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Karen Olsen Ramsey: Dancing With Metal

Karen Olsen Ramsey

Karen's Studio in Sierra Nevada, California

LaVite Luccicante

Les Tres Baigneurs

Frog's Leap

Satsuma Vine-Back

Satsuma Vine-Front

I was introduced to Karen Olsen Ramsey through my friend, Beth Rosengard. I had asked Beth for recommendations on people she thought to be great jewelry designers/creators and she gave me a tremendous list of people….many of whom you will see in the blog over these next months.

Karen’s work is amazingly crafted and ever so lovely! She specializes in chasing and repousse which seems to be rarer to find these days so I started our interview by asking about her focus on this technique.

I like the fact that chasing and repousse are ancient metal forming techniques. I am very interested in lifestyles, items, and many of the time-honored values of prior generations. I feel the importance of slowing down, taking time, noticing and connecting with what we are doing on a daily basis. Working with my hand tools in my studio as I tap shape into my metal, I feel a sense of relaxation and peace. My pace is not hurried, nor am I concerned about a mass production run. To me, the process evokes a connection to traditional craftspeople, a respect for process that symbolizes quality, intention, and a reverence for life that supercedes the hurriedness of our modern daily lives.

I really enjoy working directly with the metal. I have carved and cast wax models in the past, and have enjoyed doing that, but I feel a real affinity with the metal itself. I love to see how plastic it can become, and I also enjoy the challenge. I have a strong background in woodcarving, which is a subtractive sculptural process. Forming metal sculpturally through chasing, repousse, and forging is a similar process, in that material is not added to create the sculptural form. Material is shaped, changed, or removed to create the dimensional form desired. Process has to be carefully planned and analyzed in advance, as mistakes are difficult (if not impossible) to repair. To me, this is the ultimate challenge. Envisioning and designing a piece of jewelry comes naturally to me. Taking my two dimensional drawings and executing them into three dimensional finished pieces takes careful planning, consideration, and patience. Sometimes I make prototypes of certain elements to work out the complicated fabrication processes before taking on the finished pieces in gold. Successfully completing a challenging fabrication is what brings me joy…knowing that I have the tools and experience to bring to fruition a design that originated in my head, and knowing that I persevered until it was complete.

Karen’s work is particularly unique in that the backs of her pieces are as finished and beautiful as the fronts. I asked about this…

I know a fine furniture maker who finishes the backs and bottoms of the drawers in his pieces as if they were the front sides in view. I really liked that concept when first I heard it, and have incorporated that practice into my jewelry as well. I want the backs and insides of my pieces to be respected as integral elements of the piece, and not just considered “the utility room”. Some pieces are designed with an element from the front side that carries over to the back. Others symbolically contrast the feel of the front. Sometimes a stone or pearl is set there as well. I don’t typically publish photos of the backsides of my pieces, nor do I show clients a drawing of the backside on commissioned work. It is a surprise element that is then looked forward to with anticipation while the piece is being made. Some clients flip the piece to the back as soon as they receive it to see what is there before spending time looking at the front. I feel that the backs of pieces are personal… it is the part of the piece that is only visible to the wearer, and they alone hold the prerogative to reveal or keep concealed that aspect of their jewelry. The backsides also remain an element of surprise. If a piece were to accidentally flip to the back side, the viewer’s response would be one of pleasure, rather than dismay.

It is unusual for someone to make all ear wires, chains etc. Why have you chosen this route?

This post first appeared on For The Love Of Jewels..., please read the originial post: here

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Karen Olsen Ramsey: Dancing With Metal


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