As I was writing the previous post in the series Preservation, Conservation, Restoration, it occurred to me that San Francisco jewelry maker, merry renk, could offer some experienced perspective and opinions about the issues of preservation, conservation, and restoration. At the age of 90, merry renk is enjoying a renaissance of renewed interest in her metalwork from the mid 20th century. Just within the past year, numerous exhibitions at major museums have included renk's jewelry and wedding crowns.
How would merry renk want her decades of work to look in an exhibition? Restored with a pristine finish or with the more subdued appearance from 50 years of hand polishing? Since I've known merry renk for years as a San Francisco Bay area kindred spirit, I went right to the source and asked merry.
Below is her response:
"Your question is one that I am dealing with this week. I am selling a vintage pair of earrings --- and I am having pierced ear wires attached to replace the screw backs that these earrings were made with [originally]. I considered asking my customer if she would like it to have its vintage color, but I have decided that when my earrings go to the customer, I want them to have the best finish that my jewelry can have. I make the choice."
"That is a question that can only be answered by each artist---and collector. My good friend, a collector, Steven Cabella, wants the silver jewelry to have unpolished surfaces and with the patina of age but, I do not like that idea. Since most of my silver pieces have areas that are polished, contrasted with areas that are oxidized black---so if my pieces are exhibited without polishing the true colors that I have strived for, the high shine of silver against flat black will not exist, therefore my jewelry in his collection cannot be exhibited in the original combination, missing my intentions."
"For instance, FOLDED, from 1954, the hairband that LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) bought and exhibited---I polished it, the outside is polished and the interior oxidized black, before I sent it off and they polished it to an even higher shine.....and I was so pleased because it looked as if I had just finished it last week...I am proud of the piece, not the age."
"I am aware of Steve Cabella's opinion [about his collection of silver objects and jewelry], but now he knows how we jewelers feel about how we present our work. Silver tarnishes in one month!!!"
"I know that bronze sculpture, if polished and vintage color is removed, lowers the price---but jewelry is another situation."
"I am delighted to receive a question from Harriete!!!!"
Thank you merry.
I hope that anyone who reads merry's comments will think about how they want their work shown in 20 years, 40 years, or 200 years from now. As we explore this topic of preservation, conservation, and restoration, I'd love to hear your opinion as a collector, curator, or artist and maker.
This post was updated on February 19, 2022.