3 min read

A Conversation with Metals Instructor Jessica Calderwood


Your work explores personal narratives, including gender, relationships, and identity. How do wearable forms and the medium of enamel promote those ideas?

Enameling does something for me that paint does not. It has the ability to work on complex and dimensional forms; it can be fleshed out in large, industrial scale or taken to micro-detail. I have been working in this medium for over 15 years and I’m still captivated by the process.
I call enamel a marginal craft because it is a beloved stepchild to metalworking. It can’t exist without metal, but metal can certainly live without enamel. Not many people outside of the craft world even know it exists. I have often been frustrated by that fact and that it is a medium heavily dominated by women. I have thought about the place of enamel a lot and often question my own use of the material. With this current body of work that involves gender and identity, it makes perfect sense to use enamel, and I see it as a lens through which to view the content in the work.
I only discovered jewelry, as an avenue in my work, much, much later when I took a workshop from Keith Lewis. My fellow students said, “Just try to make one of those pieces wearable. Just try it.” It was serious peer pressure. Since then, it has become a core part of my studio practice, where the jewelry becomes part of a dialogue with the larger-scale work. I enjoy the fact that my pieces are often about the body and then have a life on a body.
What are you currently working on in the studio?
I’m usually working on ten things at once in my studio. Right now I’m making a brooch, a large enamel wall work, and trying to finalize some new work for the Racine Art Museum window installation.
How does your studio practice impact your teaching philosophy? And vice versa?
Teaching is one of the most challenging jobs I have ever had – it keeps me on my toes! What I love about teaching is the dialogue, the give and take. I get just as much energy and information from my students as I hope they get from me. It has made me a better artist by forcing me to expand my repertoire and to articulate my thoughts about art clearly.
Making jewelry has also taught me to be detailed, to really hone my craft. When something is 50 mm tall, every surface and mark matters and is examined. Working from large-scale to small-scale has made me hyper-aware of that and the differences in process. Changing scale exercises different parts of your brain. I try to pass those sensibilities on to my students, for them to question why they work in a particular scale and how to consider approaches to construction. I also stress the importance of craftsmanship and care for the process. I think I’ve been deemed the “craftsmanship police” at my school.
What are you most looking forward to during your time teaching at PenArt?
Honestly, I’m most excited about being back in Wisconsin. I recently moved away and am missing it quite a bit. Door County is such a beautiful area of the state. I can’t wait to return and be able to work there in a creative environment.
How can we find you and your work on social media and the web?
My work can be found on Instagram at ‘calderwoodjessica’ and online at www.jessicacalderwood.com


Jessica will be teaching "Creative Mark-Making in Enamel" June 8-10, 2017. Learn more about her workshop here.

Topics: Faculty Metals

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