More About the Artist
Mirinda Kossoff: Jewelry Love Passed Down the Generations
Mirinda Kossoff’s maternal great grandmother, Nancy Mirinda Hollar, loved and wore jewelry, despite having little money and 12 children to feed. “I remember a photo of her with a large cameo at her neck,” says Kossoff. “She passed down that love for personal ornamentation to my mother, my two sisters and me.
“From childhood, I collected rocks and stones, quartz crystals and other of the earth’s gifts, and even into adulthood, I carried some of my favorites through every move I made. I still have the lava chunks I collected on Mt. Fuji when I was 22 years old,” says Kossoff.
As a young woman, Kossoff longed to explore the world, so upon graduating from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA, she took the first job that promised an overseas assignment - working for the American Red Cross in Japan, where she collected those Mt. Fuji lava pieces. Living in Japan only whetted her appetite for more, she explains, so in 1975 she sold her possessions to spend a year living in the U.K., exploring the London museums and the English countryside. These experiences and her many trips abroad would become fodder for her creative work.
But putting stones and metal together came later in life for Kossoff, after a long career as a writer and communications director in academia (Duke University), as an assistant managing editor for The News & Observer, as communications manager for the Raleigh Durham Airport Authority, where she was six weeks into the job when 9/11 happened, and later for several nonprofits. She did radio commentary on WUNC public radio, had a regular column in the weekly Spectator and wrote for national publications such as Psychology Today and Self. But still it wasn’t enough.
“Despite the fact that my work life was challenging and interesting, I needed an outlet for my creative energies,” explains Kossoff. “I started out by creating mixed media pieces that, amazingly to me, were accepted into several juried shows at the time. With not much of an art background (save for a couple of mixed media courses), I blundered my way into making pieces that were personal and metaphorical. Judy Chicago was the judge for one of the Durham Arts Council shows, and she selected all three of my submissions that year. I’ve always loved her for that,” Kossoff laughs.
According to Kossoff, It wasn’t much of a leap from mixed media to envisioning jewelry designs; both involve color, line and texture. “I had designs in my head that I wanted to bring to life but not the technical skills to do so,” says Kossoff. “So I set about gaining those technical skills while still working my day job. I started out with jewelry courses at the Carrboro Arts Center. Then I studied with Kiwon Wang at Penland School of Crafts in NC and with Susan Lenart Kazmer at an intensive workshop in France. There were many other great teachers along the way who taught me the specific skills I was after in order to bring my creations into being.
In some ways, I see my lack of extensive formal training as a positive as well as a frustration, since it allowed me free rein with my imagination and the audacity to invent techniques that would have been frowned upon in jewelry school. As I’ve gained more knowledge and experience, I have more confidence in my skills, but I also feel more constrained,” Kossoff muses. “I find myself trying to return to that state of innocent ignorance,” she laughs.
“I work with both sheet metal – mostly sterling silver but also occasionally copper and bronze – and precious metal clay (PMC), which is recycled powdered pure silver mixed with an organic binder,” Kossoff explains. “After I create a piece in PMC, I fire it in a jewelry kiln, and the organic binder burns off, leaving a piece of almost pure silver at .999 silver content. Sterling clay recently came on the market, which allows me to make larger pieces, because it’s sturdier than fine silver after firing. I can add textures to my PMC creations and extend the boundaries of what can be done with traditional sheet metal. I like working in both forms, each has its own set of challenges and possibilities.
“I like to oxidize my pieces with liver of sulfur and then polish the highlights to bring out the texture and contrast,” Kossoff says. “I like the look of pieces that appear to have come from an archaeological dig, which is why I create a patina on all my work. “Such well-known jewelers as Biba Schutz, whose work is earthy and organic, and Karen Gilbert, who is constantly pushing boundaries, as well as Sooyoung Kim inspire me. All three patina their work.
“I don’t like perfection; then the jewelry looks too much like mass market, mass produced pieces. The imperfections show the maker’s hand, and that’s important to me. The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi fits my aesthetic: nothing is perfect; nothing is finished; nothing lasts. In wabi-sabi, a chip or crack in a vase makes it more interesting and gives it greater meditative value. That’s where PMC is superior to sheet silver; I can incorporate cracks, raw deckled edges, warping and other such ‘mistakes’ into my work and deal creatively with real mistakes.
“My pieces are one of a kind, because I get bored doing the same thing twice, and I like the idea of people being able to wear a piece that no one else has or will ever have. I’m always trying to expand my range, use new materials and put a piece of myself into each creation. In the past, I’ve made jewelry incorporating resin that encased cicada wings, a slice of a wasp’s nest and a piece of molted snake’s skin - nature’s wabi-sabi. (“In one sense wabi-sabi is a training whereby the student of wabi-sabi learns to find the most basic, natural objects interesting, fascinating and beautiful. Fading autumn leaves would be an example.”)
Inspiration comes to me from these natural forms and my nature excursions to collect things that have lived and served their purpose.
“My goal is to create jewelry that is sometimes playful, sometimes thoughtful, aesthetically pleasing and always original. “
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