Masters: Bruce Metcalf

Masters: Bruce Metcalf

Bruce Metcalf, Portrait

“I insist on my craft identity because I really am a craftsman. What I do is make things.” Photo: Chris Crisman

Bruce Metcalf’s story comes in two parts: He’s a craftsman who makes voluptuous jewelry and a writer with a keen interest in craft criticism. “I kind of have a foot in both worlds,” he says, “one in scholarliness and theory, and the other in practice.”

His entrance into jewelry – like his beginnings as a writer – was unpremeditated. He was an unhappy architecture major at Syracuse University when he took a blind leap into the jewelry department. And to his amazement, he landed in a perfect spot. “I found in that material and those techniques that I really, really fit. I felt, for the first time in my life, at the age of 20, that I had a home doing something,” he says. “Up until that point I was pretty much a lost boy.” Fast-forward to the present day, and his jewelry appears in the collections of the Cooper Hewitt design museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Arts and Design, among many others.

Metcalf did not expect to be a jeweler, nor did he anticipate becoming a writer, a craft theorist. He started writing in graduate school, after a review of his work in Craft Horizons (this magazine’s predecessor), which he found completely unfair and misinformed. “It became a compulsion of mine to explain myself, because I really felt that what I did and what I wanted was badly misunderstood,” he says.

While he began as a writer defending himself, he now views the whole craft field as his subject. When he identifies an argument that needs making – right now, it’s countering the current tendency to conflate trade craft and studio craft – he feels obligated to make it. “I’ll do it. It’s a job,” he says. “I’ll do that not because I am seeking recognition but because I think those jobs need to be done.”

His scholarship passed a milestone with the 2010 publication of Makers, the first textbook on studio craft, which he co-authored with Janet Koplos. “It was my astonishing good fortune to actually be the guy who did that,” he says.

Writing is a matter of conviction for Metcalf, but making jewelry is a labor of love. His face lights up as he talks about subjects and imagery he’s now exploring in his work. Why does he make? “I have to. I don’t have any choice,” he says. “That’s what I was born to do.”