The Met is home to over one million art objects, offering limitless inspiration. Among the Museum’s visitors are artists, designers, and craftspeople seeking inspiration for their work. Two such artists, Yolande Milan Batteau, the artist and designer behind Brooklyn-based art for architecture atelier Callidus Guild, and New York-based historian and goldsmith Randi Mates, the designer behind Aesa jewelry, uncovered what Mates calls an “uncanny attraction to the same historical design objects” on a joint visit to The Met, giving birth to their joint collection of yYakisugi jewelry inspired by works of art found here.
Each describes The Met as a creative haven. Says Batteau, “[Jorge Luis] Borges thought heaven might be a sort of library. I imagine heaven as The Met, but I where could touch anything and wear the jewels and lie on a Roman bed. Walking through the halls makes my heart race, my cheeks flush. It is a place that makes sense of everything important to me. I have a place in history, I can learn from great masters; the making of things that matter to people is central to my experience. You can approach its contents as a scholar or an apprentice, and there are answers there for you in every language of the globe.”
Mates adds, “The Met is one of my spiritual sanctuaries in NYC. It’s a place I visit for inspiration, for direction, for comfort and delight. Most particularly the objects within offer me the experience of being in touch with the voices of experience, art, craft and inquiry over the ages of human creation. This, coupled with having done research for and at the Museum in the past, makes every visit feel as though it is a homecoming. I remember quite clearly the first time I spent a Monday basically alone in the galleries in the early 2000s (at a time when the Museum was still closed on Mondays), the feeling of the vast space around me and yet having a sense of being held. I attribute that feeling to an idea of accumulated immanence in objects. The makers, the users, the historians, the conservators, all the people who loved, labored, and thought about the pieces have left an energy with them, in them,“ recalls Mates.
Friends and collaborators for the past five years, the two met when Mates commissioned Batteau to create wall finishes for her then-SoHo boutique and have continued to collaborate on projects since. “We are consistently, magnetically drawn to the same objects. Collaborating with Randi is a dream come true; I have the most profound respect for her mind and hands. We worked back and forth between our two studios; burning and sanding the wooden shapes for prototyping in my studio. We imagined and designed in kind, based on our mutual appreciation for constructivist sculpture and paintings, and ancient jewelry from The Met. I thought of the objects we were making as little sculptures.” says Batteau of their collaboration.
Batteau has studied at the Sorbonne, The San Francisco Art Institute, and The Museum School in Boston, but credits her independent curiosity as a key source of her education. “I traveled a lot in my youth; visited museums and loved looking at how people built or decorated their environments. I read ancient books, talked with master craftspeople, and learned how to use the knowledge I garnered in a new way. I have studied both water and oil gilding; Japanese, French, and Italian plasters; inlay and manipulation of mother-of-pearl and abalone; resins; mulled pigments; dispersions of all kinds; every medium of paint. I try to weave them together, to force them to interact in unconventional ways, and to learn from them in order to create art as well as art for architecture. My methods and aesthetics are drawn from history but also entirely new. I am most interested in using familiar techniques in an unexpected way. ”
To express her love of historical technique implemented in imaginative new ways, Batteau created Callidus Guild, which she describes as “a Brooklyn-based art-for-architecture atelier, to both bridge my art and design practices and to facilitate collaboration with the most talented creatives working today. We evolved into an applied arts studio that makes decorative surfaces, panels, and hand-painted wallpaper. As of late, Callidus Guild has been designing and creating water gilded mirrors, furniture, carpets and we are working on a textile collection. I personally make paintings and sculptures. By submitting to my obsession with materials and methods of making, I have become an invaluable resource to architects, designers, and builders. In return I have been invited to participate in projects beyond my singular imagination—informed and even directed by many of my heroes.”
Similarly, Mates credits both her formal education and her work as a historian, writer, and researcher as the foundation for her artistic practice. “I trained as a historian of material culture, receiving my MA from the Bard Graduate Center in the History of Material Culture, Decorative Arts and Design. While doing research for the BGC, I came across the Jewelry Arts Institute, a NYC-based school started in the 1940s that, at that time, only taught Greek and Roman jewelry-making techniques. It was an esoteric and refined process that was fascinating, and I casually decided to take a class to do something outside the libraries and archives where I was spending my time. I was immediately entranced by the magical interaction that is the fundamental relationship between metal and fire, and soon found myself in their studio as often as was possible. This alchemical interaction is pure poetry to me.”
Following her studies at the Jewelry Arts Institute, Mates went to work for another jeweler, putting her studies into practice. Her own jewelry line, Aesa “started serendipitously, with friends who had a store asking me to sell to them, which led to other stores asking the same. I had barely begun making things, let alone for production in multiples, and I had no real ambition to have a jewelry company per se. So it was quite a learning curve! I was just so excited to be making things and to be able to learn and experiment with design and form, that I dove in headlong.”
Though Aesa came to fruition organically, Mates’ passion for jewelry design is unmistakable, “I love jewelry because of its small, precise nature. Even if a design is organic, its relationship to the body must be considered and accommodated for. I love the intimacy that jewels can provide; the direct relationship to the body a piece can have, should have. Its weight on your body, the sounds it can make, the feel of the materials on your skin—all these elements contribute to this intimacy. To make something that someone can have this primary, sensual, almost instinctual relationship with is such a privilege.”
Drawing on artworks from within The Met collection that they found mutually inspiring, the two set out to create a jewelry collection that could utilize skills from their respective artistic practices in a unified way. The process proceeded holistically, Mates recalls, “I started out by having my studio make multiples of simple geometric elements in bronze. Boxes, tubes, spheres, domes, etc. These are often the mainstay of my own work and I thought they would be a nice counterbalance to the organic nature of the wood. We then created multiples of certain shapes in wood, and Yolande’s studio applied the yakisugi burning process to them. Then, we came together with our ‘ingredients’ and started to design very much based on the additive way I work in my own studio, making 3D ‘sketches’ which I then translated into wearable designs.”
Yakisugi, Batteau explains, “is an ancient Japanese method of curing cedar through burning the outer surface of the wood. We replicated this process for each and every piece of jewelry in the collection, spending weeks shaping, charring, sanding, and waxing every tiny piece of wood. Every bit of bronze and gold was cut, shaped, heated, tempered, hammered, or otherwise manipulated by an artist. We pulled from constructivist sculpture and paintings, ancient jewelry and natural phenomena during the design process. In many ways, the material itself informs the designs; the way the wood burned the most beautifully was what we highlighted in the final collection.”
She continues, “Randi’s knowledge of jewelry making was invaluable to the process—we transformed burnt wood shapes and bronze bits into moving, functioning art for the body. Her approach is historically based, but lyrical and poetic. My appreciation for hammered gold was solidified in Randi’s studio as she hammered out sheets and balls into tiny cups, heating the metal to make it malleable, and turned bars and tubes of brass into housings and fittings that made our little sculptures dance and lay on the poitrine with just the right amount of movement.”
The resulting jewelry shown here—each piece a handmade work of art—epitomizes the collaboration between the two artists. Melding Mates’ expertise with metalwork and Beatteau’s knowledge of the yakisugi technique, the smooth and elegantly refined surfaces and forms echo their many artistic references.
Visit The Met Fifth Avenue to purchase, or call 212-650-2850 to purchase via telephone. Find the select items from the collection online at store.metmuseum.org later this fall.