The jewelry experts at Across The Puddle have created a gorgeous range of necklaces, earrings, and more in conjunction with the exhibition Golden Kingdoms: Luxury & Legacy in the Ancient Americas, a highlight of the spring season at The Met. We caught up with ATP’s Mary Castro, who conveyed just how seriously she and her team approach their work—and why the results are so stunning.
Tell us about your company.
We at Across The Puddle strive to pay tribute to ancient American societies—such as the Moche in Peru, the Muisca in Colombia, and the Aztecs in Mexico—by creating an ongoing dialogue with their spiritual language and mythological essence. Our handcrafted replicas form a bridge from 1,000 years ago to the present. Our conversation with ancient American societies is expressed through an extension of ornaments, including necklaces, earrings, and pins elaborated in gold and silver.
Our team consists of three family members: my sister Kika (who founded Across The Puddle in 2010), my mom Lina, and myself. In 2016, Omar Hurtado, a talented and world-renowned goldsmith, joined our team. He developed the only Precolumbian jewelry collection curated and endorsed by the Gold Museum in Bogotá.
How do you define your aesthetic?
Our aesthetic expresses the deep appreciation of the natural elements that ancient American societies embedded in each ornament they created. This appreciation can be seen in the Chiriqui Frog Pendant Necklace, which represents fertility and the evolution of human life. The Olmec Mask Pendant Necklace depicts the god of maize, a main dietary staple of Mesoamerican life. The mask represents the people’s sacred connection to the deities they worshipped.
Replicating these ornaments is a challenging process. Ancient American goldsmiths were metallurgical masters. To the untrained eye, many of the original pieces may look “unfinished” or “oxidized”—but in reality this is the result of fusing metals, which melt at different temperatures. Omar says it best: “Our aesthetic tries to recreate the perfect balance of beauty. The delicate and fine work that characterizes the Precolumbian jewels teach us that within imperfection is perfection.”
Where do you find designs that inspire you?
Museums are our primary source of inspiration. During our most recent visit to The Met, my mom and I spent the entire morning in the Art of the Americas galleries. We were awe-struck and captivated by the intricacies of the designs as well as the rich cultural history tied to the pieces. It rekindled a deep, lingering feeling of obligation and commitment to our educational mission to preserve the values and processes of ancient American societies. We took photographs of each Precolumbian piece displayed in the galleries. We hope to absorb the multiple perspectives tied to the works and their aesthetics, delve deeper into their meanings, and uncover the inspiration within each individual piece. We have a thirst for understanding the differences of how each culture approached their designs, the techniques they used, and the relationship they had to the natural elements represented in their art.
What can contemporary artisans learn from ancient techniques?
The recreation of ancient handcrafting techniques bring ancient peoples’ connection and appreciation to the spiritual and natural worlds back to life, bringing these ancient cultures into the contemporary world. Omar explains: “The ancient American pieces were created by artists that impregnate their essence, their particular way of viewing the world, their different regional cultures and a way of feeling the metals, leaving traces and fingerprints behind, which allow us to discover and understand the spirit of the metal. After years of experience and close contact with the Precolumbians’ work, a magical world opens up where the invisible becomes visible. This is the true essence of learning from the techniques developed by our ancestors.”
Can jewelry designed 1,000 years ago be “modern”?
Yes. The mythological essence behind each Precolumbian ornament expresses the powers of the universe, allowing them to remain timeless.
Precolumbian goldsmiths had a very personal and spiritual connection to each ornament they made. These pieces were meant to be an extension of themselves, a binding force between their physical actions (what they made with their hands) and their cerebral functions.
The use of gold was viewed as an exchange of energy between them and the deities who controlled aspects of their world that they could not. These connections communicated, directly or indirectly, a value system, which guided them toward personal and spiritual balance in their everyday lives.
What makes these pieces “modern” is the fact that they deal directly with natural elements that contemporary people encounter with daily. While the contemporary landscape continually evolves and changes, the processes involved in making these ornaments allow the values, practices, and spirituality of ancient American societies to remain eternal.