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2017 SNAG Lifetime Achievement Award, Helen Shirk

SNAG is pleased to announce the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Helen Shirk.

Helen ShirkHelen Shirk and her twin sister Judy were born in January 1942 and grew up in Buffalo, New York. Their father was a doctor serving overseas at the European front when they were born. In 1975 Helen moved to sunny southern California where she taught jewelry/metals at San Diego State University for 35 years, made metalwork in her studio, raised her son Nathaniel, and planted many hundreds of botanicals in her garden.

Shirk received her undergraduate degree from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she was fortunate to take classes in painting, enameling, and jewelry, taught by well-known jeweler, enamelist and painter Earl Pardon. In 1962 she had her first piece accepted to a national exhibition, Young Americans ‘62 at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, in New York city. Shirk graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1963, and spent the next year in Denmark on a Fulbright Grant that Professor Pardon had encouraged her to apply for. In 1967 Shirk returned to the U.S. to enter the MFA program in metalsmithing and jewelry design at Indiana University, headed by prominent jeweler and silversmith Professor Alma Eikerman. For Shirk, Eikerman was a persuasive model of an inventive, skilled artist/craftswoman, and an inspiring, demanding teacher. Shirk received her Masters of Fine Arts degree from Indiana in 1969.

Helen Shirk-1979-Silver-DecanterAfter teaching metalwork at IU and the Des Moines Art Center for several years, in 1975 Shirk received a faculty appointment to teach jewelry/metalwork in the School of Art and Design at San Diego State University. She set up her home studio and taught at SDSU for 35 years, retiring as Professor of Art Emeritus in 2010. During these years Shirk actively invested herself in the advancement of the SDSU metals program and its students, encouraging each student’s unique artistic voice, developing their range and expertise with traditional and contemporary metal techniques, and promoting innovation and professional excellence.

In her own studio Shirk has worked with both jewelry and object formats, exploring a broad range of materials and innovative processes to express her ideas. Her work gradually shifted from the cool sleek silver objects she made in the ’70s to a more personal approach and larger scale through the ’90s. Her Double Bowl series, begun in 1987, examines the relationship of two symmetrical parts and the unique expression of those parts within or without each other. Other works observed patterns of growth in nature, beauty and resiliency, tenuous structures, and inevitable disintegration.

Helen Shirk-1995-Sustaining-Spirit-XVShirk became recognized for her use of spray etching, patina, and colored pencils on large spun and hammered vessels. A later series of exuberantly colored botanical vessels reflects the lasting impact of her 1993 teaching exchange in Western Australia and the influence of her home territory of southern California. Most recently, she has returned to the intimacy of jewelry, using the strength and lightness of mild steel to create intricate ‘thickets’ for the body.

Shirk has lectured and taught in both the U.S. and abroad and her distinctive metalwork resides in the public collections of museums in the U.S., Australia, England, Germany, Italy, and Russia, to name a few. The international renown of Helen Shirk’s work and teaching helped sustain the San Diego State University Jewelry and Metalwork Program for 35 years, bringing students and colleagues from across the US and abroad to study or visit SDSU. Shirk’s skillful and expressive use of various metal coloring and surface altering techniques, ranging from anodizing, chemical patination, acid etching, and plating, to colored pencils, altered hammers, and china paint distinctively identify her pieces, both large and small. Her resume reads as a record of the most significant national and international exhibitions and publications in the field of jewelry and metalwork. Even such an extensive and impressive resume reflects only a small part of her significant legacy to the world of metalsmithing and the lives of many grateful and accomplished students. – Sondra Sherman, 2016

Helen Shirk-2014-Neckpiece-NP7-Fronds-Pods-jpgShirk received National Endowment for the Arts Craftsmen’s and Visual Artists’ Fellowships in 1978 and 1988 respectively. In 1989 she was named Master Metalsmith of the Year, a Distinction awarded by the National Ornamental Metals Museum, and in 1999 was honored to be designated a Fellow of the American Craft Council.

Shirk’s work resides in the permanent collections of museums in the U.S. and abroad, including: The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, Australia; The Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C; Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, NY; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England; National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, Japan; the Schmuckmuseum in Pforzheim, Germany; the Museo Del Gioiello in Vicenza, Italy; Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, CA; the Helen Drutt Collection at Huston Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, TX; the Oakland Museum in Oakland, CA; the Mint Museum of Craft and Design in Charlotte, NC; the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, PA; the Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, HI; the Museum of Art and Design in New York, NY; the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, TN; the Indianapolis Museum of Art in Indianapolis, IN; the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, PA; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA; and the Minnesota Museum of Art in St. Paul, MN.

The 2017 SNAG NEXUS: A Connection of Ideas conference will be dedicated to Helen Shirk and she will receive her award during the opening remarks in New Orleans, Louisiana on Wednesday, May 24th, 2017.


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2017 Lifetime Achievement Award

LAA 400The Lifetime Achievement Award is SNAG’s highest honor and is presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of metalsmithing.

SNAG is seeking nominations for its 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award.  The recipient will be honored at SNAG’s ‘NEXUS’ conference in New Orleans in May 2017. Any member of SNAG may nominate someone for the Lifetime Achievement Award.  The nominees do not have to be SNAG members.

Deadline for nominations is January 13, 2017.

Learn more and submit a nomination>>>


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2016 SNAG Lifetime Achievement Award, Gary Noffke

Gary_NoffkeSNAG is pleased to announce the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Gary Noffke.

Born in August 1943, Gary Lee Noffke grew up in the small town of Sullivan, IL. He received a Bachelor’s (1965) and Master’s degree (1966) in Education from Eastern Illinois University.

While he initially studied painting, he shifted his focus to metal, earning a Master’s of Fine Arts in metalworking from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1969. Studying under Brent Kington, Noffke was influenced by abstract expressionism, attacking the surface of his metal objects with obsessive and intricate detail consisting of stars, letterforms, arrows, crosses, dollar signs, eyes, and other significant symbols.

Gary Noffke bowlKnown for his versatility, technical prowess, and originality, Noffke is a blacksmith, coppersmith, silversmith, goldsmith, and toolmaker. He has produced gold and silver hollowware, cutlery, jewelry, and forged steelware. Noffke is noted for his technical versatility, his pioneering research into hot forging, the introduction of new alloys, and his ability to both build on and challenge traditional techniques. He has been called the metalsmith’s metalsmith, a pacesetter, and a maverick.

In 1971, he accepted a position at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens. Noffke devoted himself to the development of UGA’s jewelry and metals program and helped launch the Jewelry and Metals Studies Abroad curriculum in Cortona, Italy. As an educator he has mentored an entire generation of metalsmiths. Today he is retired from formal teaching and lives and works at his studio in Farmington, Georgia.

During the course of his career Noffke received numerous awards and honors. In 2005, Noffke was selected as one of the Fifty Outstanding Alumni of Fifty Years of Graduate Education by Eastern Illinois University. In 2001, he was elected to the College of Fellows by the American Craft Council; in 1990, he was honored with  an NEA Visual Artist Fellowship in Craft,; and in 1988, he became Master Metalsmith of the Year, a distinction awarded by the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis, TN.

From April to September 2011, the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, presented a major retrospective of his work, Attitude and Alchemy: The Metalwork of Gary Lee Noffke. This exhibition was the first major museum-organized project about Noffke  and featured over 120 pieces of his oeuvre, including silver and gold hollowware, flatware, jewelry, and objects forged in steel.

“Gary Noffke’s contributions to the field of metalsmithing are undeniable: from his commitment to the rich historical traditions of his craft, to his maverick nature, he has consistently mined the possibilities presented by the creation of hollowware, jewelry and flatware with his own brand of irreverent virtuosity. His dedication to smithing, teaching, and research have inspired generations of metalsmiths and introduced us all to the potential of hot-forging silver and gold.” –2016 Lifetime Achievement Award Committee: Lola Brooks, Kim Cridler, and Bruce Pepich

The 2016 SNAGneXt conference will be dedicated to Gary and he will receive his award during the Opening Remarks in Asheville, NC on May 19, 2016.


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2016 Lifetime Achievement Award Nominations

SNAG is seeking nominations for its 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award. Any member of SNAG may nominate someone. The nominees do not have to be SNAG members.

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2015 SNAG Lifetime Achievement Award, Fred Fenster

Fred FensterFred Fenster will be recognized for his accomplishments as a metalsmith artist, his influential role as teacher and educator, and his long association with SNAG as a Founding Member at this year’s SNAG conference in Boston.

“What if…?”  It’s hard to believe that this simple sentence is the root of a rich career that spans over 50 years but it is the question that has driven Fred Fenster’s studio practice because of its infinite possibilities.  It is the question that he asks himself at the onset of each Kiddush cup, pitcher, teapot, or salt and peppershaker set. Known for his pewter and silver hollowware vessels, Fred’s aesthetic can be found in clean lines and intricately fabricated forms that honor the function of the pieces being made.  FensterTeapotCupWine takes on the shape of a Star of David inside his signature Kiddush cup while the simple cut line of a domed form fits perfectly in the hand while it shakes out some salt or pepper for a meal.  Fred has never tired in his dedication to creating pieces that integrate into our lives and rituals.  Each piece contains a striking combination of simplicity and ingenuity requiring Fred to alter or design new tools and stakes to execute his designs. Fred Fenster’s research and creative work with pewter has garnered attention not only in the U.S. but also abroad in countries such as Korea and Taiwan. Artists working with this material today either directly studied with Fred or were taught by his students. He is responsible for bringing this out-of-favor material back into studios, workshops, and schools across the country.

Born in 1934 in the Bronx, New York, Fred Fenster attended City College of New York before receiving his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI) in 1960.  In 1962 he was hired to teach design, jewelry and metalsmithing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and began a distinguished teaching career, which lasted for more than 40 years.  In 2005 he retired from the University of Wisconsin and was designated Professor Emeritus. FensterSnailSaltPepperFred created a lasting network and legacy of professors, teachers, and artists all over the country. His success is evident in numerous awards including the Hans Christiansen Memorial Silversmithing Award; the 2004 Renwick Alliance Award for Excellence in Teaching; the 2006 American Craft Council Gold Medal; and in 2011 he was designated Master Metalsmith by the Metal Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.  Fred’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Renwick Gallery, of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Yale University Art Museum, New Haven, CT; the Detroit Art Museum, Detroit, MI; and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea. Fred Fenster lives and works in Sun Prairie, WI where he is still busy searching for the answer to that simple question.

SNAG’s Lifetime Achievement Award is the highest honor the Society can bestow upon an individual. This prestigious honor is reserved for leaders who have made significant contributions to contemporary metalsmithing throughout their career.

Please join the SNAG Board of Directors at this year’s Boston conference to honor Fred!