Bakelite Brooch 2

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

April, 2015
Bakelite, sterling silver, garnets, and stainless steel
4.6cm diameter x 1.1cm thick

This was one of three older pieces that made their way into my thesis, and of these three I feel that this one was the most important. During the proposal phase one of my committee members flat out said: “This piece is the most indicative of what you are planning to write your thesis about.” As mentioned in the previous entry for this brooch, this piece was a story in coming to grips with some of my own biases and overcoming them through critical thinking. The following is a piece of my written thesis which relates to this piece:

I use to have a strong bias against plastics of any kind. This was a conclusion I had arrived on by virtue of living in our modern day consumer culture where products are often intentionally made cheaply and easier to replace than to repair. […] I saw plastic as an imitator, something which served as a strictly inferior substitute to metal—that is until I was presented with a plastic which did not fit within my world view. Bakelite was an anomaly to me: tough, heavy, and incredibly resilient. I could not explain it away, and as a result it made me re-evaluate my own value judgments. Eventually I came to understand the core underpinning of my frustration: it was not plastics that I hated, but rather when they were used as an inappropriate substitution. When used for its strengths, plastic is an incredible substance, one which has moved technology forward to a shocking degree in the past century. I push for this type of critical thinking within my work, and I argue for a value system which has been considered in this way.

This piece was a breakthrough for me formally as well, as it helped me break the “mold” I had developed when it came to presenting materials. Prior to this piece, I would typically shape the materials into cabochons (or other highly processed shapes) and set them in the center of a metal form; in terms of volume, the materials were almost always disproportionately smaller than the metalworking. Around the time of this piece’s creation, I became acutely aware of the contradiction within my design mentality, and I realized that the work would be much more effective if I were to put aside conventional thinking and emphasize the material more. So for this piece I took a large chunk of Bakelite and treated it like a new material rather than a specimen; I carved into it, gave it a distinct shape, and set stones inside of it. I then further emphasized the material by relegating the metalwork to a means of attachment; the plastic took center stage, and the precious metal served as a means to an end. By creating a beautiful object through skill, design, and care I aimed to create a brooch not only conveys my newfound love for plastics, but also imparts the importance of keeping an open mind, and emphasizing the notion that value can be found through many other avenues of thought.