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interview with

   part II
Marbeth Schon Joseph Gatto
Obviously you are influenced by the objects you incorporate. Do you feel you’re completing something by another artist when you use the scarabs and the little Roman horses?





Part of recycling and reusing natural and human-made media is also being receptive to reusing art and antiquities. The byproducts of creativity have as much value to contemporary artists as they did to the populace in ancient times.  I try never to violate the concept of the piece that I work with.  I respect the work as much as I would like people to respect the byproducts of my creativity and craftsmanship.  Many of the pieces I use are not signed, much the same as many early art forms such as Russian icons.  As for completing something created by another artist, I would advance that they have proven without a shadow of doubt to be the catalyst for my work.  I have always made jewelry with the intent of it being, creative, unique, and well crafted.  Antiquities, precious metals, and my craftsmanship are the investments and antiques of the future.

The small Roman horses and birds that I have been using for sometime are referred to as zoomorphic, or godlike.  I read something about them that was rather fascinatingthat the head of the bird, scarab, or animal should face the heart of the wearer.  The ancients believed that the positive energy left the animal and entered the heart of the person, who in turn used the positive energy to do good and then recycled it back to the animal.


Ring, c. 2012
Sterling silver, bronze, Roman Fibula, ivory


  18 kt rose gold, yellow gold, ancient, bronze Roman Fibula, turquoise, dyed coral


Sketches for Roman horse rings

Do you find that the challenges of incorporating ancient pieces in your work—even with the limitations of using something that you don’t wish to alter—are challenges that move you forward?  You told me the story of the horses—you want to use them properly with respect for the pieces.



Yes, very much so.  The first horse that I made, I mounted it on gold—two or three different types of gold and the expression on the horse's face was very different and it got a little corner of my creative brain going and I thought, "Gee whiz, this horse looks like it's rearing back, it has an expression on its face!" 

And, you take all these thoughts and you stream them together. I am older and I have arthritis.  So now the plot thickens. What would happen if I made a piece of jewelry where you don't have to slip it over the knuckle, but you can make the horse open up so it's rearing back?  That's the novelty, that's the punch, that's the design, so now you slip it past the knuckle and you put it on the fleshy part of the finger where it connects to the palm and then you put the horse back and you lock the horse in place with the bridle.

Two finger ring
 " Rearing horse"
 18 kt rose and yellow gold. Ancient Roman bronze fibula, dyed coral, turquoise
  Ring is the first one in a series designed  for a clients with inflammation in fingers or swollen joints.

The aged are often not given choices in the jewelry that can be worn by them.  I started designing jewelry after a great deal of thought and quick sketches that could be worn by young and old alike,
Part of the jewelry-making process is getting away from blaring radios, TV sets and computers.  To achieve this "moment of silence," I have been blessed with a beautiful human-made lake a few feet from my house, and right in the middle of downtown Los Angeles—Silver Lake.  I walk around the lake, meditating on design, or new ideas for jewelry.  Or sometimes, I carry a piece of jewelry with me. I might emery it or just touch it and feel it while it's in my pocket.  I study its synergy until I feel my energy has left my hands and taken residence in the piece.

The danger to this approach is, for me at least, that too much emphasis is placed on trying to explain away the creative process by dwelling on the unknown, and unexplained.

I do not want to become a fanatic, nor a crazy maker.  But, I know that some of my bracelets can feel differently; others have more personality; others become favorites, and still others, such as the one that I made for myself, has a very tolerable, solid weight, but does not have a deadweight feeling.  The positive aspect of the recognition of the individuality of different pieces I make, precludes cranking the stuff out just to fatten up the inventory for the next show with repetitious designs.

Rings, c. 2011-12  "Homage to American architecture/ 9/11 " Sterling silver, lapis, tektite, onyx, agate,  Japanese multi-metal, copper amulet, pink ivory, wood.

I am excited by new forms of architecture when I travel and especially the new forms in the US.  Many of the rings in this series are inlaid with contrasting stones or wood.

I carry these tower rings until I feel that they’ve got new life, because I made a breakthrough by inlaying stones at the top and the bottom of the ring.  I mount  the stone inside that little pillowcase opening with these cabochon stones instead of putting a bezel on them.  I just put them into the top of the opening along with these space-age epoxies.


Ring, c. 1975
14kt gold
 ancient Egyptian scarab

This ring [above] was one of the first in the tall ring series.  It was the result of an interview I had with a hairdresser to many of the stars in Hollywood.  When I interviewed her, I was rather startled to see a ring on every finger, including her thumbs.  Many chains hung from around her neck and my question to her was, “What would you do with a ring of mine even if I agreed to make one? You have so many now, it is to the point of redundancy and overconsumption.”

She insisted that I make one because she had seen one on the finger of a rather famous dancer who bought one of  the high rings series from the Craft and Folk Museum.  I explained to the woman that I had to have the last word on the design and that when completed, it would totally dominate her hand.  She agreed to my terms and the result was the ring above. It is just under two inches tall.

You need to imagine the pillowcase that you sleep on, in order to visualize the construction of this ring.  Only the ‘pillow case’ example I use is open at both ends.  I begin with a flat sheet of metal and proceed to cut out the openings, in this instance, the hieroglyphs found on the face of the scarab.  I then form the metal into what could be called a mini pillowcase.  The two ends are soldered, and the finger hole is cut out plus any side cut outs that stabilize the ring on the finger of the wearer.   A band that has been signed, sized and rounded is soldered into the cut out finger hole of the "pillow case.”  The ring is finished using traditional jewelry techniques.

You said in an article in Ornament Magazine that you wanted to reverse some trends of jewelry from the 1960’s and '70s. Can you tell me what you meant by that?



Making jewelry, unlike painting, drawing, et cetera, is not necessarily an accidental art form.  Unless an artist is working with wax,  making jewelry is more conducive to design rather than expression, or inadvertent results.  Too many young people, in my experience, who have been influenced by the fast pace of substance abuse, the media, and now technology, want instantaneous results. Contrast that with the elementary technique of soldering, for example.  Unless the technique is adhered to, the end result could prove to be disastrous.  A sequential thought process is necessary when making jewelry.  In itself, jewelry making does not lend itself to spontaneous reaction, instant gratification, or accidental results.

o finger ring
Nesting birds. Sterling silver, glass, natural coral



There are so many great pictures of your bird rings and I notice that you use a hummingbird as a symbol on your website.  Where do the little birds (on the rings) come from and, besides their antiquity, is there any other reason that you are drawn to them?




About four years ago, I had an accident where I had to have the tendon on my right leg operated on.  I was devastated to say the least.  I could do nothing, not even bathe.   I discovered that I could sit on a small ladder in my entryway and the pain was not as strong.  I noticed a female hummer [hummingbird] going past my feeder to a small branch on a fichus tree in the front of the house, no greater than three feet from the window.  

Soon after that, the female noticed me behind the glass and would
fly up to the window, look in, and proceed to feed two chicks, the nest of which was partially hidden from view.  She would do this perhaps three or four times a day.  I would wait for her to leave and then go out to photograph the chicks. I actually watched them grow before my eyes, from tiny eggs, to birds with no feathers. What a thrill it was for me!

I thought, as a designer, that the nest, which is really quite beautiful, was designed to break apart when the chicks were ready to fly away.  No such luck.  It was woven on the very end of a branch so that predators could not walk out and eat the small birdsa great concept but a lousy design.

Ring, c 1968
14 kt gold, Japanese ojime

Two-finger ring with stabilizing bars, c 2010
 Sterling silver, ancient Roman bird, dyed coral, turquoise, oxidation 

The chicks would keep falling out of the nest.  I had to wait until the mom left, scoot on my fanny, rub my hands in the dirt, pick up the chick, and put it back into a nest that was falling apart.  What a useless gesture! One chick would fall out, be rescued, then the other would fall out.
The falling and rescuing kept on for days. The mom would see me, feed the chicks, one would fall out be rescued, et cetera, but by now the nest was too far gone to support two chicks—one maybe but not two.  So, I went upstairs and cut down a small yogurt container and lined it with leaves, only to scoot out to the bird that had to be picked up and who, by now, was "making like a condor" when I tried to pick her up. So, I took a clothespin and pinned the cup to the tree wrong, wrong, wrong!!!!! The pinned cup was too close to the center of the tree so squirrels, mice, et cetera, would be able to climb up and eat the small hummer.  The mom rejected the little bird all day.  She would still fly to the window, see me there, but would ignore the chick in the cup.  Finally, before dusk, she could no longer reject the calls from the little chick. I suspect she fed the strongest one first and hoped she would have enough left over to feed the one that was not supposed to make it.

She came to the window, looked in, and then fed the small one in the cup. My prayers were answered; the next morning both chicks were gone.   


Ring, c. 2010 

"Nesting bird,"
14 kt gold, ancient Roman carnelian bead. turquoise, lapis.


A year later, I was changing the feeder outside my window, and a small female that I had been watching and photographing for a few weeks (she, too, knew I was behind the glass, some six inches away), followed me into the kitchen where I was cleaning her feeder. I spoke to her gentlyI need to emphasize thatand cautioned her that she would break her neck if she flew into the glass windows in my dining room.  She thumbed her beak at me, but after I got a little firm with her, she allowed me to pick her up and release her.  

One of my ex-students who has a PhD in the Aztec languages, told me that the hummer is a symbol of strength, power, and creativity.  I have adopted the bird and consider it the source of my strength, power, and creativity.


Ring, c.1968
 14kt gold, Japanese ivory ojime

When you sell a piece of jewelry, do you include the history of the ancient part of your jewelry or would you like the wearer to understand it in his or her way and maybe begin their own journey into understanding what they are wearing?







To be honest, I do not mind if I do not sell my jewelry.  It would be nice if the consumer knew a little about design, but I know that much of what I have to do is to educate the consumer. Sales often take a backseat.  I feel that is the responsibility of the gallery  to bring in the clientele, so to speak, and it is the responsibility of the craftsperson to educate the consumer with sound design principles and good craftsmanship.

If you study the above pieceI made that piece in 1968it is what I refer to as a key image and, until a few years ago, it was not for sale.  I was not having a good show, and gave into my anxiety and sold the piece anyway. Over the years the philosophical question surfaced.  How much equity does the craftsman have in a sold piece?  In this case, the ring was violated, the bird was broken off, the branch soldered on with lead solder, the inlay burned out and the band reconfigured to the point of distorting the original concept.  For several years I was faced with repairing or servicing the ring, usually for free.  To me, that meant that my work was worth nothing.  I finally bought the ring back and reconstructed the ring from some early photographs that I had made.  The biggest problem was to reverse the poor repair job done by a watchmaker, who was not a craftsman.

Sterling silver, ancient Egyptian amulet of a ram, tropical hardwoods, brass and copper nails

One of the high ring series using an animal.

It is difficult for me as a craftsperson to be judged for my designs, especially from consumers with empty portfolios.  What clients need to know is that they are not paying for my time, even people who work at the big box stores make more money than I do when I sell a piece of jewelry.  The consumer does not pay for the cost of the metal, as some designs do not use metals, precious or otherwise.  Charging twice the price of an antiquity does not make sense either as some pieces were purchased many years ago when the dollar was stronger and antiquities reasonable.  So then, what does a consumer really buy with a piece of jewelry designed and made by me?  Simple, they pay for the risk that I take when making the piece.  It really is time for a nationwide education process——buy from local craftsmen and women. Buy the creative byproducts that are designed, made, and sold in the US.

Ring, c. 2005
Sterling silver, porcelain head, tropical hardwood laminates, ebony rivets

This ring can be worn vertically, or horizontally on the index finger.

And I do show after show after show  where people come up to me, usually the young people without buying power, who often comment, “Oh your stuff is so different, your stuff is unique, your stuff is creative.”  I look at the piece in my hand and say to myself,  “If you only knew why. You apparently don’t know why.”  I am more than not, tempted to sell a piece to a young person at less than what it cost to make a piece if only I would get a commitment to make the effort to take a class in design.  It certainly would make my life easier, especially when I am tempted to give up, and stop making jewelry out of sheer frustration.


"Katrina Victim" (Also known as "Boy in a Wind Storm")
Sterling silver, Japanese ojime, lapis.


For in the end, I still make jewelry by hand as I have for the last sixty years, with traditional and handmade tools, that is simple, direct, and well executed. I recycle, reuse, and restore human and natural made materials; tropical hardwoods, old ivory, bone, glass, stones, ferrous and nonferrous metals, shells, plastics, et cetera.  Most of my jewelry is made with reused or recycled  materials that are combined with precious metals and antiques or antiquities in miniature to make one-of-a- kind jewelry.

Designing and making objects by hand restores the dignity and esteem to the consumer and to the craftsperson who must guard against giving into the mass production of trinkets and shoddy craftsmanship that is often disguised as original, albeit expensive, body ornamentation. By making aesthetic objects by hand, I  maintain the culture and traditions of the millions of craftspersons who have gone before meancient, modern, and contemporaryfor in the end, I am only a temporary custodian of the objects  I make and the media that I use.

Thank you!


Thank you,  Marbeth 

Interview with Joseph Gatto, Part I

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More of Joseph Gatto's work can be seen on his website

*Lois Franke Warren is an author and highly celebrated jeweler and teacher.  Please read "Lois Franke, In Her Own Words."

*Sam Maloof was a world-renowned woodworker and furniture maker.  His work is in pretigious museums in the United States.  Please see:

*Art Smith was one of the most respected and influential American modernist jewelers of the mid 20th century.  Please see:

Photographs courtesy of Joseph Gatto

Interview with jeweler Joseph Gatto by Marbeth Schon.

Web Design by Marbeth Schon

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