The Unexpected and Commonplace
“Diamonds, you can find a thousand of the same kind of diamond ... You find a rare rock, and to me that’s more valuable.”
When Jim Cotter travels, he carries coins that he has carefully and subtly modified by erasing details, setting with tiny precious gems, or inlaying with concrete. Friends, fans and patrons covet these (signed!) prizes, but Cotter refuses to sell them or give them away. He follows a self-imposed rule that they must be spent, passed along like regular pocket change. During a recent stay at Penland, where he taught a workshop with his friend Robert Ebendorf, he launched a variation: he and his students altered quarters to highlight nature-related elements such as the maple trees on a Vermont quarter and the peregrine falcon on an Idaho quarter, and hammered them to trees—offering a twist on the idiom that “money does not grow on trees.” He uses similarly enhanced coins in his jewelry. In one ring he removed everything but the diamond from an Arkansas quarter and engraved the words “It’s a diamond, Right?”, and he set a Georgia quarter (with only the peach remaining) in concrete to make a pendant. Whether for circulation or personal adornment, Cotter’s coins epitomize his approach to art: unconventional and playful.
Though Cotter regularly uses materials of obvious market value, he gets most excited about unexpected and commonplace materials. “There is beauty in just about everything if you learn how to look at it and see it and understand it.” Concrete, quarters, rocks, coat hanger wire, dirt, feathers, corn kernels, and rusted steel all make appearances in his creations. He blends humor, intelligence, rebellion, and a genuine appreciation for the intimate nature of jewelry to create a remarkable and fun body of work.
is an independent scholar in Athens, Georgia. She is the author of the forthcoming book Georgia Bellflowers: The Furniture of Henry Eugene Thomas (Georgia Museum of Art, 2012), as well as books on the modern designers Ilonka Karasz and Mariska Karasz. She interviewed Jim Cotter in a beautiful setting: outside of the jewelry studio at Penland, and she envied the students who would be spending a week with him and Bob Ebendorf. Cotter’s frequent invocation of his motto, “I choose joy,” brightened her day and she is hopeful that eventually she will find one of his signed quarters.
This article in its entirety appears only in the print magazine.
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Smithsonian Craft Show
Women Working Words-Facèré
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