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Hooked On Wire

By Holly Chernick

Anyone who has worked with wire can attest to its difficulty. However, Dawna Davis, creator of wiredgems, has chosen wire as her preferred medium. Davis manipulates wire into beautiful, wearable art pieces that often incorporate clusters of unique gems. Davis works and lives at Midway Artist Studios, an artist collective located in Boston, and is working hard to promote her creations.

Davis is a 67-year-old working artist, but she has not always been involved with art. With a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in special education, a younger Davis did not picture her career as what it is today. During the 1960s and 1970s, when Davis was just beginning as an artist, she macraméed small pieces and sold them to shops and boutiques, gaining firsthand experience of what it would mean to live off of her artistry. Afterwards, she entered the working world, which she claims stifled her progress as a creator.

By the time the 1980s rolled around, Davis got back into creating through photography, which was a medium very different from wire. A young Davis discovered the papermaking process, and she made cards with a mix of watercolors and her own photography. However, Davis noticed there was something missing; this method of creation did not satisfy her in the way she thought it would. Davis said her eventual love affair with wire was “all very serendipitous” and came to her after she took a class in silversmithing. Davis quickly realized that although she was intrigued by metal and now holds a lot of respect for the people who work with the process of manipulating metal into objects, she wished to find a craft that was more wild and free.

Davis began her work with wire by making wire-wrapped jewelry, often selling or giving her pieces away to friends. As her wire skills improved, she took back the pieces she had given to her friends and reworked them.

Davis would tell her friends, “You can’t continue to wear this and have my name on it—I’ve gotta upgrade it for you!”

This determination to master wire led Davis to pieces outside of jewelry. This can be seen in the number of artistic mirror pieces and bowls that incorporate wire throughout her studio. Davis quickly realized that in order to be shown in a gallery, she had to venture into wall hangings and installation pieces. After Davis experimented with wall pieces for a while, a designer eventually asked her to make a wearable neck sculpture for a dress that would be featured in a collaborative show. After creating this neckpiece, Davis became hooked on making her works more sculptural.

“After making that neckpiece, the direction of my work and the passion I felt about it changed. Instead of making pieces to sell, I now make pieces to be seen...seen on the runway, seen in wearable art exhibits, and hopefully seen and loved by women and men who want to have a piece that can be worn and then taken off and hung on the wall as the piece of art it is,” said Davis.

Davis fits her own work into her schedule as an organizational mentor, but on a day when creativity is a priority, she situates herself in a comfortable chair in her studio to work on her pieces.

“I’ve tried all different kinds of workspaces. I’ve had a jeweler’s bench, but I’ve found what works best for me is to work in a big, overstuffed chair,” said Davis.

She takes an organic approach to creating, watching the news or listening to music, getting up when she needs to, and enjoying walks in order to keep herself active during what she considers sedentary work. When she starts a piece, Davis has an idea of what she wants it to look like but said, “The kind of wire takes me to different places. So, it’s almost like a collaboration… And I like that.”

Many of Davis’s pieces feature coils and spirals, which she enjoys implementing in order to take the piece in a more whimsical direction. While she does not have a particular creative process, Davis says she likes to begin with the function of a piece and keep the end goal in mind when creating. She also tries not to shy away from a piece when she thinks it is getting “too weird” or she becomes afraid that nobody will want to wear it.

“[I think about] when I’m finished—how is it going to be used or how is it going to be worn? But right now, it’s all experimental,” said Davis.

One of Davis’s favorite places for her work to end up is the runway. She has created the majority of her wearable art pieces in collaboration with runway shows. Placing an intricately stitched wire sleeve on the table, Davis said working with designers “gives [her] a new way of looking at wire” and helps her tackle new methods of manipulating the medium. Davis teaches and often works with design students at Lasell College, which hosts a runway show at the end of the spring semester. During these interactions, Davis never fails to be open-minded to new ways of doing things.

Digressing a little, she also said that she does not want her wire pieces to outshine the clothing on the runway. “That’s the thing about collaboration; you want your piece to work with the garment and not overshadow the garment,” said Davis. Although it is challenging at times, Davis cites working with students as one of the most rewarding experiences.

When asked if she could picture herself continuing as a working artist for ten more years, Davis laughed and said, “I’ve never done anything for ten years.”

As for future endeavors, Davis said she would like to see her work expand into costuming for plays or would like to work on garment-overlay pieces. Interior design is another interest of hers, so she hopes to experiment with lampshades.

Shabby chic is the style Davis envisions, “where the lampshade is torn and there is a wire over it.”

But Davis remains optimistic about the future. “I have no idea where it will take me, but I am going to enjoy the journey. I’m just a hippie that never quite grew out of it,” said Davis.

Davis emphasized the enjoyment she gets out of her collaborations with the students at Lasell College. She gave some advice for aspiring young artists: “Believe in yourself. Don’t let anybody tell you to get a ‘real job.’ Being an artist is a real job. I’ve had what most consider real jobs, and if you work a traditional job, then your art will always be second. If you are truly passionate about your art, you must be able to take that risk...it has to come first.” 

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