Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - April 26, 2013

Behind the scenes

At Silicon Valley Open Studios, visitors can learn the stories behind the art

by Rebecca Wallace

Creating jewelry is an art of many active verbs. It's about hammering, rolling, cutting, sawing, soldering, anodizing, twisting, heating, dipping, etching, buffing, polishing. Can the word "patina" be crafted into a verb? If anyone can patina-ize, jewelry artists can.

The beauty of an event like Silicon Valley Open Studios is that visitors not only see the finished art, but get to ask the artists about all those lovely verbs. And tools, and inspirations, and whatever other facets of the artist's life that they're curious about.

Silicon Valley Open Studios happens the first three weekends in May. That means that as we write, hundreds of artists on the Peninsula and in the South Bay are prepping to open their home studios to the public, or to show off their work and speak to visitors at art centers and other communal venues. Media include photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, collage and, of course, jewelry.

Diana Dutton is one of the many jewelry artists taking part. At the moment, she's upstairs in her Stanford home studio surrounded by the myriad tools of her trade. There's the tool she calls "the workhorse": a little spinning grinder powered with a footpedal. It can bore a hole, brush a surface, polish a piece. Nearby are hammers, pliers, cutters and a saw. Torches used for soldering wait in a corner.

Other rooms host a vise, a rock polisher, a sander and a buffer. Dutton can put metal through a rolling mill to imprint it with a pattern, or use a warming tray to help apply a patina. She even has a specially lit photography area to take pictures of her finished earrings, bracelets and necklaces.

Retired from Stanford Medical School, where she taught health policy, Dutton is a longtime artist who once considered art school. After retirement, she took a multitude of art classes, in drawing and painting and other media.

"It was jewelry that captured me and never let me go: making something with your hands and seeing it come into being," she says.

Now she sells her creations at Shady Lane and New Coast Studios in Palo Alto, and also through her website. For Open Studios, she'll be at the Pacific Art League at 227 Forest Ave. on May 4 and 5, and at New Coast at 935 Industrial Ave. on May 11 and 12.

Dutton has always been a visual person. She might find inspiration for a piece of jewelry in a sidewalk crack, or in one of nature's organic curves. She adores the design aspect above everything else: having an idea and bringing it to life in metal and stone. "I don't draw it beforehand," she says. "It's a very intuitive, very visual way of proceeding."

Dutton is also clearly a person who enjoys organization, as evidenced by the tons of neatly labeled drawers and compartments surrounding her main work area, containing silver earring wires, posts, hoops, chains and other accoutrements of jewelry. On a table, green chrysocolla stones gleam.

Besides using silver and gold, Dutton is particularly fond of brass, and her brass cuffs, many of them imprinted with patterns, are popular. Some gleam like gold; others have various patinas applied by the artist. They're surprisingly flexible and light.

Other pieces are fashioned from titanium, niobium and copper. Earrings may be adorned with complex designs or dangle with turquoise beads, antique bronze, freshwater pearls or gold-filled discs. Necklaces can feature brushed-silver balls or any number of colorful stones.

To find her materials, Dutton regularly attends the International Gem and Jewelry Show when it comes to the San Mateo Event Center, or simply goes online. "Then you have to figure out how to store it all," she says with a smile.

Now in her second year taking part in Silicon Valley Open Studios, Dutton joins many veterans. This is the 27th annual year, and some Palo Altans have been active for a good chunk of that time. Martha Castillo, for example, will be showing her clay monotypes for the 18th year, and pastel artist Marguerite Fletcher is back for the 25th time.

Artists who are showing in Palo Alto during Open Studios for the first year include pottery artist Thomas Arakawa, who makes ikebana vessels, bonsai pots and dinnerware, drawing on his Japanese culture. He'll be showing his work at Gallery House at 320 S. California Ave. on May 4 and 5 (and in Los Altos and San Jose on subsequent weekends).

Sarah Nuehring brings modern sensibilities to her photography, often digitally layering images of architecture and nature together, sometimes printing them on wood and glass. She'll be at the Pacific Art League on May 4 and 5 (and later in Los Altos).

Arena Shawn, a physicist turned watercolor painter, will take part all three weekends at 229 Hamilton Ave. Another of the Palo Alto newcomers to the event is sculptor David Canavese, who describes his works as "strange life forms." He'll be at New Coast Studios on May 4 and 5.

What: Silicon Valley Open Studios, in which more than 350 artists open their studios or congregate at group sites to show and sell their art, as well as speak with the public.

Where: Sites range from Burlingame to Gilroy. The first weekend focuses on the areas of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton and Redwood City; the second weekend moves south to the Mountain View, Los Altos and Sunnyvale areas; and the third weekend is in San Jose and the vicinity.

When: The first three weekends in May, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Admission is free, with art for sale.

Info: For a full schedule, go to svos.org. For more about Diana Dutton's jewelry, go to duttonartjewelry.com.

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