The Curse and the Gold. A Polyphonic Approach to Education

Published: 11.12.2020
Saskia van Es
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Pre-Hispanic gold object, the Banco de la República Gold Museum, Bogotá, Colombia. Photo: Ruudt Peters..
Pre-Hispanic gold object, the Banco de la República Gold Museum, Bogotá, Colombia. Photo: Ruudt Peters.

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What happens if three seasoned jewellery makers and one art historian join forces out of impatience with the current state of jewellery? Ruudt Peters, Ted Noten, Gijs Bakker, and Liesbeth den Besten initiated an educational platform called MASieraad. The first year of every two-year Master's programme has a theme. The forthcoming curriculum kicks off with "Challenging Gold". It can be read as an invitation for critical minds from all fields: "We are looking for architects, designers, philosophers, bricklayers, and dentists to challenge gold!"
Jhana Millers, This Brooch Cost Me My Credit Card (Kristin), brooch, 2013. Photo: Jhana Millers.

Common denominators
MASieraad grew from Ruudt Peters’s observation that the field of jewellery could use some freshening up. “Somehow it is paralysed.” in Ted Noten’s words. Education could be the spell to break that curse. With Gijs Bakker, Ted Noten and Liesbeth den Besten aboard, preparations started. Numerous sessions followed to determine what is needed to propel a new kind of Master’s programme. One of these get-togethers ended with the entire team plunging into a Dutch lake. Quite symbolic for the venture perhaps: no turning back. These strong-headed experts, who have often been opponents throughout their careers, sat down and formulated the common denominators for the degree programme. As founding statements, they were published on their website. This struck me as an admirable exercise, and not an easy one, which was later admitted. A captivating detail: MASieraad left the Dutch word ‘sieraad’ untranslated, as a nom de guerre and a reminder of the revolutions in jewellery that originated in the Netherlands.

Gijs Bakker, Shadow Jewellery, bracelet yellow gold 585, in jewellery box, 1973. Photo: Gijs Bakker.

Gijs Bakker, Shadow Jewellery, an image of a thin gold bracelet pushed up on the upper arm leaving a temporary imprint, 1973. Photo: Gijs Bakker.

How do they expect the upcoming generation to react to the wisdom offered? “With a clash!” Peters laughs immediately, “As in ancient Greek drama, they have to kill the father!” Bakker, himself, one of the above-mentioned revolutionaries, pauses but agrees: “We can only share what we have learned over the years. At the same time, every generation has to stay suspicious of the assumptions they are being fed. I for instance loved it when the Italian Memphis group broke all the rules in design you can possibly think of.” “For me, it is different because I am not a maker”, thinks Den Besten, “When teaching at jewellery schools, I have noticed most students have no idea about history, and what jewellery can tell us about humankind, cultures, trade routes, cultural exchange, political alliances, war or colonization. There is a gap. So, these empowering stories will be my ‘wisdom’ for the programme.”

Set of Ecclesiastical Vestments, Dalmatic, silk satin with silk and metallic thread embroidery, and metallic braid trim, Mexico, ca 1730, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo: LACMA / Wikimedia Commons.

The monastery and the city
In 2018-2020 MASieraad began with a temporary Master’s ‘Challenging Jewellery’. After talks with several educational institutes, MASieraad has now landed at PXL-MAD Hasselt, Belgium. In combination with Amsterdam, it will be MASieraad’s home base starting next academic year. A quick internet search learns that Hasselt promotes itself both as a historical university town and an incubator for start-ups. I see that it has some remarkable cultural institutions for its size, like the Fashion Museum and Z33. Noten: “That is right. And the department at PXL-MAD School of Arts is very well equipped so you can concentrate as a monk. Counterpart periods in Amsterdam will connect students to the vibe of that city and its jewellery network”.

Atelier Ted Noten, Wearable Gold, ready-mades shoe size 39, 230 grams 24 krt gold insoles. Photo: Atelier Ted Noten.

Numerous Nuances
The first Master’s was led by designer duo BLESS. This time, at MASieraad Hasselt-Amsterdam, the four initiators will be directly involved. Each will teach as a duo with a partner, who is preferable of another generation and with a different outlook on jewellery. Art historian Liesbeth den Besten envisions a philosopher as her partner in crime: “How would say, a semiotician read objects like a piece of jewellery?” Ruudt Peters will team up with Scottish artist and contemporary jeweler Paul Adie. The main force in Adie’s work is his personal relationship with the taboos and morals found both within the field of craft and our society. Ted Noten’s partner will be designer Frank Verkade. Verkade explores the malleability of the human form through speculative body objects. Gijs Bakker will go into depth about form since he noticed that often students lack knowledge about this most essential of design principles. He will teach in tandem with art and design theorist Louise Schouwenberg. Being trained in psychology, sculpture, and philosophy, she combines an understanding of the hands-on artistic process with a philosophical interest in art and design practices. Her main interest is the close relationship between people, things, and contexts, and how they co-shape each other. This set-up, with diverse teachers who don’t always agree with each other, prevents MASieraad from delivering a class of clones after two years.
Even in the talks to prepare for this article, some diverging nuances presented themselves. For example, Gijs Bakker stated that “jewellery is an object on or near the body, to which the maker relates tactilely and emotionally” – an impressive definition if you ask me. But wait, ‘near’ the body? Ruudt Peters says: “At first when I start to make something, I don’t think about wearability. But it is an important issue. It is not always easy to bring a piece of jewellery out in public, it takes a solid person.” For Liesbeth den Besten jewellery is communication: “Some say we invest a piece with new meaning when it moves from the bench to the wearer. Another approach is that the objects and materials ‘have a life’, regardless of us being nearby.” Ted Noten does not care that much about what someone does with his work: “To never wear it and to take it with you in your coffin, is as good an option.” What position to take? It dawns on me that the process of taking a position is a continuous effort.

Garden pots and golden beer can. Photo: Liesbeth den Besten.

How about MASieraad’s call for… dentists and bricklayers? Ruudt Peters clarifies it like this: “In the first edition of MASieraad, we did not only have jewellers but also students with a background in fashion, economics, acting and curating. Insights from other realms proved of an incredible value, both ways. The door is open for more cross-overs.” For Gijs Bakker, this has to do with a set of jewellery qualities, that can serve as an approach to any discipline, considering things like detail, the human body, intimacy, ritual, and tactility. So, I ask, when is MASieraad Hasselt-Amsterdam a success? “When students gain new insights.” “When MASieraad becomes an institute, a movement.” “When they create alternatives for the current gallery system.” “When something originates, not necessarily jewellery, that contemplates the human scale.” “…and for sure they need to have a lot of fun.”
Again, a myriad of answers. But on this one thing, the initiators of MASieraad full-heartedly agree: they hope that students will question what jewellery stands for and explore what is the new gold. Noten: “It could be the bitcoin for that matter! Open up and wonder!

Ruudt Peters, Ouroboros “Wunstorf”, ring, silver, marcasite, gold leaf, 1994. Photo: Rob Versluys.

Learn more
Information on MASieraad Hasselt-Amsterdam.
Instagram: @masieraad
An online Q&A is scheduled: join MASieraad for a virtual Q&A session with the MASieraad educators
December 22, 2020, 17:00-18:00 hrs CET (Amsterdam time zone)
Email for ZOOM invitation.
MASieraad consists of Ruudt Peters, Gijs Bakker, Ted Noten, Liesbeth den Besten, Liesbeth in ’t Hout and Leo Versteijlen.
Statements and IGTV videos

Lauren Kalman, Embodiers, badges, lacquered brass, steel, 2018. Photo: Lauren Kalman.

About the author

Saskia van Es​
(Amsterdam, 1972) is an art historian. She writes texts on contemporary jewellery, such as exhibition reviews. Her fascination: jewellery materials. She was a board member of the Françoise van den Bosch Foundation. More at