Q&A: Artist Jim Cotter on Creating Counterculture Jewelry and Inclusion in a Retrospective Book
Jim Cotter, which operates its jewelry store J. Cotter Gallery since 1969 in Vail, was included in a new art jewelry book, “In Flux: American Jewelry and the Counterculture” by Susan Cummins. The book, intended as a chronicle of America’s first fine art jewelry in the 1960s and 1970s, features chapters on some of the most influential artists on the scene at the time.
Cotter’s work during this time was influenced by artistic movements including dada, Cubist painting and sculpture, as well as the literary beatniks, films and music of the time. As a pioneer of the fine jewelry movement in the United States, Cotter’s work often incorporated satire, irony, and politics: for example, a ring with its central diamond mounted in cement (he still does) and a Goofy belt buckle with river stone and gold for the impeachment of Richard Nixon.
“In Flux” celebrates the non-traditional and unconventional ideals to which Cotter is still attached, more than 60 years later. The Vail Daily spoke with Cotter to discuss the book and his work. Below are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Vail Daily: How did you get involved with the Cummins book?
Jim Cotter: I was giving a talk in Seattle, and in the audience was a lady who is a great collector of fine art jewelry and a big supporter of fine art jewelry. And after the conference, she contacted me and asked me about some of my early work. One thing led to the other and then they contacted me in short, they asked me questions after reviewing some of my first real work – some of which was quite offbeat, so to speak.
VD: Yes, like your Nixon play.
JC: I was doing other political things and doing, as I said, unusual jewelry. And that kind of snowball made me start making art jewelry, and that kept me more interested in jewelry, as an alternative to traditional jewelry. She (Cummins) wanted to showcase real contemporary jewelry or fine art jewelry, which wasn’t really written in America. And I think she’s very familiar with European type work, but there were a lot of Americans doing things that she thought should be recognized.
VD: Well, it must be really cool to be included in this group of people.
JC: I was very flattered to be one of them. I’m not an academic, I’m kind of an outside artist. I do not have a university education. I don’t have a very good background in jewelry either. I am more practical, learn how to do it myself.
VD: Right. In many fine arts circles, having a college education is the norm. How does this perception of your position in the larger world of fine art jewelry influence the pieces you make?
JC: It’s a bit like my journey growing up. Growing up in a small town in Iowa, everything had to be fixed. You had no option. You couldn’t afford to take it to the garage and let it fix it for you. So I’ve always been able to fix things and do things, and those things have taught me how things are built, or how things should be built. And I think, you know, it was interesting to be self-taught because I’m not influenced. We’re in a slightly different league from most jewelers, where they buy all of their work and have it done elsewhere. We do everything right in our studio. It allowed me to do what I love to do is create and invent things every day and make miniature cars, so to speak.
VD: And artistically, in a way, you can see the influence of your rural environment on your work.
JC: I have always been interested in industrial materials because they are everywhere around us. I’m still looking at the idea and the materials and I’m like, “How can you reduce that while still making it look important?” How could it be used in a totally different way than what we normally think of it, yet still make it seem like it has an appeal? It is fascinating that almost all the arts, especially paintings and even sculptures, are monumental. And that seems to be the norm. But how do you relay that and how do you get people to look at something miniature the same way?
VD: How do you translate this monumental feeling into a small object?
JC: I use materials around me. A lot of my work has to do with texture, and making things look bigger than they are, or doing things that maybe should be smaller or bigger.
VD: I also noticed a lot of juxtaposition in your work.
JC: Right. And it’s just contradicting what anyone might think. My clients have something very unique as opposed to Tiffany or something like that. You know they have something that will hopefully have intrinsic value later on, and being included in this book and recognized, should bolster my legitimacy a bit, so to speak, as to who I am. and what I am and how I think.
For more information visit jcottergallery.com.