Bits and pieces
For her current series of jewelry, Sarah Wilbanks’ materials are sterling silver and polymer clay embellished with laser transfer images mixed into collages that sometimes resemble smooth pebbles in a path.
While silver is a key element of the designs, it is her collection of small paintings and drawings that provide inspiration for the individual pieces. “I love the images,” Sarah explains. “If it was just metal, I’d get bored.”
The images she uses are anything but boring. “I’ve got bits of wallpaper, a print from my grandmother’s dress, old photos of a French language book for kids…there are so many different historical things I find.” One of these historical things is a scrap of a handwritten letter by Mark Twain. “I really liked the idea of a signature for the line quality. In fact you’ll see there’s a lot of line in my work.”
That quality of line is further enhanced by vibrant colors. Using a laser transfer process she learned while studying with Diane Falkenhagen at Pratt Institute, Sarah transfers the old images to polymer clay that has been rolled flat in a pasta maker. This will be the basis of color and fine detail in her finished work.
Although she designs earrings and necklaces she says, “Necklaces are what I sell the most of. I think it’s because they are so unusual. You get to see more of the design in the necklaces.”
All of her pieces are collages, but the pendant necklaces are collections of individual bezels grouped together to form puddles of color.
For custom work she sometimes builds the relatively large bezels by hand, using 1mm rectangular sterling silver wire. She says she uses the heavy wire to give the metal component visual weight.
Once the bezels are crafted, she cuts precise circles and ovals from the hardened polymer. It’s here that the intricate details of the images come into play. Cut from the larger original context, the circles and ovals highlight color, texture and line. Pressure set and chemically bonded in the bezels, the individual pieces create rhythms bounded by the smooth curves of silver.
Intriguing on their own, when the set bezels are joined in the final collage, often in large groups of eight or nine, the resulting pendant comes alive.
She uses silver wrapped nylon chain for the necklaces, which lends visual weight and also holds a steady curve as it is being worn, adding to the linear effect of the entire piece.
For one recent custom necklace Sarah also created a pendant to hang off of the clasp, steadying the chain against the weight of the main pendant and adding drama when her client wears a dress with a low back. “I make my own clasps,” she says, and this allows her to add the second pendant without compromising a standard clasp’s integrity.
This is not her first experience working with metal, although it is a drastic departure from her first series of earrings. That series came about because, she says, “Someone had asked me to design some garden jewelry.”
The initial piece in this series was created as part of her application to the EDGE program offered by the Seattle Artists’ Trust. She says, “Some people who know me were surprised at that first piece because they’d only seen the garden jewelry.” However, she has studied fine art and painting since 1991 when she attended the Fine Arts School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
A series of local exhibitions in Chicago and Seattle, and classes taken at Pratt in the late 1990s helped Sarah hone her craft. In 2003 she joined the Seattle Metals Guild and in 2004 Micki Lippo, founder of the Seattle Metals Guild, nominated her for the EDGE program. Thrilled to be accepted to the new program’s second class, she says, “We spent quite a few Saturdays sitting in really uncomfortable chairs at Cornish and we learned all the aspects it takes to become a professional artist.”
She now works out of a loft in an artist’s enclave in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. It’s obvious that her art is most important because she is still locating personal items, but her jewelry tools, silver wire, polymer and image library are all out and organized.
As of last October, Sarah’s jewelry is available through Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery in Seattle.