By Gabriel Bell
Getting to know her signature line of bold rings and necklaces, it's easy to draw a line connecting Christine J. Brandt and the artists that have influenced her: Moore, Da Vinci, Noguchi. One can see the tell-tale curves of Frank Gehry's architecture echoed in the outsized necklaces she lent to Doo Ri for her fall 2006 runway show, and it is not hard to liken her majestic wood-and-stone rings to a crystal-topped Brancusi. But there's something else Brandt wants you to see in her masterful compositions of exotic woods and jagged crystal. "Volcanic eruptions. Rock candy. Wood drift. I am inspired by nature," she says. "I don't try to change it, but show it for what it has to offer...beauty, greatness, and power."
A natural beauty herself, Brandt is as much a mix of cultures and traditions as her art. The daughter of a Norwegian father and Japanese mother, Brandt began her childhood world tour in Moji-ku, Japan. "My parents were very adventurous," she says. "One year I would be in school in Spain, the next in Norway." She followed a year of High School fashion studies in Paris with a BFA at New York's Parsons School of Design and several positions in textile work. But true inspiration arrived far from New York's fashion circus.
For the most part, I just carve and the form takes place. Since wood is a living subject, it's important to keep your eyes open and see the true beauty of the materials. I let the piece have its way.
After relocating to Columbus, Ohio, for a job, Brandt stumbled upon her muse. "When you move," she says, "it's not easy to make friends, so I started taking evening classes at a local arts center to keep occupied." Between ceramics and glass enameling, Brandt crafted her first flowing rings. The new discipline quickly tested her lifelong tendency to buck expectations and demand perfection. "When I look back at my first ring, my biggest challenge was the fit. It was not easy to wear." Since then, Brandt has distilled her method down to an inspired science.
Working in the log cabin studio built by her father, overlooking the forests of Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, Brandt allows her materials to inform her approach. "I often have an idea, a shape in mind," she says. "But for the most part, I just carve and the form takes place. Since wood is a living subject, it's important to keep your eyes open and see the true beauty of the material. I let the piece have its way." After days of carving and buffing, hand-burnishing with natural oils completes the organic process (no stains or varnishes here). Brandt also never cuts, polishes, or alters her stones, which range from black tourmaline to Herkimer diamonds. "I carve a wood bezel around the stone's edge then form the ring around that. The stone dictates the shape."
Taking design cues from Mother Nature keeps Brandt and her circle of friends on the hunt for the next exotic wood or knotted crystal that could speak to her. "My boyfriend can think of many things to do on a Sunday morning other than browse a mineral show, but he's become quite knowledgeable." She even receives care packages of fine-grained inspiration. "A few weeks back, I received a box of woods from friends in Australia. Most people have friends who send chocolates or cheese from their travels. I get wood!"
Jewelry designer Christine J. Brandt crafts wondrous accessories using Mother Nature as her muse.