A whimsical snail brooch slithers across a swath of sweater. The slug’s orange shell adds a pop of color to its dark silver base. But its glossy coat of paint also serves another purpose: it disguises the whorl’s true origins as a reclaimed cello part, taken from a broken instrument and transformed into a work of wearable art.
Meet jewelry makers Scott and Lisa Cylinder, whose line of one-of-a-kind studio originals use retooled or found objects (musical instrument parts, board game pieces, ancient tools) to fashion their delicate creations. The result? Clever statement pieces that are routinely displayed at the country's most prestigious juried shows, and will be highlighted among other handmade items in this week's Smithsonian Craft Show.
“It’s a soul thing,” explains Lisa Cylinder. “ The things we use were touched by somebody. Once you see those pieces, you identify a moment in your life with that particular object. The tool that someone used in making something—there’s sweat on it, there’s toil on it. A musical instrument—someone played it. The human contact is part of what we do, and the reason we select the objects.”
The Cylinders met while studying at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. They decided to forge jewelry—and a life—together shortly after. “I just knew we’d be simpatico,” says Lisa Cylinder. After several years of work experience (and a master’s degree for Scott), the duo decided to start their own jewelry production line, Chickenscratch, which was founded in 1988 and features playful studio pieces made from base metals and wire. Their larger ambition? To eventually stop making multiples, and instead focus on crafting singular works. But this aspiration dimmed a bit between mortgages, raising kids and the day-to-day dealings of managing a business.
Ten years later, the Cylinders woke up and realized they were “losing their souls.” This awakening, combined with a gallery’s suggestion that they start making one-of-a-kind pieces, spurred them to form Lisa and Scott Cylinder, a new line of fine contemporary jewelry. "It exploded from there," says Lisa Cylinder.
Today, Lisa and Scott Cylinder spend their days making jewelry in their home studio in Virginville, Pennsylvania, and scouring flea markets, Ebay and antique fairs, in search of discarded "trash" they can turn into treasure. They always re-tool or disguise their finds; for example, eraser nubs become pink posies in a floral brooch, and a saxophone key is cut into a guitar shape used in a music-themed object d'arte.
"Our goal isn’t to present or frame the found object," says Scott Cylinder. "It is to disguise it, and make it integral to the piece so that you don’t know where it ends and what we’ve made begins."
The Cylinders' booth at the Smithsonian Craft Show will feature some 70 items—musical instrument-themed pieces, cameos, Cubist still lifes and necklaces that can be worn or hung as wall art, among others. Each piece is made of varying materials, but there's one constant: they're not perfect. "There’s something [flawed] about them, just like every single human being," says Lisa Cylinder. "They're all unconventional. I think that's what makes our work unique."
The Smithsonian Craft Show opens at the National Building Museum on Thursday, April 10, and will run until Sunday, April 13. Tickets are available for purchase online. Admission is $15 a day, $25 for a two-day pass. Proceeds support the Smithsonian Women's Committee Grants Fund.