CELEBRATING THE ABSURD + THE PROJECT

“It has to have a purpose to wear it and the purpose is
to provoke, make fun, and remind us that we are human.”
—Sarah Doremus, artist + teacher

 

interview NANCY GORDON
photographs courtesy SARAH DOREMUS

Artist and teacher Sarah Doremus.
Fur-Lined Wedding Rings
Self Congratulatory Ring
Be prepared: Whiskers Happen
Fear of Drowning
Empusta Ugitfa (time flies)
Everybody is Somebody's Weirdo
Freud
Pre-Kiss Bad Breath Analyzer
Self Flagellation Ring
The Weight of Words
Trapped by Patriotism

Tell us a little about yourself and what led you to choose jewelry as your artistic medium.

It was an olfactory whim, actually, as I had not planned on going into an artistic field. I first went to college for nursing, changed my mind and major multiple times to chemistry, philosophy, anthropology .... Several years into school I asked my counselor what would be the quickest degree and he said a bachelor of science in art history, so that was what I got. After going to grad school and getting a master’s in environmental studies, I took a night class at Mass College of Art. As I came and went from my class to the subway, I would pass the printmaking studio. The print shop exhaust wafted out this strange, somewhat pleasing smell. It drew me in. I took more night classes and finally bit the bullet and went back full time to get a BFA. I was a sculpture major but took a lot of small metals classes and upon graduation I got a job at Metalwerx, a jewelry studio and school in Waltham, Mass. I was the studio tech and one of the bonuses of the job was getting a bench and use of the school equipment. So my work, by virtue of the tools at hand, went from big to little. To this day the memory of that print shop smell still draws me into my own studio to work.

Any advice from your early career that has stayed with you?

Be aware of Ockham’s razor. I had a professor in graduate school who wrote on one of my papers, “You are prone to hyperbole.” And another who during a critique told me, “Remember, less is more.” I see these as reminders when making work to use as little as necessary to tell the story. I think when you overthink something you tend to blur the message and lose the audience.

Your jewelry is so wonderfully edgy and full of social and cultural comment. What inspires you?

Rube Goldberg has always been my hero and his machines celebrate the absurd. A lot of what I see happening today is absurdity masquerading as sanity. I try to make my work reflect that contradiction. So what inspires me also shocks and confounds me.

Are your pieces art in the form of jewelry? Are they meant to be worn?

Jewelry has so much baggage attached to it. It can define a wearer’s socioeconomic class. It is a luxury but can also be a statement. I don’t use precious materials and my work is not meant to be beautiful per se but I do want it to make a comment about something. It has to have a purpose to wear it and the purpose is to provoke, make fun, and remind us that we are human.


Do you create traditional jewelry?

I use beach rocks and cut and drill them and combine with sterling silver to make more wearable jewelry. They are my “paperclips.” I love doing one-of-a-kind statement pieces but to make a living I need to make production pieces. Hence these rock pieces are my paperclips.

Pick a few of your statement pieces and tell us how they came to be.

Fur Lined Wedding Rings
When we moved to Maine I was a bit apprehensive about the Maine winters and cold weather so I made these wedding rings for the colder climate.


Self-Congratulatory Ring
I work alone a lot and have to admit I thrive on compliments. But being by myself limits the praise so I created a ring that could help me pat myself on the back.

Be Prepared: Whiskers Happen
This necklace was made for a show titled “Girls Play Games.” I did a series of pieces called Jewelry for the Nervous Lover. With aging comes chin whiskers; this necklace allows you to take care of the problem with minimal disturbance. Take this scene: You are at dinner with a date and you feel that prickly chin whisker. When your date excuses themself to the restroom you pop the top off the pendant, finding a small pair of tweezers, then turn the pendant around and use the mirror on the back to help extract that unwanted hair. Put the tweezers back and no one is the wiser.


Fear of Drowning
We all have anxieties and fears but society says don’t show them. I say wear them on your sleeve, or around your neck. I had a show of medals for our anxiety. I canvased friends as to what their fears were and made jewelry to honor them. My fear was a fear of incontinence and for that I made a necklace with a pair of sterling Depends adult diapers.


Empusta Ugitfa (tempus fugit) (time flies)
No matter how you say it, it does. This is a kinetic ring that when cranked, the hands on clock go around and the airplane spins around.

How do you integrate the rest of your life with your art?

By nature, I am an anxious person, so my mind seems to keep moving even when I ask it to stop. I think visually and aside from the art I make in my studio, my house and yard are filled with the overflow of my thought process. These pieces give me a chance to work out ideas sometimes sculptural, sometimes installation, and sometimes just tinkering. A lot of these pieces are created with materials procured from our town dump, which makes it easy to play as nothing is precious. Truth be told, my wife, Linda Campbell, is the major breadwinner in our family so I am fortunate that I get to indulge my curiosity and play.

What do you hope to give people through your art?

So much of our lives are taken up with getting ahead and fitting in. If my art made someone see something in them self that wasn’t necessarily flattering but universal, and they could laugh about it, or see the humanity in our shared weaknesses, then I feel I was successful.

The Project

You’ve been teaching art… Never having been a teacher, what attracted you to teaching?

If you had asked me 10 years ago if I wanted to teach elementary school children I would have said “I would rather gnaw my arm off.” But that being said, I needed insurance and having summers off was very appealing. I never would have imagined how much I love teaching kids. I have 60 to 100 children that I make art with each week. I teach STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math), too, so I get to make things and experiment with motors, computers, chemistry and math while mixing in art. Who could ask for a better job? The children are like little question machines and the curriculum is often directed by their inquiries.

The Project: How did it begin? What’s the focus? Who has it involved, and where has that led?

As part of the STEAM program, we decided to focus on the environmental issue of plastic pollution. To that end we developed a curriculum that integrated the study of plastic pollution into the regular curriculum. We invited scientists to talk to students, and had the Haystack Mountain School of Craft Fab Lab work with students on coding and creating a Scratch program on plastics. We fundraised to invite the environmental artist Bryant Holsenbeck from North Carolina to come work with the school and community, to create an outdoor sculpture made with local salvaged pot warp, which is the buoy line used with lobster traps. Alison Chase Dance Company was working with a group of students to develop a dance performance about plastics in our ocean with a score written by musician Paul Sullivan. We had hoped to perform the piece at the Samantha Smith Challenge, which is an offshoot of painter Robert Shetterly’s “Americans Who Tell the Truth” project. Unfortunately, the pandemic has put it all on hold. We hope to restart this school-wide project when the health concerns are under control. It was very disappointing to all involved to put the brakes on this but I know we will complete it in the future.

sarahdoremus.com
Available at Shaw Contemporary Jewelry in Northeast Harbor.

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Favorite …
Guilty pleasure?
Socks. Really nice wool ragg socks or Darn Tough socks will cure all ills.

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