Intuition & intent
Jeweler Margaret Jacobs
From turquoise-accented squashblossom necklaces to earrings of thin coral heishi beads, to multistranded bone chokers, Native American jewelry has long been recognized for its meticulous construction and often resplendently ornate characteristics. While examples of traditional styles still dominate many indigenous art markets and exhibitions, there’s plenty of room for fresh takes on old techniques. Margaret Jacobs’ modern jewelry stands in appealing contrast to more established Native styles. Currently based in New Hampshire, Jacobs is a member of the New York-based Saint Regis Mohawk tribe on her father’s side. “My grandmother was of the generation where she stopped speaking Mohawk in the home because it was easier on the children. So, really, there were certain traditions, actions, and ways of living that I didn’t necessarily associate with being Mohawk until I went away to college.”
Jacobs is more comfortable referring to herself as a “maker” than as an artist. For her, the distinction hinges on an approach to creating what’s intuitive rather than regimented. “From a young age I was always making something — but it didn’t necessarily have an intent, at least not from a broader cultural or political sense,” Jacobs said. That changed when she
I’M A VERY INTUITIVE MAKER SO I GENERALLY CREATE THE PIECE, AND THEN THE TITLE WORKS ITS WAY OUT INTO THE WORLD. I THINK INTENT HAS A LOT TO DO WITH IT, AND WHAT YOU WANT THE PIECE TO CONVEY.
attended Dartmouth, where she fine-tuned the highly personal, intentional practice she maintains today. “I’m a very intuitive maker so I generally create the piece, and then the title works its way out into the world. I think intent has a lot to do with it, and what you want the piece to convey.”
Her sculpture Shedding Armor is a keen example of the artist’s predilection for capturing the unfussy, raw beauty of an object: In this case, what appears to be the discarded shell of a turtle, whose steel frame is adorned with thin, layered metal plates. Jacobs’ background as a sculptor is evidenced in the jewelry she is showing at Seeds; many of the pieces are crafted from base metals that have been powder coated, a technique in which polyester-based plastic is sprayed onto a metal surface in powder form, and then baked and cured. Highly resistant to chips and scratches, it’s a finish more often associated with bicycle frames and automobile parts than wearable art. This technique injects Jacobs’ jewelry with both playful and muscular sensibilities.
A bolo tie necklace, for example, has the recognizable two-pronged leather cord, but its adjustable centerpiece is a powdercoated, flat black metal oval, adorned with a small chunk of veiny turquoise. Sleek and super wearable, it’s a refreshingly current take on the more traditional bolo tie. Maybe it’s this combination of intuition and intent that makes Jacobs’ craft so appealing. For her powder-coated black cuff bracelets, Jacobs merges slick and rough finishes, a thoroughly modern formulation that elegantly mimics the appearance of black crackle pottery. “I’m very interested in using materials and techniques that you can’t place right away.”
Though her jewelry’s clean lines and simple shapes may seem wholly contemporary, Jacobs sees her family’s lineage built into them. “My grandmother was a quilter, and as I’ve looked back at her work I realized that I’m referencing similar shapes and patterns that she used in her quilts.”
Jacobs has shown her work around the country, but this will be her first time exhibiting in the Southwest. “I had known about Seeds before applying and really liked their attitude about art,” Jacobs said, who also received input from her uncle, Santa Fe resident and mixed-media artist Alex Jacobs, about the venue. They’ll be sharing booth space at the event. — Iris McLister
Sculptures: Shedding Armor and A Fighting Chance 1 (right)