We recently interviewed jewelry designer and artist Naomi Muirhead of Art925 to find out what drives her work and how Florence and its history weaves its way into her designs.
A condensed version of this interview was originally published in The Florentine, but Naomi (and the two other featured designers Valentina Caprini and Sara Amrhein) shared so many fascinating insights that we couldn’t resist sharing the extended versions. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.
CPiF: You describe your work as a process of “combination, coordination, composition, and collaboration between old and new”, whether you are working in collage, jewelry or other mediums. In a city like Florence, that flux of old and new is in constant motion. As an artist, how does that tension feed your work?
Naomi Muirhead: Florence is certainly a location where contemporary life co-exists within a historical environment. Old and new contrast with each other in a positive way. For me, anything that is 100% perfect, shiny, and new is not very appealing. There needs to be a push and pull between old and new, teetering on that perfect balance. One should highlight the other. Old and new can each stand alone, but the tension between the two creates a more interesting dialog. The challenge that I pose to myself in the work that I make is how to give something that is old a new purpose and to present it in an updated context.
CPiF: Your work is intimately tied to the history of found objects, such as vintage ephemera, maps, and letters. When you are creating a piece of jewelry, are you thinking about both the source of those objects and the future wearer?
NM: Yes, the found objects that I gravitate to when searching around junk shops, flea markets, and curb sides have either been discarded or disregarded for some reason, whether it be an tattered book, a crumpled map, a broken watch, a love letter, or an old photograph. I am always perplexed to find anonymous vintage family photos for sale in antique shops. This is the most obvious example of a found object with a history and an expressive personal narrative. Why have they been separated from their family? What stories would they tell?
Jewelry, being inherently personal in scale and worn on the body, has a direct relationship with the maker, the wearer, and the observer. The observer needs to be in close proximity to see, touch, and converse about jewelry to the wearer. There is some sort of message being expressed or a story being told by the wearer. Most of the found objects that I recompose into jewelry have been segmented and taken out of their original context. This might create a mystery around the narrative, especially in the case of ephemera, including photographs. One can question the who, why, what, where? and probably still not find a straight answer. Wonder and curiosity makes one ask questions.
Other objects that I re-purpose are presented as jewelry simply for their graphic qualities and technical interests. But even these items have a past and a prior purpose. They are small objects that have been held in many hands and have been utilitarian in purpose (ie. watches, rulers, dictionaries, etc.) but have been saved and collected through out the years for personal reasons. It is precisely this non-precious material that I propose as a celebrated moment.
CPiF: Along with the traditions of goldsmithing, are there other artisan techniques that influence your work?
NM: I mindfully approach my jewelry fabrication by salvaging and reclaiming old found objects. This probably stems from growing up in a 200-year-old farm house where my parents collected antiques and curious objects. As an artist who went on to study fine arts and design before jewelry making, I have always incorporated found parts and surfaces in my paintings and collages, as well as being passionate about rehabilitating old homes in my interior design work.
CPiF: In your many years developing your work here, how have you seen the jewelry scene change? Any predictions for the future?
NM: Florence, as you know, is renowned for its traditional gold jewelry techniques and many people seek out this tradition. I sincerely hope that these techniques and artisans do not disappear. In fact, there is only one shop left on the Ponte Vecchio that still has a working atelier studio upstairs where some jewelry is still created by hand.
However, Florence has a great choice of jewelry schools where much of the work uses both traditional techniques as well as experimental and contemporary, as art jewelers. Many of these students remain in Florence and sell their work, so there is a growing choice beyond the typical traditional jewelry. However, this type of work does not appeal to the masses, but rather to a specialized audience or collector, making the sustainability as a jewelry artist quite challenging.
To my disappointment, one of the few important contemporary jewelry galleries that was in Florence, has moved out near Arezzo. But my hope for the future is that venues such as this will return and expand in Florence as is it beginning to do in many European cities, as long as tradition and the new can co-exist without losing one or the other.