When Jewelry Isn’t “Just Jewelry”

When Jewelry Isn’t “Just Jewelry”

Installation shot from Beyond Ornamental
Installation shot from Beyond Ornamental

I don’t wear jewelry, however, I will often see amazing jewelry come in to the gallery shop at Main Street Arts and I will try it on just to make sure. Wearing it isn’t for me, no matter how hard I try! (I do this all the time, just ask Sarah. I even did it today) However, the idea that I am drawn to it always sticks with me. I see many of the pieces as something to look at and think about, just like any other art form. That is the impetus for our current exhibition, Beyond Ornamental.

A sculptural necklace by Myung Urso and brooch by Loraine Cooley
A sculptural necklace by Myung Urso and brooch by Loraine Cooley

While jewelry is certainly meant to be worn, there are other aspects of this art form that are even more interesting to me. Thinking about the craft of jewelry making, I have such an appreciation for the often minute details that must be considered. The forming of links for chains, cutting shapes out of metal, shaping and polishing stones, threading beads into ornate patterns… These are things that the average person may not consider when they look at handcrafted jewelry, but that is what makes one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces different from their mass-produced counterparts. These things were all made by the hands of the maker in their studio and they are special for that reason.

"Domentzia Collar" by Ashley Landon-Halabuda
“Domentzia Collar” by Ashley Landon-Halabuda

Jewelry often transcends being strictly functional and becomes an art object in its own right—a painting, a sculpture. There may be some kind of narrative or meaningful symbolism behind the work. Loraine Cooley often uses the shape of a boat as a symbol to represent the journey each of us takes throughout our lives. Some pieces may have very specific titles that make you recall historical people or  events. Ashley Landon-Halabuda titled one of her more ornate pieces in the show, Domentzia Collar, referencing an Empress from the Byzantine Empire.

"Brown Coil Zulu Necklace" by Katie Nare
“Brown Coil Zulu Necklace” by Katie Nare

The materials may be chosen for very specific reasons, as with Myung Urso who uses Asian inks—among many other materials—as a way to connect to her birthplace of South Korea where she learned the techniques of Korean calligraphy. The patterns could reference those found in another culture, as in the work of Katie Nare. Her passion for travel is a way for her to celebrate the diversity of the human experience.

Ulterior Triple Band Double Finger Ring by Brittany Rea
Ulterior Triple Band Double Finger Ring by Brittany Rea

Sometimes, jewelry can be about the experience of actually wearing it. The work of Brittany Rea is sculptural and interacts with the body in ways that won’t let you forget that you are wearing jewelry. Other times, it can be strictly about whats happening on or in between the surface(s), as with Heather Bivens’ enamel glass work where lifelike insects seem to rest on the neck of the wearer, causing a second glance from passersby.

Brown Recluse
Brown Recluse Necklace by Heather Bivens (will get second glances for sure)

All of this is to say that jewelry isn’t “just jewelry”, it is another way to communicate ideas through artwork. So, whether you are an avid jewelry collector or if you are like me and you’re contemplating buying brooches to frame and add to your art collection, do yourself a favor and pay a visit to this exhibition before it closes.


Beyond Ornamental features work by 6 jewelry artists from our region. Work from the exhibition can be previewed and purchased through the gallery’s online shop. Beyond Ornamental runs through August 16, 2019.

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Closed 7/28 through 8/3:

We will be closed to the public Friday, July 28 through Thursday, August 4 as we install our next exhibition, Inspired By Nature. Please join us for the opening reception on Friday, August 4 from 5 to 8pm!