The beach stone in all the perfection of its found simplicity has been the focus of jeweler, Sam Shaw, for some years now. The smooth shapes, with their rough and tumble past, were isolated in a manner that presupposed intrinsic importance, surrounded by precious metals and elevated by association with gold, diamonds, pearls, and other traditional gemstones.
It was a tactic that had clear political implications. Along with the obvious link to the natural world came an implicit questioning of who and what systems establish value. Not far behind was the obvious message that context has a great deal to do with determining what we consider beautiful. And finally, these costly pieces when worn on the arms of his clientele radiate a message of paradox, of ostentatious humility. The pure forms reverberated with the forces that created them, heightening awareness of a natural world deserving of close attention. The juxtaposition seemed audacious at first. And yet it was a logical extension of his training and interest: before earning an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design, Shaw studied geology.
And yet precisely when Shaw seems to have settled into a comfortable niche, his work will take an abrupt turn. Although he has not abandoned the beach stones, reticence has taken a backseat: his current work is bold and brash. A recent piece pairs granite carrying a quartz, cross-shaped intrusion, with a large, nearly clear quartz containing a similarly-shaped tourmaline intrusion. It is a transitional piece, but only symbolically. For some time his work has taken parallel roads: studiedly minimal, on the one hand; stunningly extravagant on the other.
He has plunged with enthusiasm into the frankly Baroque and unapologetically lush. “There is nothing shy,” about these large, colorful and extravagant pieces,” he says. Large stones play boldly against each other, sometimes contrasting, sometimes complementing. The inspiration for these creations can be found in the pieces he buys in India, the maharajah jewelry from the Mogul era, for instance, but the references are varied. There is a medieval suggestion to a crossed pearl surrounded by amethysts, a topaz and a chrysacola. Whimsy plays a dramatic role in a pin that juxtaposes a large pink tourmaline, a gold spiral, a beach stone with a cross formation, and a large irregular pearl.
In these new pieces, Shaw firmly questions assumptions of good taste, toys with the notion of cliché, and indulges in a few cheeky cultural references to a shared past. At the same time he returns with evident pleasure to the boldly classical in earrings of crossed pearls and opals that echo his interest in simple yet forceful design elements, their sensuality contained and controlled.