This coming weekend we welcome our favorite Mainer, Cat Bates, to the Oakland shop! To create his nautical- and nature-inspired designs Cat takes iconic items, like a found seagull bone or the functional oarlock of a boat, and distills them down to their most elemental forms before sand-casting in bronze. I was able to chat with Cat this week, asking him to elaborate on his process and inspirations. We are so excited to host Cat and his full line of unique, unisex adornments this weekend!
CAT BATES TRUNK SHOW
Saturday, March 2nd, 11am-6pm
482 A 49th St.
510 629 6216
Alexis: Your pieces are designed to be worn constantly, never taken off by the wearer. Over time, the patina will change, the metal will be worn smooth, the color of the fibers will fade and change. You consider this evolutionary process to be an integral part of your pieces, can you elaborate on that?
Cat: I think that this ties most directly to my love for utilitarian hardware, be it marine, equestrian, or what have you. These kinds of objects can be quite attractive when new, but so often in my experience it is the antique or salvaged examples that really tug at my heartstrings. I find beauty in the rich patinas and how they respond to the different surface textures, which have been influenced by the way the piece has been used. These visual and tactile responses lead me to questions like “what has this object survived?” “what has it seen?” “who designed it?”, and a personal favorite “what was it designed for? Why is it like this, and not some other way?”. Much of the attractiveness of utilitarian hardware is related to the adage ‘form follows function’. For me, the foremost function of jewelry is to be wearable. I want to feel a meaningful connection to the jewelry that I wear, and I find my relationship with jewelry tends to grow deeper the more I wear the piece. This is emotional, in that the piece of jewelry has literally been there with me through good times and bad, and aesthetic; a bracelet worn by a metalsmith is going to change in different ways than a bracelet worn by a barista, as our jewelry bangs against different things over the course of our days. As I wear a piece of jewelry it starts to become a part of the way that I perceive myself, like a tattoo. The more experiences I share with a piece of jewelry the richer my relationship with it becomes. Over time, as I change and grow, the jewelry does as well in response. Different people enjoy jewelry in different ways of course. I design my jewelry to be suitable for constant wear, as you mention, so that if they choose the wearer can share an array of experiences with it . Not every piece fits into the 24/7 wearability category (don’t wear your Lodestone Bracelet in the shower), but in general that is the goal.
A: Last time you were in our shops you demonstrated the weaving process that you use to make your hand-braided cords, using a kumihimo loom (which was super cool to watch). What makes this process special to you; why did you choose to incorporate it into your designs?
C: I should start off by saying that I have been knotting and braiding since I was a young child. Cordage has always been a cherished medium to me, and it is still an integral element of most of my bracelets and all of my necklaces. When I was first studying knotting I loved how explicit rope seemed as a medium; it is a line of material with a consistent diameter, which can be twisted and looped to create knots that are functional, decorative, or both. As I became more adept at knotting my relationship with rope (or string, twine, thread, etc.) has broadened. I started experimenting with breaking rope down into its component strands and fibers, learning to create changes in diameter and more involved knots and splices. As I got into hand braiding even more possibilities opened up. Not only can I better control the diameter of the finished cord, I can also control the tension, the nature of the individual yarns, and make transitions in the structure of the braid itself. Controlling the tension of the yarns within the braid makes the splices I use to attach clasps and create the continuous loops of Pelican Clip cords possible. Controlling the nature of the individual yarns means I can dye and wax the yarns before braiding them up, leading to different textures and colors than are commercially possible. Making transitions in the structure of the braid allows me to design a cord to serve a hyper-specific function as opposed to adapting a commercially available cord. The new Soft Shackle bracelets I’ll have at the trunk show in Oakland are a perfect example of this; I’m braiding them as a single length, transitioning between 4 different braids over that length to create the final piece. Doing it this way saves time and maximizes the functionality and durability of the design. At a distance, few observers are going to be able to pick out a hand braided cord from one that was machine braided and then dyed and waxed. The wearer knows though, and I like to think this can bring intimacy to their relationship with the piece; it is for them, like an inscription on the inside of a wedding band.
A: Your surroundings and upbringing in the wilds of Maine are obviously super influential on your work. Can you talk a bit about how you distill these natural influences into your pieces? What else are you considering when creating a new design?
C: Yeah, I got really lucky in that regard. I spent my early childhood on Monhegan Island. We moved in-shore to southern/central Maine for the winters as I was starting grade school but continued to spend summers on the island right up until middle school. As much as the natural beauty of Maine influences my visual vocabulary (for instance I carved the master for Seagull Bone necklace directly referencing a seagull bone that I found while climbing around on the back side of Monhegan), the tools and infrastructure humans have developed to survive on the ocean influence my design sensibility. I’m talking about marine hardware (which we touched on earlier), docks, breakwaters, mooring buoys, lobster cars, etc. These things are generally designed to be tough and compact. I want my jewelry to function in a similar way, for similar reasons. I want it to be tough enough to withstand regular wear in a variety of environments, and compact so that it is unlikely to dig into the wearer uncomfortably or get snagged on things. I am also inspired by the detritus that washes up on the shore; bits of wrecked boats, mangled lobster traps, chunks of radiators or car motors, rusted chain, etc. Components of objects are often the most exciting, soaked in the mystery of their undefined purpose. In designing understated jewelry which implies a prior purpose, by visually (and functionally) speaking to the utilitarian, I am essentially creating my own ‘found objects’. In doing so my hope is to bring that same sense of mystery to my work.