongest group of jewelry artist of any show in the country, so just to be included in this group is gratifying.