By Darla McCammon
Studying art leads us down so many fascinating paths. Have you every thought about how the creation of jewelry down through history has also meant the involvement of great art skills?
Take cameos for instance. If you have ever owned an old cameo you will see a distinctly raised image in which the artist has used a precious gem such as onyx or agate in which they have found where two contrasting colors meet. In a careful carving technique, they create a method in which one color is in the raised portion and contrasting color is used as the background surrounding the relief. The old hand-carved method is the more valuable cameo. Today new technology has offered a way to bond two layers, one raised and one flat together in imitation of the hand-carved piece. They can also use special dyes to bring out the relief design you find on a cameo.
Historians point back to Alexandria, Egypt, for the origins of cameo type carvings and even further back to 15,000 BC, where petroglyphs carved in rock depict techniques later used in such things as cameo jewelry.
Prior to the 15th century, cameos were carved from hard stone, but shells came into popular use for cameos beginning in 15th century Renaissance works. The resultant image was usually white on a gray background using mussel or cowry shells. A shell found in the waters of the Caribbean called the emperor or queen’s helmet shell is the most highly prized shell for carving today. This has white and dark brown layers and is known as sardonyx. Pictured is a cameo carved on one of these special shells in 1925, in Naples.
Torre del Greco, Italy, is the world center for cameo carving in shell. The shells are marked, then cut into ovals for the carver. Each cameo is cut with a metal scraping tool called a bullion. The Greeks were actually the first to carve the hard stone cameos with excellence. Prior to the fifth century, one finds only sunken relief gems, or intaglios but after this time the images were raised rather than sunken.
Do you have an ancient cameo? Probably not. Most of these are now in museums. Old ones are especially hard to give an accurate date because later artists would try to emulate those original and exquisite designs — some with a fair amount of success to the point it was difficult to tell the original from the copy. Nevertheless, these are beautiful pics of jewelry and their history is very interesting. Wear yours with pride and perhaps you will be able to share the history of cameo jewelry with anyone who asks about your lovely piece.
- There will be a live demo and free drawing by local artists Bondar and Waters from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, July 26, at the Warsaw City Hall Gallery. Enjoy watching two master pastel artists try to outdo each other. You might take home a painting! Their exhibit is up through August.
- The Gallery at Rua in Warsaw has a new exhibit featuring Steve Sult with his “Sitting on the Fence” collection. There will be a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. July 26, and the exhibit is on display through Sept. 18.
- The Lakeland Art Gallery is featuring works by Mahaja, Richcreek and Dubois through July.
- The Clark Gallery at the Honeywell center will display its themed art competition on seasons through Aug. 19.