VAIL — Some metal artists are drawn to the trade because they enjoy the pliability of certain materials. Others cherish the shine and sparkle of finished pieces when they catch the light. It’s safe to say that for those who work with metal or wear it, it holds some appeal to one of the five senses, usually sight or touch. But Emily Ehr’s nose just can’t get enough of it.
“For me, it’s the smell. I love the smell,” said the Denver-based artist and member of The Colorado Metalsmithing Association (CoMA), a group comprised of dozens of a wide variety of specialists — from jewelry makers working exclusively in silver, gold and precious stones to black smiths who build fireplace tools out of iron.
Whether it’s a bronze statue or a tiny silver earring, most metal art serves a purpose and requires a myriad of techniques ranging from state-of-the-art machines doing microscopic adjustments to good ol’ fashion hammering and pounding with tools akin to those used by cavemen. As an organization, CoMA provides its members with the opportunity to share and discuss their many approaches to metal.
MENTORING NEW ARTISTS
In Vail, CoMA artists not only share their design techniques but also their commercial prowess. A pair of CoMa artists can be found every Sunday operating the Karats tent at the Vail Farmers Market. The pair is typically an established artist and a younger, up-and-coming metal worker.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for mentorship,” said Karats owner and CoMA member Dan Telleen, who is hosting a weekend-long show featuring several CoMA artists this Saturday and Sunday at the Vail gallery. “The scope of work and talent is amazing. Of course we have jewelers but we also have blacksmiths. Every artist has such a different approach to metal. Some of the styles are mind-blowing.”
Even among the smaller group of jewelry artists, there are some who aim for a clean, polished, miniature masterpiece while others strive to make a precious stone — a diamond, ruby or sapphire — the stark centerpiece. Ehr is drawn to what she calls “the dirty metals that nobody wants to work with” because she believes their textures and weight offer a rash of warmth and personality that are often overlooked. She hammers jewelry out of brass, bronze and copper, maintaining the dents and waves for added character.
“These metals are heavy, they feel good on the skin,” Ehr said. “I like the chunky pieces that make a statement. You only need to wear one piece and people notice it right away. I like how you can hammer out different metals and manipulate them. You might saw it apart and you’ve got this jagged, sharp edge but you sand it down and pretty soon it’s a smooth, beautiful piece. You can roll it through a mill and get a flowered texture. You can get so many different textures. I don’t like a high polish personally. But the coolest part about the CoMA group is that everyone does something different.”
For artists in general, the ultimate gratification is seeing people admiring their work. For jewelry artists, of course, this means wearing it.
“Because it’s this art that is lasting, it’s so rewarding to see someone wearing my piece,” Ehr said. “Plus, metal takes the warmth of your skin and makes it visible.”