Art Gallery partners with Tokyo college, showcases student jewelry

Courtesy Photo / GVSU Art Gallery

Courtesy Photo / GVSU Art Gallery

Stacy Sabaitis

A back-and-forth relationship between the Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry in Tokyo and Grand Valley State University associate professor of art and design Renee Zettle-Sterling has led to a new art gallery exhibit showcasing unique jewelry by Japanese students.

As part of the Fall Arts Celebration, the “Forged in Metal: Deshi/Shisyou Mentee/Mentor” show opened Oct. 4 in the GVSU Art Gallery on the Allendale Campus, and showcases the jewelry of metalworking students from the Hiko Mizuno College in Japan.

The relationship started in 2007 when Zettle-Sterling and Jim Bové, associate professor of fine art at California University of Pennsylvania, visited Japan to present their work, lecture and give workshops, while also learning from the professors at the college. Together they are co-curating the exhibit.

“Jim brought some Japanese jewelry and metalsmithing work to the United States, so it’s kind of been back and forth,” Zettle-Sterling said.

While in Japan, Zettle-Sterling and Bové learned a lot about jewelry making from a different point of view – from a Japanese teacher and his students.

“They showed us so many wonderful techniques,” Zettle-Sterling said. “We really forged a really great relationship with this school, and it’s a pretty rare school. It’s been really rewarding, I think, for everyone involved.”

One of the Japanese students, Natsuko Kawabata, traveled to GVSU along with her teacher and mentor Yoshinori Tsukdate to view the exhibit and help with a metalworking workshop.

Translator Yoko Sekino-Bove is helping Kawabata communicate while she’s at GVSU.

Metalworking wasn’t available to Kawabata until high school, even as an art student. “I was an art student in high school; however, I had a chance to study metals only in the senior year in high school,” Kawabata said. “I was always interested in learning about the metal from the beginning, but then I only had a chance to learn it at the last year of high school.”

That’s when Kawabata decided to attend the Hiko Mizuno College to learn more about metalworking as a craft and art.

“My thinking process is that I usually pick up small things from my early life and craft them into my sketchbook,” Kawabata said. “Then I decide what to choose and what not to, and I use my own inspiration as a filter to create artwork.”

Zettle-Sterling said the jewelry-making process is time-consuming, and students can’t go into it thinking that it’s easy and will be done quickly.

“It is extremely labor intensive,” Zettle-Sterling said. “You really have to think ahead and plan.”
Even though Kawabata did not start metalsmithing until college, the arts were instilled into her when she was a young child.

“Originally, I was interested in ornamentations and jewelries since I was little and I was always attracted to using beads or other materials to create the jewelry,” Kawabata said. “Then I learned about the metalsmith’s process. Then I was so attracted to the metalsmith’s process because it provided so much possibility and opportunities.”

Tsukdate has been teaching at the college for 10 years and enjoys seeing her student’s artwork.
“The students are very energetic and motivated,” Tsukdate said. “I get inspired all the time – that’s the biggest reward.”

Zettle-Sterling said that while the school specializes primarily in jewelry making, it also offers courses in handbag, watch and bicycle design.

She said the gallery shouldn’t just be for art students, but has relevance to all students.
“For a lot of students, they don’t get to travel abroad and so this (is) a really good opportunity to have a cultural experience here on campus,” Sterling said.

The gallery runs until Nov. 2 and is free and open to the public. For more information about the exhibit, go to
[email protected]