Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Today we are standing at the foot of the Euromast tower in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Sharing a resemblance to Seattle's Space Needle, the Euromast stands over 331 feet tall and we will take a quick ride straight up on its elevator to the Euroscoop platform at the top. The Netherlands is also the home of featured jewelry designer Iris Eichenberg.

The best word, I feel, to describe Eichenberg's approach to jewelry design is existential. Since I started reading up on jewelry designers, I have noticed what I believe to be a common thread.

Designers create items that are representations of something larger, such as Karen McClintock's (Canada) Ocean Blues Collection, or the spiritual significance of David Weitzman's (Israel) designer jewelry. I also feel that this `larger something' is life, in all its forms, and jewelry designers set out to speak to its scope through their creative expression.

Eichenberg takes her designs to a different level that draws you in to the lives of those who are no longer with us and their connection to those now living. She does not approach this in the way as say Ilias Lalaounis (Greece) does, or Gurhan Orhan (Turkey).

Her approach does not involve a beauty aesthetic, but rather a literal representation of a part of history or a literal take on a concept. Where Lalaounis and Orhan draw from the expertise of ancient metalworkers who designed for royalty and nobility, Eichenberg takes on the labor and idealism of 19th century immigrants working in the United States.

A graduate of Amsterdam's Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Eichenberg has worked as a curator, independent artist, and educator. In 2001, she accepted the position of department head for her alma mater's Jewelry Department.

Upon viewing a hodge podge of items stored in the vaults of New York's Tenement Museum, Eichenberg was moved to design pieces of jewelry that reflected the myriad of lives that came to the U.S.A with hopes and dreams.

She learned that many immigrants worked with their hands making clothes, knitting, or making leatherwork. An item that Eichenberg frequently came across in the museum's vaults is what is known as a chatelaine.

A chatelaine is "a cord worn by women at the waist to carry a purse or a bunch of keys," it was also used by artisans to carry tools. Eichenberg found the importance of this item to their livelihood intriguing. They had a need for these keys to literally open doors to new experiences, and they needed their hands to provide the way to those experiences through their work.

She began to visualize the symbolic connection between the hand and the key: the ability for both to open and close, and forge interaction. From this moment, Eichenberg explored the connection of the lives of early immigrants to the lives of today's immigrants; ultimately blending timelines in her jewelry representations.

Her designs, made with the materials of the period copper, silver, leather, wool, wood, tweed, Bakelite, porcelain, and brass, are unstructured and abstract leaving one to ponder the profound meaning in them.

Her pieces will definitely strike up conversations akin to those stirred up observing modern art. Eichenberg's aesthetic is unquestionably bold, original, and complex.

She is currently living in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan serving as Department Head of Cranbrook Academy of Art's Metalsmithing Department.

For 15 years, her work has been featured extensively in exhibitions around the world including Switzerland, Italy, Indonesia, Portugal, United Kingdom, New York, and Spain. She received the Gerrit Rietveld Academy Award in 1994 and the Herbert Hofmann Prize in 1999.

    Photo 1 (top right): Leather, Silver, and Branch Testament Necklace
    Photo 2 (bottom left): Wood, Leather, and Copper Chatelaine
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