Traditionally, jewelry has always been a supporting act in our quest for sartorial excellence. It is the necklace and earrings that draw our eyes to the face, the ring or bracelet that gives authority to a hand, the brooch that complements the neckline.
Wow. Our bodies beautiful are in for some serious competition when used as foils for the jewelry on display at Florida Craftsmen Gallery's "From the Ridiculous to the Sublime" curated by Tim Keogh.
The 15 artists and fine craftsmen who created their collections often push hard against our assumptions about accessories. The conceptually designed and beautifully wrought pieces lend to and require from the wearers a sense of authority and self-confidence.
Tom McCarthy is probably the most recognizable name in the group, having a reputation among collectors for his avant-garde combinations of fine metals and bits of concrete. His work seems restrained compared to some of his fellow exhibitors.
A fabulous brooch by Liaung-Chung Yen, for example, is fashioned from slender rods of gold and oxidized sterling silver into a delicate rectangular box encasing a tiny sculpture resembling a pair of scales, one dish embedded with a diamond, another with a raw diamond crystal, and leveraged on another metal rod. Its dimensionality, when pinned on a jacket or dress, could require a handshake instead of an embrace when greeting another.
The same could be said of Ford and Forlano's assertive flower pin, a riveting work composed of hammered silver petals arranged like a stylized sunburst dotted with small polymer clay beads. With about a 5-inch diameter, it's a different kind of statement jewelry, staking its claim without employing any bling.
Which seems to be the point of much in this exhibition. There is subtlety and spareness in the best, but they come with grand scale or clever detail that gives them a sense of importance we usually associate with lots of precious stones.
Those stones are here but generally used as little accent marks rather than big exclamation points. A gold pendant by Jen Townsend features a very pretty, old-fashioned garnet. Then she swags it with cat whiskers. Cat whiskers! They're enough to get anyone's attention but you will also find, if the wearer allows you to get close enough, an optic lens embedded beneath the garnet that projects your face back to you as you admire the necklace.
Jewelry should be fun. The trick usually is to avoid kitsch, which Biba Schutz manages in a pair of oxidized silver "bird cage" earrings, sculptural objects that are elegant, not cute. As are pieces by Carla Reiter, who literally knits strands of silver into intricate filigree.
This isn't exactly interactive jewelry but it's certainly entertaining. It may or may not be investment jewelry but all of it is invested with personality.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at lbennett@ tampabay.com or (727) 893-8293.