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When art and craft intertwine

THERE has been a growing trend among fabricators of individual jewelry, whether of precious metals or of other materials, to refer to their pieces as ``personal sculpture'' or ``art jewelry.'' Their aim is to present not only ``jewels'' but also works of art. This necklace, one of a series designer Sylvia Cook Feldman calls ``Tidepool,'' is an example that fulfills the expectation of elegance for jewelry and uniqueness for sculpture. It is also very comfortable. This is the personal aspect.

The centerpiece, a section of a three-inch green turban shell, its mother-of-pearl surface polished to a gemlike sheen, gives the sculptural dimensionality to the piece. From the shell spill strands of golden beads interspersed with pink and gray Biwa pearls held by a flowing form of knotted fiber and more tinted pearls. Fiber gives a lively, flexible structure that metals cannot have.

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The strands of the necklace and the flanges that hold the shell are of very finely, meticulously knotted nylon fiber in subtly varied shades of warm wet sands with a few sections of a very grayed green for depth. The forms supporting the shell may remind the viewer of a shell, a flower, or a flowerlike marine animal.

This particular design harks back in style to the ``organic'' forms of Art Nouveau. That easily recognized style featured sinuous, linear designs characteristically asymmetric and derived from nature. It is, however, more elusive when one tries to track down its history and origin.

One encyclopedia terms it ``a curious style of decoration that originated in America and Belgium and spread throughout Europe.'' It adds that it was based on English design. This multinational attribution probably reflects a sense that was prevalent among architects and the architecture-related crafts toward the end of the 19th century that new forms underived from antiquity or the Middle Ages were wanted.

Although the interior ornamentation in the buildings of Louis Sullivan (American) and Victor Horta (Belgian) were certainly Art Nouveau, the point of origin seems to have been the title page of the English architect Arthur Mack-murdo's 1883 book on London churches. His page decoration had all the characteristics of Art Nouveau with its striking break from the traditional, rather monotonous symmetry as his pattern of smooth, rush-like leaves sprang from one corner and undulated across the page. From building ornamentation, the style spread to home furnishings and personal objects, including jewelry.

Feldman's necklace exemplifies the recent revival of interest in Art Nouveau. The fluid, irregular contour and the great subtlety of color establish a harmony between craft and natural forms.

She says, ``I love color. This may be a reason for working with fiber rather than strictly gold and silver. I love all colors, but right now the necklaces are in very soft shades. I am fond of asymmetry and it finds its way into most of my work.'' She acknowledges a fondness for both sea and meadows.

Speaking as an artist, she says, ``To be art, in my view, a thing has to uplift; it has to give; it has to have integrity; and it has to love humanity.''

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Feldman says an art object is able to do those things because it can reflect the thinking of the one who makes it. This is very interesting because ordinarily objects where the craft dominates are considered to show less of the individual imprint of the one who makes them than the fine arts of painting and sculpture.

But as this necklace shows, the line between the fine arts and fine crafts is not distinct. Certainly, much of Feldman's joyous love of the beauties of nature and artifact comes through in this piece.

Of her method of working, she adds, ``Sometimes a design comes to thought in its totality - I see it complete. Other times I am like a painter, choosing a color and building, building until it is right.''

An art critic reviewing a show of her work called attention to the integrity of her craft, citing ``the delicate intricacy of her formally designed necklaces,'' and to the fine art aspect by also remarking that, while the pieces are functional as adornment, ``one could easily be tempted to leave them in glass cases for all to see.''

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