A home in Tacoma

>> I’m republishing this as I had a couple of little corrections from Micki overnight. She also very thoughtfully added a note that I will take up in another post:

I would suggest that you tell a little bit about the research that you did and the heart felt sensitivity that you displayed in this situation.

Micki Lippe

>> I absolutely will. I’ll link to it right here once I’ve done it. Previous posts about this work.

Back when I was living in Seattle I found out that the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington State – a quick trip down the I-5 from my Queen Anne home – has a pretty decent collection of contemporary studio jewellery. More than decent, in fact. I was surprised. Plenty of museums are pro decorative arts and/or craft, but surprisingly few have much on permanent display, or host regular exhibits. It was this AJF article that alerted me to TAM’s collection, in which Rock Hushka (current Director of Northwest Special Projects at TAM) actually said that “The jewelry collection is the fastest growing component of our permanent collection.”

They back up that support in their exhibits – the time I went to the museum was for the opening of Protective Ornament: Contemporary Armor to Amulets curated by Suzanne Ramljak, former editor of Metalsmith magazine. While in town for the opening she also spoke at the 19th Annual Seattle Metals Guild Northwest Jewelry / Metals Symposium in 2014 (for which I was on the organising committee) so us attendees got a special opening reception and tour of the show. At that stage the museum had several permanent display cases set up for jewellery, in which was arranged works by all of the significant Pacific Northwest jewellery artists.

I should also mention that in that article about Rock and TAM, written by Damian Skinner in 2013, Rock says that TAM’s mission is to collect works by Pacific Northwest artists that contain some sort of narrative thread.

Back in 2013, into my second year of making in the USA, I was still reeling from the Sandy Hook massacre and its aftermath of, well, bloody-awful government negligence. Their inaction prompted my action. Come April, I was getting uncomfortable in my studio whilst designing the first pieces of what would become the Escalation Series. Each piece was made from a domestic object, to cement its association with everyday life, and told a story about a particular weapon type. Chosen from history or from current times the weapons I focussed on were intended, when seen together, to reflect our history of being at war with ourselves.

Seeing my works gave Micki Lippe – Seattle jewellery living legend (she’s in the TAM collection of course) – an idea. It soon became the sort of commission that in equal parts delights and fuels dread in the heart of a recycled-object-reworking artist. She gave me the old Stanley lunch box (a beautiful example of 90’s retro chic that any teenager in the 90’s would have coveted, myself included,) that her daughter Tanya owned = delight. Tanya Lippe had died many years earlier = apprehension.

With it she gave me a book of poetry written by Tanya that was published after her death, and told me that maybe I could do something like cut Tanya’s words into the steel. A few pieces would be good, so then she could distribute them to a few of her family members.

I did not cut many of Tanya’s words into the steel – in the end the words I cut were the name of the poem that I used in designing the works, My House, and the name of the collaborators: Tanya’s full name, and my full name.

The rest of what I designed and hand-cut is a whole other story, but the outcome was a piece displayed in the 2016 Bellevue Arts Museum biennial Metalmorphosis. I sought and received permission from Micki to enter my proposal for the work into the juried BAM show, and in a nice piece of symmetry it was displayed around the corner from the works made by Micki that commemorated one of her friend’s losses – her house in rural Washington State to the fires of 2015.

in 2018 I convinced Micki to model the piece for me.

In the image above Micki wears on her back a heavy black cloak made from an unwanted inheritance, while her front drips with an assortment of jewels. The cloak carries images, scenes imagined by her departed daughter; flowers and honey, beach pebbles and pearls, bones and fog, waves and tears. The jewels allow the motifs to intermingle; pearls, tears, flowers, driftwood and wave caps all shimmer and rock against one another.

As the picture illustrates, I’d strayed from the brief more than a little. I had accepted the lunch box as a commission. In changing the brief – Metalmorphosising it you might say – I changed the scale and complexity of the work I was going to deliver. Micki graciously accepted the explosion of her container into a cloak of one colour. And she appreciated its display. But once it was done, neither she nor I felt as though we had ownership of the result. Tanya owned the box, she wrote the poem, it’s her cloak, the jewels are formed to her words.

To step around the issue for a bit we wrote a proposal to exhibit our works together, but our two sets of black jewels would defy our attempts. Perhaps it was our proposal, or maybe it was the content.

The cloak gives form to a poem by a Northwest artist, made for her mother, a Northwest artist, by storyteller who was at that time living in the Northwest. As a keeper on Northwest stories it seemed logical that Tacoma Art Museum to be its caretaker, so Micki and I asked them to accept My House – Tanya Lippe’s Lunch Box as a gift. Towards the end of last year they graciously accepted.

In its particulars, this is a Northwest story. My House, the poem, captures a moment of Tanya’s life in Seattle. Her work and therefore mine reference Northwest scenes; where Tanya mentions a prison, I found an image of a fence at a local women’s facility to portray; where it says ocean, I sourced another of a choppy day in Puget Sound.

More broadly though, the narrative of this work must include the facts of its existence. The mutually acknowledged owner of the work, my collaborator on the project, is dead. Were she living she may never have consented to the publication of her poem My House – in fact she may never have sought the publication of any poems. Were she living the lunch box would not have become the property of her mother, and would not have accrued the significance that it had by the time it was handed over to me. And we may or may not have met, making our collaboration even less likely.

Were she living, this would not be her work. But because she is not, it is.

Loss caused the piece to exist. It had to effect the form, in that it was made for Micki because of her loss.

This part of story is of course not unique to the Northwest. A mother’s grief, the continuance of life in the face of trauma, learning to live with loss, and the accrual of baggage; these stories are universal. They are the invisible version of this cloak and jewels, the ones we wear everyday. For Micki, and because of Tanya, I was able to manifest this version.