April Higashi Jewelry

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Shibumi Project: Real Women Buy Their Own Jewelry

Shibumi ProjectsApril Higashi1 Comment

Guest-written by Jill Blue Lin
Photography by Cynthia E. Wood

Jill Blue Lin is a UX Designer and Researcher, and an aspiring potter. Oval ceramic fruit bowl by Jill Blue Lin. Emerald, Tourmaline Necklaces and Bone Bangles by April Higashi.

Jill Blue Lin is a UX Designer and Researcher, and an aspiring potter. Oval ceramic fruit bowl by Jill Blue Lin. Emerald, Tourmaline Necklaces and Bone Bangles by April Higashi.

Introduction by April Higashi

A group of parents gathered around tiny tables; some were precariously balanced on doll-sized chairs at our 2 1/2 year old children’s preschool orientation. It was a poignant time to be handing off our babies to go to school; they were still so little. I looked around at all the other nervous parents. Then, being me, I noticed a stylish woman with a ring on her hand that looked perfect on her. The context of the ring and who she was just worked. Later, we struck up a conversation and only then I realized her ring was one of my pearl rings she had gotten at my gallery. Jewelry, art, or something beautiful in the right context can make you stop and take you by surprise or even want to make you know someone. This was one of those moments. Jill and I became friends along with our exes and built a community around our kids. It is certainly not every day that one of my pieces connects me with a treasured friendship, new life stories and how my jewelry became a part of those stories.

Biwa Pearl Ring by April Higashi. Jill’s first piece from    Shibumi Gallery.

Biwa Pearl Ring by April Higashi. Jill’s first piece from Shibumi Gallery.

Real Women Buy Their Own Jewelry

The short version is this: when our baby was 8 months old, my husband and I decided to separate, and he moved out. (The longer version belongs in a different story which I might write on another day, but this story is about jewelry.) And what followed then was the hardest period of my life.

I’d just returned to work from maternity leave, and my team and my manager were difficult. Work life was a daily battle. At home, I hadn’t yet figured out how to be a mom, let alone a single mom. And to top it all off, I hadn’t slept four solid hours since my son was born.

Yet, most disconcerting of all was the condition of my house. I could eke out the mortgage payments by myself - I’d practically been doing this for years - but major repairs were out of the question. Everything in the house needed fixing, but all of it had to wait.

We have a mid century modern home in the Berkeley Hills. Built on a very steep hillside, it was the most rundown house on a beautiful street. With partial views of the Golden Gate Bridge and open, light-filled rooms, the house had potential; but the siding was so worn I could pull it off with my bare hands in certain spots. The cheap aluminum windows rattled whenever the wind blew. Under the 1970s fake wood paneling, the walls weren’t insulated, so turning up the heat was tantamount to trying to heat the entire Berkeley Hills. I couldn’t afford a large utility bill, so we were often cold.

Whenever it rained, I dragged out my mixing bowls to catch the water from the leaks. Some days, I came home to find they had overflowed and water had pooled everywhere: the floor by the front door was soaked, water dripped from the ruined plaster ceiling and ran down the wooden stairs. As I mopped up the water and squeezed it into the sink, any remaining equity in the house seemed to disappear with that water down the drain. One evening I came home and found a California newt swimming in one of the bowls. I marveled at how he could possibly have gotten there; then I scooped him up, freed him in the backyard and watched him disappear into the dark.

And day after day, I squared my shoulders and did my best. I triaged, and only did what absolutely had to be done. I worked with a relentless focus, taking breaks to visit the pumping room three times a day. I slept whenever I could, saw my friends, cooked, and exercised.

When I look back on that time, I am astonished we made it through. But my ex proved to be a loving father who continued to help take care of our baby every day, who took out the garbage, and would straighten-up the house whenever he came by. And so many others helped. Friends visited, invited me over and fed me. A coworker recruited me to join her team, and suddenly my work life was no longer a battle. A neighbor lent me her gardener to work on my overgrown yard, and then the house looked a little less crappy from the outside.

Memories of that period are a muddy, sleep-deprived blur, but I do remember that I made time and space to enjoy the baby. In our cold house, we would read and play in bed --underneath warm blankets!-- and I thought he was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Somehow, we were happy.

Bit by bit our new life became easier. I got a promotion, a raise, and a meaningful tax refund. The rainy season was over and the weather was warm. The baby started sleeping through the night, and once he did, it was as if a haze had been lifted from the world. One morning I woke up after a full night’s sleep and noticed that my heart no longer lived in my throat: things no longer felt so desperate.

With my newfound ease, on a warm spring day I walked into Shibumi Gallery. I had seen April’s work years ago. With its modern lines and organic shapes, her jewelry is so beautiful that whenever I’m in its presence, every fiber of my body screams “WANT!” I had always meant to ask my husband to buy me one of her pieces someday when we had extra money, but that day never came. I decided to buy myself a ring. What I really craved was a huge diamond slice. But I had a house to fix and a baby to support, so what I got instead was a large pearl ring with an oxidized silver band. It was beautiful and it was enough.

April wasn’t in her gallery that day; we met sometime later at our kids’ preschool. As she tells it, she looked across the room, saw me and thought “That ring looks great on her!” before she recognized it as one of her own. We became fast friends— over the years we’ve watched one another’s kids, cooked for each other, and spent holidays and vacations together.  For almost six years, we’ve been building a community around our children.

My family is doing really well right now. My son is thriving and I have a different job. My ex and I co-parent so well that people have asked if we planned it this way all along. The house is mostly done -- when I manage to straighten up, it looks like Sunset Magazine in here. And when it rains, I no longer have to get out the mixing bowls. A warm, weather-proof house, a solid roof over my child’s head -- these still seem like miraculous luxuries. Every once in awhile, I buy myself a piece of jewelry because I can. And because we all need a little beauty now and again.

Shibumi Project: New Life

Shibumi ProjectsApril HigashiComment

Each marriage and engagement has a unique story comprised of many moments and emotions.

For the couple in this story happiness, joy, heartbreak, vulnerability, sorrow, and support are the words that come to mind as I think of theirs.

I have the privilege to see and hear about many private moments when working with couples on their rings. When I first started making wedding and commitment rings, I decided to have a beautiful case made where couples could meet. I created a case with cantilevered weights where they can stand, peruse the rings, and have conversations about what they envision and want to share. 

At this case I learn so much more about the couples than simply their aesthetics for jewelry. I learn about those special moments in their relationship, how they met and most importantly I see the dynamic between them as they select what they want to represent their story.  

It was in front of this case that I met Bree and Ray, a lovely couple in their thirties who carefully and thoughtfully selected their rings together. Bree was a writer. Ray did many things, one of which was teach yoga. We laughed as Ray would try on a ring and go into downward dog to make sure it was comfortable enough to wear while teaching. They were a beautiful couple and they fit together nicely. A few years later they stopped by the gallery, now married, and he bought her a green sapphire ring. He said to her. "I want every finger of yours to have a ring from April for all our good memories over the years.” I learned they were trying to have a baby. 

Like life, this story doesn’t have all happy moments, but it is a story about the strength and support it takes to move through both good and bad times. Sometime later I ran into Bree. We were both trying on clothes in a store. We talked over the dressing room walls and she told me that they were trying to adopt a child. I had shared my journey to have my son, which took six years and included at one point, trying to adopt. I wished her well and let her know I was thinking of her. I knew how agonizing the process was of trying to get pregnant and then trying to adopt. She mentioned that they were well and I went on my way happy to have seen her.

The story skips ahead to a dear friend of Ray’s emailing me to ask if I could size a ring Ray had bought for him. He was very forlorn at the appointment and as we talked I learned that Ray had cancer. He was not going to make it and he had gifted him the ring for being by his side through it all.

Bree contacted me in the next year and said she was going to be in the Bay Area. She told me Ray had passed and she wanted to do something with their wedding rings. Understandably, she couldn’t bring herself to wear hers anymore. I told her to bring them in and I’d be happy to see her. We chatted a bit more by email. I am not a person who avoids asking about hard subjects. I was curious how she was and wanted to know about what had happened in their adoption process. I learned that not only did she have to endure her young husbands’ death, but that only months before his diagnosis their adoption had come through. A little boy. However, sadly on the twelfth day of his being with them the birth mother decided to take him back. In California, a birth mother has thirty days before she officially relinquishes her rights.    

As you can imagine it was heartbreaking for them both. And only months after this, they learned of Ray’s terminal illness. I felt for her. I had truly felt the sweetness of their relationship and just how much he loved her.  

I came up with the idea to melt all three of their wedding rings together, their wedding bands and her engagement ring. We reoriented the diamond in a new direction and sized it for a new finger. A ‘new life’ ring. It was a beautiful symbol of the love and memories she had in her marriage and yet the need to move forward. During her appointment we cried and hugged.  The whole process touched me - I have never heard a story so poignant. 

Jewelry is imbued with symbolism, beauty and strength. While Ray and Bree’s story is heartbreaking, I keep thinking of the moments they got to share and how they were there for each other.

Often marriages end in divorce. This one did not. They were separated while they still wanted to be together and share a life. Not everyone gets to experience true love as they did. This story is a tribute to them both.  

When I meet couples about to marry I see all their hopes and dreams for a happy future. They giggle, they fight and kiss in front of me. There is so more than meets the eye to a relationship, so much that doesn’t often get talked about. Thank you for sharing your life and your deeply personal moments. It was and continues to be a great honor to be a witness and make such symbolic pieces for you to reflect on. I love that my work provides the opportunity to peripherally share in your unions. And I love that I can help mark these moving moments with something beautiful.

With risking to sound cliche, may this be a reminder to all of us to be in the moment with those we love.

---In honor or Ray and Bree. 

ART JEWELRY FORUM: APRIL HIGASHI

PressApril HigashiComment

11 / 16 / 2016

Shibumi Gallery, Berkeley, California, USA

By Susan Cummins

I have known April Higashi for many years and—full disclosure—she worked for me when I owned a gallery for a number of years. I think April is the ideal model for the new younger jewelers who find a way to make life work for them so they can support themselves in the world and still live a creative life. I am amazed by her talent and the creative attitude she has toward all aspects of her life. So I was delighted to be able to interview her. See what you think.

Susan Cummins: I know you have pursued many different projects in your career. Can you talk about a few of them and describe your educational background?

April Higashi: Lately I have been thinking a lot of my career path: where I’ve been and, now that I’m mid-career, where I’d like to end up. I’ve learned so much with each project I’ve undertaken along the way.

My educational background is in textiles, fashion, and fine art. I wasn’t satisfied with my education so I sought out experiences in the working world. It was these experiences that led me to jewelry making and eventually starting my own gallery.

I first started working in the fashion industry for both Nini Bambini and Esprit de Corp. One was a small company, the other a large corporation. I learned I wasn’t a corporate climber and preferred working on the big picture ideas rather than specializing.

When I was 25 and taking my first jewelry class at San Francisco City College, with Jack da Silva, I naively started my own jewelry business with a partner. While my business partner was good at getting her foot in the door to show our work, I discovered I was really good at problem solving. Our second order, for Banana Republic, was an order for 6,000+ pieces and required me to take all kinds of risks in order to figure out how to get it filled. I also discovered I had the courage to take on something like this, as well as new challenges.

When we closed the business it had over 300 accounts and had supported us for more than six years.

While I loved working at the bench, I was not the sort of jeweler who could spend every day there. So I always pursued other part-time work until I started Shibumi Gallery.

These work experiences were essential to my education.

From 2001 to 2004, I taught at CCAC and learned I was very good at editing and assessing people’s strengths and weaknesses. I also worked designing and creating displays for an LA showroom. This not only gave me great display practice but I also learned how to put different lines together. For a few years, I managed Lilith Clothing, which taught me I could assess what looked good on people and gain their confidence with honest feedback.

Later, I became art director for the Jerry Garcia Estate, which taught me how to manage a creative team.

I also worked for the enamel artist June Schwarcz, which deepened my artistic voice, and with you, at Susan Cummins Gallery, which I’ll discuss in greater detail below.

What inspired you to start a gallery? How long have you been doing it?

April Higashi: While working at the Susan Cummins Gallery in Mill Valley, I helped put together vignettes of jewelry and art for a show titled Jewelry and Objects. Something just clicked. I realized that, besides being at the bench, I loved putting diverse things together in creative and unexpected ways.

You, one of your artists, Dominic Di Mare, and June Schwarcz were all very complimentary of my aesthetic, and this validation gave me the encouragement and confidence to pursue my own personal vision.

I had continued making jewelry all along while I held these other jobs. When my art director position was ending, my now ex-husband and I found a live/work building that had a commercial space. I had been working on my jewelry for over 10 years and knew that it was time to do what I had come to realize I wanted to do—start a gallery. I had clientele that knew me. I had met many artists along the way.

My first show was a small group show, and within a month of opening, I was able to support myself. It seemed like a miracle. But I see now that all my diverse experiences had been preparing me to do this for years. The gallery is currently going on its twelfth year

You are one among a large number of galleries internationally that have been founded by jewelers. I may be mistaken, but I don’t think that this occurs with any other art forms. Why do you think jewelers in particular have been so entrepreneurial?

April Higashi: That is a really good question. Why jewelers in general are entrepreneurial and why I personally am entrepreneurial may have two different answers.

In general, to get started in the jewelry world, many of us participate in gallery shows. So having one’s own gallery makes sense. Because jewelry is so personal, and often requires custom work or modifications, it can be easier to deal with clients directly. And it’s difficult to make it financially as a jeweler if you only do wholesale. Getting full retail for some work can make the difference between being profitable or not.

What led me, personally, to start a gallery was my love for displaying, and the enormous satisfaction I get when creating beautiful environments and connecting people with interesting pieces. And I’ve always been able to be both creative and pragmatic. I think that, mixed with being willing to take small risks and being honest and professional, has helped me earn the following and trust of my clients.

What advantage do you think being an artist gives you in the course of running a gallery? What are the challenges that come with being on both sides of the fence?

April Higashi: I know firsthand how much an artist is investing both time-wise and financially when they show at my gallery. When an artist is given a space to show, along with a deadline, their talent becomes focused and positive things happen.

I have created two jobs for myself, conceptualizing new work and curating shows, so time and prioritizing are my greatest challenges. I have to manage a team of eight, and finding good staff can be very challenging, especially in this economy. On top of that, I am the mother of a 6 ½-year-old, which comes with a whole set of other challenges.

Now that you are established and solidly a mid-career artist, how do you continue to challenge yourself?

April Higashi: When I think of ways to challenge myself, I always make sure it’s something I can take on while still keeping my life in balance. I try to pick one project that challenges me to learn something new or try something I have never done. This can be learning a technique or designing in a new metal. Currently the studio is learning to cast organic material. For the gallery, I am starting to think up designs for a beautiful new display case.

I think longer-term I’d love to find some sort of partner and conceive of an independent retail space. My live-work space has been great while being a mom and running a business, but I’d like to see how a space could maintain itself without having to be there all the time. I’m really interested in collaborating. I find bringing together creative ideas with interesting people very exciting. So that idea is in the incubator.

Please describe your space and the environment you live in.

April Higashi: My building is in West Berkeley, in an area with mixed-use zoning. There are artists, wineries, cement factories, beer brewers, and loud trains amongst residential housing. It’s a unique mix.

My building is a two-unit condo built with some of the ideas of barn architecture. The building has three floors. The bottom floor has a 500-square-foot space that is divided between the gallery, the studio, and a design workspace I share with my son. This area also doubles as an event and opening space. There are large double glass doors that open onto a huge backyard with bamboo and sculptures. I also have a guest room downstairs that I rent on occasion or use when artists come for a show.

I live upstairs with my son. It’s a large space with an open floor plan. There is a little room, formerly a deck, which we converted into my son’s bedroom. I have a small nest of a room upstairs which is my bedroom.

It’s a unique live/work space. I feel like each floor represents different parts of my life: work, live, sleep.

What does a typical day look like for you? How do you balance making your own work with selling the work of others in the gallery?

April Higashi: I’ve set up a schedule where I work full days Wednesday to Saturday. On Mondays I work a half-day with my bookkeeper and set up my team for the week. Then I pick up my son early to spend time together. Tuesday is my mental health day, which usually involves a run, and things like going to a museum. If it’s work related, it’s something fun like visiting a gallery or having lunch with an artist or client.

On the days I work full time at the gallery, I start by setting up my day with texts or emails to make sure my team knows the week’s priorities and everyone has what they need. I personally may go for a run, or out to coffee, and do some social media stuff. Then I head in and work on custom design, new pieces, special projects, and meeting clients. By 5:00 it’s time to pick up my son, so the day goes by quickly.

During a show and the weeks following it, the artist I’m showing becomes my priority. I contact clients who I think would connect with the artist’s work and make sure the work is given exposure whenever possible. I like to try to give each artist a nice check at the end of the show.

I love the way the gallery changes with each new show. It’s so much more dynamic than only showing my own work. I learn a lot from showing other artists, and I encourage my clients to mix different artist’s work. Clients seem to appreciate that.

How would you describe what you show? How do you select the artists you represent, and what does “representing” look like?

April Higashi: I like work that is well crafted; my artists have a background as makers, not only as designers. It feels like my taste navigates to organic but refined. I have a range of work that is made with alternative materials to fine jewelry. I have a base of artists I show regularly. But I reach out to new artists or when I see an artist’s work evolving in an interesting direction. I have only found one artist that I’ve shown through their soliciting me by email.

Also, I’ve started showing artists who don’t necessarily have work regularly in my gallery. I like the way it creates new interest and makes things fresh. Their work may be in the gallery for two to three months, and then you’ll never see it there, or have to follow the artist directly.

Who are the artists you have been successful showing?

April Higashi: By success, I’m guessing you mean sales. Last year I had a great show with Christina Odegard. She is so talented but doesn’t show with many people, so her work had not been seen much. I do well with Karen Gilbert, who is always evolving. Again, she doesn’t do many shows but uses her shows at my gallery to experiment with new ideas. Julia Turner’s work sells well. She is good at designing under a price point of $200 and uses a lot of discerning color in her work. I’ve also had great fine jewelry shows with Polly Wales and Jo Hayes Ward.

What do you love about representing artists? What do you hate about it?

April Higashi: I love the inflow of new ideas, forms, and the different visions of each artist. And I love to see how different the gallery looks with a new show or by changing artist’s displays.

I hate having to play the role of “mom” and pushing artists to get things here on time. I also feel responsible for sales and making sure I can support the gallery team. That can be daunting.

How do you think the field will develop in the next five years? Any predictions?

I think jewelers will be selling directly to clients more. Clients are getting more comfortable buying online. I wonder if the big craft shows will fade away. They seem to be geared for an older audience. It may take longer than five years, but I don’t see the Millennials going out to these kinds of shows.

Thank you.

https://artjewelryforum.org/april-higashi

Sitting down with April Higashi, the mind behind Shibumi Gallery

PressApril HigashiComment

Sitting down with April Higashi, the mind behind Shibumi Gallery

by Olivia Shih

April Higashi, 2016, photo: Cynthia Wood

April Higashi, 2016, photo: Cynthia Wood

Olivia: April, you have been working in and with contemporary art jewelry for over 20 years, but I would love to hear how you began your affair with jewelry.

April: I was actually working at Esprit de Corp in the textiles department but ended up working at a computer most of my work day. I needed to work with my hands again, so I found myself at a jewelry class at San Francisco City College. Although I had always loved making in general, metal arts was very challenging­­the thought process was so different from textile and fabric, and this drew me in. The medium was an endless source for learning, so here I am still! 

April Higashi, Furattā, 2015, 22k yellow gold, leaded enamel, black onyx, steel chain, 2 7⁄8”Pendant, 33" steel chain, photo: Shibumi Gallery

April Higashi, Furattā, 2015, 22k yellow gold, leaded enamel, black onyx, steel chain, 2 7⁄8”Pendant, 33" steel chain, photo: Shibumi Gallery

Olivia: Is there an artist or a few artists who influenced you the most, whether it be in jewelry or life?

April: Yes, a few people in particular have greatly inspired me. June Schwarcz, who passed away this year, was a strong influence both in the way she created work and the way she lived her life. She not only created amazing sculptural enamel vessels, but she surrounded herself with beautiful things and creative people. I was her assistant for a few years, and we remained friends until she passed away at 97 years old. Susan Cummins, who isn’t an artist per se but owned The Susan Cummins Gallery, was a mentor. I worked for her when I was 25. She taught me that you not only have to have a strong vision that is unique to yourself, but also that your business needs to make money to stay afloat. I learned so much, watching her form a strong community around her vision.

Olivia: Both June and Susan are innovators in the contemporary jewelry field, but have you ever been inspired by artists in other mediums?

When I was younger, I’d have said Frida Kahlo. I finally got to visit Casa Azul in Mexico City this past year, and I was reminded that she was a true individual. She created her own style and community of creative and intellectual people. She didn’t have an easy life, but it was definitely interesting and inspiring. She loved, lived, and created. She knew what she wanted and went after it, even if she didn’t always get it.

April Higashi, Ambā Ki, 2015, amber drops, 4.64 ctw diamonds, 18k and 22k gold, 2”, photo: Shibumi Gallery

April Higashi, Ambā Ki, 2015, amber drops, 4.64 ctw diamonds, 18k and 22k gold, 2”, photo: Shibumi Gallery

Olivia: I love that. It's clear to any visitor that Shibumi Gallery is a work of labor and love. What was your vision for the gallery when you first opened?

April: As I mentioned, I had worked for Susan Cummins at her gallery. I’d also been one of the early artists at Velvet da Vinci and had done display work for De Novo Gallery. What I took away from these experiences was this: show work beautifully. Show new work that hasn’t been seen by everyone. Show work from colleagues you respect and from upcoming talent you feel have unique vision. Show artful but wearable work. Always pay the artist before you pay yourself. Make the clients feel comfortable and welcome in your space. Connect them with the right piece that looks good on them. Listen to who they are. Share the things in life you love.

April Higashi, Matte Black Onyx and Bronze with Black Diamond Bead Necklace, 2015, black onyx, bronze, black diamonds, 19”, photo: Shibumi Gallery

April Higashi, Matte Black Onyx and Bronze with Black Diamond Bead Necklace, 2015, black onyx, bronze, black diamonds, 19”, photo: Shibumi Gallery

Olivia: Those are inspiring values to live and work by. You’re currently based in Berkeley, California, right? Can you describe what your environment is like and how it influences your life and work?

April: I am an extrovert inside an introvert’s body. I created an aesthetic environment in the gallery where I hope the beauty will draw one in. I want the space to speak for itself, so I don’t have to. The jewelry is usually displayed with twisted branches and driftwood and metalwork by my son’s father, Eric Powell, who is a metal sculptor and made all of the displays and the gallery doors. My gallery is connected to my studio and a larger design open space where my six­ year­ old son loves to draw. There is a modern earthy flavor to the space with organic elements­­accents of walnut, steel and art that I have collected or traded over the years. I’ve been told that the space seems creative and considered. I love that description.

Furattā II, 2015, 22k & 18k gold,black onyx, diamonds, 1 5⁄8”, photo: Shibumi  Gallery

Furattā II, 2015, 22k & 18k gold,black onyx, diamonds, 1 5⁄8”, photo: Shibumi

Gallery

Olivia: Shibumi really does resonate with Berkeley, with its respect for slow, considered craft and embracing nature. What is a working day at this East Bay gallery like?

April: Every day is different. If I’m lucky I’ll go for a short run or go get my new favorite coffee drink, a Gibraltar. Then I’ll do a few emails, check the calendar for client appointments, then browse and post to Instagram before heading to the gallery. Once there, I check in with my goldsmiths, look over and comment on completed work, and go over the day’s priorities to form a game plan.

Olivia: And that’s just your morning?

April: Yes! Afterwards, I’ll check in with my staff who has usually set up the gallery and is working away. I might see clients, do custom designs or quotes, work on new pieces, check in with galleries or artists, or work on upcoming shows. It’s never dull. Somewhere in there, I am usually doing a little coordination for my six ­year ­old son, and there you go. My day in a nutshell as jeweler, gallerist, and mother.

April Higashi, Topography Rings (Women’s), 2015, Silver, 18k, mackel diamonds, 4mm & 2.5mm, photo: Shibumi Gallery

April Higashi, Topography Rings (Women’s), 2015, Silver, 18k, mackel diamonds, 4mm & 2.5mm, photo: Shibumi Gallery

Olivia: What are the most difficult challenges you have had with being an artist and gallery owner?

April: Honestly, finding the right mix of talent for my staff and building a creative team where the dynamics are in sync has been the biggest challenge. I feel like a conductor for an orchestra. Everyone needs to work together and understand that we are a creative whole. That said, when the dynamic is good, we can create anything, and I feel so fortunate to do what I’m doing. Every day is a challenge, and I feel lucky that I can juggle it all. Some days I do better than others. I just consider myself fortunate that with my work and the gallery I can support myself, my son, my staff, and the artists I show.

April Higashi, Topography Ring ( Men's), 2015, silver, mackel diamonds, 10mm, photo: Shibumi Gallery 

April Higashi, Topography Ring ( Men's), 2015, silver, mackel diamonds, 10mm, photo: Shibumi Gallery 

 

Olivia: I have no idea how you do it, but you pull it off so beautifully. It’s been such an insightful interview ­­thank you for taking time to chat with me.

April: Thank you that’s a nice reflection.

Shibumi Gallery, 2016, photo: Cynthia Wood

Shibumi Gallery, 2016, photo: Cynthia Wood

Michi

PressApril HigashiComment

April Higashi has been working as a contemporary art jeweler, gallerist and curator in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 20 years. She has made her name on her skillful and abstract style of enameling. But of late has become increasingly recognized for her combinations of rose cut stones, natural diamonds and precious metals to create rich color fields, unique textures and unexpected relationships. The aesthetic she has developed is organic yet refined creating contemporary pieces with an aura of antiquity.

 

In the recent exhibition, Michi, Higashi continues to experiment with materials incorporating white gold, high-karat yellow gold and bronze alongside more surprising materials including wings of butterflies and moths. The work focuses on minimal settings and highly crafted custom closures in order to compliment the striking collection of stones such as Peruvian opal, black tourmaline and quartz. The use of leather is applied to several pieces, giving the otherwise resplendent collection a down to earth sensibility.

 

Worth noting, this show illustrates a shift happening in Higashi’s work seen first in late 2011, in which her well known enamels of vibrant patterns where left behind for a more sparse imagery with soft white backgrounds.  Of these pieces, “Ma” Brooch (painted enamel, oxidized silver, 18k yellow gold, and diamond slices) stands out, exhibiting a single bare branch, rendered fuzzy as if seen through thick fog. About this shift in process Higashi said, “I wanted to arrive at a subtle beauty that gives the viewer a sense of calm. This quiet place is a space that I crave, even if only enjoyed for the smallest moments.” Moving away from the abstract patterns informed by nature, these new enamels were more direct and functioned as small homages to the awe-inspiring effect of nature. 

Presented alongside these new enamels were works such as Shiro Brooch, which effectively replaced the reference of nature for the real thing. Shiro Brooch (fossilized coral, black diamonds, 24 & 18k gold) offered the viewer a relic from the past. Embellished very sparingly with a faux branch fabricated from gold and set with black diamonds, the piece was simultaneously a feat of elaborate repair and a new creation of beauty.

                                         Kuro Pendant, black coral, 1.32ct organic crystal diamonds, 18kyg, 19.5", 2013

                                         Kuro Pendant, black coral, 1.32ct organic crystal diamonds, 18kyg, 19.5", 2013

The work presented in her recent show Michi continues in this vein, moving away from enamels painted with nature as subject in favor of the use of specific elements themselves. Morpho Pendant (sterling silver, 18k yellow gold, quartz, Morpho butterfly wing, palladium chain) consists of an impressive iridescent butterfly wing set in a gold bezel and protected by a crystal clear triangular shaped quartz cabochon. In this piece Higashi offers us the very coveted object of beauty on a platter. The result is  amore direct connection with Higashi's sense of wild and imperfect beauty and less of a dreamy yearning that her past enamels imbued.

                                                     Morpho Pendant, Morpho wing, 22k gold, palladium, 20", 2013

                                                    Morpho Pendant, Morpho wing, 22k gold, palladium, 20", 2013

Other pieces in the show illustrate a degree of removal from the objects Higashi is inspired by, in particular Emerald Sango Pendant (sterling silver, rose cut emerald, diamonds, 22k and 18k yellow gold, leather) where one of the components is a piece of coral that has been cast and made into a silver pendant. Our attention is set on the amazing and delicate patterning of a coral branch, which invited our imagination to drift to the original piece of coral of which the casting was made.

                                     Sango Pendant, rose cut emerald, diamonds, silver cast coral, 18kyg, leather

                                    Sango Pendant, rose cut emerald, diamonds, silver cast coral, 18kyg, leather

In addition to simple, clean presentations of natural materials, Higashi continues with her augmentation of the found objects she uses in her jewelry. These pieces present themselves as a layering of Higashi's own unique sense of beauty. In Kuro Black Coral Pendant (Black coral, organic crystal diamonds, 18kyg) a large piece of coral is set between two gold end caps and strung with a thick gold chain. The coral is sprinkled with raw diamonds, riveted on with high karat gold. Another good example of this aesthetic is So Necklace (black tourmaline, black diamonds, bronze) where a strand of raw black tourmaline beads are interrupted by a hand fabricated bronze bead of similar shape and size, set with small sparkling black diamonds. The bead is an augmented section of the strand and highlights the asymmetrical shapes and deep black dolor found in the tourmaline beads. Of these pieces Higashi explains, "I continue to see things in layers, but instead of painting actual layers of enamels I juxtapose shapes, usually organic, to see a relationship of multiples that becomes more poetic and visually dynamic than one."

                                                         So Necklace, black tourmaline, black diamonds, bronze, 2013

                                                         So Necklace, black tourmaline, black diamonds, bronze, 2013

While much is changing in Higashi's work her own special interest in the beauty of imperfection remains a strong element of her creative process and is a thread that can be seen throughout this current collection. Her ability to recognize and embrace unusual materials and transform them into highly crafted pieces of jewelry allows Higashi to continually present us with work that is fascinatingly beautiful. Of this continual process of creation Higashi says, "I am inspired by my clients, their style and the way they wear my work. I feel that they are drawn to wear the work for the same reason I create it, expression. And by mixing older pieces with new it allows my work to slowly fade into the wearer and leave me."

review by Ahna Adair

Sea and Sky: April Higashi and Aondrea Maynard

PressApril HigashiComment

April Higashi has made her name on her skillful and organic style of enameling. Building layers of color in a painterly fashion she creates small and wearable artworks rooted in a reverence for nature. Conversely, Aondrea Maynard paints large canvases in which she distills moments unseen yet present in the natural world around us. A smart pairing, the show “Sea & Sky” is a look at the evocative ways in which artists become inspired by the natural world and their relationship to it. Each artist, though very different in chosen medium and scale, is working from a deep and intuitive place, attempting to assign materiality to the intangible realm of experience.

                      'Ma' Brooch: painted enamel, diamond slices, 18kyg, oxidized silver

                      'Ma' Brooch: painted enamel, diamond slices, 18kyg, oxidized silver

Higashi is currently navigating the challenges of new motherhood, owning and operating a gallery and continuing an art practice of her own. Despite this hectic work environment, her new collection has a sense of peace and stillness. A subtle shift has occurred in her enamels as vibrant patterns spread over the whole surface have been left behind for a more sparse imagery with soft white backgrounds. “Ma” Brooch (painted enamel, oxidized silver, 18k yellow gold, and diamond slices) exhibits a single bare branch, rendered fuzzy as if seen through thick fog. About this new aesthetic Higashi says, “I wanted to arrive at a subtle beauty that gives the viewer a sense of calm. This quiet place is a space that I crave, even if only enjoyed for the smallest moments.” These new enamels are small homages to the awe-inspiring effect of nature. Perhaps by pointing our gaze at artwork instilled with this awe we may be able to steel a moment away from the busy, over-scheduled day to day.

                          'Shiro' Brooch: fossilized coral, black diamonds, 24 & 18k gold

                          'Shiro' Brooch: fossilized coral, black diamonds, 24 & 18k gold

Higashi’s reverence for nature comes through in not only the imagery painted on her enamels but the materials she uses as well. Shiro Brooch (fossilized coral, black diamonds, 24&18k gold) offers the viewer a relic from the past. Embellished very sparingly with a faux branch reproduced from gold and set with black diamonds gives the piece a feeling of elaborate repair. Like many jewelers, Higashi works with precious metals, stones and pearls. Always careful to use only those that are responsible and sustainable, her eye falls on the peculiar. The pearls, stones and other precious materials seen in this show shed light on her special interest in the beauty of imperfection. Those things that nature makes sub-par or irregular, according to market standards, are the very materials that she covets. The asymmetry of a branch of fossilized coral, a domé pearl originally used as a test to make cultured pearls, and raw diamonds mined decades ago to make industrial tools hold the spotlight in this extensive body of new work.

                  Lover, 2011: Oil on wood panel, 22" x 60"

                  Lover, 2011: Oil on wood panel, 22" x 60"

Aondrea Maynard’s paintings are at once beautiful and haunting. Capturing the liminal, she creates a visual language for the moments that happen in between what we might consider regular and documentable events. In many of her paintings, namely Lover (oil on wood), light and color are a strong focus and occupy the canvas with as much weight as line and shape. What looks like puffs of smoke, upward moving steam, and currents of air are rendered as tangible as a full moon or the silhouette of tree tops. A reoccurring shape appears, reminiscent of the end of a cello or violin or perhaps the ubiquitous Acanthus leaf. In Whaling Song, the shape has such a weight and shadow that it becomes animate, a living and breathing being. For the artist it is a shape that feels good to paint and her body has a natural tendency towards it. In this way a language specific to the artists physicality has become part of the visual language of her painting.

      Whaling Song, 2011: Oil on wood panel, 40" x 36"

      Whaling Song, 2011: Oil on wood panel, 40" x 36"

Challenges of sustaining a successful art practice are present for both artists. In Maynard’s short talk given during the show opening she spoke of the dangers of getting stuck in an aesthetic that sells well. For a painter whose aim is to paint the invisible, she has to try to shelve this looming demand of marketability and get to that deeper place that many artists seek. For Higashi and Maynard continuing a successful studio practice while striving toward their true creative vision is not easy in the midst of life’s daily challenges. In “Sea & Sky” we are offered an unusual comparison of the work of two artists, a jeweler and painter. Similarly inspired, the careers of two women converge at Shibumi Gallery as they exhibit their most recent bodies of work.

 

For those unable to steel a moment from their day-to-day, visit Shibumi Gallery's Flickr page where you will find April Highashi's jewelry collectionAondrea Maynard's paintings as well as photos from the opening.

Review by Ahna Adair

Gallery Lulo: April Higashi - New Work

PressApril HigashiComment
  April Higashi: Red ocean coral, 18k yellow gold, cultured sea pearls, 2011

  April Higashi: Red ocean coral, 18k yellow gold, cultured sea pearls, 2011

Artists Statement -
The world of craft is a surreal place after the birth of my son last year. Before that momentous occasion, the space of making held more weight in my life. Now, though it is still important to me, it is met with a feeling of lightness. I am sometimes haunted by how to merge motherhood with making and my daily efforts to create new work are approached through a foggy veil. The many days and weeks spent creating these pieces where dedicated to unearthing a complexity from a chaos of new ideas that have occupied my mind and my studio. Hopefully when resolved and finished the works retain a mysterious presence and offer a space for peace and stillness. The enamels and fossilized coral pieces in this group capture this feeling of solace.

The abstract imagery painted in my enamels in the past emerged after snorkeling in Hawaii above the natural coral reefs. Swimming above the majestic beauty, I did not want to directly copy what I saw but instead convey the feelings experienced as I looked at the forms and moved through the water. This group of work is more direct, as coral-like branches are rendered to appear as if captured in a mist. The images are painted in layers using graphite, enamel and china paint. They are partially hidden creating an atmosphere of distance that asks the viewer to leave them to exist in their own quiet suspended space. I have accented these pieces with prong set diamond slice fragments, black diamonds and rose cut moonstones. The beads are French steel cut beads from the 1930's that add an eccentricity rooted in fashionable jewelry of this era. I have used bead setting as a reference to this antique jewelry, yet left surfaces smooth and sculptural.

This is a time for more awareness of our resources and greater efforts in recycling these objects of beauty. Reflecting my appreciation for nature, the pearls, coral, moonstones and diamonds in this group were bought from sustainable sources. The pearls are special fresh water American pearls harvested from the Tennessee River mostly from mussels. This second generation family business has spent over 50 years collecting pearls from our rivers and lakes. The dome pearls were originally used as a test for making cultured pearls. I have bought the remainder of this company's supply of these pearls. The companies that harvest the coral take only dead coral that is no longer feeding other species of sea life. The brilliant cut diamonds were bought from older estate jewelry. As a jewelry maker l bring my interpretation with the hope that there will always be a desire for a new perspective both in fashion and art.

The show is up at Gallery Lulo through 7/30/11. The new work will be shown at Shibumi Gallery opening November 5th, 2011 with an extension of this series. This will be the first solo show at Shibumi of April's work since she opened Shibumi in 2005.