Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Legends and Renegades

This is another in the series on 'Legendary Jewelrymakers' - people who have broken new ground and opened possibilities for expression using personal ornaments as a means to tell a story.

Merrily Tompkins is a groundbreaking artist from the Northwest, a self-described Renegade Artist. She creates on paper, in three dimensions and in jewelry as a wearable art piece with a narrative story.

In an earlier post I wrote about her brother, Don Tompkins, who was also a well-known Northwest jewelry artist. Merrily was born in 1947, fourteen years after her older brother. She studied with him as her teacher in college.

It's difficult to describe Merrily Tompkin's work, there is such variety and a subtle underlying sense of humour. She works in unusual media, including matchsticks, seashells and tree boughs. Sometimes sculptural portraits made larger than life as mosaics, public art that becomes part of the landscape and miniatures that are personal ornamentation.

She creates what she describes as 'Renegade Jewelry' made to be a point of departure toward artistic expression, much less about the talisman in the objects and more about the storytelling aspect.

She was noticed first as an artist for her metal work in the early 1970s, while following the lead of her older brother Don. She took classes from her brother when he was teaching at Central Washington Universary in the 1960s.

Describing her work as multi-media, three-dimensional, figurative, narrative' art, many with moving parts, she believes that the stigma of 'art vs craft' is ebbing due to the emergence of art jewelry.

The pendant in the photo at the right:

"Slow Boat" pendant, (portrait of Ken Cory), 1976, enamel, sterling, wood, copper, brass, painted stone, pencil, lacing, Tiger Balm tin, domino

The mother of three children, she found that raising twins, three boys all together, did sidetrack her artistic productivity for a while.

Working since the early 1970's making object sculputures, metalwork and kinetic jewlery, she has a body of work that was featured at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Bulture in Spokane, WA in the spring of 2008.

Her work was also shown this year in the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution as part of 'Ornament as Art: Avant-Garde Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection' from March 14-July 6, 2008.

I'm sorry I wasn't able to attend that exhibit. It included a collection of 275 pieces of jewelry created between 1963 and 2001 that were compiled by Helen Williams Drutt. The Drutt Collection is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Art Houston (MFAH), an international collections of jewelry that redefines the idea of personal decoration.

The collection is currently at the Mint Museum of Craft & Design (Aug. 16, 2008 - Jan. 4, 2009) so check it out if you have an interest and you are lucky enough to be in Charlotte, North Carolina before it ends after the holidays.

Merrily Tompkins is a twice awarded National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, and the exhibit 'Down to the Nitty Gritty' at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture this year was the first museum exhibition of her work in thirty years.

Photo at Left:
"Thank You, Hide" pendant, 1976 - copper, brass, sterling, enamels, wood, leather and found objects 15 1/2 x 5 1/4 x 3/4 in.

There are many things that I find inspiring and interesting about Merrily Tompkins' work, but high on the list for me personally is the freedom she shows in moving from narrative jewelry with found objects to three-dimensional exhibited sculpture. She creates tongue-in-cheek works that have a message, sometimes cultural and sometimes political. But never sentimental.

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