Artblog Celebrating 20 Years!   Support Us Today!

Juicy jewelry from Bruce Metcalf, detailed drawings from South Philly


Like candy in a sweetshop, Bruce Metcalf’s painted and carved wood jewelry calls out to you from behind the glass cases in Snyderman Gallery. Colorful, stylized lips and breasts and biomorphic tendrils that suggest underwater creatures make up the necklaces and brooches you see. These plumped up and gorgeous little objects with their sensuous surfaces and bright, seductive colors are like those playful creatures from an Elizabeth Murray painting–beguiling and can we say, naughty?
metcalf brooch

We had to see some on an actual body or two to get the full effect. And so we asked Ruth Snyderman and Kat Moran to model for us. Ruth is wearing a brooch and Kat has the lovely Bleuet around her neck. The works not only begged to be touched, once they escaped their display cases. They also suggested touching the jewels was not quite enough.

Kat Moran modeling Bruce Metcalf's Bleuet, painted and gold leafed maple, 24k gold plated brass, holly, 13 x 13 inches, 2003
Kat Moran modeling Bruce Metcalf’s Bleuet, painted and gold leafed maple, 24k gold plated brass, holly, 13 x 13 inches, 2003

The amazing thing is how lightweight these objects are. We mistakenly thought that Metcalf, a pre-eminent metalsmith, had fashioned the works from metal, but no, they are painted and gold-leafed fine woods…maple, holly, etc. with metallic touches. And the individual wood pieces are hollow–so, light as a feather.

Ruth Snyderman sporting one of Bruce Metcalf's brooches
Ruth Snyderman sporting one of Bruce Metcalf’s brooches

Metcalf, who is also a writer, embellished his installation with drawings on the walls to give the art historical context. The context we loved best was Hans Belmawr’s sex dolls! And Metcalf had drawn an example of one on the wall. We thought about the Calder jewelry that showed at the PMA last year, too. Calder’s too looked totally different in the case, where the constructions were forbidding and sharp-looking, but photographed on the women for whom they were designed, oooh la la.


Jewelry is of course sexy to begin with — body adornment with the purpose of attracting and seducing. And even though you’ve probably not seen anything quite like their aggressive and openly sensual beauty in a bauble, these works are firmly in the time-honored tradition.

Jeanne D'Angelo, Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, 16x20" archival print of casein emulsion paint on paper.
Jeanne D’Angelo, Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, 16×20″ archival print of casein emulsion paint on paper.

While we were in the gallery, we went downstairs to the Works gallery space to see Moran’s curated works on paper show. The curator, who is also an artist, has been organizing shows for Benna’s Cafe and B2, and here she rounded up many fine young Philadelphia artists, some of them working in exquisitely-detailed illustrational form.

We loved much of what we saw, from Jeanne D’Angelo’s oddly-named and horribly skewered lamb in a tree to Joslyn Newman’s paper-doll-like cutouts including a sassy grandma with a walker.

Hurry over to catch these two shows because they come down Saturday, Sept. 26.

Seven Colors White Field 1 Byers pieces are all 49" x 59" and made with casein milk paint on panel, varnish and wax.
John Eric Byers’ pieces are all 49″ x 59″ and made with casein milk paint on panel, varnish and wax.

Next up at Snyderman is John Eric Byers’ milk paint universes. Instead of furniture, this time Byers will show wall pieces that look like chess boards, ancient mosaics or blow-ups of fabric patterns for upholstered furniture. Meditations on color and shape–and on time, the works look great in reproduction. Next month we all can see them in person.