From the Jeweler’s Bench – Creating Art through Technology
by Kristina Woods Butler
Kristopher Leinen doesn’t make art for the masses. His jewelry pieces are one-of-a-kind works of art made with precious woods, metals and jewels. The concepts of his wearable art range from intricately crafted carvings of insects to rare wood and jewel necklaces. But the element that ties each piece together and makes Leinen’s pieces signature to him is nature.
Leinen, a Master of Fine Arts candidate in metalsmithing and jewelry design, is just one of the many skilled craftsmen and women in Texas Tech’s School of Art. Under the guidance of world-renowned jewelry artist Professor Robly Glover, Leinen creates his inspired pieces in the new 3-D Art Annex – complete with state-of-the-art classrooms and technology that allows students to explore new ways of creating art by merging new techniques with traditional ones.
Leinen’s research is based on one of these new technologies, Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Machining (CAD/CAM), which allows him to bridge the gap between handmade and machine-made works of art. Leinen embraces technology while still valuing the importance of traditional metalsmithing techniques.
CAD is best known for its use in the field of industry, but it also is used to produce materials in consumer goods – from toothbrushes to tennis shoes. The School of Art’s CAD-based software is specifically tailored for art and jewelry and uses a computer to draw and design models that are then milled through the CAD/CAM tool.
“The pieces I make with the CAD/CAM are produced with industrial techniques, yet they are designed by the artist’s hand and with the artist’s knowledge of the CAD program,” said Leinen. “I believe that it is inevitable that technology will influence a new era. In my body of work I use a wide variety of traditional and current machine technology to fabricate unique pieces of jewelry.”
The Mathematics of Art
Leinen uses CAD/CAM technology to precisely carve elements of his jewelry using the Fibonacci sequence of integers.
“Growing Pains” is just one of the many examples of Leinen’s work that melds nature with CAD/CAM technology to create wearable art – in this case, a necklace. The progression of domes made of Brazilian Kingwood, starts at the lower abdomen and gradually makes its way up and around the neck representing a metaphor for human growth and life experience. Each wood dome is made with the CAD/CAM technology, and the silver settings are hand-fabricated.
One of the ways Leinen interprets nature in his jewelry, as in “Growing Pains,” is by using nature’s growth chart, the Fibonacci sequence of integers. The series appears in nearly every natural setting, from the arrangement of leaves on a stem, to the spiraling of seashells.
“The Fibonacci sequence is nature’s architecture,” said Leinen. “It is the way that nature grows upon itself, from pinecones and pineapples, to the interiors of flowers – they all form in a similar pattern. In the way that life takes shape in nature, I produce the same patterns with architectural means. It is that kind of growth and the architecture of nature that ties into the mindset of what I am trying to do with art and CAD/CAM.”
Although natural growth is based on the definitive Fibonacci sequence, the intricate details of the finished product are not always perfect. Leinen said his biggest challenge is how to make each individual piece unique with such a precise machine as the CAD/CAM.
“One reason why the Fibonacci sequence is prevalent in my work is because it gives order to the process,” said Leinen. “Throughout my life I have consistently found trouble. I have learned through my mistakes that order is something that I should strive for. I try to order my work as well as trying to give order my life.”
Concept vs. Craftsmanship
“The Garden of Eden – Haircomb”
“The comb is worn on the crown of the head as if reaching towards the heavens, which is the location of Eden,” said Leinen. “The head is the celestial part of the body, as well as the place where good and evil come to life. This piece was created to empower the wearer, making their beauty as prominent as that found in the Garden. Simultaneously, it is meant to remind the viewer of the lure of temptation.”
Leinen has a keen eye for fine jewelry and well-made things, as well as high standards for craftsmanship. Although he believes current jewelry making is more concept-driven than focused on craftsmanship, he also thinks you have to have a balance of both in order to make a piece with a unique voice.
“It is like a scale - it will get tipsy, and one will dominate the other,” said Leinen. “Since the emergence of modern art, concept has really driven why things are made and the purpose of a piece. It’s not necessarily for the craft, but it has to have a conceptual idea, a language in which it speaks.”
Maintaining that balance is something Leinen is still trying to weigh out.
“I don’t know if anybody ever achieves it intentionally and purposefully and locks in on it, but through growth and time, I am starting to develop my own language and a way that my pieces can speak for themselves,” he said.
One of Leinen’s latest pieces that has a voice of its own is “The Garden of Eden – Haircomb.” The work represents the tree of knowledge of good and evil depicted in the Bible. It delicately weaves together beauty, empowerment and seduction through the haircomb’s design, intent, and materials. Leinen uses both CAD/CAM technology and hand-carving techniques to produce the haircomb, which is made from Argentium silver, fine silver, 14k white and yellow gold, garnets, rubies, and diamonds.
Kristopher Leinen's jewelry pieces above from left to right: Bocote, Citrine; Pink Ivory Braclet; Untitled Brooch; The Buzz; Growing Pains; Beauty Of Phobia. Click images above to enlarge.
Leinen plans to continue creating his jewelry pieces after he graduates in May 2012, but eventually would like to teach metalsmithing and jewelry design, much like his mentor, Glover, who Leinen says is as passionate about teaching as he is about his own art.
“Professor Glover pushes us constantly,” said Leinen. “Sometimes he tells you things you don’t want to hear, but it is always to advance you, always to keep you thinking and moving forward. You can be stagnant, and one of the things he tries to do is build our spirits, build motivation, and bring a positive energy, so that we can complete things. I don’t just want to be a teacher; I want to be a great teacher. I want to inspire people the way he has inspired me.”
Although Leinen is looking forward to graduating, he isn’t looking forward to losing his graduate studio space and all the technology and resources available in the new 3-D Art Annex. So he is making sure his remaining time at Texas Tech is well-spent.
“I am here to learn and have all of these exciting experiences that I don’t get to have outside of school,” said Leinen. “Where else can I have this kind of facility to use at my convenience except for being in school? So while I am here, I am going to make the most of it.”
Kristopher Leinen is a graduate student in metalsmithing and jewelry design in the School of Art in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in jewelry/metalsmithing is structured to give a strong technical foundation in metals and yet allows sufficient flexibility for students to explore personal directions in their work throughout their tenure at Texas Tech University. Students are under the advisory of Professor Robly Glover (MFA). Students in the MFA program work in the newly renovated 3D Art Annex, one of the premier jewelry/metalsmithing facilities in the Southwest United States. More about the facility.
Video produced by Scott Irlbeck, Office of Communications & Marketing.
Kristina Woods Butler is Associate Director of Research & Academic Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University. Jewelry photos courtesy Robly Glover. Leinen photo courtesy Neal Hinkle.