Author: Kris A. Patzlaff
Society of North American Goldsmiths has awarded the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award to Brent Kington, and honored him at the SNAG conference in Seattle, WA. Kington is being recognized for more than 40 years of significant contributions to the field as an educator, as well as his lifelong commitment to professional organizations and the art of blacksmithing.
Brent Kington was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1934. In high school he excelled in art and was encouraged to attend the University of Kansas, where he studied with Carlyle Smith and Robert Montgomery. Graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1957, he continued his study at Cranbrook Academy of Art under Richard Thomas. During his years at Cranbrook, his peers included Stanley Letchzin, Heikki Seppa, Fred Fenster and Michael Jerry.
Immediately after receiving his MFA from Cranbrook in 1961 Kington began the odyssey of resurrecting a failing metalsmithing program at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Equipment was sparse, but with little more than a few hammers, stakes and a buffing machine, Kington created a program that would become one of the most important metal programs in the country, most notably for blacksmithing.
During his early years in Carbondale, Kington’s work revolved around creating small, whimsical sculptures and toys cast in silver. Reflecting his early interest in cartoon drawings, his toys were humorous, playful and kinetic. The importance of movement and implied movement continues to be an element in his work.
It was in 1964, while attending the first World of Craft Council in New York, that Kington visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The visit to the arms and armory galleries of the museum would send him on a path that would forever change the direction of his work, the program at SIUC and the practice of blacksmithing in the country.
Kington was inspired by the work, noting the technical detail, rich surfaces and forms produced in iron that were as accomplished and thoughtful as works in silver and gold. Upon returning home, he collected as much information, books and tools as he could on blacksmithing. With very little written on the subject, Kington sought out local southern Illinois blacksmiths, including Ben and Jim Deal, in order to acquire information. From 1964 through 1969, he continued to learn about blacksmithing, devoting a week or two each month to this new skill, while creating other work for exhibitions.
In 1970, Kington and his students hosted a blacksmithing workshop at Southern Illinois University with Alex Bealer, author of The Art of Blacksmithing. Although it was expected to be primarily for his students, over 60 people attended, bringing together educators and craftspeople from all over the country. Attendees included Michael Croft, Stanley Letchzin, Nilda Getty, Richard Mawdsley, Garrett DeRuiter, Robert Ebendorf, Ronald Pearson and Bill Furhman, among others. This conference is considered seminal in bringing blacksmithing and iron into the arena as a viable material and process for contemporary expression. A number of conferences followed at different venues, with greater attendance, leading to the formation of ABANA, the Artist-Blacksmiths Association of America.
By 1976, the conference returned to SIU, bringing 490 attendees from across the U.S, Italy, England and Canada. Kington and graduate students Jim Wallace, Daryl Meier and Joel Schwartz, along with the Director of Art and Exhibits at the SIUC University Museums, organized an unprecedented exhibition of contemporary and historical ironwork, Iron Solid Wrought/USA, which later traveled to the Museum of Crafts in New York and the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian. It was also during this time that Kington and his students were exploring and conducting research on pattern welded steel and mokume-gane.
By 1972, the first university-taught blacksmithing classes were offered at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, which offers the only MFA in Blacksmithing in the country. The blacksmiths studio was designated the “L. Brent Kington Smithy” in 2003.
Kington was now committed to his ferrous metal work, sharing information in the University smithy and working in his studio, leaving his cast silver toys and objects behind. Creating a series of works, including weathervanes, the Icarus series (early 80s) and the Croziers, Crescents and Spires series (mid 80’s to the present), Kington pushed the art of blacksmithing as a sculptural medium, exploring alternative surface treatments and elements of movement or implied movement.
Kington’s extensive exhibition record includes venues across the country and abroad. Most recently, a retrospective exhibition entitled L. Brent Kington, Mythic Metalsmith opened in 2007 at Southern Illinois Art Gallery in Whittington, Illinois. The exhibition, curated by Debra K. Tayes, traveled to the Illinois State Museum, Chicago Art Gallery in Chicago, the Southern Illinois University Museum in Carbondale, the National Ornamental Museum in Memphis, TN, the Illinois State Museum in Lockport, and ended its tour in 2011 at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. This retrospective featuring more than 45 years of work, brings together pieces from private and permanent collections for the first time. Kington worked closely with Tayes for two years, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts American Masterpieces Initiative. A beautiful catalog accompanied the exhibition.
His work is in many permanent collections, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, The National Ornamental Museum, Society of Contemporary Crafts, Friendship Hall in Nakjo, Japan, and the Mint Museum of Art + Design, among others.
A major contributor to the American Studio Crafts Movement, Brent Kington received the prestigious “Gold Metal” from the American Art Council in 2000. He has been honored with the Outstanding Artist Educator Award in 2009 by Penland School of Crafts, the Lifetime Member Award in 2006 by the Artist–Blacksmiths Association of North America, and awarded the American Craft Council Trustee Emeriti in 1994. Other honors include: Artist-Blacksmiths Association of North America’s Bealer Award for Distinguished Service in 1983, the National Endowment for the Arts’ Craftsmen Fellowship in 1982, the American Craft Council’s Academy of Fellows in 1978, and the National Endowment for the Crafts’ Craftsmen Fellowship in 1975.
In recognition of Kington’s contributions to blacksmithing and as an educator, an anonymous artistic foundation donated $1 million to SIUC to create the L. Brent Kington Chair in Blacksmithing. Richard E. “Rick” Smith, head of the metalsmithing specialization in the School of Art and Design and a former graduate student, was the first to hold the Chair. This endowment supports research, travel and materials.
Kington’s long-term commitment to professional organizations in the field began as a founding member of the Society of North American Goldsmiths. Serving from 1970-1973, he was the first President and served as Director from 1973-1977. The many organizations in which he has served include the National Ornamental Museum as a trustee from 1987-1997, the Artist-Blacksmiths Association of North America as Director from 1976-79, and the American Craft Council as Trustee from 1976-1980. He currently serves on the Resource Committee for the National Ornamental Museum and the Program Advisory Committee at the Kentucky School of Craft in Hindeman, KY.
The list of Kington’s students who have become successful metalsmiths and blacksmiths, whether owning their own business or becoming educators themselves in universities, craft programs and museums across the country, is enormous. Leading by example, Brent Kington’s service to SNAG, ABANA and the metals community at large was an inspiration to those who studied with him. Many have chosen to serve SNAG and other professional organizations through committee and board service. Graduates of SIUC Michael Croft, Mary Lee Hu, Harlan Butt, and Kris Patzlaff have all served as Presidents of SNAG.
Brent Kington’s life story is engaging. To gain an in-depth appreciation for the magnitude of his contributions to the field I suggest reading the transcript of an interview conducted by Mary Douglas for the Archives of American Art, Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, for the Smithsonian Institution.
The catalog of photographs and essays from the retrospective exhibition L. Brent Kington, Mythic Metalsmith is available through SNAG.
Brent Kington retired from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 1996. He continues to have an active studio practice in Mikanda, Illinois where he lives with his wife, Diane.
Author: Anne Barros
For a Canadian woman in the late 1940s to be attracted to silversmithing in the Design Department at the University of Kansas is not very remarkable. But for that same woman, Lois Etherington Betteridge, to have forged a successful sixty-year career as a silversmith and become a leader of the studio craft movement in Canada is worthy of great admiration.
After graduating with a BA from Kansas, Betteridge entered the fledgling Canadian arts scene in 1952 with studios first in Oakville and then in Toronto where she made both jewellery and hollowware. Liturgical commissions were particularly important as she worked full-time to support herself in a conservative city then known as Toronto the Good. On Sundays the curtains were drawn on department store windows in order not to violate the Sabbath. It took both pluck and vision to compete in a male-dominated profession that had barely enough clientele for the few craftspeople already active. Silversmith Harold Stacey and Goldsmith Hero Kielman, both among the founders of the Society of North American Goldsmiths, welcomed her. Kielman with his Dutch training gave her instruction in chasing and repoussé and it soon became her favored technique.
Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, awarded Betteridge a scholarship in 1955 and she spent two years there studying under Richard Thomas, a strict but encouraging mentor. Betteridge found herself happily influenced by the fluid lines and flowing surfaces of the International Style and Scandinavian modernism as she worked in the beautiful buildings designed by Eliel Saarinen.
Marriage to British veterinarian, Kieth Betteridge, led to a period of six years in England that offered opportunities not only for bearing two children, but for continuing her craft, registering her maker’s mark at the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, London, and exhibiting annually at the Bear Lane Gallery in Oxford. When the history of women silversmiths is updated it will be interesting to read the stories of how Twentieth Century women managed households that included not only nurseries and kitchens, but carpools and studio practices.
Returning to Canada in 1967, Betteridge began receiving important commissions for presentation pieces from members of the Canadian government. A series of sterling silver letter openers reflects the harmony of her hammer and chasing tool at that time. Betteridge’s ability to satisfy the needs of the client and her own design aesthetic have been important over a lifetime of commission work. Standing her in good stead have been her direct and friendly manner and the guarantee that if the client did not like the piece, it could be returned – an offer that has yet to be taken up.
Stylistically her smithing has changed with the zeitgeist and as she interprets life in metal. At times, textured surfaces are important. At other periods, it is the idea of the volume of the piece that holds sway perhaps in contrast to a chased element. She is best known for her celebratory objects – teapots, brandy snifters, spice shakers and honey pots. Raising silver from a flat sheet into a three-dimensional work is her forte. To find silver controlled and moved in so masterful a way in our machine era is like coming across a finely embroidered napkin in a fast food outlet.
It is not that she avoids faster methods of construction, but her personal satisfaction lies in the symmetrical rows of planishing marks on a satisfyingly heavy piece of silver. Her surfaces are richly reflective. Herein also rests her reputation for high quality craftsmanship. No shortcuts are allowed that would detract from the final finish of a piece. Details are relished – screws and bolts are handmade; stones are set in hidden places. Function is important, but may be disguised or embellished so at first glance a teapot is a bird.
If a piece of silver can speak something of its time, Betteridge’s would talk of the freedom of a woman artist to imagine strong fanciful forms that function with flare for owners who relish the tradition of wrought objects. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of her career is that she was able to work in an uncompromising way, secure in her own aesthetic.
Canada is richer not only for Betteridge’s body of work, but for her passing on of traditional silversmithing techniques and her enthusiasm for the field. She taught for almost 20 summers at the Haliburton School of the Arts, Sir Sanford Fleming College, Ontario, and has given countless workshops and lectures in jewellery and metal departments in Canada and abroad. Perhaps the most magnanimous teaching has occurred in her own studio where apprentices lived the life of a silversmith from talking ideas to cleaning the polishing machine. One apprentice, Lisa Ridout of Ontario, attributes her own learned perfectionist tendencies to Betteridge’s “high benchmark” of quality craftsmanship.
Contemporary silversmithing has a presence in Canada today that is surprising given the population of the country and its historic indifference to handmade silver objects. Betteridge has bred a community of makers of hollowware who have banded together to organize exhibitions across the country. For her 70th birthday, the MacLaren Art Centre in Guelph, Ontario, staged an exhibition of her work. In her generosity Betteridge asked other silversmiths to exhibit with her, and a permanent collection of silver work was established by the Centre. Her 80th birthday brought about a similar exhibition at Jonathon’s Gallery in London, Ontario. Another exhibition of silversmithing is planned to coincide with the 2013 SNAG Conference n Toronto.
Aside from the talent, vision and drive needed for sixty years of continuous making, physical stamina and fun have also been essential to Betteridge’s success. Whatever ailment came her way, she courageously overcame it. With the loving support of her husband (also her photographer) and her family, she never quit the bench. Socially, she looks for opportunities to connect with people. There is never just an opening reception; there needs also to be a dinner or a party afterwards.
Internationally Betteridge has exhibited widely and her work is in important collections from Scotland to Greece. With 26 solo exhibitions, hers is an enviable record.
In recognition of Betteridge’s creative work and her generous sharing of skills, she has received numerous honors: the Order of Canada, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee medal, the Saidye Bronfman Award, The M Joan Chalmers 15th Anniversary Award, election as a distinguished member of SNAG whose board she served on from 1984-88, and to the Royal Canadian Academy of Art.
Canada has many other fine women smiths including Kye-yeon Son, Brigitte Clavette and Karen Cantine. Among the men are silversmiths Don Stuart, Mike Massie and Ross Morrow. All acknowledge Betteridge as Queen and, like Victoria’s reign, it is proving to be a long and productive one.
Anne Barros is a silversmith and author of Ornament and Object: Canadian Jewellery and Metal Art 1946-1996.
Author: Matthew Hollern
Stanley Lechtzin is the 2009 recipient of the SNAG Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Society of North American Goldsmiths, presented at the 40th SNAG conference in Philadelphia. His peers have recognized him as an artist and educator for his ongoing achievements and contributions that expand and elevate our field.
Born in 1936 in Detroit, his early experiences included jewelry repair, drafting, and cartography. In 1956 he entered Wayne State University where he majored in crafts and studied jewelry with Philip Fike, earning the BFA degree in 1960. He studied with Richard Thomas and earned the MFA degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art, where his contemporaries included Fred Fenster, Heika Seppa, Brent Kington, and Michael Jerry. In 1962 he moved to Philadelphia to establish and head a new craft department at Tyler School of Art. In 1965 he was appointed founding chairman of the Crafts Department.
“In the 1960s and 1970s, his experiments with electroforming—an industrial process for metal-plating modeled forms—placed him at the forefront of the American jewelry movement and helped establish Philadelphia as a major center for innovative metalwork. Though the process dates to the early nineteenth century, Lechtzin was the first to adapt it for artistic purposes. In his work, Lechtzin took full advantage of electroforming’s potential to yield large-scale objects that are relatively light, allowing him to create full-bodied yet wearable sculptural forms. He also exploited the organic structures that “grow” in the acid bath during the process. These metal accretions bear a welcome resemblance to natural forms found in plants or geological structures.” 1
“Lechtzin next turned his attention to the creative potential of plastics, reveling in their wide color palette and transparent light effects. The great variety of this man-made material held such appeal for the artist that his jewelry became increasingly dominated by plastic rather than metal.” 2
From Lechtzin’s biographical statement (2009): “In 1978 Lechtzin became enamored with yet another means of technology, namely the computer. Since then, he has virtually abandoned handwork, believing that the computer has rendered such labor-intensive techniques redundant. He believes artists are society’s cultural antennae and as such must address current societal issues. This has led to his vision of computer-aided-design / 3D printing as a new craft medium. Lechtzin sees unique objects as always having social importance. Therefore he is engaged in an exploration of how crafts must change, while still maintaining their historical values. In this investigation he is joined by his collaborator, Daniella Kerner. Together this husband and wife team merges their lives . . . their professions . . . their art.”
His creative work and research has expanded horizons and changed the face of the metals and jewelry field: from his early exploration and use of electroforming, to the US patent awarded in 1982 for a method for achieving karat gold electroforms, from the exploration and masterful works in plastics, to the use of vapor deposition imaging, and from the earliest exploration of the personal computer, to his ongoing commitment to CAD-CAM and 3D Printing. In each instance, Stanley Lechtzin has been a preeminent figure responsible for the adaptation, adoption, and advancement of new technologies. The significance and quality of the work is evidenced in the long history of grants and fellowships he has received to support his work including 5 NEA grants and fellowships, 2 Pennsylvania Council for the Arts grants, a Mellon foundation Grant, and a Temple University grant. More important is the way in which collective attitudes toward technology and the ‘unfamiliar’ have been changed. In the fall of 2006, Stanley was once again a founding member of a new organization known as CadLaboration whose mission is “to contribute to the ongoing evolution of the field of jewelry and metals by fostering education and substantive collaboration among artists working with digital technologies.” His commitment to collaboration and research in new technologies continues to provide new opportunities for all of us.
Stanley Lechtzin is among the most recognized and influential artists in our field who has challenged and redefined aesthetic values of our time. He is a prolific artist whose work has been presented in solo and group exhibitions for 7 decades, throughout the United States and the world. His work is held in numerous public and private collections, testament to his achievement by curators, scholars, historians, and his peers. Collections include: The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Cooper-Hewitt Museum, The American Craft Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, Goldsmiths’ Hall, Helen Williams Drutt, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts – Houston, Museum of Arts and Design – MAD, Objects: USA, The Johnson Collection of Contemporary Crafts, Robert L. Pfannebecker, Pforzheim Museum of Jewelry, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music, Yale University Art Gallery. In addition, his work and research has been published in more than 70 books, and innumerable papers and articles over 6 decades.
Now in his 50th academic year, Professor Lechtzin continues to head the Metals / Jewelry / CAD-CAM Area. The Tyler program has evolved and prospered through his dedication and vision, providing thousands of students and hundreds of graduates the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and abilities, to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills, and to aspire to contribute meaningful new ideas to the world. One of the most significant contributions of any teacher and program is the successful practice of their graduates. While many understand the Tyler program through the lens of technology, the success of its graduates is far more complex: artists, designers, teachers, writers, critics, scholars, gallerists, and advocates. A partial list would include myriad and diverse contributors to our field: Paley, Moty, Griffin, Maniscalco, Quigley, Yoo, Metcalf, Kerner, Threadgill, Berman, DePaul, Ross, Lalik, Farrell, Tatalick, Bucci, Strzelec, Starrett, and so many more emerging. Each student experience at Tyler shapes thinking, goals, and careers.
Curriculum is critical to the advancement of a program, and the educational experience through which artists and designers are cultivated. It requires continuous redesign to ensure the growth of a program and a field. Stanley Lechtzin leads by example through his efforts to design and implement innovative curricula. By his dedication to practice-based research, he has challenged the field to look forward, to explore new materials and technologies, and to contribute to the rethinking and advancement of aesthetic values. He has led by example, invited our collective participation and exchange, and provoked us all. He has exemplified the artist/educator as researcher and designer and cultivated many educators to seek to establish other meaningful curricula and programs. Over the past 50 academic years, the graduates of the Tyler program have conducted innumerable artist interviews as historical research, and technical research projects, both of which are archived in audio/visual collections at Tyler, and are part of a plan to be shared with the field, once digitized. In 1989 Temple University recognized Lechtzin for his teaching with the Great Teacher Award.
In 1969 Stanley Lechtzin was one of 9 founders of SNAG, and over the period since then he has advocated vigorously and without cease for the best interest of our field, for education and professional practices. His work ethic is remarkable, his dedication and advocacy for others, tireless. He has served on juries and reviews, presented papers and panels, provided consultation to education and industry, all as part of the best practice. On the 40th anniversary of SNAG in Philadelphia his peers shared their great respect in bestowing SNAG’s highest honor on Stanley Lechtzin, an exceptional person who has dedicated his life to the advancement of our field.
1 Crafting A Legacy: Contemporary American Crafts in the Philadelphia Museum of Art ((Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2002), p. 140.
Images (top to bottom, left to right):
Stanley Lechtzin Portrait
“TORQUE #82C” , 1970, Electroformed Silver Gilt & Biwa Pearls, 11″x6.5″x2″, Private Collection
“NECKPIECE #17D”, 1971, Electroformed Silver Gilt, Amethyst Crystals, Moonstones, 8″x18″, Collection of the Artist
“BROOCH #56C”, 1969, Electroformed Silver Gilt, Agate, 96 Biwa Pearls, 6.5″x3″x1.25″, Collection of the Artist
“TORQUE #33D”, 1973, Electroformed Silver & Gilt, Polyester, 12″x7.5″x2.5″, Collection of Yale University
“TORQUE #66D”, 1978, Electroformed Silver Gilt, Cast Acrylic, 200 Pearls, 10.75″x 10.5″x 1.25″ Commissioned by K. Mikimoto & Company; Permanent Collection of Tokyo University of Fine Art & Music
“CAMEO BROOCH #56D”, 1975, Electroformed Silver & Gilt, Cast Acrylic & Photo images, 6.5″x6.5″x3″, Collection of the Artist
“CAMEO CORSAGE” BROOCH #83D, 1979, Electroformed Silver & Gilt, Cast Acrylic & Photo Images, Pearls, 6.25″x3.75″x3″, Collection of the Artist
“BRACELET #28F”, 1988, CAD-CAM, Acrylic, Anodized Aluminum, 4.25″ x 4.5″ x 1.25″, Collection of the Artist
“PLUS=MINUS” BROOCH #58F2, 2000, CAD/Rapid Prototype, SLA Resin, 14K gold, 6″ x 3.25″ x 1.75″, (Daniella Kerner, Collaborator) Collection of the Artists
“RAREARTH 3 DICHOTOMY” BROOCH #65F2, 2004, CAD/RP Stereolithography Resin, Selective Laser Sintered Glass filled Nylon, Rare Earth magnets 6 1/2″h x 4 1/2″w x 1 1/4″d, (Daniella Kerner, Collaborator) Collection of the Artists
“PYNCH BROOCH #73F”, 2011, 3D Print, Resin, O-Ring, 4.5”, (Daniella Kerner, Collaborator) Collection of the Artists