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Beyond the Gallery: "Tributaries: Tanya Crane"

In honor of Women's History Month, we are highlighting the work of our current Tributaries artist, Tanya Crane. As a biracial artist, Tanya Crane’s work is deeply influenced by her experiences of duality: black and white, prejudice and privilege, suburbs and inner city. In Tributaries: Tanya Crane | Polarity, exposing the tensity, she includes new jewelry that utilizes a variety of techniques, including enameling. She received her MFA in Metalsmithing and Jewelry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Madison, WI) and her BFA in Metal from the State University of New York at New Paltz (New Paltz, NY.) Tanya Crane is currently a Professor of the Practice in Metals at the School Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University (Boston, MA.) Tanya writes,

Tanya Crane speaks at the opening reception of Tributaries: Tanya Crane | Polarity, exposing the tensity. Photo courtesy of Kim Ward.

“New England, and my new home of Pawtucket, RI, in particular has a significance to my work that was previously not a conscious consideration but has recently posited itself as a grand signifier in my existence as a jewelry artist. It is learning about New England’s seminal history as the seat of the American Industrial Revolution, the undeniable gravity to the founding of this nation, its growth and ultimate dissolution, and the remnants and detritus that are informing my current work. My formative years were spent in southern California where cultural imprints positioned me in a liminal existence between prejudice and privilege. I am half Black and half White. Living in a middle-class suburb of Los Angeles and visiting my father in socio-economically and racially divided South Central Los Angeles impacted my identity as a young person searching for which culture to occupy and how. Ultimately, I realized the choice itself provided me with a tool of social leverage.”

Tanya’s jewelry is a study in juxtapositions. Her work includes references to the landscape of southern California by using found objects like beach stones, set alongside enameled copper pieces referencing the industrial detritus of New England. Enameling is a decorative technique in which powdered glass, called vitreous enamel, is applied to a metal surface and fired in a kiln or with a torch. The result is a colorful, glossy, and long-lasting finish. The technique began in early civilizations around the Mediterranean region in the 13th century B.C.E. and spread throughout the globe. Today, enameling has commercial as well as decorative purposes. Modern enamelists can choose from several types of enamel, including ground powder, lumps, threads and liquid. Enamels come in opaque and transparent forms and can be applied in numerous ways.

Tanya Crane, Lil' Pimp (Necklace), 2018. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Tanya uses a specific enameling technique known as sgraffito, an Italian word meaning “scratched.” The term can refer to a technique used in fresco painting, where a design is formed by scratching at the surface paint to reveal the colors or wall beneath. It is also a common decorative glazing technique used in ceramics. Ceramics with sgraffito surface patterns can be found in countries around the world, most especially in the Middle East and Africa. When used in enameling, many artists, like Tanya, utilize black and white vitreous enamels. First, the artist creates a white base layer of enamel. Once that layer has been fired and allowed to cool, a layer of black enamel is sifted onto the surface, using water to allow the powder to stick. Then, while still damp, the artist uses a tool to scratch a design into the surface, revealing the white base. Once the design is complete and the piece fully dry, it is fired again. This technique can be used with a variety of colors and can also be done using liquid enamels, as opposed to the powdered form. The enameled pieces in Tanya’s jewelry are a visual reference to old industry in New England but they also connect her work to a larger visual history, common to many cultures throughout the globe.

Tanya Crane is the twentieth woman and second Black woman to exhibit at the Metal Museum as part of our Tributaries series. She is also the first of three women who will have Tributaries exhibitions at the Metal Museum in 2019. The exhibition, Tributaries: Tanya Crane | Polarity, exposing the tensity, will be on display in the Metal Museum’s Keeler Gallery through April 7. Click through the pictures below to see more of the exhibition.

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