Halifax jewelry artist Pamela Ritchie is the 2017 winner of the Saidye Bronfman Award for excellence in the fine crafts.
She will fly up to Ottawa for the March 1 ceremony at Rideau Hall to join other winners of the Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts and to receive the $25,000 prize.
“I feel that what's really important is the support and acknowledgement of your peers,” she said in a phone interview from her studio just outside the city. “That's the most relevant thing when you get this award.”
A jewelry design professor at NSCAD University for over 30 years, Ritchie is known for her series of works rich in ideas, meticulous in design and inspired by anything from stamps to the Chornobyl nuclear disaster to a childhood habit of gazing up at clouds and dreaming of exotic places.
Oddly enough, her career at one point was a toss-up between theatre and jewelry, which she first studied as an elective “not expecting I'd find anything specific,” she said.
“I was completely green about what it means to make jewelry and we were introduced to a lot of complex techniques and the potential for jewelry to be an art form.
“Jewelry can be a very simple project that's DIY or a complex goldsmithing process that takes years and years to master. It can be a simple statement or a complex one.
After she received a master's of fine arts degree from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (now NSCAD University) she did postgraduate research in Norway that was pivotal to her career.
“At that point, I did really decide jewelry was going to be my direction.”
She studied the Bunadsylv Norwegian filigree jewelry, an apex of the ancient technique of filigree that involves fine wires and granules and goes back to at least 3,000 BC.
“It was an eye-opener to see how that particular kind of work can represent a cultural identity and not just be about form or colour or line or a specific value. It was also about cultural identity and a development of a particular stylistic motif that represents that identity over a long period of time culminating in this style in the 1800s in Norway.”
She loves the fact that even though a piece of jewelry is small in scale, it is large in meaning.
“Jewelry has always been a part of the human conversation. With a piece of art jewelry, there is a lot of meaning in the work, and it could be layers of meaning rich in poetry or it could be political or intellectual or self-referential. People can read into it on various levels.”
Ritchie likes to work in ancient and cutting-edge technologies and went to England in 1999 and 2000 to study three-dimensional printing.
“You have to continue to grow as an artist and that includes addressing new methods and modes of production because they're part of our culture today and they reflect on who we are.”
Her earliest, continuing series is the stamp-inspired Cancelled Icons, and she is now working with a set of UK Royal Mail stamps marking the Royal Society's 350th anniversary by featuring 10 society scientists “responsible for inventing something that changed the history of human culture,” she said.
“I feel there is so much going on in questioning climate change and science and yet we have so much to be grateful for and thankful for from these scientists. They should be glorified and we should be listening very hard to what our scientists are saying now.”
This series is part of an upcoming retrospective exhibit at Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h in Montreal, opening March 31. She hopes to use some of the award money to create a catalogue.
Ritchie's work has been in over 100 solo and groups show throughout North America, Australia, Japan, Korea and Europe. As an advocate for Canadian jewelry, she has lectured in Canada, England, America and Korea. Her work is in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization; the Kunstindustrimuseum, Norway, and the Nova Scotia Art Bank.
She has also served as the Canadian advisor for several European exhibitions.
Other 2017 winners of the Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts are Toronto visual artist Landon Mackenzie, who graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1976 and has a solo exhibit, Parallel Journey: Works on Paper, now at the Dalhousie Art Gallery; Montreal animation filmmaker Michele Cournoyer; Toronto filmmaker Mike Hoolboom; Toronto visual artist Shelagh Keeley; Vancouver visual artist Glenn Lewis; Six Nations of Grand River multimedia artist Shelley Niro, who lives in Brantford, Ont.; and Toronto curator and writer Philip Monk (outstanding contribution award).
There are videos of the artists and their work online (ggavma.canadacouncil.ca/). Ritchie's video features music composed by her husband, Steven Naylor.