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Scythian Art


#1

It seems that the nomadic art of the northern Eurasian Steppes has
caught the attention of the art world and perhaps the public. In
addition to the article in the National Geographic there was
recently a quite wonderful exhibit at the New York Metropolitan
Museum, “Nomadic Art of the Eurasian Steppes, the Eugene V. Thaw and
other New York Collections”. All metal, and wonderful metal.
Buckles, harness fittings, plaques, knives, … you get the
picture. There is a hard cover catalogue of the same title (Yale
Press). Get it, don’t wait. The Met also had a show (in concert with
the Hermitage Museum) in late 2000, called “The Golden Deer of
Eurasia”, again, there is a wonderful catalog available published by
the Met. At the same time, the Brooklyn Museum was showing a
Scythian show and a few years earlier, a show of Thracian Gold
circulated around the country. I saw the Thracian show at the
Boston MFA.

My love affair with these objects goes way back. I came across a
book of wooden fittings for horse harnesses around 10 years ago, and
since have collected every book I could find on the subject. I
confess to being more visual than verbal in the case of art. The
images called out in a most compelling way. They are an economy of
design and function. Since they represent, for the most part, the
era 3 - 6 centuries BCE, the work was not easily produced. So, much
thought and investment of resources were expended on each piece. In
my attempts at translating the images into metal, I have again and
again been so impressed by the subtlety of shape and volume of the
small sculptures. It is also obvious that these pieces had magical /
mystical function. They were part of a shamanistic tradition and
the animals come alive.

On my first encounter with this art, I made several buttons of tiger
heads, but that’s all. The Golden Deer exhibit evoked something
different for me. I had been working with 24k sheet, forming it in
hand and filling it with epoxy putty. I looked at the work that in
the show and had the sudden inspiration, “I can do that”. For about
a year after that, I worked on a series of images in 24k thinly
rolled gold sheet. I guess it is repousse, however, it was done
against leather and in hand without the use of hammers. The works
are too fragile too be used as jewelry, I plan to frame them for
display only. I am now working on a series of waxes that will be
buttons, pendants and brooches (which are not on my website yet).
Speaking of websites, I would love to invite you to see mine:
http://www.sumnersilverman.com.html All feedback welcomed.

Sumner Silverman in Mass where the promise of summer is
unfulfilled.