Jewelry for Jewelry's Sake
Gallery focuses on the art of design
Many industry traditionalists like to describe jewelry as art, but nevertheless do business in stores that scream retail. Merchandise is crowded into cases and tagged with its price. Brand names dominate design. And jewelrys value is determined by its traditional high-end/high-margin materials, such as platinum and diamonds.
An art gallery requires a different sort of image, so Sienna Patti dispensed with all that. Sienna Gallery features non-traditional jewelry made by mostly unknown artisans from materials that are often surprising.
Located in a 600-sq.-ft., light-filled studio in artsy downtown Lenox, MA, the gallery depends on tourist traffic generated by the Berkshires and the nearby Tanglewood music camp. From June to October, its open seven days a week.
Recent exhibitions have included enamel and metal jewelry by Barbara Seidenath and Johan van Aswegen, foam arm bands by Efharis Alepidis and paper-and-gold pieces by Hisako Etoh. One artist has produced rings made from wax impressions of braided hair and cast in silver; another made crocheted frogs legs brooches.
For its first anniversary, the gallery hosted an exhibit of material found within one mile of each artists studio.
Jewelry Is Exhibited
At Sienna Gallery, jewelry is exhibited not displayed. The difference can be subtle. Jewelry is shown alone or with other items by the same maker. There are no price tags, and Patti eschews ring stands and other props. There is nothing in the cases to support the work, she says. Its about letting the work be alone.
Roughly half of the gallerys items are replaced every few weeks as shows begin and end. Another distinction: If an item is sold in the middle of a show, the customer has to wait for delivery.
Most customers understand and are proud to say their jewelry was in a show, says Patti, 25, who opened the studio in June 1999.
Sienna Gallery is one of just four U.S. galleries exhibiting only jewelry, says Patti. It shows the work of up to 30 artists at once, but often features single or small groups of artists in special exhibitions. Exhibiting artists also lecture on their work at a local art school.
Its important to me that I represent the artists well not only their jewelry but also what their jewelry is about, says Patti. The intrinsic value of the items lies in the fact they are all handmade and unique.
Like most galleries, Sienna has the significant advantage of not having to buy pieces. Instead, theyre sold on consignment, with a 50/50 split. Prices range from $150 to $16,000 and average $2,000, says Patti.
Of course, avant-garde merchandise has its limits. The focus of our exhibits is on non-precious materials, but we sell the gold more, says Patti. Its a leap for people to buy jewelry thats not gold or silver.
This can present an obstacle for customers with technical questions. Patti can attest to her artists technical competence, but has no background in the jewelry industry. Fortunately, theres a gemologist in town who travels all over the world and really knows his rocks, she says. I dont know anything about that, so I refer (questions) there.
by Mark E. Dixon