Rob Dean in Conversation with Pat Flynn. A legendary goldsmith honors the power of keepsakes and memory

Interview  /  Artists
Published: 16.10.2017
Pat Flynn Pat Flynn
Rob Dean
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Pat Flynn. Earrings: Petal Earrings, 2017. Iron with 22- and 18-karat yellow gold and diamonds set in palladium.. Photo by: Patina Gallery. Pat Flynn
Earrings: Petal Earrings, 2017
Iron with 22- and 18-karat yellow gold and diamonds set in palladium.
Photo by: Patina Gallery
© By the author. Read Copyright.

The warm glow of winter – the gentle flickers of light, the soft echoes of tranquility - inspires the legendary goldsmiths of Patina Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to take time for meditations on nature and color, and on the subtlety of light and touch. One of those legendary goldsmiths is Pat Flynn, known for the nail bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces he makes in his studio in upstate New York. He seemingly speaks for goldsmiths everywhere when he says, “I like when people ask: How did you do that?” Flynn is one of the featured goldsmiths in ‘Tis the Golden Season, an exhibition of new jewelry opening at Patina Gallery on Friday, December 15, 2017. Flynn took a break in his studio recently to talk about jewelry making.

What will see when they explore your work in Patina Gallery?
The pieces will be very functional, very wearable. They will be open to interpretation. Somebody might see a surface as the texture of a feather or the texture of bark. I like it that they are open to interpretation.
You look at some pieces by other makers featuring gemstones and precious metals, and say, That’s very pretty. I want to go further. I don’t want to make things that are easy and too buttoned up. The pieces I make are hard to make. They make my hands hurt. Yet my pieces are understated.
I like when people ask, How did you do that?

Why does the idea of handmade move you?
There is an aspect to handmade that runs against the trend to make things look old and worn and use. You can buy new clothes that are made to look worn: torn jeans and scuffed shoes. Like so much today, these are not real. 
The handmade thing will continue to be valued even more as time goes on.
I think people crave an object that says a human being made this piece. The energy I put into a piece is exhausting. Handmade pieces have a magical quality, a bit of my soul. It’s a piece of me. The tool that’s worn like that; I didn’t buy it like that. I earned that.
I try to make work that is strong. It is not especially feminine, but it can be fine and delicate and fragile. Tender is a word I would use to describe my work. Yes, the beginning processes are akin to blacksmithing, that is contrasted with fine goldsmithing skills. I relate to that dichotomy, the tension those opposites establish is a theme that is carried through in numerous other ways in the work.

 Pat Flynn, Bracelet: Jacquard Cuff, 2014. Iron, 18 and 22 karat yellow gold dust.

What is influencing you recently?
I am keenly aware of not making pieces that are boring. I’m looking at surfaces of the pieces. I’m working with a more painterly quality. There is an aspect of the pieces that is challenging because of the construction techniques. A lot of the pieces are a nod to other processes pared down to minimalist thinking. I am reducing some of my work to fundamental tools like the saw, file, and hammer, and respecting the materials and lines that these tools provide. The exhibition also will show a continuity of working with steel.

As a maker, how do feel or respond when you someone wearing your jewelry?
The pieces I like most when I see and hold them are quite old. It’s amazing how they’ve held up and have worn - pieces that have become a receptacle of a person’s life and memories. Not long ago a man brought me a piece for repair. He said he was wearing it when a beam fell on him. He claimed that the bracelet saved his wrist. I don’t know if that is true, but it is an interesting retelling. I’m probably a little naïve about how much my pieces mean to people. I know they mean a lot to people. The pieces are meaningful because they are so important, such a keepsake, vessels for people and their memories. I have my time with the work and then it goes out to communicate for me. The pieces have their life with me on the bench. And then I let them have their life and not over think the process and overwork the materials. I know they leave here and have their own future.

Pat Flynn, Bracelet: Gold Dust Cuff, 2015. Iron and 22 karats yellow gold dust.

What ignited your passion for making jewelry?
An art teacher told me about making jewelry. I fell in love with it. I bought a craft jewelry-making kit. I bought a few books. I love the speed involved in making jewelry. I felt I needed to try to get out and try to make a living with what I learned. I have put myself in situations where I could practice and really learn my craft, the way writers or dancers or actors learn their craft. I worked for a number of years in the background for other makers. I worked in a factory and as a bench jeweler, and I was teaching some. I worked on my own jewelry at home at night. I learned how important one’s jewelry can be on a personal level.

What’s new from you for the December show at Patina?
I want to keep the mysteriousness in a piece. I don’t want my pieces to be all buttoned up. I like pieces that are open-ended, open to interpretation and let the viewer in. I want to make a series of new bracelets. There will be some with hinges and locks. They are a starting point for exploration. I want to explore the sorts of qualities the pieces might have. I live with a piece for a while and think that’s a really special material. Then I’ll work the piece to refine it and change things in minor ways and in ways I am not even aware of. There will be pieces that create a whole different form of energy that’s really quite magical about how they came together.

About the Interviewee

Pat Flynn is a goldsmith who lives and works in High Falls, New York. His iconic nail bracelets combine blackened iron with 22-karat and 18-karat yellow gold, 18-karat palladium white gold, diamonds and pearls. His larger cuff bracelets incorporate hinges and box clasps that not only suit functionality for the wearer but display meticulous craftsmanship. Each piece of jewelry is hand forged by Flynn, often incorporating fused 22-karat gold onto the iron. He is a master of subtle texture, working the surface with varying tools from the hammer and graver, to etching and filing. This attention to detail, technical control, and a combination of disparate materials creates unparalleled elegance in his jewelry. Flynn’s work can be found in the collections of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Art & Design in New York City.  His work has most recently been acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

About the author

Rob Dean has been Patina’s storyteller since 2015. A teacher, book editor and volunteer during his 25 years in Santa Fe, he published a book related to the city’s 400th anniversary in 2010. He has an MA in history and was a Santa Fe journalist for many years.