American Made Show: Please tell us a little bit about your background and how you arrived where you are today.
Melanie Feerst: Trained as a sculptor, my former architect and object designer colleagues helped me realize that I could successfully transition my studio practice and mindset from Sculpture to Craft by way of Design. During this transition, my challenges are working in a smaller, more intimate scale and creating interchangeable functionality, while still keeping my quirky sculptural aesthetic. I have worked with glass for the last 20 years and love the simplicity and formal structure of the fused glass bowl form.
AMS: What does the creative process entail for you?
Melanie Feerst: Delight with pouring molds and a fluid process of sculptural experimentation are essential to my development of jewelry fabricated in cast urethane resin, iron, and fused or cast glass. Inspired by my dark humor and the fetishized body, antique porcelain doll parts and medical hardware are transformed into quirky angst-ridden adornments. My evolving studio practice also embraces rapid prototyping, which provides the means to design ergonomic structure and multi-functional custom findings in strong sintered nylon.
AMS: What event or experience pushed you to take on art full-time?
Melanie Feerst: After years of advising graduate and undergraduate art and design students how to plan and strategically use their unique skills to create a successful artistic practice, I am finally following my own advice! An education in sculpture and a job with colleagues who excelled at integrating art ideas and practices into their architecture and design curriculums was crucial for me to reconsider my career and choose projects that exploit my best talents – moldmaking, patience (to keep refining kiln schedules), curiosity, and passion for material and process.
I utilize standard and experimental moldmaking, glass and foundry techniques developed in my studio (with over 30 years experience), at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (BFA sculpture), and at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (MFA glass / sculpture). I resigned my position as the Director of the Architecture and Designed Objects department at the School of the Art Institute in 2013 to devote full time to my studio practice.
AMS: What inspires you to create new designs?
Melanie Feerst: Passionately devoted to material exploration, I strive to create objects with a sculptural aesthetic and a quirky design sensibility. Thinking of these objects not as jewelry but as intimate sculptural adornment, I incorporate non-traditional industrial parts and use diverse technologies from lost wax casting to 3D rapid prototyping in sintered nylon. My two product lines are:
Inspired by dark humor and the fetishized body, I transform antique porcelain doll parts and medical hardware into poignant adornments cast in glass, iron and urethane resin. My Unrequited Love glass bowls use medical imagery to explore the raw physical pain and emotion of love unrealized.
More formal in theme, these pieces explore multiple functionality and new technologies. My evolving studio practice embraces 3D printing, which provides the means to design custom findings in sintered nylon to support fused glass discs. Process plays a key role in STRUCTURE art glass, where kiln temperatures are manipulated to fuse patterns reminiscent of plant cells or capture air bubbles between tiles.
One of a kind and custom pieces are available.
AMS: Tell us about the technical processes you employ in your work.
Melanie Feerst: Digital 3D printing provides the means to design custom structural findings in sintered nylon to support fused glass discs. Multifunctional design results, with the ability to interchange glass discs or simply turn the piece over to reveal a new pattern.
I often choose objects to take molds from based upon their form or use. Medical and scientific devices, hardware, drawer pulls, and porcelain doll pieces are transformed into parts that in turn complement the whole. The technique of lost wax casting is ancient and extremely labor intensive – a mold is taken from an object, the object removed and the image cast in wax, then the wax positive is encased in refractory mold, the wax is melted out and liquid metal is poured into the void or the mold is filled with glass and heated to flowing temperature, filling the mold.
AMS: How would you describe your artistic style?
Melanie Feerst: Small batch, user-centered design that focuses on the process of creation – from iteration to collaborative building, often using digital technologies like 3D printing or laser cutting. The disciplines of art, design and craft are blurring – architects are designing products, designers are building sculpture and sculptors are creating jewelry.
AMS: What type of customers tend to like your work?
Melanie Feerst: My jewelry appeals to the self-confident woman who collects jewelry and is not afraid to wear funky pieces. Most of my clients are proud to describe or show me their collections and the range of upscaled materials and unusual imagery is fantastic.
My ANGST series, a series of gritty objects that explore medical imagery and the fetishized body, appeals to clients looking for a rebel aesthetic.
Objects that you connect with emotionally make you feel good when you’re wearing or using them, whether you develop attachment through the narrative, imagery or material. The added bonus is by purchasing handmade you are supporting the artisan who made the piece with love, passion and mindful attention.
AMS: What is your most popular product line?
Melanie Feerst: My best selling necklace, Break, (in an affordable price point) is also a great stress reliever for the artist. Squares of brilliantly colored opaque glass are taped up and then cracked with a hammer (there is nothing more satisfying than the sound of breaking glass). The broken shards are peeled off the clear packing tape and fused to black squares, creating a softened appearance with geometric simplicity. Break is hung from a silver plated bail on a black industrial rubber necklace with a magnetic clasp.
AMS: Do you have any big announcements or plans in the near future?
Melanie Feerst: My style is hard to categorize, and that’s OK!
Not content to make work that looks the same, I will always explore new materials like a sculptor and refine processes like a designer. I believe there is greater depth and detail in work that examines ideas from all angles and expresses itself from multiple perspectives, materials and processes. Work from my ANGST series connects my previous sculptural research on the visceral and emotional aspect of medical culture (past and present), while STRUCTURE products reflect love of Japanese design and asymmetry.
Meet Melanie Feerst at the 2016 American Made Show in Washington DC!
Company Name: Melanie Feerst Studio
Studio Location: Chicago, IL
Booth #: 1712
See more handmade jewelry by current exhibitors on the American Made Show Pinterest page.