The (Gen)-X factor

Just because it doesn’t look like anything you’d buy at the mall, and just because cubic zirconia never enters into the equation, doesn’t mean the jewelry currently on display at Grovewood Gallery should be passed over as too weird to wear.

“All of us are challenging the idea that this isn’t a legitimate art form,” states jeweler Joanna Gollberg. And she’s not just speaking for her fellow artisans — she’s speaking for her whole generation.

The Ne(X)t Generation of Jewelry, which shows through the end of the month at Grovewood Gallery, features only the creations of artists under age 40.

Gollberg applauds the concept. “Art jewelry is still in its first generation of artists,” she explains. “People our age are the second generation, and we’re still trying to find out where we fit.”

She adds: “It’s very competitive with people who are older and have been in the field a while.”

Perusing the offerings at Grovewood, the viewer senses not the classic Gen-X irony but something softer, by now — namely whimsy. Lisa and Scott Cylinder’s “Birdseye Pencil” brooch, for instance, is a fanciful take on standard ornamental fare. Instead of gems, the pin is decorated with cross sections of good ol’ number-two pencils and erasers. Dominique Giordano’s updated spin on the jeweled necklace incorporates lavender epoxy resin and darkly luminescent freshwater pearls. Gollberg’s work is modern, with clean lines and deceptively spare designs. Her hinged “Kora” bracelet sports an Art Deco-esque motif inside; the outside is reminiscent of a Chinese puzzle box.

Surprisingly, despite the cutting-edge designs represented, several of the show’s participants admit they aren’t creating for a younger consumer.

That’s right: The so-called slacker generation (unofficially born between 1961 and 1981) has grown up enough to make high-end jewelry — but apparently X-ers are still unable or unwilling to empty their wallets for it.

“I make what I like and what I’d wear — but I find most people who buy it are my mother’s age,” Gollberg agrees. (Accordingly, she designs pieces she considers “nice, but not too trendy.”)

Jason Janow agrees. “My target customer is a woman or anyone buying for a woman … mostly women in their 40s and 50s,” he says, even confessing: “I don’t feel like you’d look at my jewelry and see a young designer.”

“My stuff tends to be simple in design and kind of classic, so it appeals to a wide range [of consumers],” offers Mary McCall Timmer. “I try to steer away from the trends. I want to create something that will last 20 or 30 years.”

That veering away from fads is one thing the jewelers of the Ne(X)t Generation show have in common, and for many, innovation takes on the form of returning to vintage designs — conceptually if not absolutely.

Bead artist Angie Abrams, for example, rejuvenates the traditional stand of baubles by crafting incandescent gold and brown beads into realistic leaf shapes — simultaneously modern and nostalgic of flapper-era beadwork.

Rebecca Zelis recreates the decorative art-nouveau necklace with chunky stones offset by the occasional delicate leaf or petal shape, all set into silver bezels and strung on long sections of hand-wrought chain, formed to hang around the neck at angles instead of draping.

Janow — who, in keeping with many of his fellow X-ers, worked in several trades (including construction and landscaping) before getting serious about art — also claims to eschew the trends. “I feel it’s important to create a niche in the market — something that’s not been done before,” he notes. “I’m aspiring to make my own designs, which may or may not fit into the lucrative end of [the jewelry trade].”

Janow’s anti-trend expressions take on organic forms. Thin bands of silver, fashioned into branch shapes, embrace natural rocks. Twig-like earrings clutch earthy brown stones in a marriage of fine art and innate simplicity.

But even as the artists of Ne(X)t Generation vary in creative impetus, all agree that the exhibit is a welcome opportunity.

Unconsciously echoing that we’re-in-this-mess-together spirit that marked the rise of Gen-X consciousness in the early ’90s, Janow adds: “To show what the younger generation is doing and to pull some of us together is one of the best things that could happen for us.”

The Ne(X)t Generation of Jewelry shows at Grovewood Gallery (111 Grovewood Road) through Sunday, Oct. 31. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call 253-7651.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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