You can tell at a glance that So Young Park combines several ancient techniques in her jewelry, but the designs themselves look uniquely contemporary. Each piece has layer upon layer of texture and shape. Her jewelry can call to mind lichen and moss on the bark of a tree or the ocean floor through a snorkeling mask – or, even stranger, both at once.
Despite its name, her Fluttering Flower series looks as much like tiny shells tucked into the ridges of a sea urchin as it does budding flowers. Is her jewelry sea life or plant life? Even the artist isn’t sure.
After moving to upstate New York from Seoul, Korea, a decade ago, she was fascinated by the lush nature she found everywhere and decided to focus on plant life in her jewelry. But what came out, almost unconsciously, was the sea life she grew up with in the small coastal town where she spent her childhood.
“People look at my jewelry and ask where I grew up,” she says. “When I tell them I lived by the sea, they say ‘I knew it.’ I spent a lot of time playing on the beach and I think those memories find their way into my jewelry.”
By the time she began studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology, she already had an MSA from Seoul, Korea, studying with a professor who learned her trade in Japan. “Japan is known now for mokume gane and Korea for kumbo,” she says, “but Japan and Korea are also famous for hammering techniques. That is what my professor focused on.”
You can see that training in the engraved patterns Park stamps into the background layer of her jewelry. To get those textures, she uses pitch and chasing tools she makes herself. Those patches of curved disks? She punches each one out and hammers them individually, then solders them into place.
“When people find out that I punch out each of these disks individually, they say ‘You’re crazy!’ That’s one reason people don’t try to copy my work. It’s too hard.”
The curving tendrils that seem to sprout from the surface of her jewelry are made by drilling holes in the metal, inserting wire and soldering from behind. (We don’t always think of soldering as an ancient technique, but it actually dates to Mesopotamia.) She then hammers the wires to create those plant-like curves and melts the tips to form spheres.
One cuff from her Wave series can take So Young almost a week. To create the “waves” of curved disks on this cuff, she bends each disk with her fingers until she gets the shape she wants. She also varies the dipping time and temperature of the liver of sulphur solution she uses to oxidize her silver so she can get different shades of gray. “Most people just go for black but I like to make it look more organic,” she says.
Park ends up with jewelry that looks pleasingly familiar yet completely abstract. There is no mistaking it for anything but contemporary, yet it’s the result of a very labor-intensive series of ancient processes. “When people find out that I punch out each of these disks individually, they say ‘You’re crazy!’” she says laughing. “That’s one reason people don’t try to copy my work. It’s too hard.”
To see more of So Young Park’s jewelry, visit her website.