In Conversation with Mike Holmes - 25 years with Velvet da Vinci

Interview  /  HistoryGalleries
Published: 03.02.2016
In Conversation with Mike Holmes - 25 years with Velvet da Vinci.
Sanna Svedestedt
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Velvet da Vinci, founded in 1991, is a gallery of contemporary craft specializing in art jewelry and metalwork. Located in the Russian Hill/Polk Gulch district in San Francisco it has become a hot spot and a regular must see stop for jewelry enthusiasts.
Hi Mike!

Congratulations on the upcoming 25th anniversary of Velvet da Vinci. How do you plan to celebrate this milestone?

25 years. Crazy! What an amazing time it has been. We have a series of exhibitions throughout 2016 celebrating the current state of contemporary jewelry and craft. Tom Hill: Birds has just opened to great success and will be followed by one-person shows by Julia Turner, Mark Hartung (sculpture), Nikki Couppee, Brooke Marks Swanson and Keri Quick. We also have a large group earrings show that should be a blast. Later in the year we have “Shared Concerns” organized by Melissa Cameron and a thematic two-person exhibition by Demi Thomloudis and Motoko Furuhashi. The gallery is also utilizing the beautiful freight elevator space for three new site-specific installations. Amy Tavern and Kat Cole have used this soaring space to great effect in the past. Watch this space!

 Amy Tavern, In Between (installation), 2014 paper, mixed media
Photo: Velvet da Vinci

Can you name a few of your favourite exhibitions that have been on show in the gallery over the years, and what made them special?
One of the ways Velvet da Vinci will celebrate 25 years is to highlight some of the gallery’s past exhibitions. We will showcase significant artists and shows on our Facebook and Instagram pages. I think the AntiWar Medals exhibition best typifies what Velvet da Vinci does best. This large international show protested the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Specifically not juried, the show toured the world for three years was open to any jeweller who felt strongly about the horrific impact of the invasion and subsequent occupation. Pieces from AntiWar Medals were acquired by The British Museum, The Victoria & Albert Museum and the Imperial War Museum.

La Frontera was another very political exhibition responding to issues surrounding the US/Mexico border. The pieces were from all over the world but many were from Mexico and the exhibition was a powerful statement about the complex geography between the two countries. The dangerous lives of migrants/refugees is even more in the news today as politicians seek to provoke fear and racism in elections in the US and internationally.

Large thematic exhibitions like Ferrous and WOOD showcased how much contemporary jewelry has moved beyond traditional precious materials and techniques.

Ferrous Postcard, 2012
David Choi, Bracelet, 2012. Steel, 7.5 x 7.5 x 4 cm
Photo: David Choi, Card design: Kent Tayanaka



What are some of the biggest changes of in the art jewelry field that you have noticed as you have been developing Velvet da Vinci?
Alternative materials and the impact of new technologies have changed the jewelry field in huge ways. Social media now allows artists the ability to reach a large audience very easily. Jewelry is as exciting as it has ever been but I think there is a danger in always looking for something new and forgetting the extraordinary artists that have come before. I wish there was more awareness of our jewelry history. The Alexander Calder Jewelry and Margaret da Patta retrospectives a few years ago were great well-received achievements, but there are so many other deserving artists waiting to be given there time in the sun. 

Today you represent a little over 50 artists from all over the globe. What qualities are you looking for when you search for “new” talents? 
I do not add artists to the gallery very often but recently I added the wonderful work by New Zealand jeweller Jane Dodd. Her kind of strong individual vision is what I look for in jewelry. It is hard to pin down what draws me to an artist’s work but there is a magic that comes from the idea, material, and maker that appeals to me. It is what all gallery owners strive to find and what jewelry collectors respond to. That search is still exciting even after 25 years.

Jane Dodd “Frosty” Paw pendant, 2016
Cow bone, sterling silver, silk cord. 6.5 x 5 x 2 cm
Photo: Velvet da Vinci

I have been showing some artists for many years and part of my job as gallery owner is to encourage makers to follow their work into new forms or interests. Being open to that evolution by established artists is as important as finding “new” talent.

What do you find most important in the relationship between artist and gallerist?
Honesty and openness are what I work for.  I try to do the best I can for an artist, to exhibit and promote their work to its best advantage.  One of the best parts of running the gallery is the many terrific relationships that have developed over the years. I actually met my husband-to-be Tom Hill in 1996 in London when I was organizing BritainNOW, an exhibition of UK jewelry and metalsmithing.
What are the future goals of Velvet da Vinci?
Working with my wonderful team Sienna Freeman, Diane Komater, Nikki Couppee and Amy Tavern I hope that Velvet da Vinci can continue to celebrate the fantastic diversity of the jewelry field. I am lucky to be a California-based gallery with a loyal local audience that  is eager to embrace new ideas. Many thanks to friends, colleagues and collectors that have support Velvet da Vinci these past 25 years. I hope to see you in San Francisco soon!

A5 - Adam Grinovich, Romina Fuentes, and Annika Pettersson
“Aeon Profit – Piano Forte” installation, 2014
Photo: Velvet da Vinci


Mike Holmes portrait
Photo: Tom Hill