A conversation with jewelry curator Ivy Ross. Exploring the tension of opposites, the balance of man and machine

Interview  /  Curating
Published: 17.05.2017
Ivy Ross Ivy Ross
Rob Dean
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Genevieve Howard. Set: The Song of the Chanter, 2016. Japanese linen paper and elastic cord.. Photo by: Genevieve Howard. Genevieve Howard
Set: The Song of the Chanter, 2016
Japanese linen paper and elastic cord.
Photo by: Genevieve Howard
© By the author. Read Copyright.

Ivy Ross, a respected Silicon Valley executive who began her career as a widely collected jewelry maker, joins Patina Gallery owners Allison and Ivan Barnett as co-curator of a contemporary jewelry exhibition in July 2017 exploring the intersection of humanity and technology. Crafted Visions: The Tension of Opposites at Patina Gallery in Santa Fe. Inspiration for the exhibition comes from the world premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, The Santa Fe Opera’s production based on the life of Steve Jobs and his spirit of revolution.

Ross’ innovative metal work in jewelry is in the permanent collections of 12 international museums, including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Vogue magazine called her 1980s New York City store “one of the most influential” of the decade. Since then, Ross has headed the design and development teams at several major companies, including, among others, Google, Mattel, Calvin Klein, Coach and Bausch & Lomb.
She took time recently for a conversation ranging from the power of creativity to the rewards of making jewelry.

Regarding the Patina jewelry exhibition in July, please outline the unifying themes of your career and describe the spirit of curiosity that propels you.
Ivy Ross: I’m a builder at heart. I build brands and products, but it’s important that I started as a jewelry maker. It is the greatest gift I was given. As a maker, you face a challenge and work through it with your hands. I intimately understand making things with my hands, as well as the process of making millions of things. I understand how something is built. Knowing that helps me to be a whole systems thinker.

Technology relies on a two-way process of creativity. It forces the maker to engage the art lover, the client. The receiver participates. Take 3D printing for example. It allows the designers to create the elaborate patterns of nature that we could not produce any other way.

It is important to you that you are a maker. Why is that fundamental to your work as co-curator of the “Crafted Visions” exhibition?
Ivy Ross: I often imagine being a maker someday again. Imagination is very powerful. I know I’m going to get back to it. I hold it very close to my heart. Every so often I stop what I am doing to imagine what my pieces would look like if I were a maker again, and I find myself always smiling and the work is always evolving.

I love all art - ceramics, glass, wood. But Jewelry is special to me. The materials one can use are wide open making it even more creative. And the fact you must consider the human form is an exciting challenge. Now I collect jewelry, and that is a creative act itself. What I choose to wear each day reflects my mood or the spirit in the moment. Jewelry is both decorative and can be used for creative expression.

Erich Zimmermann, earrings, Cocoon Pendant Earrings, 2016, 18K rose gold with platinum ear wire, 
Pod length 20 mm. Photo by Patina Gallery.

What attracts you as co-curator of this jewelry exhibition? Why should Patina’s artists and clients be excited?
Ivy Ross: Patina has one of the best eyes for things that are truly well constructed pieces that are beautiful to wear. Patina offers talented makers and a variety of materials. That interests me.

Ulla and Martin Kaufmann, necklace, Gold and Tourmaline, 2016, 18K gold and tourmaline.
12.7 cm inside diameter, .64 cm band depth, stone is .64 X .64 X .64 cm. Photo courtesy Patina Gallery.

I am very much aware of the balance between hand and machine. Technology makes us more creative. We don’t have to choose handmade or technology. We can choose both.

With jewelry made using 3D printing, for example, hands are not forming the piece, but technology in that case is still helping advance the artist’s perspective. It makes new patterns possible. It’s a different twist on technology - where the artist pushes the boundaries. It is a creative act to ponder.  … I love asking questions because it’s always interesting to imagine the answers and the possibilities, and technology can help us do that. Much of what have become traditional jewelry tools are technology; i.e., the flexible shaft machine and the drill press.

Genevieve Howard, jewelry designer, Crafted Visions: The Tension of Opposites, 2017, Patina Gallery. Photo courtesy of Genevieve Howard.

What are your steps in the creative process that leads to this collection inspired by Steve Jobs and Mason Bates’ opera?
Ivy Ross: I’m interested in technology that amplifies what the mind and hands can do together.
Steve Jobs asked, “Why can’t we use beautiful design as long as it works?” He created choice and options for people. I like the tension of opposites. I like the idea of polarizing because it gets the blood going. That is what’s refreshing and revolutionary about it.
Jewelers and artists do the same. They have a vision. Often without regard to money, they are committed to seeing that vision through. I really respect that.

Sandra Enterline, earrings, Large Perforated Double Dome Drop Earrings, 2016, Oxidized sterling silver, 5.63 cm length with wire, 2.51 cm. Photo by Patina Gallery.

You will present jewelry as an interpretation of the broad themes of Jobs. How can jewelry add to the story of Jobs and technology?
Ivy Ross: I start by thinking what Jobs stands for: A clear aesthetic. A pulse on what society is looking for. Not accepting the status quo. He brought beauty to machines. Pushing boundaries. Jobs’ core principles come out in many forms.  There are other things one can look at through the same lens. We are just having fun applying that to jewelry in this case.

What distinguishes a jewelry exhibition inspired by Steve Jobs and the opera about his life?
Ivy Ross: I don’t expect people to say, “Oh my God, this is Jobs-inspired.” It is a celebration of the underneath tone of the Jobs’ legacy. It is an excuse to pull together those things that in the co-curators’ minds reflect the values and the legacy that Steve left.

Technology for technology’s sake doesn’t excite me. What excites me is technology that puts beauty in more people’s hands and allows them to express themselves. Steve Jobs created choice and options for people. I like the tension of opposites that he exposed. Jewelers and artists do the same. They have a vision and are committed to seeing that vision through.

About the Interviewee

Ivy Ross, co-curator of Crafted Visions: The Tension of Opposites, is a vice president at Google. She is respected for her ability to creates unique collaborative environments with her teams. She studied jewelry design, and her innovative metal work in jewelry is in the permanent collections of several top museums.
Vogue magazine called her 1980s New York City store “one of the most influential of the decade.” Since then, Ross has headed design and development teams at, among others, Google, Calvin Klein, Coach and Bausch & Lomb. As a team leader, she is known for creating collaborative environments for innovation.

About the author

Rob Dean
has been Patina’s storyteller since 2015. A teacher, book editor and community volunteer, he published on the history of Santa Fe, N.M., in 2010. He holds an M.A. in history and was a newspaper journalist for 38 years.