The Art of Craft


Yothers’s sketchbook, filled with drawings and notes, tracks her design process.

I make applied art,” says Wendy Yothers, assistant professor of Jewelry Design. “Everything has a use.” Yet there’s nothing remotely utilitarian or ordinary about her work, pieces of which have been purchased for the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Corning Museum of Glass, and the Vatican Museums.

She’s incised intricate moiré effects into knife blades and created purse clasps out of actual cane toads. (“They’re not endangered,” she’s quick to point out.) She designed FIT’s brass mace, a ceremonial symbol of the college, crowned with an apple and garlanded with laurel leaves, which holds pride of place each May at commencement. And she makes silver necklaces that resemble skeleton hands, joined so the bony fingers rest gently, almost proprietarily, on the wearer’s clavicles. “I do anything I want to do, always,” she insists. “The only question is: Do I want to do it?”
6That sense of freedom, of serious, mindful play, is one she encourages in her students. Yothers began teaching at FIT in 2000, and she became chair of the department in October. Among her many classes are soldering, jewelry fabrication, die construction, and silversmithing. She says she teaches from the standpoint of problem solving, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into mundane concerns for structure or materials. “I’m idea-driven,” she says. “I make what I want instead of what I already know how to do. Many good people I worked with absolutely assassinated themselves by not trying something new.” In developing any design, she sketches ceaselessly, and if she encounters a problem she can’t solve, she’ll take a class or save up so she can experiment with new materials.
Not long ago, she got the idea of creating silver and glass teapots based on the Slavic folktale of Baba Yaga, a witch who lived in a magical hut that walked around on chicken legs. For this project, the materials were familiar: “Silver and I are married. We’re in a good place now,” Yothers says. “But glass is my affair; it cuts me.

Turns me into a slave.” The teapots were exhibited at the Biennial Teapot Exhibition in St. Louis and the Newark Museum, and now reside at the Smithsonian. Perhaps the curators had the experience Yothers says she has when she witnesses a successful work of art: “Once you’ve seen it, you can never unsee it.”

Watch Jewelry Design faculty member Wendy Yothers talk about her process.