The natural world and Glenna Fleiner's (pronounced FLY-ner) response to it influence her work. In 2008, she will celebrate 40 years at her craft and 34 years in her own studio. The Bristol, Virginia artist uses gold, silver, gemstones and enamels as elements for her expression. Richly etched and milled surfaces define her imagery.
Fleiner says, "While my earlier work was concerned largely with personal narrative, for the past 15 years, the natural world and my response to it have influenced my jewelry. In each piece I try to create the fragile, yet enduring aspects of Nature."
Her first exposure to studio jewelry was in 1968 at Radford College where, as an undergraduate Art Education major, she enrolled in a jewelry class taught by Jerry Krebs (University of Kansas).
She says, "I had no clue the impact my first jewelry class would have on my life. I credit Krebs, in part, for altering the course of my life. He stressed both inventive design as well as consummate craftsmanship -- finished jewelry had to be free of even a hairline scratch, and design had to be original."
Fleiner continues, "I was clueless then that I was entering a field in a very fertile period when studio jewelry was really taking off. In retrospect, I realize it was the 1960s when everything was going through a revolution, when American art, in general, was undergoing rapid changes in aesthetic attitudes and professionalism. As a result, there now exists a very receptive climate for fresh, exciting jewelry. There now are professional organizations serving as beacons of information for designers like me, and trade magazines serve as invaluable resources. Dozens of fine craft venues provide marketing opportunities for jewelry artists. Jewelry and sculpture galleries showcase international jewelry through exhibitions and calls for entries. Jewelry now enjoys Fine Craft status -- in my time."
At the undergraduate level, Fleiner concentrated on gaining command of fabrication and casting, traditional jewelry-making techniques that began thousands of years ago. She explains, "Fabricated work is that which has been hand-made from sheet and wire, whereas casting involves making a model out of one material such as wax and replacing it with molten metal."
Fleiner used many of Krebs's ideas during her first high school teaching job in Prince William County, Va., where she implemented a jewelry program. Because casting is the least expensive technique, it was the easiest to execute. She recalls, "My students really enjoyed the process of lost-wax casting silver jewelry. They were so excited as they retrieved their silver jewelry from a murky bucket of water."
While teaching casting, Fleiner was taking etching classes through a University of Virginia extension and later at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Fleiner explains, "Etching is a process whereby imagery can be eaten into a metal plate by various mordants such as nitric acid and then printed. I liked the process of creating etchings and would soon incorporate this technique into my jewelry."
While at VCU, Fleiner also took jewelry and metalsmithing classes. She learned useful techniques such as basic die-forming which "allows one to create a dimensional form and to repeat the form into multiple elements," she says.
"Another exciting aspect of being in the VCU studios was my exposure to the use of some very non-traditional materials," she adds. "Students were incorporating images from popular culture into their jewelry and using materials such as fabric, bone, Plexiglas and melted styrene in conjunction with metals and gemstones. It was the early '70s, after all, and still a time of experimentation with wearable art. I, too, liked working with these unique materials and concentrated on integrating their qualities into my designs. It was here that I developed the attitude that jewelry made from non-precious materials has artistic merit as well."
Gemstones & Minerals
During the 1980s, Fleiner started cutting cabochons, stones with flat bottoms and rounded edges. She says, "I began doing everything in-house, another way to have more control over my work. Although very time-consuming, I enjoyed my new journey into the world of gemstones and minerals and making custom stones."
Fleiner's interest in gemstones and minerals took her out of her studio and into fields and caves in search of mineral treasures. In the early '90s she traveled to Arizona several times to attend the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, the largest of its kind in the world. "What a phenomenon!" she says. "Every available space in the city is converted into showrooms: hotel rooms and lobbies, vacant lots, even gas stations. Dealers come from all over the world to sell their wares. It is not unusual to see a turbaned, barefoot dealer carrying a soccer-ball-sized aquamarine crystal. Designers (like me) attend the show to sell their jewelry and/or to purchase raw materials."
In 2002, Fleiner began adding more three-dimensional solidity and color to her work, using gemstones as accents.
A lifelong learner, Fleiner frequently attends international, residential craft schools to fuel her creative energies. Since 1992, she has been an exhibiting member of Piedmont Craftsmen, Inc., dedicated to the appreciation of contemporary and traditional craft artists throughout the Southeast U.S.
In 1995, she attended the prestigious Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, where she learned chasing and repousse, ancient metalworking techniques used to create dimensional surfaces on sheet metal.
In 2002 and 2004, Fleiner took enameling classes at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tenn. She was already enameling on a small scale, having taught sifting and cloisonne skills at Sullivan Central High School (Blountville, Tenn.), and was using these techniques in a few of her jewelry pieces.
Today, Fleiner spends her time creating gallery work and commissions, teaching/attending workshops and juried fine art/fine craft venues.
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-- PATTY NICKELS, a native of Bristol Tennessee now living in Florida, blends fantasy and fine art.
-- JAMES-BEN STOCKTON & DANIEL LUTHER of Greeneville, Tenn. look at their designs as "Contemporary Heirloom."
-- SIERRA McMILLAN, an 11-year-old from Abingdon, Va., uses beads, turquoise, stones and even found items to create jewelry.
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