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An Interview with Jim Bove: Winner of the Halstead Design Challenge

Jim Bove Mnemosyne at the Waters of Lethe_front
Jim Bove giant check

The Halstead Design Challenge, a competition for jewelry makers sponsored by Halstead Bead, had their final jurying and awarded the winners last week at the annual conference of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG). I had the pleasure of being there at RHINO Contemporary Crafts in New Orleans when Jim Bove was announced as the winner for his piece, “Mnemosyne At The Waters Of Lethe.”  Fabricated using sterling silver, copper and brass, this piece also featured a photo transferred onto enamel, and sandcast sterling silver element. He etched and textured other parts of the piece, as well. 

I caught up with Jim to talk about his piece, what it meant, and the design process behind creating a piece like this. 

So Jim, tell our readers a little about yourself and your jewelry making.

I got into teaching as a public school teacher originally. For me, one of the greatest joys is to see someone discover their creative side, and to watch them do things they never thought they could. When I was earning my state teacher certification, I had to take a jewelry class, and I was hooked!  Working in metal was something I had always wanted to do, but never had the opportunity to try.

So you worked in other artistic mediums?

When I was earning my BFA at West Chester University of PA, I took every undergraduate art class I could, as well as the advanced classes in most areas. In their program, there was not much emphasis on focusing on one area, except maybe for graphic designers. I truly believed, and still do, that an artist should be able to work in any medium and should not limit him or herself.  When I went for my teacher certification, I was constantly confused by people asking me what I was; a painter, potter, sculptor? Why limit yourself? 

I still paint and draw and sculpt. The mediums I explore keep expanding, I use industrial processes and non-traditional materials, but my first love is silver, it is a wonderful metal.

And now you teach jewelry at the college level? 

Yes, I teach jewelry/metals, sculpture and 3D design at California University of PA. I earned my MFA in Jewelry/metals at Edinboro University (Edinboro, PA) under Sue Amendolara and took several workshops with artists such as Tim McCrieght, Linda Darty and Lisa Gralnick.  I would have to say, spending a full week with a master artist at places like Touchstone Center for Craft, Haystack or Arrowmont is one of the best ways to learn, I feel that my week with Lisa Gralnick taught me a semester's worth of hollow construction skills, she is simply amazing!

Jim Bove sketchbook 1
Halstead Kit

So let's talk about the Halstead Design Challenge. For this Challenge, 200 jewelry designers were all given the exact same set of materials to create a brooch. The work had to be made primarily from the selection of materials provided by Halstead. There is an annual theme, and for 2017, that theme was MEMENTO.

Tell us how you approached the design. 
Was this different from your normal design process? Which comes first for you: the idea, then you find materials to fit – or materials, then you play with them until an idea comes? 

This was more of a traditional process for me, I started with brainstorming, sketches, photo reference and compositional changes. It is different in that most of my recent work, inspired by abstract expressionism and minimalism, is made form sketches inspired by direct observation.  The work is about composition and the materials, rather than about subject and message. So this work is a departure from my normal series of work.

Did everything go as planned, or did you experiment with different ideas before settling on the final piece?
I experimented a great deal with ideas and thinking about what I wanted.  After I had the story set and the symbolism selected, I made several maquettes and rearranged pieces to get the composition I liked.

How much time would you guess that you spent, from design to final buff?

I honestly could not say.  The piece evolved over time.  Once I got the kit, I laid everything out on a table and started imagining what each part could be.  Most of my time was spent coming up with the idea. 

Jim Bove photo inspiration
Jim Bove Mnemosyne at the Waters of Lathe_back

The theme of the Challenge was “Memento,” and you were required to incorporate a photo into your work. Tell us what image you chose, and why.

The theme of the exhibition inspired the piece. I am generally not a narrative artist, in fact, my work is mostly minimalist and without imagery. I chose an image of my Grandfather for the work. The theme, Memento, made me think of memories and that photo is one of my favorite of my Grandfather.

And the piece became an homage to Mnemosyne: the Greek goddess of memory, and the Mother of the Muses. She is standing at the waters of Lethe, where you drink and you forget. Help us untangle all of this.

Yes, exactly!  Memory and the loss of memory.  The piece is about Alzheimer's. Several of my family members have suffered from Alzheimer's.

Are you a fan/student of mythology? Have you ever used it before in your work?

I am. I loved reading mythology when I was little, Greek, Roman, Norse, it all fascinated me.  I still explore the mythology of other cultures, but I do not generally use it in my work. Other than the piece, "Climb, Sisyphus, Climb", a few years back, I rarely use the imagery, but that may change.  I have always enjoyed paintings and sculpture that have dealt with mythology.

And tell us the technique that you used to incorporate the image of your grandfather? Is that a decal on enamel? 

Yes, I printed the image onto decal transfer paper using a carbon based laser printer.  The carbon sinks into the enamel without burning out.



Jim Bove sketchbook 2

And the rest of your actual metalsmithing process? 

The figure of Mnemosyne was salt-water etched. The amphora was sand-cast from some silver in the kit. I textured other pieces, like the moon, using chasing tools. The image of my Grandfather on the back was enameled using a carbon decal transfer process. Some soldering and some cold connections joined the pieces together. The patina is liver of sulphur selectively removed to create depth.

This Challenge is interesting because you are required to use the supplies provided. Of the materials provided by Halstead, did any of the actual materials inspire your design?

Yes, there were several flower-like pieces that made me think the piece should have an art nouveau look. These are seen in the pool of water at Mnemosyne's feet. The chains became the waters of Lethe, the twisted wire the handles of the amphora the waters pour out of. The silver disk is the moon behind the fading temple of memory and the textured metal in the kit went into the temple itself.

Did you add other materials? 

Just a larger sheet of copper for the temple and the figure, and nickel for the pool. 

Tell us what you learned about yourself and your jewelry making during this process.

That I really enjoyed this process. My work has been so focused on composition and minimalism for a long time now, the removal of the artist, the exact opposite of story telling. It was a wonderful exploration.  I am not sure if my work will become more narrative as a result, but it has made me pause to think about what to do next.

Would you do it again? Would you do anything differently next time? 

 Would I do the design competition again? Yes.  This piece in particular? No, I think it is complete. 

Renee Zettle Sterling Halstead
"Brother," by Renee Zettle-Sterling

Copper, brass, silver, bronze, gold leaf, beads, hourglass, my deceased brother's glasses from when he was four years old, his hair, his clothing, ashes from Ash Wednesday, polymer clay, paper.
Thomas Mann Halstead
"Nude with Wings," by Thomas Mann

Nickel, copper, brass, silver, iron wire, acrylics, micarta, glow in the dark acrylic paper.

Were there other pieces in the competiton that inspired you?

There were so many!  Renee Zettle-Sterling always makes powerful work that is layered with meaning, Becky [McDonah]'s work is just so clean and well crafted and she has a wonderful narrative sense, and of course Thomas Mann is a master at presenting his work. There were many more, but these stood out that night.

What’s next for you? Where can people go to see more of your work?

I am taking a 3D modeling workshop out in Philadelphia this summer, it is something I want to learn.  We will see where it leads my work, perhaps the narrative will sneak into whatever I come out of the workshop with. My work can be seen at

Readers can see other pieces from the Halstead Design Challenge in our slideshow here on Facet, or on Halstead Bead's Facebook page. Jim, thanks so much for sharing your design process with us, and congratulations on the very lovely “Mnemosyne At The Waters Of Lethe.”  

FIND MORE: brooches , metal , forging , mixed-media

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