Barbara Cohen – visual artist, jeweller, designer, curator and supporter of the crafts – shares with us how her creativity and studio came back to life after months of world chaos. The result? A new installation of small, detailed pieces full of surprise, which are coming to the CCBC this fall.
Reciprocity: the principal or practice of give and take; mutual exchange
I became a member of the then nascent Crafts Association shortly after arriving in Vancouver in 1979 and have remained a member of the CCBC ever since. The advantages my membership has afforded me are many. I have had the opportunity to show my work in many exhibitions, was invited to jury and curate other shows and served as a board member which furthered my understanding of ongoing financial challenges and the dedication the organization continues to have towards the arts and its members.
In 1999, I was asked to display seven pieces of my then relatively new work as a jeweler (previously focused on textile art). To say that small showing launched my career as a jewelry artist is an understatement. Thanks to that exposure, galleries across Canada and the US contacted me, sales climbed and doors opened.
From 2014 to 2020, most of my attention shifted away from making and went towards curating national exhibitions. The CCBC assisted on several shows with computer support and the loaning of plinths when necessary.
After 11 shows in 6 years I decided that I had done my last. But in 2019, Noel Guyomarc’h asked if I could mount a show of Korean jewelers that he had just curated for an exhibit in his gallery in Montreal. I was excited for the opportunity and once again, the CCBC came through when asked and offered their space to put on this special exhibition of exceptional talent. HanMade closed February 12, 2020 and just about a month later, the world changed.
With a thankfully mild spring and beautiful summer, my passion for tending to my own garden and ‘curating’ and designing friend’s gardens fulfilled my creative need and happily nourished me.
I posed the question to myself, “How can I ‘do good’ with my work?”
When winter descended, I was grateful for 3 exhibition calls for entry, one of them being the CCBC’s earring show fundraiser. My almost dormant studio began to hum again. With life now considerably slower and an abundance of quiet time, I was able to complete my entries well before the deadlines. And still it was winter… now what? With daily depressing news, my creativity was a much-needed balm.
I posed the question to myself, “How can I ‘do good’ with my work?” I had already decided to donate some of my jewelry pieces to the CCBC but had only mentioned it in passing to Raine, the executive director at CCBC, while talking about something else, but still wanted to do more.
I had my light bulb moment in early March 2021. Inspired by installation pieces made up of small ‘wonders’ I had seen on Pinterest, I decided that I would utilize materials that I had been collecting for years and create 100, what I call, ‘wall musings’ and donate them to the CCBC to sell at a very affordable price, as a fundraiser.
Many years earlier, a woman who had bought my jewelry wanted to meet me and we later became friends. In her very effusive way she exclaimed as she entered my house, that it was the most beautiful house she had ever seen. I was happy to receive the compliment, but thought to myself, way over stated. Months later I reminded her of what she said and asked why she found my home so special. Her answer was completely unexpected and so perfect. “Because it was full of surprises!” A torn paper bag found on the street prominently displayed on my wall because I loved its shape and a scrapyard find serving as a door handle. Rocks strategically placed and found etching plates cut to cover stained tiling. My unexpected surprises were shown with as much importance as the artwork I had collected and I’m hoping my ‘wall musings’ will become other peoples ‘surprises’.
I was elated as I began my win, win project. I got to create, keep busy and use my collected supplies while raising money for an organization that has given me so much, even though at this point I hadn’t proposed the idea yet since Raine was out of town. The first many were created fairly quickly, but as I began to put more and more energy into each one, the work slowed down considerably. Friends came by and loved them which buoyed me on to continue. Forty and then fifty. Fifty-one, fifty-two. They were getting harder and harder with only a few quickies to encourage me on. After reaching the half way point, if I could create 2 a day, I was doing well. Further on, I was happy if I could produce one on any given day. How was I going to manage the rest? As I spent hours on some of them, I kept thinking: people will have no idea since they look so simple. Periodically throughout the project I had to tuck away worries that they wouldn’t sell.
I tried to bring down the number I would make, but somehow 100 remained my goal. Raine’s positive response to the few I showed to her again offered encouragement. Sixty-four, sixty-five, sixty-six. Gardening days were now interrupting. Eighty-seven, eighty-eight, ninety! On June 9th I wrote an email to Raine and simply wrote: 100! But completion was still an illusion. Not satisfied with some of the earlier pieces, I went back and reworked them.
At the time of this writing a marketing meeting has taken place, a December date has been set and documentation of the work is in progress. In the near future, I will have to begin laying them out to have an idea how they will be displayed in the gallery.
This project that came about on a very rainy day when daily Covid counts were rising, has blossomed and will hopefully raise funds for an excellent organization that has given me and so many others, so much.