After reading Anni Albers ‘Common Object’ Jewelry, Lydia Wills wrote an inspiring email that is a perfect, if inadvertent, post for ‘the improvised life’. It’s like a bedtime story for grown-ups (with an amazing ending in bold.)
“The lesson of Anni Albers’ jewelry is her ability to look at everyday objects and see just how they can be re-imagined on the body, how their shape and curve and sheen will look when worn. A simple object, not only seen in a new way, but taken a step farther. It’s only improvisation when it goes from the mind’s eye , passing through your hands, and out into the world.
This is exactly the lesson of my favorite jewelry designer, the truly great Vivianna Torun Bulow-Hube, who was born in Sweden and went on to design for Georg Jensen. She set out early to make “anti-jewelry,” that is, jewelry you don’t store in the family vault until the fancy night arrives, and then snap shut in the vault. She worked with materials that lived and breathed out in the open–rocks, stones, pebbles, silver and saw how they could be shaped to fit the human form.
When she was broke in the 50s in France, she used to go to the beach and look for stones and pebbles that she could work into her simple silver wires and hand-hammered necklaces.
One day in 1958, a stranger came up to her while she was rooting around for just the right rocks; it was Picasso, who later gave her a one woman show at the Picasso Museum at Antibes. Picasso knew the improv spirit when he saw it.
Her work with Jensen is well known, but what isn’t so much a part of her international success story is how she moved to Jakarta in the ’70s and taught locals how to make their own jewelry with a couple of grand, some chicken wire, a hand made workbench and jerry-rigged jewelry machinery. She wanted to help them become self-sufficient. She says it best:
‘I had already developed my own method of simple, elegant clasps, pins and settings that used no welding or soldering. So, with US$2000, [we] set up a basic workshop, building a hut with a corrugated iron roof and walls and chicken wire windows. We also built our own workbenches and constructed a wire pulling bench (that’s to stretch the silver wire to the required profile) out of an old bicycle pedal-wheel and I managed to get the rest of the hand tools needed. Later we added a generator to supply electricity for polishing. We employed a goldsmith and young, local boys who demonstrated some skill with their hands and I taught them the craft.’
It’s this, much more so than her mass-produced pieces, that inspires me whenever I look at the one hand-made piece of hers that I own, a silver necklace with one simple piece of rock crystal-her hands twisted those wires and worked that silver into something that rests on my neck, from beach to body. Somehow, the idea struck her, and she went for it. She herself said we’re all ‘just playing around like a kid – [and] it seems like that great something somewhere up there maybe looks down. ‘Oh there’s a person – empty with skilled hands – playing around – let’s send down an idea and see what happens.'”
THE book on Torun by Ann Westin is now out-of-print but available on Ebay and at used books stores.Worth every penny.