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Ornamentum: Jewelry That is Art and Vice Versa

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Acanthus necklace by Jennifer Trask, Photo by Dmitri Belyl

Crafts, in general, fare badly in the hierarchy of art;  jewelry-making perhaps most of all, particularly in the U.S., where it is still too often dismissed as a pass-time for 1960s-style drop-outs.  Stefan Friedemann, who with his wife Laura Lapachin owns Ornamentum, a Hudson gallery specializing in conceptual and experimental contemporary jewelry, seems to have taken it upon himself to lay that libel to rest.  For the past three years, Ornamentum has been the only jewelry gallery invited to show on the main floor of Design Miami, the annual exhibition that is the sister fair to Art Basel Miami.  And now this June, it will be the sole jewelry gallery ever invited to exhibit at the Design Miami/Basel fair in Switzerland.  “I do lots of shows, such as SOFA [Sculpture, Objects, and Functional Arts Fairs], where serious contemporary jewelry collectors go,” Friedemann say.  “For a small gallery from a town like Hudson to be the only main-floor jewelry exhibitor at Design Miami and at Basel, Switzerland is an honor.  It is also a much greater risk than those other shows. But the point is to broaden the audience for this type of jewelry.” 

“I hadn’t been much into high school,” Friedemann says. by way of explaining how he fell into such an arcane line of work. “The only thing I’d really enjoyed was shop—working with my hands. I had an uncle in Switzerland who was a goldsmith, so I always knew this is something people do.” 

While studying jewelry-making at Wayne State University in Detroit, Friedemann met Laura Lapachin, a fellow student, who, finding herself in need of an art elective, chose jewelry making, then “fell in love with it.”  After college, the couple went to study in Pforzheim, Germany, which, since 1767 has been a jewelry-industry center, and thus has two “amazing” schools— a University of Applied Arts and a Goldsmithing & Watchmaking School.  Friedemann, born in the U.S. to a German father and a Swiss mother, holds tri-citizenship, so he qualified to matriculate at one of the schools.  Laura took classes at both. 

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Arboresque, a brooch of silver, camera lenses, and paint by Jiro Kamata, will be shown in April by Ornamentum at SOFA-NY
“That’s where our aesthetics got refined, and our eyes were opened to the conceptual and experimental side of contemporary jewelry,” Stefan says.  When they returned to the states, the couple settled in Rhode Island, where there is a thriving commercial jewelry industry.  Both got jobs and quickly decided that designing commercial jewelry was not how they wanted to spend the rest of their lives.  Eventually they concluded that their destiny lay in owning a gallery that would bring to the U.S. the sort of jewelry they’d learned about in Germany.

“We kept our eyes open for the right location,” Stefan says.  Manhattan seemed “exciting” but daunting.  “Then one day in 2000 or early 2001, I was flipping through a copy of W Magazine, and there were photos of the city of Hudson.” The couple came to explore and decided to keep an eye on Hudson for a few years.  Then, suddenly, 9/11 forced their hand.  Worried that the influx of New Yorkers to Hudson would soon price them out of the market there, they bought a double storefront building in the 500 block of Warren Street. 

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Abundant Uselessness a wall piece by Jennifer Trask made of found 17th- and 18th-century picture-frame fragments, carved cow, camel, rabbit and python bones, and beaver teeth
At first, Ornamentum occupied the smaller of the two street-level commercial spaces in the building.  Now it fills both, with wearable contemporary jewelry, some of it one-of-a-kind pieces targeted at major collectors, on one side and an exhibition space on the other where they hold shows of conceptual pieces that sometimes resemble sculpture more than jewelry, though they are made by jewelers. Pieces from Ornamentum are now in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, recently donated by Columbia County part-time resident Donna Schneier, the Museum of Art and Design in New York City, and Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. 

This Saturday, a new exhibition, Vestige, works by Jennifer Trask, a resident of High Falls, NY (Ulster County) , opens at the gallery, which Friedemann describes as, “the world’s 2nd-largest revolving exhibition space for this kind of jewelry.”

“It is incredible to find a gallery of this caliber in Hudson,” says Susan Grant Lewin, a part-time resident of New Marlborough, and the author of American Art Jewelry Today (Harry N. Abrams, 1995). “Jewelry collectors are indeed blessed.”

Ornamentum Gallery
506 Warren Street, Hudson
Exhibition: Vestige by Jennifer Trask
March 26 - May 1; opening reception March 26, 6 - 8 p.m.

Ornamentum at SOFA-NY
Park Avenue Armory
67th & Park, New York City
April 14 - 17

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 03/23/11 at 03:20 PM • Permalink