Big News!! The “Poppy” is going to Sotheby’s Yahooooooo. Keep your eyes open, and watch our updates. The Poppy will travel for many of Sotheb’y’s clients to take a look before the auctioning NY, Magnificent Jewels, April 2019.
The Making of The Matilija Poppy to Benefit the Mendocino Art Center:
From Bud to Blossom
Matilija Poppies, Romneya coulteri, are crepe papery white flowers with sunny centers that bloom as large as your open hand. Come late spring and early summer, the Mendocino Art Center (MAC) always boasts a stunning display of the show-stopping, statuesque California natives. Famous for being hard to grow, the care of these persnickety perennials can be tricky. But what is apparent is that you want one, you want to hold it, you want it on your table. It draws you in and mesmerizes you. You never forget seeing one in person.
For all of these reasons, the Matilija Poppy proved to be the perfect muse for a budding project conceived in 2016 by MAC Jewelry/Metals Coordinator, Nancy Gardner, and my friend and colleague, acclaimed jewelry artist Tom Herman. Together they envisioned Tom leading a hands-on jewelry crafting workshop that would lead participants into collaborating on a piece, which would be auctioned to benefit the MAC’s jewelry/metal arts program. Tom immediately thought of me to join him in this endeavor, contributing not only plique-à-jour enameling to the piece, but also to instruct a workshop at MAC on the process.
The roots of our desire to work together on such a project went back a few years to late 2014, when we simultaneously fell madly in love with an incredible example of plique-à-jour jewelry: the Ada Brooch.
Seeds of Inspiration: The Ada Brooch
A colleague of Tom’s had informed him of an enamel brooch he needed to see on exhibit at the Forbes Galleryin NY. It was hung on a pedestal in low light and it was astonishing, and well worth the trip. When the Newark Museum purchased Ada Rehan’s Morning Glory Plique-à-Jour Brooch, we told Ulysses Dietz, the Chief Curator, of our interest. He was kind enough to have us visit and view the brooch first hand.
And I mean first hand…. In our hands, this amazing jewel changed our lives as jewelers.
The brooch is just stunning, the structure showing no signs of stress. The colors of enamel flow softly and gently along the forged and chased gold stems and buds. The three dimensional flowers and buds allow the light to shine through to enhance the color of enamels in this plique-a-jour beauty.While filling large open cells on reoccurring surface curves, the artist accomplished an outstanding feat!
At the turn of the century, Marcus & Co. was the gold standard for art nouveau jewelry and was known for their plique-à-jour brooches. The Newark Museum purchased the Ada brooch not only because of its unique and unseen style in plique-a-jour, but also because Marcus & Co. began in Newark. The Ada Brooch is beyond anything else Marcus & Co. had ever created – so beautifully crafted and intricately enameled.
As makers, Tom and I became obsessed with the construction of this piece, captivated by all the details from how languidly it moved to its unbelievable integrity and apparently stress-free structure – for going on a century.
We researched its history as much as possible, and added to our own educated estimates that it must have taken between five and seven craftspeople to bring the Ada brooch to life. It would take a collaborative process to devise something so complicated, and yet so elegant.
Enter, the Matilija Poppy Project – and challenge – to faithfully follow the Ada brooch’s example to create a three-dimensional, plique-à-jour piece. Accepted! With all the artists going to the MAC for the workshops, we had our cadre of craftspeople. And we knew where we wanted to start. We just had no idea how long it would actually take.
Germinating ideas at the MAC workshops
While it might be nice to picture a balmy summer day with our crew basking in the inspirational glow of a sea of Matilija poppies to kick off the project, the truth is the MAC workshops commenced in January 2017 in a swirl of wild winter storms that brought downed power lines, closed roads and severe flooding.
Still, nothing dampened the enthusiasm of about a dozen metalsmiths and eight enamelers, who immersed themselves in our workshops where we taught the techniques of fabricating, chasing, saw piercing and plique-à-jour. And along the way, these smiths also made important contributions and suggestions to shape the early design phases of the poppy.
Picture this in your mind ~ petals that are as lightweight as crepe paper, folding effortlessly over itself, large yet upright to the sun, elegance in natural form. It reminded us of the iconic Marilyn Monroe picture of her dress billowing around her. Other images floating through our minds were the solar panels weightlessly unfolding on a spacecraft. It was this type of fertile brainstorming that helped launch the project out of the MAC workshop. As Tom noted, at times there really is no clear path, all you can do is start and adjust as you go. So, it became apparent that our biggest hurdle would be to translate the delicacy of this flower into a structurally ridged and secure piece of metal and glass.
Once we got the drawing down, we had no idea what it’s anatomy would look like because we didn’t know what the stressors were based on the weight of the form we drew, we just knew it had to have a certain dimensionality and rigidity to be a brooch.
For example, we had a problem with support for the two leaves. We decided to place a bud between them to offer them structure and support. Its placement was also necessary to anchor the plique-à-jour leaves, and to put them together with the rest of the brooch. While this wasn’t what we saw in our model, we came to realize that we needed to use our artistic license and place it there.
For two weeks straight, the lessons of the Ada brooch were in full force. Back in the days of its construction, historically, several artists working on one piece was more common. In the last 50 years or so, the notion that an artist has to do everything solo is pervasive – and not at all true. With this attitude, not only do you spread yourself thin, but you ultimately don’t do it so well.
The MAC workshops were a powerful testimony to the collaborative process. A great example of this was the poppy’s stamens. It was no easy trick to get those little spikes to stand just right, but one of Tom’s students, Dawn Nakanishi, had the perfect approach.
We covered a lot of ground during the MAC workshops, but by the second week it became clear that a piece of this magnitude was going to take more time than what we had in Mendocino.
Plus there were a few setbacks neither of us could’ve anticipated – for which, once again, the Poppy Project proved to be the perfect solution.
The power of the Mendocino Poppy Project
While we were in Mendocino, Tom felt like he might be developing a sinus infection. When he got home and things didn’t improve, he went to the doctor – and received a devastating diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Less than 10 days after returning home, he began aggressive chemotherapy treatments.
Tom said that his passion for the Poppy Project was his saving grace through those dire days. Even when he felt lousy, it was better to feel like crap at his bench, working on the project, than laying in bed. With the help of his son, Ethan, he fabricated, chased, and carved each piece. Tom then fused them in segments that could be disassembled for the enameling process and relatively easily reassembled. Then he shipped the beautiful framework he’d created to me.
On my end, an old back issue flared back up, and I needed surgery shortly after I received the poppy from Tom. Like him, I’ve found that when I’m determined and have something other – and greater – than pain to think about, it makes all the difference.
Spring brought renewed strength and with it, the poppy pushed me to a new level in my practice of plique-à-jour enameling. I could hear the voices of the old masters behind the Ada brooch whispering my ear, helping me figure out how to get just the right color combination to make the flower’s buds, leaves and petals come alive in all dimensions.
Beyond the flower itself, we had also included a crab spider, which are native to Matilija poppies. Bob Weinstock was photographing the poppy for us for more references when we first noticed her. We discovered that the female crab spiders are able to hide themselves by turning the color of the flower, something which the male crab spider is unable to do. This sweet little girl we included is both a nod to the Naturalism Movement and also to a real spider we noticed peeking out from under the stamen of a live poppy we used as a model.
It took approximately 800 hours for the enameling and about 1200 for Tom and Ethan to saw pierce the petals and leaves. Not to include the hours in Mendocino with all the hands helping.
The fruit – and flower – of our labor
We completed the Matilija Poppy in Oct 2018, and are so grateful for the help of several fellow artists including Ethan Herman, Diana Casabar, Nancy Gardner, Bob Weinstock, Dawn Nakanishi and John Cornacchia. As it is with real Matilija poppies, it was at first tricky to figure out how to structure the piece – but in the end, has proved to be a piece we are all so very proud of.
Spring of 2019 the approximately 3” x 5”, 18-carat gold with diamonds and fine plique-à-jour enameling, Matilija Poppy Brooch will be auctioned at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewel Auction in New York City, with ALL proceeds to benefit MAC’s jewelry/metal arts program. We are so pleased to support this gem of an organization. Please contact us if you’d like more information about the Mendocino Matilija Poppy Project.
Tom Herman and Patsy Croft
more on The Mendocino Art Center History https://www.cloisonneenameljewelry.com/matilija-poppy-mendocino-poppy-project/
The Matilija Poppy Brooch is created here by Tom Herman and myself Patsy Croft for the benefit of the Mendocino Art Center. In our journey of studying the Masters of the past we have come to realize the magnificent jewels of their time were not created by one. Contributing artist Nancy Gardner, Bob Weinstock and Ethan Herman all play a large part in tis amazing project. Stay posted as we share our journey. Gold for this project was donated by the Mendocino Board member John Cornacchia and the artist are donating their time to support the school.
A weeks work with Tom Herman, Patsy Croft, Nancy Gardner, Bob Weinstock, Ethan Herman.
Almost time to enamel!
Photo of a Matilija Poppy
The Beginning.. this cute little part will become the stamens. Dawn shared this with us as one of her students had shared it with her.
The tube will be placed inside the stamens and act as a bolt to attach to the stem.
Now on to the buds. We have planned two unopened pods. Ethan was busy on this.
Here he made a form into the piece of wood after Tom made a paper bud as a model.
You can see the two pod parts on the left.
Pod parts assembled and ready to be chased by Master Bob Weinstock.
Nancy busy making leaves, chasing leaves and saw piercing leaves.
The stigma and stamen coming together.
The underside of the stigma will act as a nut and screw to the stem to hold all petals in place.
Here the stigma and the stamen will attach to the branch, between the stamina and the branch will be the 6 petals.
A nice stem from the garden to help us with the placement of the flower and pods.
Lots of photos to work from.
Celebrating a few tiny things we had make before Ethan leaves us.
More calculation to make the flower petals.
Nitric depletion of parts to start enameling.
Master Bob Weinstock chasing the leaves.
And Bob’s beautiful chasing on the flower buds.
Pieces are coming together.
Our team head Master getting excited.
Bob has shaped and now chasing the flower sepal.
With Nancy Gardner’s help the flower is coming together.
Look like my flash did not fire *(
Time to head home, in less than a week we made lots of progress!
Stay tuned as we continue from our own studios.
The Matilija Poppy Brooch will go to auction later this year to raise funds for the school, Mendocino Art Center.
Matching colors for enameling. These are my test plates.
It is time to make our connection, this will pull everything together and I will be able to start the enameling process.
Here you can see all the parts and how they go together. As you have read in the beginning of my posting Tom has had several talented jewellers help him work on this project but he has differently been the Master of the smithing! And now it is on my bench to enamel. Check back as Mendocino Matilija Poppy evolves. Patsy and Tom
I will enamel the stem and buds of the poppy first *)
And here we are at the finals. )(U&^$^%#^#&%*
We are heading to NY *))))))
Tom Herman http://sevenfingers.com
The work of Tom Herman is ornate, but not flamboyant. Romantic yet modern, evoking classical metalworking traditions from long ago. No two pieces of Tom Herman’s jewelry are ever alike, because he designs and carves each item, taking for inspiration organic forms such as leaves and flowers, or the cut of a stone he’s created. Tom’s heirloom-quality jewelry is not the kind of work that will sit in the bottom drawer of your jewelry case.