I just discovered the jewelry of Melanie Bilenker at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Wrought and Crafted: Jewelry and Metalwork, 1900-present, through February 7). Inspired by the Victorian tradition of jewelry made from the hair of loved ones, Melanie creates jewelry from drawings made with her own hair.
“The Victorians kept lockets of hair and miniature portraits painted with ground hair and pigment to secure the memory of a lost love,” Melanie writes on her website. “In much the same way, I secure my memories through photographic images rendered in lines of my own hair, the physical remnants. I do not reproduce events, but quiet minutes, the mundane, the domestic, the ordinary moments.”
The scenes she captures are the private moments of a woman. In this sense – and in the simple quality of her drawings – she reminds me of Mary Cassatt, another artist from the Philadelphia area. (Melanie studied and later taught at the University of the Arts. Cassatt studied a few blocks away – but about 150 years earlier – at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.)
One glance at Cassatt’s “Woman Bathing” (right) and you can see the resemblance – and the compliment. Legend has it Edgar Degas, Cassatt’s friend and fellow artist, took one look at that painting and exclaimed, “I do not admit that a woman can draw like that!”
Melanie Bilenker has worked with some well-known artists herself, at least in the world of contemporary studio jewelry, as a research assistant for Bruce Metcalf and studio assistant for Gabriella Kiss.
Her jewelry has also made it into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the National Museum of Scotland. Not bad for some who graduated from art school ten years ago!