Betsy Baker: Subtle Power

Betsy Baker: Subtle Power

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IMG_1261-001A visit to Hacienda Xcanatun fifteen years ago was the impetus for Betsy Baker’s very successful career as a jeweler. Her work seems the antithesis of both polymer clay and Mexican art, with their emphasis on brilliant color. Pushing the expectations and limits of her chosen medium, she produces jewelry that relies on richly textured surfaces for a stunning effect.

How long have you been a practicing jeweler? What is your background?
I have been working as a jewelry maker for the last twelve years. I never went to art school. I have a liberal arts degree in Latin American Studies, but ended up in the travel business for 25 years; first as a travel agent and then as a corporate travel manager for a large Boston advertising agency.

IMG_1526What brought you to your career as jewelry artist?
I’ve always liked crafts and working with my hands. I prefer to work small, so jewelry was a natural choice for me. I quickly realized that truly unique work requires fabrication and I was intrigued by the use of alternative materials in jewelry. Polymer seemed a logical choice since it’s inexpensive, remarkably versatile and no complicated or expensive equipment is needed.

Your jewelry has a minimalist look and seems to rely more on subtle surface textures than one usually associates with work made from polymer clay. How did you develop this unique aesthetic?
I started out using a lot of color and established polymer techniques, ending up with your typical polymer jewelry. As my voice and vision evolved, I turned more to desaturated colors with rich textures, developing my own surface effects. My work now differs from most polymer artists, in that I really don’t work much with color. Instead, I try to create neutral surface finishes achieved with paint, texture and inclusions. Each piece is made in steps and requires two or three curings in the oven. Lately I’ve been adding repurposed vintage jewelry components into my pieces. My current work has an elegant, yet slightly edgy, industrial feel. I’m very much influenced by a combination of Japanese aesthetic and the midcentury Modernist Jewelry movement (Art Smith, Calder, Georg Jensen).

IMG_1486Are there any interesting anecdotes or turning points that affected the direction of your career?
About 15 years ago, I made my first simple, beaded bracelet while visiting my sister’s restored hacienda hotel in Merida, Mexico. The name of the place is Hacienda Xcanatun, which means “Tall Stone House” in Maya. Hence my business name: Stonehouse Studio. It does tend to confuse people. From the name, they sometimes assume my work is made from stone until they pick it up. It’s so lightweight that it can’t possibly be ceramic, stone or metal! The most common question I get at shows is “This is so different – what’s is it made of?”.

BBaker_portraitDo you have any specific goals for your art or career? Or any special projects that you’ve always wanted to do?I recently bought a fixer-upper in Merida, Mexico. It’s a colonial house in the city’s historic district and will have a great studio space. I hope to use the 2 months a year I spend in Mexico getting away from jewelry production work. I intend to experiment with mixed media wall art – which will, of course, incorporate polymer.

Is your work in any collections (public or private) or museums? What awards, articles or other professional recognition have you received?
My work has been featured by several popular art blogs, including Crafthaus, Daily Art Muse and Polymer Clay Daily. I was a featured artist in the April ’09 online edition of American Style magazine and in the Gallery section of the January ’10 edition of Art Jewelry Magazine. Most recently, images of my jewelry appeared in Lark Books’ Showcase 500 Art Necklaces (2013) and Polymer Journeys (2016).

Betsy Baker’s studio is in Charlestown, MA. She is participating in both Paradise City Northampton and Paradise City Marlborough this fall.