To better know your community, meet the local artists who make up its tapestry of design. Each month, DESTINATION TAMPA BAY introduces readers to these creative ambassadors in its artist spotlight. This month, we introduce you to an artist whose design talents have transformed what could be elegant but standard pieces of jewelry into lauded works of art. The spotlight shines on Pamela Fox.
For Pamela Fox, it was clear from the beginning in her large high school class, she was destined to be her class’s artist. Even the school administration employed her talents when needed. “I went to a high school where there were 700 kids in my class. Apparently, I was the art nerd that did all the artwork for the school and administration,” she says. “I feel school gave me the preparation, and this time and country we live in gave me the opportunity to succeed in my life’s work.”
The Minnesota native credits her grandfather who immigrated from Finland for affording her the chance to study and find her true calling. As she describes it, he worked hard in the north woods of Minnesota as a lumberjack and made sure his children got an education. When it became her turn to make those all-important post-high school decisions, she chose to attend the University of Minnesota where she studied art education and discovered silversmithing was her passion. That desire to create only grew and became more specialized when she relocated to the Sunshine State.
When I moved from Minnesota to Florida, I was smitten with the bodacious shapes and textures of all the tropical plants here. They have since become my muse,” she says. “Sometimes I see something and can immediately work it into a design. Other shapes and textures can take years before they unfold into a design. These shapes, together with stones and pearls, come together either with drawings, models or working directly with the silver, gold or wax.”
But why has jewelry become Fox’s preferred art medium? “Art to wear is one of the most intimate forms of art. It becomes an expression of the wearer. Jewelry speaks to the individual’s aesthetic everywhere it is worn,” she says. “The perimetric quality of jewelry has always intrigued me. Even an interesting design will not work if it doesn’t sit properly on the body. That’s where the engineering aspect of jewelry-making comes in and the challenge is to give people art to comfortably wear so it can become an impact in their lives,” she says.
Fox says her favorite part of jewelry-making is the design of it but admits the production of it can be a bit of a grind. Still, she finds personal benefit from that side of the process, too. “Fortunately, much of the repetitious work becomes meditative so even that is an opportunity to be contemplative,” she notes.
Fox, whose art studio sits in a lush subtropical part of rural Sarasota, employs soldering, forging, piercing, and sawing to create the metal used in each new jewelry piece; casts, polishes and solders wax forms to whatever elements are in the piece; then finally sets or rivets the stones and pearls. It is an intricate process but one that Fox has been perfecting for decades and winning accolades in gallery shows and art festivals both locally and nationally.
Earlier this year, she won the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts’ prestigious Mayor’s Award in Tampa. She’s also earned awards of excellence at recent Mainsail and Florida CraftArt Festivals. At the 2022 Brookside Art Annual in Kansas City, she took away the Best of Show 3-D award and continues to take part in a growing list of national shows including the 2022 Main Street Art Festival in Fort Worth, TX where she made her debut this past April. “Many of the festivals throughout the country have created a rich tradition of connecting the public with working artists. This may be the first exposure one might have to interact with the artists,” Fox says. “I love seeing my work worn and hearing responses. Sometimes a collector’s story becomes a part of my next piece.”
Fox calls her designs an ‘interplay between structure and natural form’ and says many of the techniques she currently uses were the result of her decision to step away temporarily from jewelry-making to raise her family. At the time, she launched a dental lab and when she was ready to return to her artistic passion, she brought a fresh take and with it an entirely new technique. “I begin my work by growing or collecting seeds, pods or buds. Using dental techniques, I make impressions. Portions of these impressions may be altered, then cast individually. They are then used as repeated elements, soldering them to various forged components. Subsequently, a wide variety of metalsmithing techniques are used to create the final design,” Fox says.
Fox’s work has been featured in art galleries across the country and as part of public collections in Florida and Virginia as well as various private collections. In 2022, the artist was selected, along with eight others, to participate in a unique, joint art exhibition, Clearly Collaborative. The program, guided by a creative partnership between Florida CraftArt and Duncan McClellan Gallery, allows each selected artist an opportunity to combine their chosen medium with the work of acclaimed glass artist Duncan McLellan. Final pieces from the collaboration will be displayed as part of a January 2023 exhibit. (Click here to learn more about the Clearly Collaborative multimedia art project.)
I focused on metal sculpture in art school. Foraged through the junkyard and even got to know the owner and his family. I have also done some stainless steel sculpture with glass in the past. When I heard I was selected for the Clearly Collaborative exhibit, it just warmed the soul of this frustrated sculptor. Not only would I have the opportunity to work with glass and metal but work with Duncan McClellan, who I have known for many years. I immediately knew the design I wanted to construct,” she says. “The synergy created by this collaboration is just incredible. Florida CraftArt curator David Ramsey, Duncan, and the artists really have brought together such a wide variety of surprising pieces.”
Fox’s sculpture is called ‘Connections’ and made of bronze and glass with the glass vases tipped horizontally to offer a unique perspective. “I wanted the materials to have the same story, but with their own unique voice. Inspired by my daily walks in Myakka State Park, I wanted it to have the symmetry and detail that is revealed in nature. I soldered hundreds of pieces of bronze together and gave it a dark patina so that the beautiful red in the glass would just glow.”
Besides the upcoming Clearly Collaborative art exhibition, Fox has a busy art festival calendar lined up for the start of the new year, with appearances scheduled at the following shows: St. Armands Circle Art Festival, Sarasota, FL (1/28-1/29); ArtFest Fort Myers, Fort Myers, FL (2/3-2/5); Coconut Grove Art Festival, Coconut Grove, FL (2/18-2/20); Gasparilla Art Festival, Tampa, FL (3/4-3/5); and Winter Park Art Festival, Winter Park, FL (3/17-3/19). Fox enjoys getting the chance to participate in the shows. “Creators, collectors, and collaborators together bring that vision and hope that identifies the time we share on this globe,” she says.
As Fox moves forward with her jewelry design, she continues to welcome opportunities to evolve as an artist. “Many artists settle into a technique and style and stick with it. I tend to work through concepts until I feel it’s time for a departure, either in design or technique. Fortunately, the more technique you acquire, the more flexible you can be with the design,” she says. “Over the years, it has been delightful to see collectors continue to embrace my work, even though the work constantly evolves and changes. Most recently, I’ve started using vitreous enamel. In the past, the only color in my work was from stones and metal. I needed the color variety the enamel added to my designs. Collectors continue to share this journey and we evolve together.”
For those interested in seeing more of Fox’s jewelry designs, visit the artist’s website by clicking here. To keep up with her latest news and events, visit her on Facebook and Instagram.
Written by Chris Kuhn exclusively for Destination Tampa Bay™. All photos courtesy of artist Pamela Fox, unless otherwise noted