Sarah and Iris write about the Handshake project (July 2012)

From Sarah:

1. Why did you choose your mentor? What relationship to your work practice did this choice have? 

Why Iris?

My path to contemporary jewellery has been all serendipity; when I set out, ten years ago, I had no idea that this world even existed.

Along the way, I happened upon perhaps a dozen pieces that caught my attention and drew me on, and which are now engraved on my heart, for without them I might have ended up elsewhere.

I chose Iris as my mentor because she made two of these landmark pieces.

Two of the same kind keeping each other warm


Her work resonates with me and I jumped at this opportunity to get to know it in more depth.

(I didn’t in my wildest dreams imagine that she would say yes).


  • she has been an educator pretty much ever since she graduated, and I’m hoping for some honest exchanges (that won’t crush me)
  • she’s based in the US; when I made my choice it seemed likely that I’d be travelling there for a family holiday, so I thought we could perhaps meet up in person. As things turned out I spent a month as her guest at Cranbrook Academy in 2011 and we are discussing a repeat visit later this year.
  • I’m inspired by the breadth and generosity of her art practice.

Relationship to my practice?

I saw in Iris’ work an embrace of the broadest definitions of jewellery practice. I felt that under her mentorship I would be encouraged to explore and develop, to discover/make my own work, wherever it went. (This has been true).

2. Were you intimidated when first contacting your mentor?  

Of course.

3. How did you get over that feeling of intimidation? 

As is often the case I was forced into action(/interaction) by the pressure of looming deadlines and my own exasperation. Iris met my nervous reticence with warmth, openness and generosity of spirit, so in the end I just had to get over myself, really.

4. Do you feel like you have a better idea of your process now that you have had to explain your decisions to someone else? Was being exposed to your mentor’s processes helpful to understanding your own? 

Hmmm. Process is a sore issue for me; my process drives me crazy. I tend to have many related strands on the go at once; for the longest time things grow and multiply, but do not progress towards resolution. At some point something sparks the mix and things come together, usually in a way that I could not have imagined. But whatever I do, I can’t seem to force this ‘something’ to happen; I have to reach an extreme pitch of desperation, right up against the wire, before the switch will flip.

So, for me the challenge is to modify my process, rather than understand it. Either that or really own it and ride it through to the end. Iris’s suggestions have included – drawing, playing, taking my time, being less afraid to make something ugly and wrong. And I observed such good practice at Cranbrook; great rigor in the method of student crits, the value of peer feedback and soliciting this at a point when things feel resolved but in reality could be pushed further or made more definite. Iris has impressed upon me the importance of considering every nuance; her feedback on my presented work included the loan of a more suitable pair of scissors, and then, later in the day, she came back to me again with the choice of using yet another pair instead. Three sets of scissors.

5. What was the best advice your mentor gave you? 

“Just make your work”.


Look at what’s in front of you – embrace it and work with it …the things which are here and you care for are relevant”.

Also, through Iris – 1:1 w Gemma Draper at Cranbrook:

“You do not need three overcoats here…… show me the ‘Fuck!’ “

6. What are the key decisions about your work that have come out of your relationship with your mentor? 

  • To not feel compelled to make brooches (but to feel free to make brooches if brooches are required).
  • To make work about the things that matter to me.
  • To censor myself less.
  • To travel.

 7. What was your least favourite or most problematic experience with your mentor? 

For me the curation weekend for the first Handshake show (Sydney Aug ’11) was challenging though ultimately exhilarating.  Iris had been in Europe teaching summer-school at Alchimia and had only just arrived back in the States, so the timing was terrible for her. My work wasn’t gelling. I emailed many images, we skyped twice, I worked all day/night in between. When things finally came right it was such a sweet shared victory, but for a while there it was a long dark night.

8. How has your work changed or developed since your relationship with your mentor? 

I am more confident that I can choose the context/direction for my practice.

9. Almost all of the mentors have asked their mentees about whether they draw? Did yours? How did you respond?

I think we may have discussed drawing in an early conversation, but definitely, at a time of some crisis (see 6 above), one of Iris’ suggestions for getting through my blocked state, was that I draw. I was secretly horrified (time was sooo tight, and thought of drawing as being an early-in-the-piece, preliminary-to-the-real-work activity), but went with it, and sure enough, the change in pace and focus freed me up to move forward.

10. Did you or will you make a collaborative work with your mentor? How will that go or how has that gone? 

We are about to start on a joint project, which feels more of a collusion than a collaboration, in that basically we are finding our own workarounds for the ‘virtual’ nature of the Handshake model. (Skype is not so great for us, with the time differences, my work schedule and my living-in-a-valley dodgy broadband). Following on from my time in Iris’ world, we’re finding a way for Iris to have a concrete presence in mine….. I am very excited about it – will see how it goes before sharing more though.

11. How does the context here in Aotearoa play into your work? Or does it? How are contemporary New Zealand jewellers contributing internationally? How are we different or are we? Is this an interest of yours? A concern?

A difficult question for me. I am a first-generation immigrant (moved here 1996) with a deep love for my adopted country and city. We are far from many great places, but opportunity is relative; I love the vigour and accessibility of the jewellery scene here and I know that if I had remained in London as a single mother I never would have been able to support us and become an artist.

12. Do you have a quote from your mentor or an anecdote that stays with you or typifies your relationship or rings true for you?

 “Wander off into the dessert”[sic].


“ seems that we are both not passionate writers”. 

And from Iris:

….a handshake …

I remember being brought up greeting others with a good handshake and a short moment of a bended knee ( a Knicks in German) and a good look in the eyes.

Forced upon me, always gave me the feeling of being belittled.

I grew older , I must have been 12 when one night I entered the living room of my parents, who were surrounded by their usual group of friends and of course a handshake was expected…I said :” hey “and waved my hand .. I knew this was not welcome but I needed to test ..

I grew older, my friends were sort of late German hippies we hugged ..and you could tell one hug from the other some were real…some felt like bodies accidentally bumping into each-other, unwanted encounters following a social code and claiming a social belonging.

I moved to The Netherlands, where people kissed , to be precise 3 times changing cheeks after every kiss ..

A few years later my parents visited me and as being part of me they got kisses as well , I can still see that look of total confusion on my parents face …, but it taught my parents giving me a kiss and when I came home once a year , they sort of cultivated it.

I moved to the US and if kissing at all, it is two and often ended my third one in the air…

Now 20 years later I have come to appreciate a good handshake when I encounter a person, a good touch ,reaching out for a moment , a silent but distinct encounter.

honest , open and direct , willingness from two parts …you feel the firm touch , you are allowed to hold the other person without being invaded.

That’s how I feel about this handshake . Welcome , honest , sincere and real….but it took me 47 years to make a handshake like this. Sarah is my good partner.


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