The Storyteller Tells Her Story. Part the Second.
A Three-Part Art Bead Scene Interview
with Beadmaker and Jewelry Designer Nina Bagley
In this second post installment continuing my on-line conversation with Nina Bagley, I expanded the questions from the set that are usually asked of Jewelry Designers on Art Bead Scene blog and asked some directly about her inspirations, aspirations and what’s next for her designs.
ABS: I know you’ve been making jewelry for over twenty years, and you have taught many people in that time. Who were and are your mentors and inspirations?
I started making jewelry as an extension of 3-dimensional embellishments that I created for pillows, then sweaters, then fabric belts that featured layered scraps of antique lace; the embellishments consisted of antique beads (glass, pearl), antique lace ribbon, and velvet ribbon.
As the embellishments grew more dimensional and focal, I realized they would make lovely brooches, and then necklaces. This was in the early 1980’s, when I lived in Chapel Hill, NC and was doing free-lance artwork / sewing design for a small exclusive shop (Lavender’s) that featured antique linens and jewelry. I can’t really remember any particular influence or inspiration at that time. I think that perhaps Glenn Lavender himself was a large inspiration to me, as he loved antique textiles and beads, and encouraged me to incorporate these things in my work.
When I moved back to my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, I began making mixed media jewelry to sell in art festivals, then in my home at Christmas.
My mentors now? Currently I give a big nod to my online friend / student Minnie Helvey, who sent me a simple, beautiful little choker of leather and silver charms for Christmas. I have worn it every day, and have since then begun to work in leather with my designs. Minnie has been a great encouragement, and has sent me gifts of leather scrap and leather tools for my work.
I also love the work of British textile artist Cathy Cullis, and own quite a few pieces of her designs (and have given several pieces of her jewelry as gifts to friends).
I owe a lot to my friend Lesley Riley as well, who is an accomplished and greatly talented fiber artist; we’ve been friends for going on ten years, and although we live hundreds of miles apart, we spend 20 or 30 minutes (or more) most mornings chatting online about art and life. Lesley has listened, encouraged, given honest feedback about my work, given me many wonderful ideas to use as starting points.
As for actual canvas artwork, I’ve loved the work of friend Misty Mawn for several years, and have been inspired by her as well. Although we’ve gone in different directions with our work, I continue to be in awe of what she creates with her hands.
Well known artists include Andy Goldsworthy, who creates magnificent works out in nature, of sticks and stones and flower petals and ice. One of my life dreams is to work with Andy – one can dream, right?!
That is a very interesting question, considering that I’m in the process of greatly cutting back my teaching time – a decision that has come after much thought, meditation, prayer, discussions with friends. I’ve taught all over the world at this point, and have taught with great regularity in this country for the past nine years. Nine years, going on ten! When I write that, I find myself raising my eyebrows in disbelief that it’s been so long.
I remember the first class I taught, at Artfest in Port Townsend, Washington – all the way back in 2000. I was petrified, and not sure of what to say, what to discuss. A friend recommended, when Teesha Moore wrote and invited me to teach, that I do it with a co-teacher; this was not the easiest decision, and the first class had its ups and downs with the juggling of who taught what. I’ve learned a lot since then about the role of teacher and the role of student, and can honestly say that I now know what constitutes a good class. (and, I might add, I am a very poor student!!).
There is a huge amount of work involved in the weeks leading up to teaching a workshop; my classes usually include a kit, and with classes holding upwards of 25 students (sometimes more, in the case of Artfest) I spend many a day planning the class, writing the description and handouts, pouring over the materials list to make sure something is not omitted (or that too many things will go unused), purchasing supplies for kits, assembling the kits themselves. Travel is expensive and exhausting; I more often than not fly to teaching venues, rent a car, drive added hours after arriving at the airport to reach my destination. Time change makes it a challenge as well, when traveling from the east coast to west, and back again.
And, finally, there is the challenge of remaining fresh, of coming up with a project for class or a collection of techniques that have not been previously taught. Is it worth it? Usually, yes. The joy comes from seeing students who had, prior to coming to class, been afraid to express themselves, to learn a new technique. “I’m not an artist, I’m not creative”, they say before we begin; and by day’s end, they are beaming with pride.
ABS: Do you prefer teaching with a group or creating in solitude?
Currently? I’m beginning to savor the luxury of creating in solitude. Exposure has had its costs, its penalties. I’m happiest when creating in the solitude of my tiny little cluttered studio, when feeling the flow that comes from uninterrupted creativity. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll continue to teach; I’ve been at this, as I said earlier, for many many years, and am just not sure how much longer I’ll be able to keep up the stamina, to stay fresh, to feed the demands required from an instructor.
ABS: Along with the jewelry design and creating personal adornments to be worn, you also create collages in the shapes of boxes and books. How did you get started making jewelry, and if you have a preference which do you most like to design, wearables or non-wearables?
I began making jewelry after designs on embellished sweaters, belts, and pillows became more and more dimensional (picture a central item on a taffeta wrap sash placed where a buckle would ordinarily go; picture it being dimensional, with rumpled lace, sewn faceted glass beads, a metal cherub, and you’ll see where it began).
When I look back at the pieces I first created as jewelry (brooches, first, then necklaces followed), I’m amazed that I’ve reached the level where I am today ….
Those items were mostly textile, embellished with antique bits and pieces (remember this was 1983 when I began) such as watch faces, antique broken jewelry, tiny glass bottles created from, of all things, decorative grape clusters of glass.
The books followed later, when I began reading Teesha Moore’s Studio zine, back in the late 1990’s; I was very, very inspired by the work that she shared with the world, and began creating art journal pages late at night when I was going through a divorce.
I credit artist Janet Hofacker with inspiring me in this regard, as well; I ran across an issue of Somerset Studio that featured her art journal on the cover, and filled an entire inch-thick blank journal within a month or two. And, just as with the textiles that leapt from clothing to jewelry, I began taking my journal work outside of the pages and onto boxes. It was only natural that I then began to make art books from scraps of old books and findings, using jewelry techniques to bind and adorn.
Which do I prefer, as far as wearables or non wearables? I’d have to say the jewelry, but it is a tough choice to make. Both pull at my soul with great intensity and strength.
ABS: Many of your pieces incorporate things from the natural world, like stones, sticks, feathers and insect wings, in a lovely way that is very natural. What inspires you to use the items from nature and what does it bring to your finished work?
I’ve always been attracted to the natural world, for as long as I can remember. As a little girl I gathered the same sticks, stones, insect wings, bits of moss that I do as an adult. I’m not sure why.
My grandmother Mimi was quite a collector of these things as well – feathers, lichen “platforms” that grew on trees, smooth river rocks – and incorporated these into little “vignettes” around her house. There were wreaths into which she stuck every feather that she found when in the yard, and slabs of stone and wood that she’d place in unusual spots (her manger scene at Christmas featured the lichen and stone). My mother – her daughter – is the same way, and I suppose it is from the two of them that I inherited my love of all things natural.
What does it bring to my finished work? I don’t know. You tell me. What I’ve been told is that it ties the natural world with a romantic one in an evocative way, and I’ll accept that definition, graciously.
ABS: You work in many media, using fabric, wire, silver metal clay, resin, ribbons, paper and many others. Do you create one piece from start to finish, or do you create various components and then the piece grows to completion separately?
I don’t create by imagining a completed piece in my head or drawn on paper; it just cannot work for me that way – I’m far too spontaneous. And the word spontaneous made me think of The Catcher in the Rye, that stream of consciousness way of seeing things – that is my world.
I do create batches of resin and sterling “charms”, at random, using words that consistently appeal to me (think of “hope”, “fly”, “begin”, “touch” – or, on a more natural level, “water”, “rock”, “time”, “nest”, “bird”); when I have little tray of completed resin charms, so central to my designs, it is a great pleasure to pluck one from the bunch and let it work its way into a necklace or bracelet design; often that one word will then dictate the feel, the emotion, for the rest of the work that follows.
I also have antique and vintage findings scattered all over the place – in bins, on stacked plates, in little vintage metal tins. Yes, they get misplaced, they are forgotten; then it is great fun to rediscover an item and be suddenly inspired to incorporate it into a design!
ABS: Are there things that you enjoy and do often without putting it off, and other things that aren’t your favorite and you delay doing them? What sort of things do you prefer making and creating, what comes easily to you?
An interesting question! And I sigh as I ponder and write. Well – as far as cleaning goes, I will put that off until it reaches crisis mode. I am not kidding. Why spend time cleaning when I could be writing, creating, admiring the beautiful world around me?!
As much as I like using the resin and sterling charms in my work, I detest making them – I truly do. The resin fumes are not healthy, and it is a tedious, unfun process: finding the images or typing the words onto pre-tea stained paper (another unfun task), cutting them out with precision and then gluing into the bezels, mixing and pouring the resin (finding a clear level spot in the studio is always a challenge), keeping a vigilant eye on bubbles that form for two or three hours into the curing time, keeping dust away from wet resin – none of this is what I would ever call fun.
I guess, reading what I’ve just written, I’m not fond of any preparatory stage of my work. I just like to create, without having to take the time to make components. The most relaxing technique is wire wrapping, and I don’t mind doing an assembly line of wrapped pearls to dangle from leather or chain – and I can do this at night with a tray in my lap by the fire.
I spend a good amount of time leafing through classic art books for inspiration, as well as online to see what things consistently speak to my heart and soul.
The books of Andy Goldsworthy’s work are good fodder for the imagination.
I never. ever. ever imitate.
What I avoid doing is leafing through magazines; I do not want my work to be flavored by what is currently out in the art community.
I also take long walks along a stream, through the woods, down a winding gravel road; much can be gleaned from fresh air, from the branches of trees, from moss growing on the sides of rocks. Inevitably, what I start out doing, after seeing something inspirational, is not what I end up completing, anyway.
My work has a voice of its own that dictates to me what needs to be created. I also find talking things over with artist friends to be vitally instrumental; from what seems like the most casual observations, great ideas are born. My dear friends Kathy Van Kleeck (fellow jewelry artist) and Lesley Riley are key for this; thank you, both, for listening, for being honest, for urging, for loving.
You will become bright stars in the night sky, of that I am sure.
In Part Three, Nina Bagley discusses teaching, the roles of student and teacher, the responsibility of finding one’s own creative voice and vision, respecting the copyright of others’ designs, and growing into a creatively unique statement – don’t miss the final ABS post of the interview with this internationally known and respected jewelry designer.
Posted by Lynn Davis – All photos courtesy of Nina Bagley (copyright 2009)