Kay Seurat's dining room is a handyman's nirvana. Her wall-to-wall workbench is equipped with a propane soldering torch, hand tools, saws, files—all the workings of a serious metalsmith. Using the tools from her impressive work station, Seurat creates wearable pieces of art. Some refer to her art as jewelry, but Seurat's work goes far beyond an ordinary necklace or set of earrings.
When asked what her specialty is, or which is her favorite style of jewelry to make, Seurat laughs. "I have a short attention span," she says. "It's really just a lot of fun to learn different techniques, and there are so many different ways to work with metal." She tends to work on several very different pieces at once.
What Seurat humbly calls a short attention span is really a talent for creating a variety of uniquely different and expressive jewelry pieces. She employs a more traditional design method of fabricating with precious silver to solder precious stones to silver to create necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry. She uses brilliant, colorful stones and fabricates them with silver to fashion earthy necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
Seurat's traditionally fabricated jewelry is well-known around town, but she's a pioneer of other design methods, too. She uses a relatively new material called Precious Metal Clay, or PMC. The PMC that Seurat uses is silver metal clay that is pliable until she fires it in a kiln. "One of the big challenges with fabrication is textures," says Seurat. "That's why PMC is nice."
Using PMC, Seurat creates uniquely textured silver jewelry with intricate designs. Some of her PMC pieces are formed to make shapes, like fish or leaves. But Seurat currently specializes in Asian-inspired jewelry: pendants, bracelets, charms and earrings featuring Chinese calligraphy. "I'm drawn to the Taoist religion in China," says Seurat. "I think some of the ideas in Taoism got into the way the pictograms were developed and then evolved. It's really interesting."
Seurat first started learning to make jewelry while taking two classes at Boise State. She's also learned things here and there from other jewelry designers at trade shows, or by simply experimenting. "It's really just a lot of trial and error. You sit there and do it and just figure it out."
Seurat has been designing and making jewelry full-time in Boise since 1997. When asked if she designs her pieces from her own inspiration or tailors to what sells in the Boise market, she laughs. "I've never really been able to figure out what market demand really is," she says. "I'm not very good at marketing, it isn't my strong suit. I work more by whim."
Fortunately for Seurat, the Boise market appreciates her creative whims. She currently sells her work every Saturday at the Capital City Market, the Lisk Gallery, Woman of Steel Gallery and the gift shop at the Boise Art Museum. The price range for her work is varied—a pair of calligraphy earrings costs $36, while a fabricated sterling silver necklace might be up to $500.
Since Seurat began designing jewelry full-time the Boise market has seen a growing number of handmade-jewelry crafters. Seurat views more jewelry designers in town as a good thing. "The more people that see and get to meet people that make jewelry or different kinds of art or craft, then they can learn more about it and respect the time and effort and energy that goes into it.
"There's a quote about how the rising tide raises all of the ships," she says. "And I kind of think that that's how it works. If the market gets to be known for having good jewelry, then more people come down to buy jewelry. Everybody benefits."
As evidenced by the list of galleries where she shows her work, Seurat's jewelry is well-respected in the local art scene. Still, she says, she thinks there's a certain tension regarding the difference between "art" and "craft" for jewelry makers.
"The art world can be dismissive about craft, suggesting that if a work is utilitarian, it is somehow less important or valuable than a work with no use or function," she says. "The other distinction would be that art has content or narrative, while craft does not—but there are plenty of people working in media and techniques traditionally thought of as craft whose work is full of content and narrative."
Count Seurat among those artists. She displays her jewelry in frames, not under glass, so people can still touch her work and get close to it. She says that the move was, in one sense, just a practical way to display in a variety of venues. "But maybe it was my subconscious, daring to make the bold statement that 'Hey, this is art!'"
View Kay Seurat's work at her home during the open studios weekend, June 9-10. See the Open Studios insert in this issue for more information.