This is the story of how Miriam’s study abroad experience inspired her to create a series of necklaces based on the display of goods in Italian open-air markets. Thank you Miriam Rowe for contributing your wonderful photos and story to arttrav!

miriam3

I knew I needed inspiration.  Athens, Georgia, where I had been for almost four years, had a lot of exciting things to offer, but I was tired and felt like my artwork was suffering because of it.  I’ve always looked to my surroundings for artistic inspiration, but I had seen the same things for so long, I felt like I needed a change.  This change came in the form of a chance to spend my last semester of undergrad studying in Cortona, Italy with the University of Georgia’s study abroad program. 

miriam4

As part of my final semester of my BFA degree in Jewelry and Metalworking, I was required to create a series of pieces with a related concept or technique.  I wanted to be inspired by my surroundings, and I had heard enough good about the Italian experience to hope that it wouldn’t fail me.  Our program met in Rome, spent a few days there, then moved on to Florence.  I saw so many museums and churches in those few weeks — more objects and concepts than I could absorb at once.  While I took in all of the exquisite and masterful works, I looked at how the themes, concepts, and techniques of these masterpieces could be translated into jewelry.  My notebook from those few weeks was filled with ideas for my show, but even with all of the ideas that Rome and Florence inspired, I couldn’t find anything that inspired me enough to make a whole series of jewelry.

After a few weeks of travel, our program moved to Cortona, a small but historically important town in Tuscany where we would make our home for the next few months.  We got to Cortona, settled into our new lives and learned our way around town.  I spent a lot of time pouring over ideas and designs, looking for a way to let Italy inform my work.

a market
a market

Eight weeks away from my show, with no concept and no work, I was starting to get desperate.  One night we had a professor from the program give a talk about her work, and she spoke about doing what you love.  I had a flash of clarity, then reached for my sketchbook and spent the next hour writing down the things about Italy that appealed to me the most.  By the end of the evening, I had the theme for my show and had designed my first two pieces.  I spent the weekend doing some experiments; seeing how the materials would translate into jewelry and making sure the technique would be the best one to use.

I had decided to work on markets, something I observed and loved in Italy. I would create a series that explored the playful use of goods found in Italian markets in the context of jewelry. I noticed that, like artists, market vendors use color, line, and repetition to advertise their wares, so I designed a series of five neckpieces with those design elements in mind.

vintage lace
vintage lace

The five necklaces in the series explore different goods sold in marketplaces: produce, clothing, linen, and jewelry itself.  The visual elements of the neckpieces were inspired by vendors’ displays, using form and repetition to draw in the viewer. These neckpieces explore form through the repetition of similar shapes, using materials found in marketplaces as design elements and content.  All of the necklaces were cast using the lost wax process and were made with Shibuichi, a Japanese Silver-Copper alloy.

 

Cloth
Cloth

The lace necklace is carefully flattened and shaped, while the cloth necklace looks like cloth that has been picked up and handled by passers-by. The necklace made with jewelry fragments uses portions of many different pieces of jewelry bought in Italian markets to create one cohesive display out of many smaller jewels.

Seeing produce displayed in open-air stalls, out of the normal grocery store context, adds a new level of interest to the wares.  Instead of being packaged together in plastic or thrown into a pile to be picked through, these individual fruits and vegetables look like gems on display.  The long strands of peppers hung from market stall roofs were the inspiration for the red pepper necklace’s slices of peppers hanging off the chain.  The mushroom and kiwi necklace shows the produce displayed in a different way: sliced, sorted, and carefully arranged.

The show at galleria il pozzo
The show at galleria il pozzo

I held my show at the Galleria Il Pozzo, an incredible art gallery in the basement of a tabacchi on Cortona’s main street, Via Nazionale.  The Galleria carries all kinds of art work- from leather-bound books to paintings to ceramics- the greatest thing about this venue is that there is an excavated Etruscan well, a few millenia old inside the gallery.  This very typical Italian venue was the perfect setting for this collection, titled “Market in Metal”.

While sipping on a glass of Tuscan wine at the opening reception for my show, I looked at the series of necklaces that had taken so much of my time over the last few months.  The long days and nights, doing little but working in the studio with short breaks for meals and sleep, were suddenly worth it.  I was in Italy — I was inspired and life was good.

Miriam Rowe has been making jewelry since she was ten years old.  She received her BFA in Jewelry and Metalworking from the University of Georgia in the United States.  In the fall she will be attending England’s Birmingham Institute of Art and Design to work towards an MA in Jewellery and Silversmithing from the largest jewelry school in Europe. To see other art projects or to read more about her time in Italy, visit www.miriamrowe.com

Sign up here to receive future blog posts in your inbox