Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the United States. We’re honoring this by spotlighting articles and videos we’ve previously published about AAPI makers and by AAPI writers.
Curtis H. Arima
Arima is the chair of the Jewelry/Metal Arts Program at California College of the Arts, where he’s also an associate professor. The maker is drawn to the transformative nature of materials and the memory, emotion, and history that objects can hold. He earned a BFA from California College of Arts and Crafts and an MFA from Cranbrook Academy. Arima’s jewelry and sculpture has been exhibited/published nationally and internationally. (Check out his website.) He has lectured and taught workshops in the US, Japan, and China, and is a member of the Ethical Metalsmiths Advisory Committee. Follow Arima on Instagram.
The recent Pratt graduate has been getting noticed for making jewelry that explores stereotypes about Asian Americans. These earrings came out of conversations she had with men who sexually fetishized Asian women and objectified them as typically submissive. Stay up to date with Chen’s practice on Instagram, or visit her website.
The former head of the metals department at Oregon College of Art and Craft now focuses on installation art (read AJF’s interview, by Olivia Shih) but continues to teach jewelry-making workshops, as well as classes on other topics. See course offerings here, and keep up with her work on Instagram.
The jewelry maker also owns Shibumi Gallery, which is located in Berkeley, CA. Higashi founded the gallery in 2005, conceiving it as a dynamic space where she could not only create and exhibit her own work but also showcase the inspiring work of fellow artists. She sells production pieces and also creates custom work.
Born in Hawai’i in 1936, he died in 2017 in his home in Seattle. While pursuing a Master’s of Art Education degree at the University of Washington, “it so happened that the last summer quarter that I was finishing up, Ramona Solberg came to teach jewelry,” he recalled. “And Ramona was a person who literally changed my life. Because at that point I didn’t know I was going to be a jewelry artist.” Ho became an art teacher and a part-time jeweler.
Ho used found objects—many of them Chinese—in his jewelry designs. Not many craft galleries existed in the 60s, but a few competitions provided opportunities, and Ho won awards for his unique art jewelry. The Bellevue Arts Museum exhibited a retrospective of the maker in 2006—it was called Dim Sum at the On-On Tea Room—and posthumously exhibited Ho’s writings, letters, images, paintings, and objects in A Jeweler’s Tale. Northwest Designer Craftsmen produced a 30-minute documentary called Living Treasures: Ron Ho: Becoming Chinese, A Jeweler’s Tale, which you can watch here on YouTube.
Hughes is an artist, writer, and jewelry enthusiast. A graduate of Tyler School of Art, Temple University, she’s the creative director at a fashion jewelry and accessories company, where she leads the design, marketing, trend, and product merchandising teams.
Hughes has produced a lot of interviews with art jewelry heavy hitters, including
“My work has an almost fragile quality, stressing lightness and mobility,” says the New York-based maker. “By shaping paper thin sheets of silver, I can house space itself. When people hold my work in hands, they are often surprised by its delicacy and lightness. There is an evanescent, momentary quality that I hope people can truly savor when they wear my pieces.”
In a talk she gave to AJF members at SOFA, Ishiyama recounted stories from her youth, about a sweet she would enjoy in a tea house and her visit to a neighboring silkworm farm. She described the straight lines of a kimono and how it comes to life on the body. These stories demonstrate how floating is essential to her aesthetic. “I’m trying to let the layers of flatness breathe or to find space. Then flatness can stand up. It can move. I want to blow air between the sheets and lift them up momentarily. It’s really momentary.” Read the talk on Ishiyama’s website and visit her online shop.
“I am currently working on wearable art utilizing insect structures combined with forms inspired by human body parts. This direction has evolved from my interest in the way children anthropomorphize stuffed animals for security,” says the maker. These motifs “establish emotional distance, thereby eliciting a more powerful response. Most recently I have been focusing on Eastern idioms about insects believed to live within us and control our emotions. Through my process, insects are transformed into metal and glass, and once-living material is put back into life, making them more permanent.” See more work on Kataoka’s website, here.
Lee attended Kon-Kuk University, in Korea, then got his MFA at Rhode Island School of Design. He has taught at Savannah College of Art and Design since 2011. He makes both jewelry and sculpture.
“My work begins with interpreting the meaning of space,” he says. “This reinterpreted expanse is then filled with geometric shapes – lines – points. The process focuses on empty space and the intervals between forms. Repetitive attempts at composition assemble the geometric shapes into their final form achieving the critical aesthetic goal. There is a moment of enlightenment from this recurrent process and artistic awareness allows me to know the point at which I must stop — to leave the space, the beauty of space. The beauty of space is the most important factor in my works. These conscious voids allow the viewers’ imagination at to enter and connect.” See more work on Lee’s website.
Jeong Ju Lee
“Woven wire mesh is a very attractive material in which wires are woven together to create different patterns,” says the maker, who taught as an adjunct at Rochester Institute of Technology a few years after getting an MFA there. “I discovered that when two sheets of wire mesh overlap with distance, they create beautiful patterns and geometry, giving the illusion that there might be something else in between. In my work, more than two layers of sheet mesh are stacked together and interlaced in order to invent a new form or pattern.”
I am inspired by geometric patterns in nature such as cube –shaped crystal locks, stair stepped crystal and tessellations. These are formed by repeating patterns and organizing shapes over a flat surface. The dot, line, shape and direction that are represented by mesh in my work are all critical, as they serve as a visual language for me to embody my creative process. I am fascinated when patterns offer infinite possibility with repetition and complexity.” See more work here.
Ma was a finalist for the 2022 Young Artist Award. We interviewed her here. Go here on Ma’s Instagram feed to watch her setting up her jewelry at Patina, during the hoopla of Munich 2023—it will help you understand the optical play in the work.
The San Francisco artist creates bold, colorful jewelry with repurposed LEGO®, from ready-to-wear to one-of-a-kind conceptual work inspired by haute couture, art history, David Bowie, and nonviolent communication and community. The jewelry universally tugs on the nostalgic heartstrings, artfully interweaving memories into conversation-sparking adornment. In “Back from the Dead: Ornament’s Return,” a 2009 article that focused on how contemporary jewelers were engaging with the trend toward ornament that was sweeping the world of industrial design, you can see one of oye’s spectacular necklaces for a queen. More like it appear on her website, here.
Art Jewelry Forum commissioned a limited-edition pin from oye in 2014 (here’s the press release). A few of the pins are still available. Get yours by joining AJF at the $150 level or higher; it’s our way of saying “thank you”! (Click here to join.)
oye came on AJF Live with Nikki Coupee on June 18, 2020, not long after the start of pandemic lockdowns. Watch a recording of the event. AJF visited oye’s studio during its 2022 trip to San Francisco. Get a glimpse of it in this photo essay. Stay up to date on everything the maker is doing via her Instagram feed.
Kristin Mitsu Shiga
Shiga operates ’Okina Jewelry on the Big Island of Hawai’i. She’s deeply influenced by her biracial upbringing and by her participation in numerous artist collaborations. Her work is in the Permanent Collection of the White House. She maintains a close association with MetalWerx and regularly teaches around the United States. Get the latest news on Instagram.
Shih is a contemporary jeweler, artist, and writer based in Oakland, CA. Born in the US and raised in Taiwan, she is interested in the cultural nuances that can be explored through wearable sculpture.
Shih holds a BA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and a BFA in Jewelry and Metal Arts from the California College of the Arts. She’s an assistant editor at Metalsmith magazine and has produced interviews for AJF since 2018, including:
Song is a professor and chair of the jewelry program at Savannah College of Art and Design, which is an AJF member school. By exploring lanterns as a communicative form, her jewelry serves as way to interpret and express. The rings are more intimate, in that the lanterns are meant to hang below hands that pray or meditate. The lanterns employ both ceremonial and decorative functions. The rings aren’t meant to isolate specific meanings, but rather to suggest a moment of thought where stillness, beauty, and illumination can peacefully coexist. Follow her on Instagram, and visit her website.
Urso is an artist, curator, and art director known for manipulating wire, fiber, ink, and stitching to create one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces. Urso is fascinated by the tactile. “I generally do not have a pre-set plan or sketch for my ideas,” she says. “I am also an observer [of] how my work evolves. This way is quite risky, at the same time adventurous. I believe ‘over-planning kills magic.’ I also appreciate Pablo Picasso’s quotes, ‘When I haven’t blue I use red’ and “I begin with an idea and then [it]becomes something else.’ That is exactly how I work.” Read her interview with Susan Cummins here. Visit her website here.
Wiegand holds a BA in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and is currently training as a metalsmith at the Baltimore Jewelry Center. She reviewed the Betty Cooke retrospective at Walters Art Museum, in Baltimore, MD, US, for AJF.