- Patina Gallery
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Jewelry maker Claire Kahn creates finely textured, seductively supple necklaces and bracelets using tiny beads and precious stones. With intricate hooks and knots invisible to the eye, she crochets what she calls infinity ropes, each handmade and one of a kind. To the touch, the bead ropes are snakeskin. To the eye, they are the complex mosaic on the face of an Italian cathedral. An exhibition of her latest work opens Friday, December 16, at Patina Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. While preparing to open Peaceable Kingdom, Kahn took time to answer questions about art, influences and her 2016 move into the “peaceable kingdom,” her Northern New Mexico dream studio.
What is new for 2016?
I moved from the Bay Area to Northern New Mexico. I melted when I came into what is now my home and studio. I fell in love with the house. It is a modern house made with tactile and sensual materials. It has interesting angles and wonderful spatial qualities. I love all the glass, which provides an ambiguity between out and in. The moon bathes the property in light. That’s really beautiful to me. It is very tranquil. For my work, the place is certainly inspiring the process.
Please describe them pieces you are working on for the new exhibition.
I've now finished one necklace, all white and gray, almost like chalk. It's a mate to one the gallery has, but this one has a line of sapphires that add quiet color and sparkle.
I am also working on another pair of necklaces that are inspired by fall color. One includes gold and tourmaline. It’s a color palette I plan to use in more pieces, but I am finding the color changes here in the Pojoaque Valley, as fall gets into full swing, amazing and may evolve the scheme a bit. Perhaps I can make a series of pieces that track the changes. I’ve also noticed the change in color happening in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with stands of aspen, so a piece in deep blue purple with yellow could be part of a new collection.
Claire Kahn, Necklace: Untitled, 2016, Cylindrical Glass Beads.
Progression from White to Blue to Black
Discipline and technique explain your craft, but describe your ideas of beauty and design?
Jewelry making is unlike anything I have ever done. It’s scripted. Generally I don’t like scripted. With design, you should get into it and change it. You can’t change the beaded rope. So there is a kind of regimented process about it. For many years I designed large water features, including the Fountains at Bellagio. I worked with a nine-acre lagoon at The Bellagio. Fountain design is pattern making with water. It is kinetic, so the pattern had to do with movement.
My work has gone from large to tiny. But in the end, it is pattern making. You can’t design a bead rope on a computer. You have to create it where you are sitting. I like that it is truly original. I like design and color progression. I don’t like styling. I generally don’t like it when people think a piece has to be made to look literally like something.
How does it motivate you as an artist when you see a client wear your jewelry?
There is purpose to my pieces. The “wearability” of them comes through. With each piece, it is worn. It has a purpose. It isn’t completed until it’s worn. I love design that is contextual. For me, that’s the definition of design. To quote my father, “Design is the art form that is incomplete until it is engaged.”
Describe your creative process that creates the interplay of color, pattern and texture.
All colors are equally fabulous. My feeling about colors depends on the relationship of one to another. I love opposites coming together. It’s a big thing with me. Very rich neutral results when colors mix. It takes a tiny unit to pull that off, or a great distance. I love beads. I love the boxes for beads. I love the chests for the boxes. I love stones. If one thing informs my design, it is the stones. I discover them everywhere I go. I bought some beautiful opal at Indian Market recently.
Does living in New Mexico deepen your connection to the Southwestern patterns, colors and textures long familiar to you?
I would like to explore those materials again. Now that I live here it will be from a different perspective, and I'm not quite clear on how to approach silver, turquoise and jasper. It used to be more novel. But I do know that I will always adore these materials and will enjoy using them as inspiration for my work. Often it's the discovery of a fabulous collection of stones that inspires a piece. I do appreciate that many of the most beautiful materials are mined in the region. That as a possible theme is very exciting.
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