Interview with Gabriel Craig

Jeweller Gabriel Craig believes that the craft of jewellery needs to be celebrated through the concept of “egalitarian” jewellery- jewellery for the masses. The idea is to create jewellery and share it with other people and as Craig believes, sharing your own creation is like sharing a part of yourself with others. 

When did the idea for The Pro Bono Jeweler first come about ?

The seed for The Pro Bono Jeweler started was a series of performances that I did in the Fall of 2007 called The Collegiate Jeweler. I was in graduate school and the idea of making “art jewellery” for wealthy collectors seemed to clash with my ideas about the accessibility of art. I began to wonder how I could bring jewellery of artistic merit to a wider audience. The Collegiate Jeweler was my first attempt at a project that incorporated my goals of education, wider public engagement with jewellery making, and accessibility (this was done by giving the jewellery away for free).

Can you elaborate on the concept of the egalitarian jewellery?

I am not entirely sure that there is such a thing as egalitarian jewelry. When looking at the history of jewellery throughout history and across cultures, jewellery has always been a symbol of status, power, and identity. When I speak of egalitarian jewelry, I am usually referring to making handmade jewellery more accessible to the general public. While mass produced jewellery has been affordable to most in the middle class since the industrial revolution in the west (circa 1800), the cost of handmade jewellery –or jewellery of exceptional quality, design, and manufacture – is usually prohibitive for most. I think that any activity or object which seeks to bring handmade jewellery to a wider audience is egalitarian in my book. Better jewellery for more people. Two great examples of this are the Stimulus Project at Sienna Gallery in Lenox, Massachusettes, where the gallery had a show in which all pieces were less than $500.00 US, and the jewelry of Arthur Hash, who uses technology such as laser cutting and etching, and rapid-prototyping to aid him in the manufacture of his limited production designs thus lowering the cost per unit of his jewellery while maintaining high artistic standards.

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What has the response been so far?

The response was mixed at first. How do you explain to someone you are a jeweller who is actually doing performance art? I think it took some time and some press and publicity before the project started to gain some attention and then eventually acceptance. Right now I have two major museum shows lined up for the Spring of 2010. One at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Texas as part of the exhibition Hand + Made Curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver, and another at the Miami University Art Museum in Miami Ohio as part of Adornment and Excess, curated by Lena Vigna. So it is only now that the project is gaining recognition in the art world. But the participants in the projects - the people on the street that is – they have always been engaged and excited. When they see jewellery being made in person it is really interesting because most people in the US are so removed from manual skills. They don’t know how things are made anymore. When I am out there I am showing them some kind of lost ancient in art and they eat it up because they find it so intriguing. 

What have you learnt from this, personally?

I have learnt many different lessons from this project. First, my thinking about jewellery as a medium for communication has changed. Instead of communicating a message through the jewellery itself, I have begun to realise that jewellery can act as a reminder of an experience. The jewellery that has been made as part of the performances is a container for the knowledge people have gained by participating. Jewellery is a better container than communicator. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I have learnt that all people with an open mind can become interested in the handmade. By offering someone a chance to be creative or by encouraging them to give a part of themselves that doesn’t often get the chance to make its way to the surface. Watching someone discover jewellery reminds me why I love jewellery.

 What are your upcoming projects?

I mentioned this above with the upcoming museum exhibitions that I will be in, but I am planning some new performances that are a little more playful, but continue to challenge people’s perception of jewellery and the handmade. A few month ago I did a performance I called The Gospel According to Craft, which I hope to post a video of soon. In the performance I played the part of a street preacher, asking people to accept craft into their lives as a form of salvation. This takes the form of people who preach religion on the street in America. Most of the time these people are thought of as pretty crazy, and a lot of the people who saw me on the street thought I was a religious zealot, but when they realized I was talking about the handmade it became quite hilarious. I acted very serious though. The whole thing was over the top. I am also planning a project where I offer to improve people’s jewellery for free on the street. I plan to take everyday mass produced jewelry and add an artistic touch. I imagine that some people will think I ruined their jewellery, but I hope that I am just grafting another layer of specialness to their already precious objects.