While many jewelers and crafters are casting molds of simplistic hearts and crosses and other symbolic shapes to go around necks and wrists, Laura Besterfeldt has taken a new approach to the artform with materials you wouldn't normally see. --- Besterfeldt's work includes morphed action figures, nutshells, crawfish and even lips in the form of a kiss. But what she's probably best-known for is her 2nd Skin Jewelry, taking everyday food items and casting them into necklaces and earrings with tiny trinkets adorning each one.
Today, we chat with Besterfeldt about her artwork and the process that goes behind it, along with her career in general and the impact she's had on the craft scene; not to mention a few thoughts on the local craft and art scenes with pictures of her are for you to look over.
Gavin: Hey, Laura. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Laura: I am an artist who chooses mainly to make art that is meant to be showcased on the body. I mostly want to bring a heightened sense of unique beauty and attention to EVERYday life activities ... like dressing yourself and eating. I believe all bodies are a work of art and what you put on it becomes an extension of that ... not to mention that it is law that one must dress themselves before going in public; just trying to make that activity that one does each day more unique and awesome in lines and concept. I studied sculpture in Chicago, gemology -- the study of precious stones -- in Vicenza, Italy, and jewelry manufacturing and design in New York. I offer various lines of jewelry and custom work through my own business, 2nd Skin Jewelry. I teach jewelry classes at the University of Utah through the continuing-education program, the Kimball Art Center in Park City and the City of Salt Lake Community Education. For more info, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435.602.0843.
Gavin: What specifically drew you toward jewelry and what were some of your early creations like?
Laura: I like to work with my hands and build 3-D objects. Jewelry has so many draws to it. People get dressed each day, so they are somewhat of a walking canvas. Jewelry has such sentimental ties ... it is passed down over generations or sometimes I have overheard, “I feel naked because I forgot my rings or necklace today.” I like the opportunity to create something that can cause this close emotional connection. Jewelry is an opportunity to make sculpture on a small scale. I can make “a series” or a body of work that relates to one another with the possibility of showing it in a small space. Jewelry is an easier sell than a big sculpture, so it allows me to do the work, sell the work, and then have money to make more.
Gavin: You got your associate degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. What made you choose its program and what was it like for you there?
Laura: The Fashion Institute of Technology had a two-year associates-degree program for jewelry manufacturing and design. It was located in New York City, which was a city I wanted to experience living in and take advantage of the multitude of resources as far as supplies go, as well as the richness of art that one can view/ experience performed there. I had the opportunity to study from classically trained and working jewelers that shared the skills I needed to learn the rules of how to create fine jewelry -- you have got to know the rules and have a command of them before you break them!
Gavin: As you already mentioned, you also got yourself certified as a gemologist from the Gemological Institute of America. How did you come across its institution, and how was it for you learning the skill-sets it had?
Laura: I was studying sculpture in Chicago while working for an independent African art and fine-jewelry store where I fell in love with precious stones. I also wanted to travel. I decided to move to Italy to experience some of Europe and simultaneously get my graduate gemology degree from the Gemological Institute of America in Vicenza, Italy. I then returned to the States and worked in a laboratory grading and testing diamonds and precious stones in Chicago and New York City. The education I received from both school and the lab work has significantly helped me with my personal custom-jewelry business and art work.
Gavin: What made you decide to come back to Utah, and how did you get involved with the U as an educational instructor?
Laura: I met the educational director for the continuing-education program at the U at a social event. She saw my work and asked if I would be interested in teaching a class. That was five years ago. I now teach classes for the continuing-education program, Kimball Art Center in Park City and the continuing-education program for the city of Salt Lake. The classes available are intro to fine jewelry, fabrication, casting, cold connections, etching and patinas. I have designed the classes so that each student makes their own design centered around an outline of requirements that I make so as to ensure that they learn and implement certain skill techniques. It is super fun and I learn as much from my students as they do from the class!
Gavin: How was it for you breaking into the local art scene here and what were the early reactions to your brand of jewelry?
Laura: The first show I did in SLC was called "2nd Skin" and was at the Kayo Gallery. I spent a year hosting nipple castings at my house each week. The show ended up being 135 cast nipple sterling-silver pendants labeled by age and gender. I gave 20% of the proceeds from that show to a program called “Quality of Life,” which offers free yoga to cancer survivors and their care givers. This show had an overall great response, was well-attended, received press, and a bunch of pieces sold. It felt really good to both involve the community and give back to the community by donating some of the proceeds. I met a lot of great people doing this and it was followed by many opportunities to display art in various different venues. I guess I could say “breaking into the local art scene” was fun and welcoming.
Gavin: What's the specific process for you when you cast something, from the original mold to the final product?
Laura: For body-print castings, I use a low-temperature-melt wax that melts just above room temperature and is nontoxic so it doesn’t harm or burn you. I pour a little wax on a tray and then have you kiss it or push your finger into it for prints. If you are having a ring made, I have you dip your finger in the wax and make a wax casting of your finger. This wax is then sawed and filed to style and fit you. In the case of natural objects like a peach pit or broccoli, I use the actual piece of broccoli or peach pit. The next steps are kinda hard to explain simply in words, but this is my best go of it: I take the object, the wax prints or natural object -- a small piece of broccoli for example -- and connect it to a rubber base via wax that I make that is shaped to work as a funnel. I then attach a cylinder flask that kinda looks like a soup can with no top or bottom to the rubber base. The flask is then filled with investment -- very fine plaster Of Paris. When this hardens, I take off the rubber base and put the flask in a kiln for an eight hours. The kiln melts the wax and disintegrates the broccoli -- or whatever I have put in the investment -- leaving a negative cavity of the object with a funnel-shaped negative space to where that broccoli or object was. I then melt sterling silver and pour it into the flask, then I throw the flask into cold water, which breaks the investment, destroying the mold, and leaves the sterling-silver broccoli or other object exposed and ready for finishing. Finishing includes cleaning the piece, creating a bail or some way to hang the piece from a chain or fashion it into a ring or bracelet, polishing, and then sometimes setting a stone.
Gavin: What kind of objects and impressions can you cast or mold, and what restrictions do you have when it comes to this art?
Laura: I offer custom-castings impressions of people’s fingerprints. This can be a single fingerprint pendant or a bracelet with, for example, five fingerprints, one from each family member or child. A cast of your lip prints translates super-well with the option of custom message, name or stone on the back side. I also make custom bracelets from wax poured over your wrist. It fits you perfectly and has your prints inside. I also make custom rings with prints inside. I often get asked to make commitment or wedding rings. I put the fingerprints of him on the inside of her ring and her prints on the inside of his. I can cast nipples, belly buttons or any body parts with the exception of genitals. These print castings can be made into cuff links, tie tacks, keychains, pendants, rings, bracelets, dog tags and more. I can cast any object that can be disintegrated by a kiln, meaning objects that are wood, plastic, wax, paper or plant.
Gavin: How do you come up with the various series you've done, such as people's kisses or the action figures?
Laura: I work in series. The nipple show came about because someone asked me to cast their nipple for a custom job and I thought it was a great idea so I devoted a year to doing just that. The genetically modified food creatures grew from an inspiration of a carrot Godzilla sculpture that Elmer Presley did, my hatred for Monsanto and genetically modified food, and a dream that genetically modified food did rampage SLC. The Man-a-sauras series, which is a half army man half dinosaur series came from ... the imagination of a 10-year-old boy that lives inside of me? The food series came from my love of food and wanting to promote local growing and organic foods, perhaps. Not sure how to answer this. My ideas come when they come, but I would like to quote Host -- the composer of the symphony piece "The Planets." He said, “Never compose anything unless it becomes a positive nuisance.” I have this quote in my studio. There are a lot of things I want to make. I wait till they drive me nuts in a good way and then try to make them happen.
Gavin: The biggest line you've made to date has been the 2nd Skin series based around food items. How did that series come about and what did you think of the reaction that got?
Laura: I have been concentrating on casting edible or food items for the past couple of years. I like this for several reasons. I like to eat; there is that saying, “You are what you eat.” Eating comes back to one of those things that you have to do everyday to survive, and well, food is beautiful both in shape and texture. Some pieces that have turned out especially well are broccoli, star anise, a pretzel and peanuts. I also feature pieces that are actual, or partially cast, food items. These include a half cast peach pit and actual half peach pit or walnut rejoined together. I also have work such as an actual lobster claw set in sterling silver with labradorite set above it, or actual wishbones from turkey dinners that I have made into pendants or earrings. I like to make jokes with some of my pieces like “The Bookends Of My Life”: a set of earrings that is a cast espresso bean and spoon as one earring, and the other is a cast wine vine and grape, because I start my day with coffee and end it with vino. Or “Popcorn Shrimp” -- cast popcorn kernels and a shrimp tail. The cheese-and-cracker cuff bracelet is also a favorite. I have shown these cast edibles at the Tin Angel the past three years for the month of December. I have sold almost all of the pieces each year, along with getting many special-request pieces. The response and experience has been amazingly great. I am not bored with it yet as there are so many things left to try ... so I continue to work with food.
Gavin: Are there any plans on your part to expand the business, or are you comfortable with what you're doing now?
Laura: The hope and dream is always to expand.
Gavin: Moving on to local stuff, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Laura: Salt Lake City has a lot of amazingly talented artists. There is the opportunity to do quite a few group shows/events that have been awesome, like Craft Lake City, or the Kayo Gallery has several group shows, etc.. I have found the community to be supportive.
Gavin: Who are some people from art and craft you believe people should be checking out?
Laura: Cara Despain who does painting/installation,;Kenny Riches' films; Sri Whipple's paintings; Trent Call, who does visual art ... whatever he does; Rachel Domingo, who works with fashion that truly is art, like body-painted models with couture clothing she has made; and Liberty Valentine and Stephen Brown, who work in dance.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of this year?
Laura: I will be at Craft Lake City in August -- hopefully, if accepted -- for the third year, and have new work on display at the Tin Angel Cafe the last week in November 'til the last week of December. Besides that, I plan to work on getting a Website together this year. You can view some of my work on my Facebook page right now, though.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Laura: I am always available to do custom work. This means custom prints, or I also make rings or necklaces or whatever with stones that people have or ideas that they want to have made. For example, I made a set of wedding bands for a couple. She gave me a piece of petrified wood that she and her soon-to-be husband found on a hike together. I set this like it was a stone in a silver band for her. For him, I made a gold band with a hammered finish. I engraved their initials and wedding date on the inside. I have made a pendant out of a lucky rock for someone. I also make funky earrings. I am open to meeting and talking to anyone about any ideas they have, or if they know they want a gift for someone I can help them come up with an idea. I have access to getting stones or can use ones that someone already has. Also, Valentine's Day is coming up, and a necklace or keychain of your lips or nipple or really any custom jewelry is an awesome gift! Just remember -- custom work takes a week or two. Thanks.
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