Susan Ewing is a Profesor at Miami University, Oxford Ohio, where he heads the Jewelry Design and Metalsmithing Progam. In addition to jewelry design and art history, she has studied the piano and the harp. In 1994, her works were on view in a dozen museums and galleries from Cologne,Germany to San Francisco.
Among her many awards and prizes, she was an honored participant in a special Master Workshop at the Royal Academy in Antwerp, Belgium. There, she took part in a two-week international studio in contemporary silversmithing as part of Antwerp's designation as the 1993 Cultural Capital of Europe. She's a distinguished member of the Society of North American Goldsmiths and of the Society of American Silversmiths.
Typically, through my pieces designed for use, I am demonstrating that the object cannot be defined or constrained strictly by its function. I use function generally in terms of the typology of the form, as it is but one of the elements to be considered in the final aesthetic and conceptual solution. The OBOR 1 Coffee Server included in the White House collection illustrates my concern for inventing and animating abstract forms while working with pure shapes and volumes. I intend for the viewer/user to invent scenarios about the origins and contexts of my works, bringing their personal associations into the experience of interacting with my pieces on a number of levels--visual, physical and conceptual.
Ask the Artist
Where do you get the ideas for your work?
- It depends on the series on which I'm involved. I tend to work in groups of themes, some are very formal, more design-oriented; some are whimsical and very personal, more conceptually oriented; some of my series are more traditionally and functionally obvious, others are more abstract and non-functional. Therefore my ideas embrace traditional typologies and historical references to traditional crafts, architecture and sculpture.
Do you work alone on your craft, or with others?
- I have not collaborated on any of my work in metal, however I have collaborated on a few special design projects with architect Gerardo Brown-Manrique through the Interalia/Design studio in Oxford, Ohio. At this time, I do not take apprentices and I rarely hire any studio assistance. I design and hand-produce my metal objects myself.
Do you ever teach, or take on apprentices?
- I teach jewelry design and metalsmithing to both undergraduate and graduate students at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where I have been on the faculty since 1981. Occasionally I teach special workshops or present lectures at different sites in the U.S. and abroad.
What's the most exciting part of creating your works?
- I find both the creating and the producing processes to be quite different, but equally exciting. In both cases, it si the creative problem-solving which I enjoy and which is the endless challenge.
What's the most difficult part of creating your works?
- With a young family and a full-time teaching position, finding time is my most difficult obstacle. My works are by their nature labor and time intensive. Beyond this, the other difficulty is knowing when a piece is finished. Deciding when to leave a piece alone is never easy, especially when it can always be better, whether is craftsmanship, design or concept.
What sort of technology do you use in your work? Has the technology of your craft changed dramatically over the past 100 years?
- Nearly all of the tools, materials and processes I rely on were developed over the past few thousand years - not much had changed in that regard. I rely primarily on a basic group of metalsmithing hand tools: from my jeweler's saw and hand files to my twenty-year-old silversmith's planishing and raising hammer, and rawhide mallet. Even the spinning lathe I use has substantial historical precedence. Although I work with and teach on a sophisticated CAD system, I find that my craft abilities influence my applications on the computer much more than the computer influences my objects. I don't discount the potential of computer applications, but I do believe that the relationship between the hand and the mind is a vital component of the creative process.
Do you have any advice for somebody just starting out?
- Primarily, be patient. Becoming an artist and a craftsperson is a cumulative lifelong process of development, which comes neither quickly nor easily. Invest in your tools and in your mind--read and travel, know your history (art, craft and otherwise).
Can you share a "secret of the trade" with us--something nobody else knows or that you found out only after years of experience? Put another way--what do you wish somebody had told you when you were just starting out that might have saved you hours of wasted effort?
- Metalsmithing is as old as the bronze age. I have no trade secrets. Everything I know and apply technically is common knowledge across the field.
What are we missing by experiencing your work through the Internet and not seeing/hearing/feeling/smelling/touching it in person?
- The coffee.