This is the first in a series of blog posts by the enamel artist Kat Cole. Cole, who has been making distinctive enameled steel jewelry, met Center for Enamel Art founder Judy Stone last year when Cole taught a Radical Enameling workshop for the Center. Stone encouraged Cole to explore the expanded use of industrial materials in her work, and connected her to KVO Industries, a partner of the Center for Enamel Art, where Cole created a large sculptural piece. Cole’s posts, which she is also sharing on her own blog, give insight into her practice and process as she brings a new scale to her work.
New things are happening in the studio. Actually, it is a new studio, acquired to make room for a very large new project.
For almost ten years I have been exploring the often complex relationship between vitreous enamel and steel. I love the variability of the steel alloys I use in my work as they bond with the enamel in the kiln. One of my key interests in steel is the ability to shift scale from the minute to the monumental.
Enamel is most often associated with jewelry and small-scale objects but the use of enameled steel on a large scale was relatively common throughout the 20th century in the form of street signs, bathtubs, washing machines, and even exterior panels for homes. Due to rising costs and the popularity of highly durable and cheaper paints, sealers, and powder coats in recent years, the enameling industry has been shrinking.
It has been a dream of mine to have access to an industrial facility where I can work big- very big. I have been working in both sculpture and jewelry for almost as long as I have been a metalsmith. Sculpture has usually taken a backseat to the jewelry for a variety of reasons including my academic training in jewelry and the challenge of space and larger tools to physically make the work.
When I moved to Dallas three years ago I began to hope I could bring these two interests more into balance. It is really only over the last year that I have been able to move forward with this goal. In November, I went to San Francisco to teach a workshop for the Center for Enamel Art and install my first large-scale piece in five years at Velvet da Vinci gallery.
It is there that I met and connected with Judy Stone, internationally recognized enamelist and founder of the Center. Judy has an intense and 40 year long passion for enamel, which is what led her to start the Center in 2012. She has fostered long-term relationships with factories and tech companies in the area through her teaching and large scale enameled commissions. These connections include a relationship with KVO Industries, an enamel sign factory in Santa Rosa, CA.
There are far fewer of these factories today than there were 10 years ago, and even fewer interested in opening their doors to outsiders or artists. Many of these factories have developed techniques of working with steel and enamel kept exclusively within the industry. But through Judy and the Center, KVO Industries has agreed to open its doors to the public, giving access to their wealth of knowledge and impressive facilities.
Judy invited me to come back and “do something BIG!” And with this, the seeds of the Crossroads Project were planted.
Next: figuring out how to make it happen.