The past six months have been witness to earth-changing events, a time of loss and hoped-for rebirth. This has been made all the more momentous these past weeks as we at Freehand mourn the loss of three dear friends in the crafts: jewelers Peggy Johnson and Karen McCreary, and Carolyn Benesh, scholar, magazine publisher, lover of the handmade and fellow traveler in the world of craft. I am writing today to honor them.
Peggy Johnson was best known for her “Housewearables” jewelry which she lovingly fabricated first in Philadelphia, then from her home and studio in Portland, Maine. Since the early 1980s, we’ve carried Peggy’s Utensil necklace at Freehand, along with her pins: In Vino Veritas, Olive You, Toaster, Lettuce Love, Honeymoon Salad and Electric Mixer, among a myriad of others. They are physical manifestations of Peggy’s whimsical thought processes. Each piece was hand constructed, never cast and an always charming take on the quotidian life of the home. Her insects were made with love and affection for the smallest creatures. Her birds perch happily on a lapel, amazing us with their beautiful construction and lifelike attitudes.
Peggy sold her work through the American Craft Council Shows. Her booth always featured a doll house with her Housewearables jewelry properly displayed. Wonderful! Peggy’s empathy was somehow soldered into her perfectly fabricated pins, bracelets, necklaces and earrings. Meant to amuse and function as adornment, her pieces have kept their beauty and their meaning over time. I enjoy studying the backs of her pieces, especially the bird series that took inspiration from the birds in her Portland neighborhood. Something gentle and refined and personal is captured in each piece. We will miss Peggy.
KAREN MC CREARY
Karen McCreary was a bold adventurer in the jewelry field, using acrylic and electronic technology to forge new paths. A native Californian, Karen epitomized the forward thinking aesthetic of California jewelry in the 1980s and her work evolved constantly over the forty years of her career.
In 2004, Karen was invited to participate in the 25th Anniversary exhibition planned by Gallerie Beeld und Ambeeld in Enschede, Holland. Karen included me in her project for the anniversary and created a brooch for me titled From the Heart, a sterling and acrylic wearable sculpture with an electronic, pulsing LED device that brings soft red light and life into the form. I accompanied Karen to Holland for the opening of the exhibition, where jewelers, collectors and curators from throughout Europe greeted her as the visionary jeweler she was.
One of my favorite pieces of Karen jewelry is the oversized, beautifully shaped acrylic bangle imbedded with plastic charms and miniature electronic components: an invitation to attach personal stories to a wearable sculpture. Karen’s mind and creativity was focused on both art and science. It was always a treat to have her visit Freehand and show us her new pieces.
Both Peggy and Karen had the combination of talent, creativity and determination necessary to forge a career in the crafts. Making a living with one’s hands is indeed a challenge and these two jewelers, with grace and dignity, created a life for themselves and their jewelry. They brought years of joy to their many clients. We at Freehand will miss them.
Carolyn Benesh and her husband Robert Liu came into our lives at Freehand in 1980, when we invited them, as co-editors of Ornament Magazine, to curate our first jewelry exhibition. The show they organized set our standards for quality and cemented a lifelong friendship.
Carolyn traveled extensively, both within our country and internationally, documenting the finest expressions of the jeweler’s art and investigating the arts of textiles and clothing from all levels of world cultures; from royalty to the most humble artisans. She often visited festivals, fairs or shows wearing pieces from her extensive collection. Supporting the artists by purchasing their work was a personal practice for Carolyn, which led to many delightful pieces worn with flair and purpose. We will miss her eye and her sense of adventure. She loved beauty and saw it everywhere. She was a complex person, passionate about art, life, politics and culture. Her strong opinions and informed advice will also be missed.
The craft world is shaped and nourished by artists and educators like Peggy Johnson, Karen McCreary and Carolyn Benesh. Their contributions inform and inspire us. Their work is a vital part of the human expression that is craft.