Lawrence jeweler and metalsmith gets national recognition

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence jeweler and metalsmith Cate Richards adjust the flame of a blowtorch as she prepares to reticulate several pieces of brass in her studio on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. Recently, Richards was named to the list of “30 Exceptional Craftspeople Under the Age of 30” by American Craft Week.

The chance of hearing a jeweler talk about the beauty of cement, coal or industrial latex within a conversation about engagement rings is just about as likely as hearing a construction foreman asking for more diamonds, gold or silver in the concrete mix.

Somewhere there in the middle is Lawrence jeweler and metalsmith Cate Richards, who is garnering some national attention for melding what many believe are seemingly incongruous materials into her own fine art. Recently, Richards was named to American Craft Week’s list of “30 Exceptional Craftspeople Under the Age of 30.”

Online exhibit

An online exhibit of the work of Richards and the 29 other selected artists can be found at The 30 artists selected for 30 under 30 honor will be profiled in the October issue of Handmade Business magazine.

“I’ve combined gold with coal and gold with cement. It’s messing with people’s preconceived notions and I think all artists do that to some extent,” Richards said.

Richards explains that her work questions the preciousness of certain materials when combined with the mundane.

Among the many pieces gathered within her studio is a necklace composed of coal beads sporadically plated with gold. The coal, she says, was salvaged off of a now defunct rail line that used to run between Lawrence and Baldwin City.

“In different parts of the country coal has a very loaded connotation,” she said. “It’s the symbol of industry. Initially, you wouldn’t give them a second glance but taken out of their regular context and put into the context of fine jewelry they become something different, new and interesting.”

photo by: Nick Krug

Two necklaces designed by Lawrence jeweler and metalsmith Cate Richards fuse what most would refer to as traditional materials found in jewelry, such as gold and copper, with what Richards describes as mundane materials such as coal, cement and concrete.

Richards, who came to Lawrence after graduating from Baker University, now works for the Lawrence Arts Center as an exhibitions coordinator and also teaches youth metals classes. She attributes some of her own inspiration to her time spent as a child assisting her dad with his hobbies.

“I’ve always been very much into art and an artist since I was very very young,” she said. “Growing up, world building was really important to me. My father is a history professor and also a tabletop board gamer. I would help him cast figurines, which got me started on the technical side of (metalsmithing).”

The concepts of size and scale are also themes that Richards said she tends to play with in her work.

“With Kansas, it’s easy to get wrapped up in landscape and vastness,” she said. “Conceptually, I like to take big ideas like home, placement, landscape, war and turn them into these small tangible objects.”

To help illustrate, Richards produced a collection of 3-D mountains she designed and created on a 3-D printer, with the tallest peaking at maybe 2 inches. The range is designed to be worn within the concave and convex curves of the body.

“They’re more sculptural body objects rather than recognizable jewelry, but I like to dance that line,” she explained.

photo by: Nick Krug

Richards displays two peaks of a mountain range that she created with a 3-D printer and flocked. The mountains are designed to rest within or on the concave and convex parts of the body.

Richards said when not working at the Arts Center, she spends about 25 hours in her studio each week dedicated to all aspects of her craft. Among the work is writing grant proposals and submitting work to professional organizations such as the “30 Under 30” show, which Richards said she is humbled to be a part of.

“The 29 other creators are amazing and I feel honored to be among them,” Richards said. “I apply to many things because rejection is such a real possibility when you’re an artist. It’s always very pleasing to get a return on that.”

On a recent visit to her studio, Richards is using a blowtorch on some quarter-sized brass discs in a reticulating process to bring out texture. She says the metal will be used in a piece for an upcoming show at the University of Kansas, called “Something Fleeting.”

Just outside of her 160-square-foot creative space, Richards points toward the web of a garden spider that she has been keeping a watchful eye on as it builds, destroys and rebuilds its web every day.

“Every time I pass by I see that she has created an intricate, beautiful piece,” Richards said. “I ascribe to be like that because I do have that primal inclination to create within me. If I work as hard as she does, I’ll be happy.”