74 entries have been received for the 2017 Halstead Design Challenge, some of which will be displayed in New Orleans during the SNAG conference.
We interviewed Halstead president Hilary Halstead Scott about the project. Below is what she told us:
This is your second year hosting the Halstead Design Challenge. Why did you feel like this was a worthwhile project to partner with SNAG on?
At Halstead, we were looking for a project to engage with as much of our jewelry making community as possible. Our primary philanthropic program to date, The Halstead Grant, is tailored to emerging artists. But, it’s important to us to connect with a larger group of makers at every stage in their careers. And, we wanted to do it in a fun and interesting way. Brigitte Martin suggested that we collaborate on a project a few years ago. She and I talked it over for about a year until this idea really started to take shape. We wanted to involve an active career maker as a third juror, so we invited Samantha Skelton to join the team as well.
The Halstead Design Challenge is consistent with the missions of both SNAG and Halstead. Collaborating on the challenge is the perfect way for both of our organizations to bridge different parts of the jewelry world and embody the community that we are promoting. Makers of every skill level, technique, price point, market segment and experience level are all part of this community. Metalsmiths have more in common that unites us than divides us and this project brings all of those elements together.
What insight did you gain about makers that wanted you to design another making challenge?
We were blown away by the enthusiastic response! We were nervous about how well the project would be received the first year. But, the kits sold out in 24 hours in our first challenge, Kinetic, to create a movable piece with a found object. It was unbelievable. Originally, we had action plans ready to promote the kit sales three, six and nine months out from the launch date. That’s funny in retrospect. This second year, we doubled the number of kits for the Memento challenge incorporating a photograph and they sold out in 48 hours. We’ve learned there’s a real thirst for this kind of project. We struck a chord with the need to connect and find common ground.
The novelty of getting the exact same items and seeing what other makers would make was really intriguing for people. Some artists had never worked with components before, so they were curious about how that would inform the finished product. The excitement of an exhibition slot was a big draw as well. Participants loved the egalitarian slant on the challenge since a brand new students’ creations could be featured right alongside the work of established masters in our field. Plus, it is a great fundraiser for SNAG through the kit revenues and part of the proceeds from the exhibition sales. So much to love!
How do you select the materials for the kits?
It was important that we include some raw material building blocks like sheet, blanks and wire that are the blank canvases of our media. But, we also wanted to include some pieces that would be clearly identifiable in the finished piece. This was part of the fun in viewing the submissions and the final exhibition. Viewers in the gallery took part in a scavenger-hunt-like experience. You could hear “a-ha” moments around the room as viewers found pieces they recognized from the kit display in the finished works and marveled at how the artists used them so creatively. Those discernible jewelry supplies created common threads that intertwined the exhibition pieces beyond the thematic level.
How does this project meet with Halstead’s mission?
Community is central to our mission. That was the motivation behind creating The Halstead Grant over a decade ago and it was the reason we wanted to add another more inclusive project now. It’s so important to us to engage with our jewelry community as peers and colleagues as much as we can as participants and not just observers.
How did you come up with the idea of using photos for the challenge?
Brigitte Martin brought this idea to the table when we were still in Asheville last year after the excitement of the Design Challenge exhibition at Blue Spiral. We were shocked and energized by the success of the event. All three of us were committed to continuing to incorporate a found object of some sort. In the first challenge, we found that the video clips demonstrating the kinetic element of each design submitted along with the pieces of jewelry added an important element to the project. We wanted to keep a representative part of the makers’ process in the exhibition as well. This year, instead of a video, participants are submitting a copy of the original photo that was used in the work.
If you were participating do you have a favorite photograph you would incorporate?
We talked a lot about memory when we were brainstorming for the project this year. I think photographs that conjure a particular experience or trip would be my first impulse. The textures and the visuals from that time and place extend beyond the frame of the photograph. It would be fun to give those thoughts a physical form. A photo that I love is from when my son was really little and we were on a great ski vacation. Skiing is a part of our family’s fiber. It’s really important to us and our time together. I took a picture of my skis, my husband’s skis and my son’s tiny little starter skis leaned up against the wall in our cabin. It still makes me tear up when I look at it. Happy memories.
What was one of the most surprising moments from the first challenge for you?
My first day of jurying the submissions. I was overwhelmed by the creativity of this community. The submissions varied widely and it was so much fun to see the individuality of each maker so clearly expressed through common materials. I asked my parents, the Halstead founders, to come into the office one day so I could show them the photos and videos of some of my favorites. We had a blast huddling around my monitor and clicking through the slide show. It was such a cool representation of what talented metalsmiths can do!
Are you already thinking of the next Halstead Challenge? Can you give away the next theme?
We’re definitely excited to continue with this project. I have no idea what the next theme will be. One of the most rewarding parts of this new journey has been the collaboration with Brigitte and Sam. These are such smart, talented women. I love our talks and the perspectives each of us bring to the table. I’m looking forward to our next brainstorming session and all the ideas that will burst forth. (There’s a lot of excitement and gesturing, so “burst” is a good descriptor.) I bet there will be beer, too. I can’t wait!