I'm drawn to artists who strive to stay true to their values, regardless of what might be 'trendy' out there. That's what attracted me to the work of April Higashi, the driving force behind Shibumi Gallery. April has a keen sense of design from her early textile studies and from her inventive work combining enamel, stones, and metal into one-of-a-kind pieces. Here's an interview I did with April exploring how she got started, her approach, and her plans.
How did you learn to make jewelry, since your background was in textiles?
I was working at Espirit and took a metal arts class with a friend, with the idea that we were going to start a jewelry company. Five months later my department was dissolved at work and I asked to be laid off. Eight months later we got a hugh order with Banana Republic and earned enough money to fill the order and take more classes and hire instructors to help us.
After my business partner and I went our separate ways, I worked part time in my studio. I had jars of enamel that had been given to me from a school that had closed its jewelry department that I started playing with. I missed textiles and patterns but continued to take enamel classes. One of the last classes I took was from Jamie Bennett.
How has your work evolved since you began?
Originally, my work was folksy, Latin-inspired and sold to high-end stores, such as Barney's New York and Fred Segal's. After that, it had a flare of filigree with enamel and then later evolved to patterns and textures in enamel. I later expanded my repertoire to work in high karat golds and other precious metals with organic rose-cut stones and diamonds and irregular, rare pearls.
The stone shapes mirror the organic shapes of my enamels. They reflect my overall aesthetic and philosophy that work should be textural, elegant, and organic, without literally matching.
Shi-’bu-me n. is a subtle, unobtrusive, and deeply moving beauty cherished by artists and connoisseurs. This word really spoke to me because the clients I respect the most look at jewelry and art from a quiet place and appreciate the small details. My work and the work I show is not for everyone. It is for people who seek out the subtle details. They buy work that speaks to them artistically and not to impress their neighbors.
What makes Shibumi different from other galleries?
My gallery is focused on mid-career jewelers who have a deep reflection process and have been able to develop a body of work. The artists I show are all makers (not designers) who apply ethical considerations to their materials and processes. I would also say that there is a special effort to focus on minimal. I want the gallery to feel refined, but accessible.
The artists I show are usually colleagues or artists that I respect. Because my life and work are so integrated, it is not surprising to know that if I like their work, I like the artist, so we become friends. It is important to me to represent people I truly believe in and whose perspective I respect. I like artists who pull ideas from the depth of themselves and do not just follow fashion trends. It is also important that the artists come from a "making" background and do not just design on paper or the computer.
My clients kept asking me to reset their prong set diamonds into something more contemporary. In thinking about incorporating a ring case into my gallery I realized that what was most important to me was that I give clients a great experience as well as an original non-traditional design. When people come to your gallery or to make a custom ring you become part of their celebration. I want them to have found memories of this part of their ritual.
Staying true to my aesthetics and vision, I offer wedding and commitment rings that reference tradition and reflect the individuals that wear them. With 15 ring artists, I feel like clients can mix my artists to come up with individualized, custom rings. We have even designed a special case that has counter weights that lower when a couple stands at the case. The door slides up and they are invited to touch and try on the work.
Shibumi also features the work of your husband Eric Powell, who is a sculptor, along with the work of other sculptors. What creative philosophy do you share?
We both love deterioration on metal. The textures and colors show off what happens by chance when something is old or left out in the elements. I also think we share an appreciation for organic elements and asymmetry. Pictured here are two works by Eric Powell. Below is the Chestnut Street Gate that Eric made.
What's coming up for you and Shibumi this year or beyond?
I'm excited about relaunching the April Higashi Jewelry section of the Shibumi website. Because my work is so diverse, it will showcase portfolios of my work and not be divided into such literal categories. I'm excited about this because the current section is eight years old. By this fall, I'm hoping to have a small e-commerce section for my work.
The gallery continues to show new work and artists. We currently have 5-8 shows per year. In August we'll feature Visual Cadence, by Elisa Bongfeldt and Chris Neff and in November, Light Fiction by Liisa Hashimoto + Anzfer Farms.
Finally, I am excited that Shibumi is slowly and steadily growing. I have a great team of 8 creative people that work for me. It's nice to share my creative process and be inspired by others' creative energy and skills to build Shibumi Studio & Gallery.
I hope you're as intrigued as I am by April's creativity and and the philosophy behind her work. To learn more, go to Shibumi Studio & Gallery.