Eleanor Moty: Essential Elements

Eleanor Moty: Essential Elements


Autumn Veil brooch, 2008; sterling silver, 18k gold, quartz with iron inclusions, citrines; 2.9 x 1.6 x .5 in.

Stare into the heart of a recent brooch by Eleanor Moty, and it's hard not to be entranced by what the metalsmith calls "ghost images," crystal voids within the semiprecious, imperfect stones that she puts at the foreground of her works. That's where she wants to draw the eye.

"The stone is the feature now," Moty explains, comparing the austere approach she's come to embrace to that of "a writer composing a succinct statement using appropriate vocabulary and punctuation." This abridging of elements has been a 30-year undertaking, which began when Moty, in part tired of chemical-based processes, shifted away from the cutting-edge metal photofabrication technique and embellished work she cultivated in the 1970s.

It was in the midst of this paring down that we first featured Moty in our June/July 1987 issue. The juxtaposition of her technical prowess and penchant for the flawed composition of organic materials was what initially attracted us to her brooches. It was, however, her devotion to the field and impact on students during a three-decade tenure in the metals program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that led to her induction into the American Craft Council College of Fellows in 1998.

Moty's most recent designs still can be traced to the natural world that captivated her as a child in rural Illinois, where seasons shifted the land's color and texture against a flat horizon. Today, the mountains near her home in Arizona provide a diametrically opposed topographical source of inspiration, although it's the composition rather than the ranges themselves that Moty renders in her work. "It's not narrative, it's not conceptual, it's just purely visual: putting materials together in a very spare sense," she says. "But I always look at the land no matter where I am and appreciate something about it."

While her brooches can be found in permanent collections at places like the Renwick Gallery, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and in exhibitions nationwide, Moty takes the greatest pride in the fact that over the years, she has been able to remain true to her aesthetic ideals. "Whether we get the accolades or not is not essential. [What matters is] that there's something in you as an artist that drives you to continue to work," she says.

"You reach a point where you know what you're doing, you're your own worst critic, and you just maintain your integrity in what you do. And if you can be happy with that, what more can one ask?"

Jessica Shaykett is the American Craft Council librarian.