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Agnes Seebass

Modern Maestro

by Marbeth Schon

Necklace
 hollow constructed elements
 silver and gold leaf

 

It was a silky and subtly beautiful sterling silver bracelet with softly faceted links that first drew my attention to Agnes Seebass. I remember being surprised when I saw that it was made in Mexico --it didn't look like any Mexican jewelry I had previously seen. After some research, I discovered that Seebass and a few other exceptionally talented contemporary jewelers working in Mexico are part of a new aesthetic movement that I had not as yet explored.

Bracelet
 36 hollow squares
 silver

 

Some of our readers may be familiar with Agnes Seebass through the exhibit "Maestros de Plata, William Spratling and the Mexican Silver Renaissance."
(See http://www.modernsilver.com/Maestrosdeplata.htm   http://www.modernsilver.com/Maestrosdeplatalosangeles.htm  http://www.modernsilver.com/maestrostulane.htm )

Within the first chapter of the beautifully illustrated catalog for that exhibit in a section titled "Born out of an Illustrious Past," author Penny Morrill writes about some of the contemporary Mexican metalsmiths who embrace the traditions of the previous "Maestros de Plata." She includes Agnes Seebass along with Wolmer Castillo, Pedro Leites (Tane), Emilia Castillo, Teresa Camino, Jason Creagh, Violante Ulrich, and Ezequiel Tapia.  Morrill says, "With their willingness to experiment and grow, these new artists are part of a contemporary transformation of the silver industry, in which Mexico will continue as the land of authentic silversmiths...offering superb works, for which the world will be grateful."1

Though Agnes Seebass is influenced by the styles and techniques of earlier Mexican silversmiths whose interpretations of pre-Columbian motifs define much of their work, she is a modernist whose designs only subtly reflect this influence.

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Seebass was born in 1966 in Berlin, West Germany. She says that from the time she was a young child she "loved working with her hands"--she had a natural inclination for the arts.

In 1985, she studied architecture in the HHS-Architecture Bureau in Bremen and in 1986, went to France, to Touluse where she Studied Architecture and French at the Universite du Mirail.

Between 1987-1991 Seebass studied Jewelry Design and Techniques of Production at the Staatliche Zeichenakademie in Hanau, Germany and worked with Jewelry Designers Erich Hergert and Bremen and Monika Vesely in Munich.

Around this time, while in Frankfurt, where she was exposed to Mexican modern and folk art, she acquired a desire to learn more about Mexican culture and especially about the fabrication of metal in Taxco and in 1992, she had the good fortune to be awarded a scholarship from the institution Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft2 to study silversmithing at the Los Castillo workshop in Taxco.

Later, Seebass began creating her own pieces and opened her own workshop, first in Taxco and then in Cuernavaca where she presently works.

Seebass says that her jewelry designs were significantly enriched by the hollowware techniques she learned at Los Castillo. The large, forged sterling silver bracelet (below) is a result of this special training.

Forged bracelet
 silver
 

William Spratling's use of silver and wood inspired her salad spoons (below).

Salad spoons
ebony, silver
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I think that my designs are a mixture of German and Mexican culture, Seebass says. In part the forms of Mexican nature and contrasts inspire me and on the other hand I like simple geometric forms and of course I have a (German) passion for precise handcraftsmanship.

Normally I do not draw a design. I work directly with the metal, experimenting, hammering, etc.

All of my pieces are 100% handmade. I do not use any industrial process (like lost wax, stamping, etc.). Every element (see the necklace below and title picture at the top of the page) is hand hammered and hand fabricated.

Necklace, “Leaves”
forged elements, silver

The woven chokers (below) are hand woven. Even most of the findings (like ear nuts) are handmade in my own workshop.

Hand woven choker with “almonds”
 silver

For me, pieces made by hand and with patience (time is no argument in my workshop) have a very different feeling than any mass-produced piece.

I work only with one family. My main worker was working with me at the Los Castillo workshop in 1991 during my scholarship and we became friends. Two years later he started to work with me and now so do his four sisters.

There is something very special for me about working with silver; It is like an adventure and I keep discovering new ways to achieve the results I have in mind.

Sometimes the process is very intuitive, like the pendants with texture and gold leaf painting (see below: PUD textura 1 and PUD textura 2). I manipulate the surface in a spontaneous way until they look like canvas and can provoke curiosity to get closer , to touch…… 

Pendant with texture
 oxidized silver, gold leaf
One of a kind

Pendant with texture
 oxidized silver, gold leaf
One of a kind

Other pieces are more geometric and hollow like this pendant with ceramic and silver necklace and earrings (see below).

Pendant “Wheels”
 hollow constructed
silver, ceramic
 

Pendant
silver, oxidation
 

Earrings
 silver, oxidation

During my training in Germany I had very little interest in stones until I saw in Mexico the pre-Columbian jadeite beads.

Immediately I was intrigued by these unique pieces so full of history. Every single stone is different and the archaic look is such an incredible contrast to simple shapes and contemporary design.

So 14 years ago I started  to include these pieces in my work. Not only jadeites, but also antique shell, coral, or glass,

Necklace
 antique shell, silver pendant
One of a kind




Necklace
pre-Columbian beads, silver “bowls”
One of a kind

Pendant
 forged "leaves”, silver, pre-Columbian bead

Hollow constructed pendant with pre-Columbian bead
 hand woven choker
One of a kind
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In the words of Penny Morrill, The jewelry of Agnes Seebass conjures up an element of the eternal. Her early experiments with a German vocabulary of dynamic line has provided her with a constant reference point. Symmetry of concept is achieved, to which nothing superfluous is added. Thus, when Agnes places a pre-Columbian bead into a simple pyramidal setting, she is making reference to an ancient Mexican aesthetic she understands, appreciates, and can impart to us with subtlety and elegance.3

Agnes Seebass in her studio

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Professional activities:
1993 Exhibition of Jewelry at Design-Bureau, Mexico City.
1994 Lecture about modern Jewelry during the “week of design” at the University Ibero Americana, Mexico City
  Sales of Jewelry in Boston, San Francisco, Portland and New York
1995 Design and Production of Jewelry for:
  Plalacio de Hierro, Mexico City
  Galeria Ziara , Mexico City
  Michel Bucker, New York
1996  Design and Production for the German Jewelry Company Schmuck in Form, Essen
  Exhibition of Jewelry at Plaza Loreto during the “German week”
1997 Daughter Manon is born
  Exhibition at the Design Gallery Dimo, Mexico City.
1999  Individual show at Fort Mason, San Francisco, Ca.
2000  Individual show at the Gallery Entenaya, Plata, Mexico City
  Daughter Vera is born.
2001  Sale of Jewelry at the Museum of Modern Art store in San Francisco,USA
2002 Form part of the Exhibition “Maestros de la plata, William Spratling and the Mexican Silver Renaissance”, Opening in San Antonio, Texas Oct. 2002. This exhibition will be shown in different museums (San Diego, Los Angeles, Boston, Delavare,…. Until October 2004.
  Form part of the exhibition Tres diseńios en plata (3 silver designers), at the Museum of William Spratling in Taxco, Mexico
2004 Form part of the Exhibition Maestros Mayores de la plata. Opening Torre Mayor, Mexico City, May 2004 thru August 2004

Collective exhibition with Mexican painters at the Gallery Art&Art in Cuernavaca, Mexcio
2006 May, Invited as Guest artist at the Studio tour “16 hands” in Virginia
2007 Feb., Participation at the group exhibit (6 silver artists from Mexico) “Continuity Amidst Challenge”, Smokebrush Gallery, Colorado Springs, Co., from Feb 1, through March 17
Publications:
1997 “Harper’s Bazaar”, Mexico
Feb 1998  Zeit Form, Germany
Jul&Oct 1999 Origina, Mexico
2002 Catalog for the exhibition “William Spratling and the Mexican silver Renaissance” (page 68)
Feb.2007  Magazine “Elle” Mexico
March 2007  Magazine “inStyle”, Mexico
Museum stores that sell or have sold Agnes Seebass jewelry:
  American Museum of naatural histpry, New York, N.Y.

Craft and folk Art Museum, Los Angeles, Ca.

Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, Luisana

The Mingei International Museum, San Diego, Ca.

The Saint Luis Art Museum, Saint Luis, Missouri

The San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio , Texas

Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, Ca.

Footnotes:

1 William Spratling and the Mexican Silver Renaissance, Maestros de Plata, pg. 69.

2Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft e.V. (CDG) in Cologne, Germany, is a non-profit organization   dedicated to international advanced training and human resource development. Together with partner organizations in Germany and abroad it forms an international network offering practice-oriented training, exchange and foreign language programs.

3Penny Morrill wrote this comment in a brochure about the exhibit "Maestros Mayores de la Plata”, 2004 Torre Mayor , Mexico City.

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Web design by Marbeth Schon
www.mschon.com


Photographs courtesy of Agnes Seebass
 Copyright © 2007 MODERN SILVER magazine
 
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