Visiting artist teaches jewelry making

by Matt Hill | 4/26/06 5:00am

One look at Jen Townsend's "Ice Maiden" -- a startlingly detailed and beautifully designed sterling silver pendant depicting a nude woman caught in a web of ice -- and you know you're dealing with an artist of immense talent and visionary precision. The carefully shaped contours of the maiden's face, the graceful arch of her shoulders and the smooth, idealized realization of her form are captured with an intimacy and an intensity that reminds knowing viewers -- and, presumably, wearers -- of the exquisitely detailed beauty of pre-Raphaelite art.

"Wearers?" you might ask. "When was the last time someone donned a great work of art?"

Townsend, who will be visiting Dartmouth today through May 3, is not an artist in the common sense of the word: she is a jeweler and metal sculptor who, for 16 years, has been crafting beautiful pieces that explore such varied topics as gender and war in modern America. A press release described her past work as a unique vision of "the quest for beauty and the complexities and contradictions of living in 21st century America."

"I invited Jen to Dartmouth because she's a perfect addition to our visiting artist program," said Jeff Georgantes, Director of the Donald Chaflin Jewelry Studio, where Townsend will be featuring her work. "Jen's approach [to her work], which often involves intricate and complex carving and casting, is one that will give Dartmouth students a new perspective on [working with] wax."

Over the coming week, Dartmouth students will be able to engage themselves in many ways with Townsend's work, viewing it firsthand and in free slide presentations, as well as participating in a three-hour workshop taught by Townsend herself. They will also be free to ask the young artist any questions they may have about her art, her inspiration and her methods.

"She's very much looking forward to getting into the studio and working," Georgantes added. "Her hope -- and mine as well -- is that students will be excited by her enthusiasm about making jewelry. Jewelry as an art form is often under-represented in our culture ... that's why we are excited about making the experience open to everyone: students, faculty and community."

Townsend, who was raised in Lancaster, Penn., found her calling early in life, as she began making jewelry in her early teens and sought out formal training immediately after she graduated from high school. She went on to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology and earned her BFA from RIT's School for American Crafts, a time during which, according to her website, she "began developing the distinctive vocabulary of her figurative jewelry that is still evident today."

Townsend put her undergraduate studies -- which included a year in Florence, Italy, studying classical goldsmithing techniques -- to use as a goldsmith and designer for Mann's Jewelers for two years. She later pursued her MFA at Southern Illinois University, where her culminating thesis show was composed entirely of figurative sculpture. Her studio opened for business in 2003 and she now works as a full-time artist. Her most prominent project this year is her participation in "Emerging Asian and American Goldsmiths," which will be showing at the Craft Alliance in St. Louis, Mo.

"Jen's just four years out of grad school and getting her MFA, yet she has accomplished so much," Georgantes said. "Her life is a great example of a potential path after graduating. And on top of it all, she's really just a natural teacher that I know our students will be able to relate to."

Examples of Ms. Townsend's work will be shown in a slide presentation on April 28, from 6 to 7 p.m., in 219 Wilson Hall, and will be free and open to the public.

Ms. Townsend will also be teaching a three hour "Wax-Working Tips for Jewelry Casting" workshop on Saturday, April 29, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The workshop, which requires no prior experience, is open to all Dartmouth students and faculty and costs $3.00. Sign-ups are located in the Jewelry Studio.