Blair’s website inSpiraled is filled with quotes from famous artists about creativity, inspiration, and what it is to be an artist. I asked about her process and the things in her life that inspire her.
Q: What's your process like when you are creating a new piece of jewelry?
A: Several people have told me they would like to crawl inside my head to see what’s going on when I am making a piece. A new design usually starts as infatuation with a single element and the story that accompanies it. I have brought home dinner bones from a favorite Shanghai restaurant, crammed seashells into restaurant take-out containers in Australia, scavenged pottery fragments on a beach in Vietnam, and picked up weathered sticks and wire in our Lexington neighborhood. I love a good find! When the time is right for a particular component, I go through my stash and gather a group of potential playmates to accompany the featured guest. Sometimes I put the combinations in a bag and leave them alone for a while to see how they get along.
I rarely do a preliminary sketch; usually a piece just evolves. It seems that creating is the only thing I can do and remain focused. Once I start a piece, I usually don’t want to stop until it’s completed. I am blessed with a very patient and supportive husband who understands that dinnertime fluctuates greatly!
Q: A lot of your work seems to have an Asian influence - where does that come from?
A: At the end of 2003, I left a job of 20+ years as a public school art teacher and moved to China with my husband for his career. That wasn’t the beginning of the influence, though. I submitted a piece to Belle Armoire Magazine before that move was even in the realm of possibilities. It was called Asian Fibula; a silver pin I shaped and embellished with Asian beads and carvings found at a gem show near Washington, D.C. By the time it was featured in the magazine, we were living in Shanghai.
I have always had an appreciation for art of all cultures, and I think mixing them serendipitously is especially fun. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all get along together as well as the beads on a necklace?
Q: What's the most challenging thing about your work?
A: Well, there are quite a few challenges; personal shortcomings, for instance. I am easily distracted, insecure, accident prone, and severely lacking in the left-brain department.
Another is the mindset of women who look at my work and decide they can’t wear it because of its size. I am a small person … five feet tall and under 110 pounds. I don’t make anything I wouldn’t wear myself. I can’t tell you how many times someone towering over me has said, “Oh, that looks great on you, but I could never wear it; it’s just too big for me.” I always count to ten so I won’t speak. I’m finding many women here quite conservative in their accessory choices. I grew up in the south, but numerous moves, a divorce and age all contributed to what is now my personal style.
One customer, very tall, perfectly proportioned and incredibly beautiful, asked to see my small pendants. When I pulled out the smallest ones, she said she could never wear anything that large. This woman could wear a feed sack and make it look stunning; she just doesn’t know that yet. If someone tries one of my pieces on, they usually fall in love with it; the challenge is getting them to take that first step. I choose to let my jewelry be my outfit, so I keep my clothing simple; usually monochromatic and very few prints. That is the very simple key to wearing statement pieces.
Q: In addition to your jewelry, you make really stunning collages. How did your collage work come about?
A: I was asked by an editor of Cloth, Paper, Scissors Magazine to do a photo-journal of our experiences in Shanghai for a feature article. The photo-fiber collages I did for the journal made me want to do more. I never went anywhere during our five years in China without a camera. I had a love affair with rust, wrinkles and ruin in all their glory; and I don’t mean that facetiously. The stuff most people overlook captivates me. I hear things calling, “Look at me, look at me!” Some people think only conventional beauty is photo-worthy. Several friends in Shanghai told me I completely changed the way they looked at China, as well as photography.
I left a teaching job in Shanghai to focus on the collages, using photographs that many expats could form an emotional connection with. Some were images they wanted but were never able to capture themselves; others just spoke to them for some reason or another. Some of the collages paired an image with a compatible Chinese proverb. A proverb can speak volumes with the right image. I think my work is about stories and personal connections; those who are attracted to it usually want to know the story.
The photographs are printed on canvas and stitched to fabrics that showcase their color palette. The fabric backgrounds are stitched all over with free-motion machine embroidery. Many left China and traveled to new homes all over the world, but there are quite a few sitting lonely on my website. I have sold only a few since leaving Shanghai, despite hoping to establish a custom business here using family photos. The question I have heard most is “Don’t you have anything with Gamecocks or Palmettos?” I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Gamecocks or Palmettos, but wish more people were open to an alternative.
Q: Your work is so distinctive - I always know a piece is yours as soon as I see it. How would you describe your unique artistic style?
A: Thank you for saying that. I don’t want my work to look like someone else’s. I guess it is a compilation of my eccentricities. I made my first wire jewelry with copper in the early seventies and then took a basic jewelry class in college. Twenty years later I became interested in working with silver wire, but chose not to take a class because every sample by every teacher looked the same to me. I wanted to establish my own style, so I bought some silver, made lots of mistakes, and found my own way. I try not to look at the work of other jewelry artists or be influenced by trends, and I rarely start a piece with a preconceived idea. Usually the focal point piece guides me in a direction. I don’t always listen well at first; it might take a few tries to get it right.
I feel fortunate to have quite a few regular customers. Most are women who are very comfortable in their own skin. They don’t want to wear what everyone else is wearing; they prefer something that speaks to them or about them. I want my pieces to be able to stand on their own and stand up to time … like me.
Q: Your collages are a great way of preserving special memories. Is there a place in South Carolina that holds a special memory for you?
A: After my grandfather died, my grandmother moved to Spartanburg to be closer to her sisters. She lived there until her death in the early 1990s -- also her early 90s. Until moving here, visits to see her and a trip to Charleston were my only South Carolina experiences. In the three years we have lived here, I have loved visits to Beaufort and Charleston, as well as spending time right here in Columbia and Lexington. I take pleasure in small things, so most any place can be special and provide treasured memories; our front porch, for example!
Exploring off the beaten track usually nets favorites; with equal time given to looking at the ground so I don’t miss anything worthwhile! Quite a few of my favorite memories from Hunting Island and the Isle of Palms are now celebrated around the necks of women I have met in South Carolina.