David Walter: The Fine Art of Adornment
David Walter recently moved his custom jewelry studio from a farm in Westminster to downtown Brattleboro. "My reasons for moving out of the barn and into town," he explained, "were to be both more public about what I do and to expand the range of pieces I make. I have so many ideas I'd like to see realized and I can't do it all alone; it requires a larger client base and a few skilled jewelers to help." Opening his new studio for Gallery Walk visitors seemed the next logical step -- it's on the second floor at 22 High Street, across from the Blue Moose Store & Café, just a skip around the Brooks House corner from Main Street.
The son of a high school art teacher on Long island, David Walter came to jewelry design on a somewhat indirect path, while his connection to Vermont is, in fact, a long one. His father Frank led Youth Hostel bike trips up the Connecticut Valley in the '40s and '50s, and a growing love of this area resulted in his purchasing the Westminster farm as a summer and vacation home for the family in the mid-'60s. "Basically, when we weren't in school on Long Island, we were here," David explained.
Meanwhile, back to his career journey....
David studied Fine Art and Industrial Design at Pratt Institute and, after a few years in Industrial Design with an automotive company, "I accepted an apprenticeship with a fellow who had run Tiffany's shop for 10 years before starting his own company." David then launched the DF Walter jewelry studio in 1985, employing a half-dozen jewelers on New York's 47th Street and producing pieces for luxury jewelry retailers Tiffany, Schlumberger, Buccellati, and Fred Leighton, as well as for many private designers. "While trying to come to terms with my relationship with jewelry and the jewelry industry," he shared, "I closed my studio in New York City in the '90s and moved to Vermont."
From this you might infer -- correctly -- that David Walter brings a set of deeply personal principles to his work. He summarized his mid-career crisis in this statement: "Like so many things in our consumer culture, a large percentage of jewelry had become a commodity stripped of positive meaning, symbolism, and cultural significance. I felt that this had led to a desensitization and general decline in respect for the considered use of rare and beautiful materials that are extracted, processed, and distributed with considerable consequence for the individuals and societies involved, as well as for the environment." At a practical level, he is committed to knowing, as well as possible, the chain of custody of the materials he is sourcing and that these companies apply best business practices with regard to worker safety and compensation, human rights and conflict, community outreach, financial transparency, and environmental impact.
David's approach to designing each custom "jewel" is just as principled: "Jewelry has existed since the dawn of time and has found a significant place in the histories and cultures of our world. For me the emotional and aesthetic impact of jewelry still reaches back to the dawn of time to the opulent adornment of the body, the refinement of metallurgy, the use of rare materials, and always to the highest level of design and craft. By working in this way and by showing a respectful understanding of the natural world, I strive to make objects of beauty that allow the client to express their love and regard for another, to celebrate an important event, or to grace themselves."
The jeweler's art, as David explained it, is "to bring the designed piece to life
While he works primarily with custom orders, some of David's commissions involve the refashioning of a piece of inherited family jewelry to suit its new owner. In either case, it's a collaboration between the client and the designer, often through a series of discussions in which the possibilities are explored, and portfolios with photographs of completed projects, or even works currently in progress, are considered for inspiration.
David's new studio and gallery, where the creative "magic" happens, is its own work in progress at present. It is comprised of two 15-by-35-foot rooms overlooking the Harmony Parking Lot. The studio contains several workbenches with tools, while the new gallery includes an office area and will display completed works by the studio of David Walter in platinum, gold, palladium, and gemstones. The space is painted in four shades of grey with walnut accents -- "I want the color to be the jewelry," he explained.
The old, worn display cases are carved European cabinets that are still rather imposing even in their beat-up state and are examples of an abandoned by-gone era. "They were literally rescued by my father from being pushed into a hole and buried," said David. "They were abused and neglected, and yet their beauty still lives. I want the association with my jewelry to be that of survival from the ignorance of fashion in a throw-away society, where the intrinsic value added by the now largely lost talents and skills of craftsmen can be appreciated and celebrated. We're witnessing this loss of skill and sensibility in jewelry making today; I'm a traditionaIist holdout."
The DF Walter studio at 22 High Street is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 to 5, and by appointment, as well as from 5:30 to 8:30 on July 1 for Gallery Walk. A sandwich-board sign is often on the sidewalk when the studio is open. Call (802) 722-9620, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.davidwalterjewelry.com for further information.
Copyright 2011, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont