2nd Place - Silver/Argentium® Silver
An artist who originally worked in sculpture and painting, Wolfgang Vaatz creates what he refers to as "wearable sculptures," which are meant to engage the wearer and the viewer in a dialogue. He lives and works in Rio Rico, Arizona, and frequently draws inspiration from his natural surroundings. This is Wolfgang's first Saul Bell Design Award.
MARLENE RICHEY: TELL US ABOUT YOUR WINNING PIECE, "UNTITLED."
Wolfgang Vaatz: The metal work in the piece is hand-fabricated, shaped and soldered in sterling/Argentium® Silver with fused, unrefined placer gold (which is above 90 percent gold) from the Yuba river in California, along with 22K gold. The design was textured with hammers and engraving tools, then the piece was oxidized. The stone is quartz crystal with natural tubes and was carved by Tom Munsteiner.
MR: WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR THE PIECE?
WV: The Tom Munsteiner stone was the inspiration. I liked what Tom was doing with the stone by honoring the natural tube in the crystal. Once I saw the stone, the design started to form.
I cut my own cabochons and always focus on letting the stone "speak" with its pattern or "abstract painting" of different colors, so I appreciated what Tom did with this quartz. The light reflection within the stone became a painting, the dimensions a sculpture with negative space.
MR: WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT THE PIECE?
WV: The main thing I like is how the stone and metal meet and work together to create more visual depth to the stone than if it would had been set in a traditional setting. Also, I like the functionality of the box clasp in the last segment of the necklace.
MR: WHAT ARE THE MAIN INFLUENCES IN YOUR ART?
WV: Seeing color, shape and form as its own language is very important to me. A line in a composition can tell an entire story. There was a lot going on that revolutionized the art world in the late 19th century and laid the foundation for most of the design elements we know today. Proportion and line were very important. Art history is the basics of my design knowledge. However, the inspiration for my artwork is the natural landscape, not the interpretation by others but the way I observe and experience. It can turn into a realistic motif or an abstract composition. For example, the placement of boulders in a riverbed and the interaction of the shapes and space with constant changing reflections of moving water can lead to an abstract design or a "painting" in metal.
MR: WHEN ARE YOU MOST CREATIVE?
WV: When I have spent time outdoors, having been able to truly immerse in the natural environment—that is what keeps me creative. Walking off the trails towards a canyon or along the riverbed where no one goes, just hearing, seeing, and feeling the surroundings—paying close attention to what is going on around me.
MR: WHAT IS YOUR COMPANY'S NAME?
WV: earth terra erde. All three words mean "earth" in different languages to emphasize earth; my jewelry has an earthy quality. The idea came from having lived in different countries and speaking different languages.
MR: WHAT IS YOUR ARTIST STATEMENT/DESIGN PHILOSOPHY?
WV: I strive to translate experiences I have had within the natural landscape into my artwork. Having a painting and sculpture background, I use a more experimental approach when creating jewelry, combining different metals and shapes while adjusting the technique to match the material. I play with asymmetry in my jewelry, though having a well-balanced composition and emphasis on a sculptural, painterly look and a textural feel are also important.
MR: DESCRIBE YOUR CURRENT JEWELRY COLLECTIONS.
WV: Currently, my work is influenced by wave and water action, forces of nature I experienced at the seashore. In cuffs, little ripples carved in the metal reflect light as it is reflected off the water. Everything that is happening around me when I am in nature is sparking the creative process. I do not design "collections." They are all individual pieces. My jewelry is about observations and experiences. In my "Aspen" pieces, for example, the sun and the wind moving leaves are hard to capture in a painting, but I have been able to capture them in jewelry because unrefined placer gold/gold nuggets reflect the light and the piece sparkles with the movement of the wearer.
MR: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MATERIAL TO WORK WITH?
WV: I was passionate about cutting stones when I began, but I don't have the patience for the slow cutting and polishing process anymore. I use a mallet when I work in sculpture. So to switch to a hammer to mold and shape metal was a natural transition. I love the malleability of metal and that you can carve in it.
MR: WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU MOST LOVE ABOUT YOUR STUDIO?
WV: When we moved from Sedona to southeastern Arizona, I needed to shrink my studio, which had been 2,000 square feet, to under 500 square feet. It has forced me to become more organized, which I am happy about.
My studio is on my property. Originally it was a guesthouse, so I just have to walk out the door. The view is towards the west, which looks over our small town, and in the distance I see the mountains with two peaks fairly close. I have an excellent view of the sun setting. I love this time of the day. I stop my work and go outside to watch the sun set. During monsoon season, when there is a thunderstorm, the colors are beyond paintable. Very intense and dramatic. It is amazing. This is all translated in my jewelry.
MR: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TOOL?
WV: The tool that gets the results I am looking for in the design. It can be the torch, the hammer or the flex shaft. Or my engraver. It is all about the result. And I couldn't work without magnification of some sort, such as, an Optivisor, and a microscope.
You can see more of Wolfgang's work at wolfgangvaatz.com.
Interview by Marlene Richey