Claire Kahn’s designs of adornment
For maker and designer, Claire Kahn, color is her obsession, pattern is her muse and progression is what brings the elements together in a palpable expression of her mind’s imagination. Kahn creates jewelry from crochet beadwork, of which she refers to as beaded chords: Necklaces and bracelets arranged from an array of materials. Carefully, she strings Japanese cylindrical glass beads along a thread, creating the foundation of her compositions. Gemstones and precious metals may also combine in her beaded progression to accentuate a lustrous illustration of wearable design.
Kahn has propelled her significant trajectory in the world of contemporary art jewelry by the way she unites her design sensibility with an eye for artistry. With respect for the material and a passion for her process, she creates one-of-a-kind pieces of adornment, which she shows exclusively at Patina Gallery in Santa Fe, NM. When approaching her subject, Kahn refers to a design principle she learned from her father: Treatment is content. “For me,” she says, “the material, the structure of what I’m working with and its purpose once completed are often what inspires my process…In jewelry design, this means inspiration comes from the material and the structure of the bead crochet. The mosaic/Pointillist quality of many tiny beads coming together to create something larger is exciting to me, as is the finished work and how it interacts with the wearer.”
Kahn began her career as a designer. She grew up under the artistic influence of her parents, who were both artists and designers. Kahn’s father, Matt Kahn, was a painter and a professor of design & art at Stanford University (his appointment was the longest in Stanford’s history, from 1949-2010). Her mother, Lyda Kahn, was a weaver. Claire Kahn went onto study design, partially under her father at Stanford University.
Her extensive career has taken many turns. Kahn started at the San Francisco office of architecture firm, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. There, she developed graphic design for textiles, facades and courtyard designs. During which time, she contributed to projects such the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, CA and The Southeast Financial Center in Miami, FL. In 1985, Kahn joined WET Design, using her knowledge in graphic design and her ardent passion for music to create sophisticated water features all over the world. Through water and light, her team created installations that rendered to achievements as The Fountains of Bellagio in Nevada, The Dubai Fountain, among others. Installations are made of thousands of units gathered to create a larger, singular, kinetic water expression.
The interaction of various units coalescing to form a larger expression remains the focus of her work in art jewelry by the use of color and pattern. Beginning with a crochet hook and thread, she scripts her design, stringing the beads as she envisions her progression. Kahn compares her process to Ikat weaving; only as the piece is crocheted does the design emerge. Finally, Kahn amends, “It is worn, it has a purpose. My father used to say, design is the art form that is incomplete until it is engaged.”
For Claire Kahn, her creativity and artistic fascination is as much about each element as it is about how those elements relate to one another, together in place. Her crochet beadwork brings this perspective to exhilarating life, in swirls of color that arise from the mysterious juxtaposition of Japanese cylindrical glass beads. While she mixes these beads with precious and semi-precious stones, gold, coral, even sea pebbles, it’s the way she uses value that transforms these pieces from unique to unforgettable, from curiosity into craving.
She is currently a full-time studio artist, residing in Jacona, NM. Her pieces in art jewelry are exclusively found at Patina Gallery in Santa Fe, NM (patina-gallery.com). In 2018, Kahn’s work was featured in the Albuquerque Museum exhibition, American Jewelry from New Mexico.
“True success is in the pleasure a necklace or bracelet gives to the wearer, how easy and sensual a piece is to wear and to enjoy.” – Claire Kah