On a gray late-winter day, finding something that brings a little sparkle and shine might be the remedy for winter blues.
Visitors of all ages will be dazzled at “Jeweled Objects of Desire: From Ordinary to Extraordinary,” a traveling exhibition on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, at the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher building. This exhibition, showing through May 6, features rarely seen items that blend both artistry and innovation to jeweled art forms.
The various artists transform simple materials into striking treasures – whether it is a faceted quartz crystal egg, a gem-studded fishing reel, a gold seahorse pin, or a gold mouse trap with a diamond-encrusted cheese wedge. Each of these creations irresistibly attracts attention and appeals to the imagination, encouraging visitors to think about why and how each work was made.
“As part of our affiliation with the Smithsonian, we are delighted to bring ‘Jeweled Objects of Desire’ to Bellingham,” said Patricia Leach, Executive Director of the Whatcom Museum. “It is our first time collaborating with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and is a wonderful opportunity for our community to gain greater access to some of the Smithsonian’s extraordinary collections.”
Presenting uncut examples of precious materials, such as jade, amethyst, and quartz alongside the artistry of man-made objects, “Jeweled Objects of Desire” celebrates the beauty of stones found deep within the earth. Highlights of the exhibition include a 7,000 carat quartz egg from Brazil, containing 240 facets (or surfaces) and resting on a gold stand embellished with 16 small and four large sapphires; a freshwater pearl corncob with 18-karat gold husk; and a 14-karat gold sardine can studded with Russian diamonds.
“In this exhibition, these precious stones ordinarily found in the geology of our planet are transformed into jeweled works of art,” Leach said.
The exhibition features the work of a number of artists, but also includes a selection of artwork by internationally renowned jewelry designer Sidney Mobell. Mobell is celebrated for crafting common utilitarian items into unique artworks through the use of gold and precious gemstones. Among the spectacular works on view are a 14-karat gold Nokia cell phone encrusted with more than 250 gems and a golden mail box studded with 76.70 carats of precious and semi-precious stones.
Mobell’s piece, “La Garbage Can,” a 10-gallon garbage can plated in 24-karat gold and set with 457 precious and semi-precious stones, including 208 rubies, 164 sapphires, 18 emeralds and seven diamonds, was inspired by the expression, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Mobell (born in 1926) created this artwork after purchasing household items at a local hardware store. Introduced in 1986, it drew much national attention and was dubbed the “world’s most expensive garbage can.” It has appeared on various television shows, including “The CBS Evening News” with Dan Rather and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” where it was shown filled with champagne bottles on ice.
“Jeweled Objects of Desire” is showing concurrently with the exhibition “Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America.” Visit whatcommuseum.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/ for more information.
Christina M. Claassen is Whatcom Museum’s marketing and public relations manager. Reach her at email@example.com.
The non-profit Whatcom Museum is operated by the Whatcom Museum Foundation and the city of Bellingham. The Old City Hall building at 121 Prospect St. and the Lightcatcher Building at 250 Flora St. are open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays. The Family Interactive Gallery, located inside the Lightcatcher, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission, good for all sites in a day, is $10 general, $8 youth (6-17 years) and student, senior or military, $5 children (2-5 years). Memberships start at $50 and include free museum admission.
The museum offers a variety of programs and exhibitions about art, nature and Northwest history. Its collections contain more than 200,000 artifacts and art of regional importance, including a photographic archive. The museum is accredited nationally by the American Alliance of Museums and is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.