Mountains, birds inspire 'wearable sculpture'

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

For three decades, Miye Matsukata has quietly turned the design of jewelry into a fine art. In her Copley Square workshop in Boston, known as Atelier Janiye, the Japanese-born artist creates unique jewelry which she calls "wearable sculpture."

Her jewelry, using gold, precious gems, and heirloom stones, complements the wardrobes of men and women around the world and appeals to art investors.

Inside Atelier Janiye, Ms. Matsukata shows a customer a necklace with a pre-Columbian gold bell and quartz beads hung from a hand-woven silk cord, an enameled pin with three blue sapphires, and a pin-pendant of opal, emeralds, and lavender jade set in 18-karat gold.

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The artist has set up Atelier Janiye like a 15th-century Flemish shop.

"Each piece of jewelry is made by hand," her business manager, James Hubbard, explains. "Miye finances her own production, inventory, and marketing. No one backs her up. Either she sells or she doesn't."

Behind the scenes, three expert craftswomen execute the pieces. Ms. Matsukata creates all the designs. "I pay special attention to balance, lightness, and play of light on the dimensions of each piece," she says, wearing several pieces of her jewelry to test them for wearability.

Ms. Matsukata has a special skill for turning a gem brought to her atelier into a personal statement for both wearer and designer. Her ability to create such designs has taken her into every corner of the nation and across the Pacific as well.

The internationally acclaimed designer, whose work will be modeled at the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Boston this month, had exhibited at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, New york City's "Sculpture to Wear" show, the second International Jewelry Arts Exhibition in Tokyo, and in the At Home Gallery in Toulouse, France. She was recently commissioned to create a presentation gift for Beverly Sills, the opera luminary.

Rising prices for gold and silver and inflation apparently have not stopped customers from buying her work.

Matsukata designs are inspired by her global awareness, developed by her travels around the world. Her artistic aim is to translate the mood, color, and beauty she sees in different cultures, people, and landscapes into gold, silver, and jewels.

Last summer, riding atop an elephant in India, she viewed the colorful Tiger Tops region. She captured the beauty and motion she saw into a pin of mobile jewels hanging from a stand of freshwater pearls, called "Tiger Top 1." She turned grasses into strips of 24-karat gold, a clump of trees into a carved piece of jade, and a bird into a white freshwater pearl. Strings of beads in greens, reds, purples, and blues create the motion.

A bracelet, "Tiger top 2," is woven of fine silver and 22-karat yellow gold, with carved jadeite, emerald, peridot, sapphire, coral, and tourmaline. The jewels are appliqued to the woven silver with tiny 22-karat gold wires. "Himalayas," another piece inspired by her trip to India, is an enamel gorget of mountain shapes featuring spun silver clouds. The gorget hangs from a 22-karat gold rope with clasp with jewels.

Many artistic aspects of Ms. Matsukata's work are distinctly Japanese, such as her technical excellence, her ability to abstract the essence from landscapes , and her awareness of the subtleties of color, light, and texture.

Although born and raised in Japan, the artist says her connection with American has been a deep one. Her grandfather on her father's side, Prince Matsukata, was a prime minister of Japan and played an important role in the Japan's Westernization.Her grandfather on her mother's side was among the first to import Japanese silk into New york.

"Being brought up in that kind of atmoshpere," Ms. Matsukata says, "I always expected to come to America." She graduated from Principia College in Elsah, Ill., and the Museum School of Fine Arts in boston.

Her work is available at Janiye in Boston where an appointment is necessary, and at Mikimoto in New York. Prices range from around $200 to $4,500.

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