Meet the Masters: Victoria Lansford

by Metalwerx on April 30, 2013

Old world jewelry making techniques take center stage at Metalwerx’  annual “Summer with the Masters” series on June 25,  when Victoria Lansford returns to present workshops on Eastern repoussé and Russian filigree.

Some of the world’s oldest and finest examples of metalsmithing were made using these methods, such as the filigree jewelry made by Etruscan and Greek artists, or the repousséd funerary mask of Egypt’s boy king, Tutankhamun.

High Relief Eastern Repoussé Cuff Bracelet 22k gold and sterling silver bi-metal

Preserving the interest in these labor-intensive processes is a personal calling for Victoria. She has achieved international recognition and many awards for her clever approaches to conserve some of metalsmithing’s most traditional processes.

Russian filigree choker sterling silver, fine silver

It’s all part of her calling to promote ‘slow craft:’ plumbing the connections between metal and design using time-honored techniques to produce quality artistry.  “I feel fortunate to have learned this in the right place at the right moment,” she said. “Some things will never be done as well by machines or computers as they can be by hand.”

Victoria takes her mission seriously. She teaches workshops year-round, produces videos, and writes books to pass on and preserve the skills she learned as a student at George State University in Atlanta.

Lyric Crescent

As a child she’d been fascinated by the Egyptians; their cultural objects and gold jewelry held a particular allure for her. While studying metals in college, she wondered how the ancients were able to get such distinctive relief on their hammered pieces. She had practiced repousse, but felt the technique had limitations.

But  after studying with Gia Gogishvilli, a professor at GSU from the Republic of Georgia, she felt like she’d entered a time machine. “I could see immediately the process, the shape of tools, the work within a matrix.  There are a couple of tricks unique to that process that allow for all the height and differentiation. Once I learned to do that, any shape I could think of, I could do,” she said.

Russian filigree ring 22k gold, sterling, fine silver, Koroit opal

The Eastern repousse tradition differs from other methods because the shape of the tools is different, and you don’t have to work exclusively on pitch, she said. “Part of what makes it work is there are certain ways and areas of hammering the metal from the back that give greater height. And every time you do a new design or a smaller area, you don’t have to stop and make a tool.”

In the old days, clay was used to hammer the back to get height. Victoria uses plasticine. But in the front, where more resistance is wanted, the  hammering is done on pitch. The combination of the tools, the supporting material behind the metal, and the manner of freehand hammering gave Victoria the look she was after: a crisper, higher relief.

High Relief Eastern Repoussé Cuff Bracelet Sterling Silver

Participants in the four-day High Relief Eastern Repousse class will concentrate on practicing hammering techniques on copper—no tool-making required! Victoria will have sets of Swiss-made tools for students to use. Students will make two or three pins or pendants and a finger ring, from their choice of copper or silver.  Alternative materials such as mokume gane and bi-metal are encouraged.

Russian “open back” filigree is another technique for which Victoria is acclaimed. She will teach a two day class June 29, in which students will learn to tension set fine, scalloped wire within a smooth frame. Click here for pictures from her last workshop.

Victoria explained that the term “Russian” for filigree isn’t regional, but technical. “It reached a zenith in Eastern Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, though I don’t know why the Russians get the credit,” she said.  “Other artists have been describing filigree by country, but Russian, Yemenite, Mexican, Turkish, and Persian filigree are all the same technique, with occasional stylistic differences.”

Russian Filigree earrings in sterling silver, fine silver

While visiting in the Boston area, Victoria also will speak June 22 at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, as part of the exhibition, “Faberge Revealed: The Collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.”  She will demonstrate granulation and torch fired enameling in addition to Eastern repoussé and Russian filigree.

“I love doing demonstrations like this, especially if there are kids in the audience,” she said. “Kids in particular are mesmerized. They see that there’s so much more to metal and jewelry than mass-produced stuff on billboards.” And because she had already was booked to teach at Metalwerx, she said, “The timing was perfect.”

Russian filigree, Eastern repoussé, chased, pierced, and fabricated tea infuser, strainer, and stand Sterling silver, fine silver, 22k gold/sterling bi-metal

Kids are the perfect audience for Victoria’s mission to attract new followers to slow craft. “I don’t want to see the world turn into 30-minute earrings. That’s great sometimes, but there’s a limit to what one can do artistically. In our fast-paced world, people crave doing things with their hands. For me, slow craft is not about cutting corners, but taking as long it takes to make.”

To learn more about “Summer with the Masters” or to register for Victoria’s workshops, visit www.metalwerx.com or call 781-891-3854.

–by Yleana Martinez

Metalwerx

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