The Baltimore Jewelry Center’s Annual Gala Fundraiser
Text by Cara Ober
Photos by Jill Fannon
I definitely enjoy sweatpants, but I also like an occasional excuse to do my hair, dig through my closet for that fun/weird garment I haven’t worn in a decade, and break out the art jewelry. I was introduced to art jewelry only very recently by Baltimore Jewelry Center Director Shane Prada, who wrote and curated a portfolio of art jewelers for BmoreArt’s Issue 05: Beauty, realized in photos by Jill Fannon. This year was my first time attending their fifth annual gala and fundraiser, Ornamenta, hosted on February 2 at Impact Hub.
“While we developed the Baltimore Jewelry Center with the primary purpose of offering metal-smithing and jewelry education and studio access for artists, we were mindful of an equally important yet more nuanced responsibility that we have: that of exposing the broader public to the often-obscure field of art jewelry,” wrote Prada.
This year’s Ornamenta attracted close to 300 attendees and raised a significant amount of funding for the non-profit organization. In addition, the event created an opportunity to expose an expanding audience to the work that the BJC’s members do. “This year’s event was by far our most successful fundraiser yet,” says Prada. “Our guests bring so much energy and artistic spirit.”
According to Prada, attendance at Ornamenta has grown gradually each year, with this year’s numbers doubling their first iteration. “We now serve more substantial food and drink offerings, with Blacksauce Kitchen catering this year and Jason Hoylman managing the bar. We’ve also grown our auction and raffle,” she says. In addition, they changed the location of the event to make it closer to the BJC, hosting it down the hallway from their workspace at co-working space Impact Hub. “In our first two years, we hosted the party at Area 405, but in 2017 we moved the party to Impact Hub so that we could allow guests to tour our studio. We’ve also acquired more and more sponsors each year, which has allowed us to host a more successful party.”
For me, the fun was watching the guests interpret the “creative cocktail” dress code, which ran the gamut from comfortable to glam, with many guests wearing loud, vibrant, and playful attire. “Some people even come in costume! This is definitely a party where people wear a lot of jewelry. Many guests see it as an opportunity to show off their jewelry collections,” says Prada.
I have always loved all kinds of jewelry and my taste verges into a fashion aesthetic my friends describe as “Gaudy Gramma.” Sparkley, crass, vintage, and a little obnoxious, I found the perfect earrings to express myself in LA-based art jeweler Nicki Couppee, who has exhibited her work at the BJC gallery. From a Baltimore perspective, there is no art jeweler more distinctive than Betty Cooke who has sold her elegant minimalist designs at The Store Ltd. in Cross Keys for decades. I always love spotting her designs when I’m outside of Baltimore and then engaging in conversation with the wearer. For me, jewelry has always been a conversation starter, and the more eccentric and distinctive, the better the conversation.
“Because jewelry has functioned as a social and cultural tool throughout history to mark wealth and class, it carries connotations of power, belonging, and status that can make it polarizing,” wrote Prada in Issue 05. “Yet while the value system of commercial jewelry posits that what is expensive is precious and desirable, art jewelry presents a view and experience of jewelry that is divorced from the pedestrian themes of sameness and status.”
Prada describes art jewelry as a roving gallery, a way for a collector to carry art with them to all sorts of environments. “Art jewelry offers an alternative form of adornment that goes beyond self-expression and experimentation to create a conversation between collector, artist, and admirer,” wrote Prada. “Art jewelry can be conventionally beautiful or grotesque, wearable in an everyday sense or laboring to convey a point, made of precious materials or trash, figurative or literal, representational or conceptual. Perhaps most distinctively, art jewelry is inherently intimate. The connection between collector and artist is more personal than that of other collector/artist relationships precisely because art jewelry is meant to be displayed on one’s body, to emerge from the wearer as an accessory to and of their daily life.”
If you like the idea of wearable art, and also the affordability and versatility of jewelry, the BJC is worth a visit and you should put next year’s Ornamenta, hosted in early February, on your calendar. The funds raised go towards the classes and workshops offered at the BJC, and actually reduce costs to students while paying their instructors competitive wages. It also allows them to offer free workshops in their neighborhood in Station North, operate a residency program (artists! apply!), offer scholarships, and host prestigious exhibitions that present the work of local, national and international artists in their gallery.
According to their mission, “We envision Baltimore reconnected to its rich history of metal-smithing and jewelry, valuing contemporary art jewelry and metal-smithing as visual art forms and craft. New generations of metal-smiths and art jewelers will preserve and evolve the field through practice and education.”
The following photo essay was created by Jill Fannon with scenes from this year’s Ornamenta party and workspace tours. You can follow the BJC on social media for updates and more information.
Additional Photos: Two Portraits of founding members Beth Pohlman, Shane Prada, and April Wood of the BJC by Justin Tsucalas for Issue 03: Legacy of the BmoreArt Journal of Art+ Ideas
Baltimore Jewelry Center
10 E. North Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21202