The Eloquent Silver Curve
pacific northwest arts
Flora Book earned a degree in painting in the late 1940s, then went on to learn patternmaking and design during a stint at McCall’s Patterns. Living in Montreal a couple of decades later, she took informal jewelrymaking classes at a local YMCA. In 1980 Book moved with her husband to Seattle, Washington, and though she had spent her life engaged in art and design of one kind or another, it was not until she got to Seattle that Book enrolled in university-level classes in metalsmithing and jewelrymaking. Within a few years her elegant silver jewelry with its deceptively minimalist aesthetic was being featured in national magazines and exhibitions.
Book’s genius at transforming silver into abstract, dramatic, often nearly liquid-like wearable art is the basis of The Eloquent Silver Curve at the Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Washington, showing through February 5, 2012. Organized by the museum, the show is something of a mini retrospective of Book’s noteworthy career and singular creative spirit. Her neckpieces, bracelets and drapey, textile-like shoulder and torso pieces are made of bright, sparkling, sterling silver. She has never used patinas or alloys. Some pieces, astonishingly, are combinations of silver and fibers, such as angora and mohair yarns, or wool yarn that has been felted. The nearly forty pieces in the exhibition date from 1985 to 2011. Most are from Book’s own collection or the collections of Pacific Northwest collectors.
Entering the exhibition is like stepping into a place where rivulets of water or splashing raindrops catch the light. Book’s affinity for silver means that nearly every piece is the same clean, shimmering silver as a mountain stream or a newly-minted dime. Though her repertoire of jewelrymaking techniques has expanded over the years, Book’s dedication to silver is part of the reason why so much of her jewelry suggests the graceful movement of water. And because one of Book’s favorite techniques over the decades has been to string snips of slim-as-spaghetti tubular silver beads onto monofilament, there is a physical and visual lightness to the jewelry that suggests silk or some other luxurious, drapeable textile. In Cascade, 1988, Book used tubular silver beads, nylon monofilament and sterling silver to make a slender choker supporting two dancing spumes of silver falling in curves from the throat to the waist. Flock of Birds II, 1987, is a waist-length silver cord punctuated every few inches by little bunches of ten- to eleven-centimeter-long silver tassels. The piece looks like the outline of a flock of migrating birds. Flapper Necklace, 2007, resembles a veil of falling water with hundreds of ten-centimeter-long silver strands dancing off a forty-six-centimeter-long chain. Though Book’s work has never been remotely narrative, her pieces invariably conjure poetic images.
It is likely Book’s interest in design that gives some of her jewelry an architectural aspect. Jayne’s Veil, 1996, is a dramatic neckpiece about the dimensions of the stiff white collars depicted in seventeenth-century Dutch portraiture. Jayne’s Veil is a silver armature that fits around the neck with a deep curl jutting out from the face like a swooping ship’s prow. It suggests the rigid but rounded curves of a Frank Gehry building. Other pieces are less about architecture and more about clothing. Guenevere’s Wrap, 2009, is a slinky shoulder wrap made of knitted silver chain and dark gray, gorgeously soft wool, perhaps angora. A life-long knitter, Book in the last decade has started knitting fine silver chain, a process that results in an elegant silver spider web or very fine chain mail. In some pieces, she slides from knitting silver chain to knitting yarn. The visual impact of these combination pieces is strange and wonderful. Guenevere’s Wrap, at about one hundred twenty-seven centimeters long and fourteen centimeters wide, is a slim, smooth silver sash edged in places by soft, curling dark wool. The name of the piece suggests delightfully risqué connotations vis a vis the female body. But the piece also could be a surrealist’s take on the dead-animal “wraps” that were once high style for women of means. Sleek, lean and furry, Guenevere’s Wrap has more or less the dimensions of a mink.
Along with neck and body pieces, Book likes bracelets. Perhaps earrings and brooches do not offer enough kinetic possibilities for her. There are many terrific bracelets in the exhibition, including the aptly named Wave Cuffs, a set of three bracelets from 1988, and Solar System Cuff, 1990. Though large in diameter, the bracelets either move or suggest movement. And there is Fringe Bracelet, 1991, a twenty-centimeter-long cuff that would cover most of the wearer’s forearm in a silver sheath dangling with silver fringes. Book must have great fun making these bracelets. Others, such as a trio called A Maze, Amaze and Amazing, 2000 - 2011, look like geometry puzzles made into jewelry, with their myriad of angles and corners. Finally there are what Book calls her “bagel” bracelets, which are knitted, often felted cuffs of wool adorned with beads, buttons and silver. Unusual for Book’s work, these bracelets have the look of jewelry from some extremely stylish tribal culture.
Occasionally Book forgoes her passion for silver in order to make something colorful. Her talent for seeing beauty in unexpected materials is obvious when she designs in color. A few years ago Book started scavenging for cast-off potato chip bags made of brightly colored Mylar and she was soon creating colorful, very lightweight jewelry made of little strips of the Mylar sewn into pick-up sticks arrangements. A Mylar chip bag necklace from 2007 is black, gold, red, and silver. It could be the nest of a magpie with an eye for color. There is humor to this piece, but also charm. Finally, there is the neckpiece Book calls I’d Rather Be in the Museum than the Kitchen. It is a round steel armature that slides over the head and lays flat on the shoulders like a large plate. A couple of hundred little metal museum tags—the kind you wear in your button hole to show you have paid admission—are affixed to the armature. The tags come in every conceivable color and are from museums ranging from The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Victoria & Albert Museum to the Tacoma Art Museum. The magpie in Book has come out again in this piece. Rightly known as a maker of beautiful, fluid, silver jewelry, Book’s graceful design aesthetic is eloquent whether she is working with sterling silver or everyday trash.
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