It’s no secret: here at NYC Jewelry Week—and especially at Future Heirloom—we’re big fans of maximalist statement jewelry. Ceramicist-turned-jeweler Anthony Sonnenberg’s jewelry works bring statement jewelry to a new level, with creative and colorful material combinations, meticulous craftsmanship, and elegant yet playful proportions.
Future Heirloom Editor Jackie Andrews sat down with Anthony to discuss how he got into jewelry making, what excites him about making wearable sculpture, and how ceramics and jewelry come together harmoniously in his practice. For all of that — plus an exhibition tour of his latest solo show, I’m Gonna Dance The Way I Feel at Mindy Solomon Gallery in Miami, Florida — keep reading.

Sonnenberg’s Orchid Cloud necklace with Rainbow Central Piece; Sterling Silver, over thirty different varieties of precious and semi-precious stones.

“My Jewelry practice is a direct and natural outgrowth of my larger sculptural practice in both the physical and conceptual sense. Jewelry however, allows me to take certain aspects from this larger practice to a new acute degree. The power of beauty, the mechanics and consequences of desire, and the collapsing of time and social hierarchies, all issues I deal with thoroughly in my other practices, are in the jewelry made more direct and intensified. The constant presence of histories both great and small in the form of found object and art historical reference continue, but in a more intimate way as they are explored in direct collaboration with the living body. These presences manifest in many forms that range from the personal, to societal, and the geological, whether it be using recycled heirloom silver, to inset ancient roman coins, to timeless, precious gems and fossils. The goal of the works at surface level seems to be simple: to dazzle and to awe. However, as always in my work, the jewelry also seeks an alternative and more complicated effect, to boost the confidence and self-love we all have within, while at the same time reminding ourselves of the small but precious place every individual occupies in the history of our planet.”

Anthony Sonnenberg’s Artist Statement for I’m Gonna Dance the Way I Feel
Another view of Sonnenberg’s Orchid Cloud necklace with Rainbow Central Piece; Sterling Silver, over thirty different varieties of precious and semi-precious stones.

Future Heirloom: As jewelry is a somewhat recent development in your practice, can you share how you first started
making jewelry?
Anthony Sonnenberg: I started making jewelry as a way of moving forward in a less than perfect situation. About nine years ago, I had just graduated with my MFA, was bouncing unsuccessfully from job to job, had very little money and only had a table in one room of my two room apartment to work from. I had a lot of random beads and bits of metal that I had squirreled away from different projects in grad school (adornment as a concept has been a part of my practice, pretty much from the beginning) and a basic knowledge of low temperature soldering that I had taught myself and which I knew I could source materials from any major home improvement store. Considering all the elements aligning in this moment, jewelry seemed like a no brainer. That is how the proto-bronze flow pieces started.

At the same time, I also returned back to the metal flower making technique which I had also been self-teaching and developing for about five years before. Funnily enough, that part of the practice started in a previous similar situation that I had found myself in after graduating from undergrad. From about 2013-2014, I focused on making jewelry pretty heavily with somewhat mediocre success. I was so limited in access to materials, equipment and space, and there was only so far that I could go. However, this is when the ball definitely started rolling, I knew I was excited about jewelry, I knew it was sort of possible, but I had to put it on the back burner for a while.  The ceramic, sculpture and performance side in my career started getting traction and I put jewelry on hold for a time.

Fast forward to two years ago, I’ve got a career going as a fine artist, I’m in my first teaching job with an actual salary and I buy some sheet silver for the first time. I then discovered that the soldering method I’ve been using for almost a decade works with silver, something that I assumed for many years and for no real reason would not be possible. Along with that many of the road blocks that had cut my previous adventure in jewelry short were now gone and jewelry making has been at the forefront of my mind since then.

FH: What excites you about making jewelry?
AS: The difficulty in this question is of course in where to start. I think it’s best to begin with that which is hardest to put into words. The challenge to mix precision of engineering with a direct formal exploration of the timeless question: what makes something beautiful, that is at the core of jewelry making, can at times obsess me. Once an idea or series of objects align, I can feel the need to make a new piece coming on like a fever. I then have to fight to clear out my schedule to make the time I need to sit down and bring the thing out of my head into the world. In a weird way, it feels like the most primal of all the different modes of my practice. 

The other quality of jewelry making that keeps me excited about it is the apparent, at least from my perspective, underdog status of jewelry in the larger art world. While previous underdogs like ceramics and textiles have been suddenly discovered like manna in the desert over the last decade and a half, the art world still doesn’t seem to know what to do with jewelry with a concept behind it. I know there are certainly many exceptions to my observation, but I have not found much disagreement when discussing this idea with other metal workers. However, the thing about being an underdog is that it leaves the door open for anything to be possible. The stakes are low and since jewelry has been around as long as humans have, there is an endless ocean of past masterpieces to draw and learn from. From my viewpoint as a maker and creative person, sometimes the most fertile creative fields are the ones that no one is looking at.  If historical precedent is to be believed then it is clear that jewelry with purpose will have its day in the spotlight again soon enough, I only hope I’ve caught the train before it leaves the station.

FH: What’s next for your jewelry practice, or your practice overall? Do you have any plans for new jewelry projects that you’re particularly excited about?
AS: The short answer to this question is to keep learning and challenging myself. Right now, I’m in that wonderful stage where it feels like I learn something new and reach a new level with every piece. I want to keep that fire going. I have so much to learn, but I think at the forefront would be adding skills like enameling, engraving, and electroplating into the mix. 
Once again I am, like most makers, faced with the problem of access to essential equipment, as I am not being current attached to any institution with a metals program,  but also feeling lucky to be learning in a time when digital spaces like youtube allow free access to so much practical knowledge that was not there when I first started.

Silver Flow Bracelet (Rainbow with clovers) Sterling Silver, amethyst, citrine, opals, coral, moon stone, turquoise, carnelian, garnet, chrysocolla, rhodochrosite (Top Left) and Double Tier Chandelier (Fabulous Faggot Fantasy); Porcelain over stoneware and found ceramic tchotchkes, glaze, steel, brass, electric lights, 27L x 27w x 40h inches (Top Right and Bottom).

FH: What does The Power of Jewelry mean to you?
AS: It would be fair to say that I come mainly from a ceramics background, and in that background there is a lot of  talk of the potential for intimacy. The way that a ceramic vessel can fit into the domestic sphere and interact with our bodies in ways that are not always glamorous but can yield powerfully meaningful connections between person and object that are essential to life in a way that the more grand arenas of the art world can never really match. Now, while I do think all this is true, I think it is actually much more true for jewelry. 

“What could be more intimate than a necklace or ring that a person wears for their whole life?
History is full of stories of people willing to risk their life in the most unimaginable horrific situations to save a piece of jewelry with no real monetary value but of extreme emotional importance.  A piece of jewelry can speak to the wealth of a nation, the love of a lifetime or be a statement about how you see the world. 

The idea that something so small, and in a sense everyday, can have such an impact is to my mind the essence of what it means to be powerful.”

Anthony Sonnenberg on The Power of Jewelry

FH: Finally, how can our readers best support your work?
AS: I would like to start by thanking you for the generosity of this question, I can’t remember the time someone asked me this. 
This is basic but important to state: the easiest and most direct way to support me (or any artist for that matter) is to buy my work. I always say that every piece I sell means another one is able to get made and my ultimate consistent goal in life is to just keep making.

Beyond that, I am looking for help in finding my place within the jewelry community. So if there are any interested and willing curators, educators, or jewelry historians that would be interested in a studio visit with me, virtual or otherwise, I would really appreciate the opportunity to gain some outside perspective. As a maker, whatever your perspective is, it’s bound to have a blind spot or two. Finding these through critique or conversation is an essential element to the fine tuning of a practice and undoubtedly an important next step for me to embark on. 

Anthony Sonnenberg: I’m Gonna Dance The Way I Feel is on view at Mindy Solomon Gallery in Miami, Florida from October 23 – November 25, 2021. You can view the exhibition on Mindy Solomon’s website here.
You can find more of Anthony Sonnenberg’s work on his website, and follow him on Instagram @anthonysonnenberg.

More About Anthony Sonnenberg
Born in 1986 in Graham, TX, Anthony Sonnenberg earned a BA with an emphasis in Italian and Art History in 2009 and an MFA in Sculpture from the University of Washington, Seattle in 2012. Notable exhibitions include; State of the Art II, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR (2020); the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, TX (2019); The Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, MA (2019); the Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles, CA (2018); the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont, TX (2018); Lawndale Art Center, Houston TX (2015); The Old Jail Art Center, Albany TX (2013); the Texas Biennial (2011 & 2013); Old Post Office Museum and Art Center, Graham, TX (2012); Colab Projects, Austin, TX (2012) and the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA (2011). Mr. Sonnenberg lives in Fayetteville AR and Conway AR, where he is currently the inaugural Artist in Residence at the Windgate Museum of Art at Hendrix College.

Our sincere thanks to Anthony Sonnenberg and Mindy Solomon Gallery for this feature. Interview responses and artist statement by Anthony Sonnenberg. Images courtesy of Anthony Sonnenberg for Mindy Solomon Gallery exhibition, I’m Gonna Dance The Way I Feel. Interview conducted and feature edited, compiled, and formatted by Future Heirloom Editor Jackie Andrews.