I have always worked with my hands. From feature and documentary film editing, to Chinese medicine practice, to designing and fabricating objects, I practice touch. The verb to touch, defined as "to bring a bodily part into contact so as to perceive through the tactile sense; to handle gently with the intent to understand or appreciate," forms the centerpiece of my work.
As a native of New York, my life has been a mixture of urban and rural experiences. From my Russian immigrant great grandparents' farm in Freehold, New Jersey to the cityscape view from "tar beach" on my grandparents roof in the Bronx, I have developed an appreciation for the beauty in both metropolitan and pastoral settings. These sensibilities inform my current work, which displays a hybrid of urban and nature based aesthetics.
Living on my own in the East Village as a teen in the late 1970's informed my urban aesthetic. I studied fashion at Parsons and Fashion Institute of Technology and dance at Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, but my real education was on the gritty streets of the Lower East Side. In the city then known as “The Asphalt Jungle,” equal times exhilarating and macabre, I experienced an art movement up close and personal.
In my twenties I worked in feature and documentary films as an apprentice and assistant film and sound editor. It was at the Cousteau Society, while synching dailies on a documentary about the indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea, that I gained a fascination for ritual, ceremony, and body adornment. Alone in an editing room with a tangle of hundreds of reels of footage with no clapboards to mark the film to sound, I learned how to look and listen in a deeper way than I had done before.
In the 1990's my father and I opened a design studio in his machine shop in the old brick milling town of Haverstraw on the banks of the Hudson River. Here we collaborated with sculptors, conceptual artists and designers on their projects, as well as creating our own line of handcrafted tabletop accessories and one-of-a-kind furniture. Our collection was sold in museum shops and galleries throughout the United States, Canada, and Japan. Flexus Menorah, licensed by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2001, continues to be a staple in their design stores and catalog.
In 2004 I earned a Master of Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine from Pacific College. In my practice I work in concert with my patients, utilizing the four pillars of Chinese medicine (acupuncture and moxibustion, Chinese herbs and nutrition, Tui Na massage, Qi Gong rehabilitative exercises) to bring people back to their natural state of balance.
My studies and practice of Chinese herbal medicine are the impetus for my current return to design. I sense the parallel tactilities in principle and practice between the making and healing arts. I capitalize on the notion that the touch of the hand in restoring health and creating beauty is essentially the same gesture.
These jewelry collections express my aesthetic and philosophical views as an artist and Chinese medicine practitioner.
Materia Medica is inspired by the history of Chinese herbalism, which dates back thousands of years. Each piece in the line is cast directly from a medicinal plant and evokes the healing properties of the plants from which they are derived. Creating a relationship through intention and physical touch, the restorative principles of Chinese herbs can be worn on the body as a healing talisman.
Natura Morta followed with an emphasis on other plant forms. While walking through the woods, shopping outdoor greenmarkets, or cooking in my Washington Heights kitchen, I gather inspiration from the ever-changing shapes, colors, and textures of everyday still lifes. The laws of nature are transient and each stage along the way has its own inherent beauty. Natura Morta captures the microcosm of beauty that resides in stages of life: birth, growth, and decay.
Architectura is the continuation of the design collaborations with my father. As a child, I sat by my father's side as he patiently transformed blocks of unassuming metal into objects of purpose and beauty. This intimate view of creativity gave me an appreciation for metallurgy—with its properties of malleability and corrosion—and for hand tools, machinery, and the mechanics of how things are constructed.
When seen as a whole, these three collections represent a reconnection of the natural and the urban. From inception to completion, each piece is based on my own observation and philosophical principles, and is handcrafted in collaboration with skilled artisans in New York City.
Jeanne Atkin, 2016