What is it? Art, jewelry or both?

by Lee Adams

Metalsmith Shannon Duffy is combining the arts of jewelry-making and three-dimensional paintings to create something not just wearable but that becomes a piece of wall sculpture as well. It’s an idea she’s had for some time, after working for a jeweler during her undergrad years earning her BFA at Murray State in Kentucky. But it was during her thesis show at Arizona State University where she earned her Master’s in Fine Art where the idea began taking form, literally.

A student of sculpture, Duffy made a series of toy-like objects from materials such as sterling silver, copper and even gold that were sparkling items of interest that the viewer could interact with. Many of her ‘“toys’” were inspired by the old-fashioned spinning top, a design that has carried into her current work.

After settling down in Greensboro when her husband Mike took a job as a golf course superintendent with the Grandover Resort, the stay-at-home mother of two began creating her current line of wearable, interactive art. She soon began doing her metalwork out of Artworks Collective and her three-dimensional box-like paintings at home while watching the kids. The paintings, about a foot wide, several feet long and four to six inches deep, are thickly laden with color that protrudes from their surfaces for a textured finish. Then, the jewelry pieces such as pendants, necklaces and bracelets are hung with hooks or magnets.

This way, Duffy says, the jewelry doesn’t have to sit in a box or a drawer. Instead it can be enjoyed as its own piece of art as it hangs in the home, or it can accessorize your favorite outfit. Every piece is completely handmade, even a necklace woven with sterling silver threads and accented with felt balls.

Her ideas for her work, she says, originated from a minimalist approach. But then she decided to add viewer participation to her art, and that’s how it got to what it is today. Each piece is interesting and Duffy says people like to hold them in their hands to feel the weight, shape and texture of the pieces. Not all of them are jewelry, though, like one that is a small metal shelf holding four delicate, top-like objects about the size of a marble. Even though people are intrigued by these objects they don’t know what to do with them, she says. So the painting makes a perfect place for them.

Duffy also makes pieces such as bowls, platters and vases that are created using a technique called raising, where she starts with a flat piece of metal and hammers it into the shape she wants. Many of the top-like pieces are made using this technique and a hole is left in some through which the viewer can see the hollowed-out shape of the inside. Some of her jewelry is also accented with colorful enamels that are laid into etchings in the surfaces.

Duffy’s work is definitely different from the norm, and sometimes hard to explain. But touching the pieces is where one begins to understand. Running the fingers across the lumpy paints that swirl in mazes of patterns, holding the metal objects and feeling their ridges and textures brings the art alive. Then, when it’s hanging on the wall, the viewer has a more intimate understanding of what the piece is.

Duffy’s work has caught national attention, being displayed at various schools and galleries across the country. She has also served as the resident artist at the Phoenix Center for the Arts in Arizona. One of her pieces is currently on display at Arrowmont in Gatlinburg, Tenn. in a juried exhibition for an enameling conference held there, and in January the Blue Spiral Gallery in Asheville with be holding a showing of her work entitled ‘“New Year, New Art, New Artists.’”

To see her locally you can visit her exhibit at Artworks Collective, to be held October 6 through 19. An opening reception will be held Oct. 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. during the First Thursday event.

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