Artist wears her gallery around her neck

Previous Bunnell Street Arts Center artists-in-residence like Mike Houston and Jim Woodring have set up studios in the gallery space that sprawled across the rough old wooden floors. This month’s artist-in-residence, Micki Lippe, a Seattle jewelry artist, has a temporary studio that’s as spare and elegant as her art. “Spare and elegant” could describe Lippe herself, a small, soft spoken woman of almost 70 who looks 10 years younger and could walk your socks off on a hike.

Lippe , who has been doing production and one-of-a-kind
jewelry for 40 years, visits Bunnell through Oct. 17. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday she teaches a jewelry design workshop using paper, metal and found objects. The fee is $100 or pay as you can, and all are welcome. 

Lippe’s art can be seen in several display cases and, for her photographs, on one wall, but it’s best seen the way it should be: adorning the human body. At her First Friday opening last week and during an interview Tuesday, Lippe wore necklaces typical of her current work. Mostly silver dipped in sulfur to give it a deliberately tarnished look, shapes evocative of nature hang from ball chains. The jewelry moves with her, or she moves it, fiddling and rearranging the necklaces. Some jewelry is wonderful but not wearable, she said of modern jewelry art.

“To me, it’s important that I make work that’s wearable anytime,” Lippe said.

Lippe belongs to Days Away Women’s Group, a hiking club that every Thursday in the Seattle area takes a hike or skis. “No dogs, men or children” is the group’s rule. 

“It’s just an amazing time. It began to infiltrate my work,” Lippe said of her walks with women in nature. “That’s where the imagery for the current work is coming from. It’s all twigs and berries that are photographed in my brain or by my camera.”

Her designs don’t try to imitate nature, Lippe said. “She (nature) already did it.”

What she does is evoke or suggest shapes in nature. One necklace, “Tree Rings,” features loose spiral and circular shapes that could be the rings of trees. With little beads of silver on rings, they also could be planets in orbits or electrons in molecules. The interpretation is up to the viewer.

Another necklace, “Ocean Necklace,” pulls together miscellaneous objects that look like seaweed, shells and sticks one might find on a line of wrack washed up by the tide. There’s a playfulness, joy and serenity to her art that has the same feeling as Zuni fetish necklaces.

For much of her career, Lippe did production jewelry, work
designed by her and manufactured in multiple lots by her and several assistants. At one point she sold between $100,000 and $200,000 worth of jewelry wholesale to more than 35 outlets. She’s tapered off that work, and after a residency in Leipzig working with former Communist East German jewelers, started doing one-of-a-kind jewelry. In Germany she learned to not be satisfied with the first idea and to keep pushing her art.

Lippe said she likes to break rules in art, too. Pearls she uses in her pieces have been dipped in a product called tarnex, whose instructions specifically warned not to use on pearls.

“So I said, ‘What happens if I put pearls in it?’” Lippe asked herself.

What happens is the acid strips away the white color, turning the pearls red or purple — the perfect object to evoke berries, for example.

Her son, a photographer, put it this way, she said: “Being an artist is not doing what people tell you to do.”

“That’s the challenge of an artist — we’re trying to go where nobody’s been,” she added.

For her workshops, Lippe will free her students from the fear of destroying precious metal and melting things. They’ll use found objects, string and paper.

“We’ll just be making sketches,” she said. “It’s just manila paper. What the hell?”

Lippe won’t be keeping regular studio hours — she’s already discovered the joys of hiking Homer beaches and hills — but can meet with interested visitors if they call ahead at the gallery at 235-2662.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.



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