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One Mercantile

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Master Artists Reimagine The Modern Jewelry Box

By CB Wismar

Tim McClelland is laughing. Which is okay, because he’s laughing at himself.

“I just thought it would be fun to reach out to 15 extraordinarily talented people who had been part of an intense, creative environment 35 years ago and see what they’re doing now.”

The “what” is stacked in heavy cardboard boxes delivered courtesy of UPS and FedEx. These invited guests surround Tim on the main floor of the jewelry atelier, McTeigue & McClelland in Great Barrington, Mass. It is in this noble gray stone building on Main Street that Modern Treasure Chests, a month-long exhibition of jewelry boxes made by contemporary American Masters, will welcome and intrigue visitors. 

The “makers,” as they call themselves, are all graduates and former faculty of Boston University’s Program in Artisanry (PIA) or Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and these “boxes” are fanciful works of art.

“So understand,” Tim [left] says, “I really didn’t know how many artists would respond. When it was 15, I couldn’t believe it.” 

Believe it, Tim. Time to unpack.

The PIA lived for the 10 years from 1975-1985 on the Boston University campus, graduating artisans in ceramics and fiber art, metalsmithing and jewelry making, or woodworking and furniture making. 

Certificates of Mastery in hand, they scattered to the winds. Some remained in New England, others migrated west to teach and work in Rochester, New York, Madison, San Diego. The marks of their time together, however, were indelible.

Flash forward 35 years. The challenge sent out to that eclectic community was to create a new interpretation of the jewelry box. After all, McTeigue & McClelland is a luxury jeweler, with Tim (himself a graduate of PIA in metalsmithing and jewelry making) creating unique designs, and his partner, Walter McTeigue, searching the world for the finest stones. Jewelry boxes made perfect sense.

“When the invitation came, how could I say no?” Tommy Simpson, a self-professed “imagineer” from New Preston, Conn., was quick to respond, with designs that are… how does one say this… unique.

Tommy, who brought a great sense of humor to his stint as a visiting instructor at PIA, will be exhibiting his creations alongside the intricate work of Peter Superti, whose studio is in Red Hook, New York. “There was no time like it,” recalls Peter. “PIA was 24/7 with some of the most imaginative people I’ve ever met.”

Rosanne Somerson, now the President of RISD and a skilled furniture maker in her own right, remembers the time as being one of incredible cooperation. “We’re trying to instill that in our students at RISD. It was like being in an extended family,” she says.

The award for “Furthest Distance Traveled” will go to Wendy Maruyama’s piece, hailing from San Diego, which she gently calls her “bento box.” Lined in silk, it has a quiet presence that seems more art than craft.

James Schriber, whose elegant casework adorns the McTeigue & McClelland showroom, was both reflective and brutally honest about being part of the exhibit. “I couldn’t not be there. These people were family. The idea of a reunion after all these years was just too good to pass up. If it had been a major furniture show, maybe it would have been different… but a jewelry box? That you can ship.” 

These Modern Treasure Chests are fashioned out of rare and exotic woods that have names evoking foreign travel and the courts of kings and maharajahs. Cuban mahogany. Celanese satinwood. Maracaibo boxwood. Clara walnut. Figured Swiss pearwood.

Each of the artists represented in Modern Treasure Chests has had a singular influence on the American Studio Furniture Movement. They carry on the traditions of Sam Maloof and Charles Eames in their own terms and with their own flair. To see their work is to be awash in talent, to move from one piece to another is quietly overwhelming.

Tim McClelland is smiling, and shaking his head as the boxes are opened and the wrapping scattered to the corners of the showroom. “Amazing,” he says. “That’s the only word for it.”

Modern Treasure Chests
Opening Reception: Saturday, Aug. 20 from 5-7 p.m.
McTeigue and McClelland
454 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA
The exhibit will be in place during normal business hours until Saturday, Sept. 24.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/08/16 at 07:00 PM • Permalink