artist statement
18 ORNAMENT 31.5.2008
he universal history of beads and amulets as personal decoration,
status symbols and the lure of physical attraction and bodyenhancement are contained in each component of my work—
hopefully imbuing the finished design with an inner spirit which
reflects both ancient traditions and a personalized creativity.
Tibetan Buddhist meditation and its ritual arts have deeply
affected my views and sensibility since an immersion in its study
and practices that began during a year of personal exploration
in India (1972). I felt an immediate affinity for the warm colors,
bright patterns and universally significant, mystical images of
that tradition, which still enliven my spirit and guide my hands as
I envision and accomplish my work.
If you were to visit the modest Victorian home and studio that
I have spent twenty years lovingly renovating, decorating and
filling with my work and art collections, you would understand
how unexpectedly—yet also logically—I came to the designing
of jewelry through many overlapping layers of career paths and
aesthetic delights.
I see my creative work as a continuity and fruition of
these intertwined paths. I have had rich adventures in
traveling the world, alongside of my experiences researching
and teaching art history; lecturing about comparative religions,
symbolism, shamanism, apparel and jewelry traditions; curating
exhibitions of costume, Tantric art and photography; as well
as writing contemporary art criticism and several published
books about American art, early Colonial gravestone designs and
Bolivian weavings.
Reflecting on why I eventually began to design jewelry, I am
grateful for my aesthetic groundwork. I have been trained as
a visual artist since early childhood, studying drawing, painting,
composition, and calligraphy; as well as receiving my college
undergraduate and graduate degrees in art history. I was fortunate
to have had a family that actively appreciated the arts, believed
in the educational value of travel and often attended cultural
events and museums. I was inculcated with a wanderlust that
led me to the Middle East and France during my teenage years; and
later, to Nepal, Tibet, Peru, Bolivia, Morocco, and Indonesia.
For more than thirty years, I made necklaces for my own
attire and enjoyment, or as family gifts. While traveling, I often
acquired beads or indigenous necklaces that were not in a secure,
wearable condition—either strung on frayed cords, or missing
some elements that would complete their symmetry or length.
So I began by restringing these pieces—finding ways to restore,
reconfigure and improve their appearance, while still maintaining
the integrity of their materials or history. This allowed me to ‘feel’
my way into designing, by understanding the native techniques
and components.
I aim to create bold, one-of-a-kind necklaces that will be valued
and worn as personal talismans, utilizing antique and ethnic as
AMMONITE AGATE NECKLACE of fossilized spiral mollusk ammonite, 9.525 x
7.62 centimeters in width, coffee agate beads, matching fossil and silver
buckle clasp, 2007. Model: Laila. SPONDYLUS TURQUOISE NECKLACE of
spiny oyster shell, turquoise nuggets, turquoise and spondylus rondelles,
redlip shell heishi, with apple coral bead as button closure, 2006. Model:
Svava. Photographs by Susan Schelling.
Artist Tamara Hill resides in San Francisco, California.
KNOT & RONDELLES NECKLACE of cinnabar endless knot
pendant, 6.35 centimeters, resin amber rondelles, burnt horn
pukalet spacers, ebony beads, vintage black plastic ball
button, 2008.
19 ORNAMENT 31.5.2008
well as contemporary elements to present an exotic, yet elegant
statement. Pendants or carved focus elements and clasps that are
set in silver are blended with other finely crafted components,
then hand-knotted and finished with macraméd nylon cords in
harmonizing hues. The closures are composed of either modern
gemstone clasps or unique, often vintage buttons that are carefully
matched to the overall style and effect of the piece.
My work is fashioned with quality beads in many sizes,
semiprecious stones, fossils, shells, rare minerals, and nature’s
treasures. Ambers (real and faux), turquoise, coral, agates,
quartz and mother-of-pearl are among my favored materials—
as well as artifacts, amulets and charms gleaned from the
inspiration of my travels and the pleasures of ‘focused shopping’
in the world’s bazaars.
Auspicious symbols and earthy hues enhance the antiquarian
look of these designs, and reflect both my studies and teaching
about ethnographic arts, signs, symbols, textile patterns, and
a fascination with the beauty of ancient adornment and body
ornamentation from many cultures. I have been able to develop
a number of collections featuring the universal symbolic
emblems and motifs that intrigue me—spirals, crescents, circular
discs, mandalas, endless knots—based on the materials and
saturated or subtle seasonal colors. I am constantly surprised by
what attracts me. Despite an ever dwindling supply of antiques,
there is such an abundance of other choices in the marketplace
now—fossilized ammonites, shimmering abalone, polished
and inlaid Spondylus shells, rainbow fluorite, picture jaspers,
mookaite, labradorite, amethyst—which I may reconfigure into
dramatic pendant pieces, or into draped, tiered and twisted ‘torsade’
multistrands in monochromatic or variegated hues and sizes.
Each bead represents a thought and a meditation—a passionate
process of blending historical awareness and far-flung sources
of inspiration with my own tastes and skills as an artist. The color,
selection, arrangement, and position of each element in the
overall design are a careful consideration, as well as the result of
patient, often tedious handiwork. This combines passionate
delight with meditative concentration, meticulous methods with
spontaneous synchronicities.
Structured symmetry is my usual tendency. To develop a style
or to challenge myself, I may devise asymmetrical or syncopated
patterns—seemingly random groupings of beads on multiple
strands, that require much arranging and balancing of colors,
sequences and sizes—which are deceptively more complex than
they initially appear.
Using a collaborative studio approach, I obtain and select the
materials and do all the designing and pre-assembly. I then work
closely with several longtime production assistants for some of
the finishing details, such as pearl-knotting and cording, and
have also recently coordinated with a skilled lapidary artist to create
the type of pendants that I require. I can then devote myself
to supply, design, publicity, photography, website, and other
business operations.
INSET SHELL NECKLACE of antique Oceanic clam shell circle,
5.715 x 2.375 centimeters, inset conus shell pendant, 3.175
centimeters, brown spiral shell button; ‘crown’ knotted nylon
cord, 2007.