Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 3, Page 13
Spring 1994
Making a sculptural statement with jewelry

     To most people, a piece of jewelry's worth is determined by how
much gold or how many precious gems it contains. Helen Mason, '84M, an
artist from Hockessin, Del., who creates "wearable art," disagrees.
     "The commitment to jewelry as a sculptural statement, recognizing
the artistic merit rather than the value of its my
primary objective," says Mason, who has exhibited large and small
sculptures in galleries across the United States and in Japan. In
March, her creations were displayed on campus as part of the annual
Delaware Women's Conference.
     Mason originally studied print graphics and painting at the Rhode
Island School of Design and Brown University. After raising three
children and traveling for several years, Mason grew curious about
three-dimensional art. Working toward a master of fine arts at the
University of Delaware while an apprentice of nationally known
Delaware sculptor Charles Parks, Delaware '50, she developed her
skills first with stone, then clay, then the mixed materials she uses
     Mason was particularly drawn to jewelry because she loves to wear
it and because she feels more in control of smaller pieces than larger
ones. She also finds wearable art important artistically because of
the "spiritual connection between the creator and the wearer...The
body serves as a pedestal for the pieces," bringing creator, piece and
wearer together, she says.
     Traditionally, jewelry-making is considered a craft. However,
Mason says she feels that her work crosses the boundaries between fine
art and craft because the design of a piece is just as important, if
not more important, than the technique involved in making it. "In my
work," she says, "I do not differentiate between jewelry and
sculpture. Both share the same artistic importance."
     Most of Mason's sculptures are composed of several materials,
ranging from traditional gold and precious stones to the
unconventional and unexpected, such as Teflon, aluminum and rubber. "I
want the design to be important, the materials unimportant," she says.
Mason once created a sculpture featuring cinnamon sticks. "I was in my
kitchen," she recalls, "and the shape caught my eye." Using non-
traditional materials gives her greater freedom to produce innovative
designs, she says.
     Mason's designs are heavily influenced by Minimalism and Japanese
art, both of which stress simplicity and order. The Japanese influence
on her art increased tremendously in 1986, when she studied in Japan
under a National Endowment for the Arts/Delaware State Arts Council
     She found she could take traditional Japanese forms and symbols
and adapt them by changing colors or materials. Many of her designs
include bundles, layers, folds or gathers, all of which are found in
Japanese art; however, no traditional Japanese artist ever created
these designs in, for instance, ivory and rubber. The color black is
another Japanese element that figures prominently in Mason's work. In
Japan, it symbolizes mystery; for Mason, it also signifies night, when
she likes to work, and it provides a quiet backdrop for the drama of
her designs.
     Ten years after earning her MFA, Mason is still producing simple,
wearable art, though she may turn to larger sculpture in the future.
"I keep changing from one phase to another," she says.
     Whatever direction her work follows, Mason says she will take
with her the self-discipline and desire for excellence she learned
working with art professors Victor Spinski and Anne K. Graham at the
University. Mason says she was once told that business professionals
go downhill as they get older, but artists can always become better
and better.  Mason is looking forward to many years of becoming
better. "I am happy to continue growing," she  says.
                                             -Pam Miller, Delaware '94