Anthropological jeweler Joan Tenenbaum of Gig Harbor has sold two of her native Alaskan pieces to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center.
As an anthropologist, Tenenbaum lived in Alaska and worked with native people. She compiled a grammar book, dictionary and recorded stories of the Athabaskan culture that previously had only been oral history.
Tenenbaum started jewelry design full-time a number of years ago. She used her passion for the native people in conjunction with art. Then she turned to narrative jewelry making and blended her anthropology background to create pieces that use symbols, artifacts and the natural surroundings of the rural people through jewelry.
“The native people of Alaska are connected to the earth as hunters,” Tenenbaum said. “My jewelry depicts the spiritual connections of their culture and incorporates the practices of the people into jewelry, telling their stories.”
Tenenbaum works out of her home studio in Gig Harbor.
The Anchorage museum had been interested in Tenenbaum’s jewelry for a few years. She sent some of her collection to the board for consideration.
Tenenbaum was on hand to discuss it with the members as the museum puts on the first cultural exhibit of the Dene’lina culture. It plans to have the pieces as part of the display.
“It is more unusual for a living artist to sell pieces to a museum,” Tenenbaum said. “I am honored and thrilled my pieces won over their hearts, and they chose them to be part of the exhibit. Selling to a museum has been part of a bucket list.”
Becky Blanchard, co-director of Stonington Gallery in Seattle, has represented Tenenbaum for more than 25 years.
“Joan has a passion for what she does, Blanchard said. “She loves the native Alaskan people, and her mission is to reflect and share their stories and unique experience through her art.”
The decision to add Tenenbaum’s pieces to the museum is important and reflects the importance of language as a way to keep history alive, Blanchard said.
The museum bought two of the narrative pieces. One, a brooch/pendant of gold, silver and gemstones titled “Feast of Tradition,” is about Yup’ik life and traditions. The other is a reversible necklace in gold and silver titled “Kela Nuch’iltan – We found little brother: A Dena’lina story.”
Tenenbaum recently mastered a new ancient art form called Cloisonne, meaning “compartment.” The advanced enameling technique requires intricate work in gold wire, weaving strands of gold and metal to create an image with ribbons of color added to cells.
Tenenbaum said she learned from a master in California.
“The meticulous detail, shading of color with enamel, create a luminosity,” she said. “I am creating natural landscapes of the Pacific Northwest with the technique for my jewelry.”
“Joan is a master of whatever media she uses,” Blanchard said. “It (cloisonne) takes extraordinary talent. It is a meticulous, detailed and poetic process. The new pieces just released last week have collectors ecstatic. The palette and intricate images are exquisite.”
Tenenbaum will have an exhibit as of Nov. 7 with a mix of pieces from the native Alaskan narratives and the new cloisonne landscapes titled “The Idea of Color.” It will be at the Stonington Gallery, 125 S. Jackson St., Seattle. The artist will present a slideshow of the exhibition at 2 p.m. Nov. 10.Lifestsyles Coordinator Kim Eibel can be reached at 253-358-4152 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.