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Ethical, Sustainable Jewelry-Making in Spotlight at Miami University

By Steve Rosen · April 21st, 2010 · The Big Picture
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As the sustainability movement gains ground — in food production and dining, in transportation, energy use and housing — another front is emerging: sustainable crafts.

Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Miami University Art Museum, sustainable metalsmith Gabriel Craig of Houston will speak on “Crafting Activism in an Age of Ambivalence.” That will be followed by an exercise in conceptual jewelry-making called Performance: The Pro Bono Jeweler at Shriver Center’s West Patio 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday. Essentially, he takes his studio into the street to engage passersby in how jewelry is made and then gives away the silver bands he makes.

Videos of his past performances, as well as examples of his work, are on display in the exhibit Adornment and Excess: Jewelry in the 21st Century at Miami’s art museum now through July 10. (For information, visit www.muohio.edu/artmuseum.)

Craig is not the only person spreading the word on this. As part of its CraftSummer program, Miami is also bringing in Christina Miller, co-director of the nonprofit Ethical Metalsmiths (www.ethicalmetalsmiths.org) and assistant professor of metalsmithing at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, to teach a July 5-9 course on “Jewelry: Greening Our Methods and Practices.” Information is available at www.craftsummer.org by going to the schedule page.

During a telephone interview, the 26-year-old Craig spoke about the two key issues driving ethical jewelry-making.

First, commercial metal mining is environmentally damaging. Second, handcrafted, one-of-a-kind jewelry has become a high-priced, high-end market for the “artsy-fartsy crowd,” in his words.

“The idea of transparency is very prevalent in our culture right now,” Craig says. “People are choosing to eat organic food as they realize how food is produced, how animals are treated and what chemicals are put on food. I’m involved in getting people to think about it for jewelry.”

Craig has a Master’s of Fine Arts degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, where he’s taught courses in jewelry, metalwork and craft/material studies. He also maintains a Web site called conceptualmetalsmithing.com.

The chief ethical problem with metalwork is the mining, he says. “They dig a huge hole in the ground four to 10 miles wide and several miles deep and the raw rocks they dig up they put on eight to 10 acres of tarp, spray it down with chemicals like cyanide that leach into the rock, bond with and melt metal, and then run off,” he explains. “Then they take the runoff, extract the gold and have this waste with cyanide. The entire idea of destroying the landscape and spraying it with toxic chemicals to extract gold or silver is an ill-thought-out system.”

The answer, Craig says, is for jewelry-makers to use — and for their customers to insist — on recycled metal as much as possible. “Metal has to be extracted the first time, but after that it’s pretty much infinitely recyclable,” he says. “It can be melted down and reformed pretty much in perpetuity. So make sure metal is coming from repurposed or recycled materials and avoid creating demand for newly extracted materials.”

So why buy jewelry at all? Wouldn’t it conserve resources to reject all manner of adornment?

“Since the beginning of history, people have always adorned themselves with something, whether clothes or beads or feathers or silver and gold jewelry,” Craig says. “It’s part of the innate human drive to decorate and differentiate ourselves. We need to think about how to educate people of the issues and alternatives related to that.”


CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: srosen@citybeat.com


 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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