William Harper received his BS and MS degrees from Western Reserve University in Cleveland. His work has been shown in solo gallery exhibitions from New York City to Trondheim, Norway. His jewelry was prominently featured in the recent book "One of a Kind: American Art Jewelry Today" by Susan Grant Lewin. His work is in the collections of the American Craft Museum, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Harper is also represented in the Vatican Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
I cannot underestimate the role that migraine headaches play in the conception of some of my best work. I suffer migraines quite frequently, but during the recovery period, which is wretchedly painful, I think and conceptualize very clearly, and have often been inspired during these times with some of my deepest ideas for my work.
Ask the Artist
Where do you get the ideas for your work?
- I essentially get my ideas from anything and everything around me - especially music and color, myths and the history of art, cyclical changes and odors. I have a tendency to work in series, so as one piece progresses within a theme, the next ones suggest themselves. Sometimes other artists have inspired me to do homages to their work - Jasper Johns or Cy Twombly or Fabergé, recently, or the choreographic movement of Twyla Tharp! My work is becoming increasingly autobiographical - a long series of self-portraits in which I assume metaphorical roles related to Art, personal health, religion. Dichotomy and opposites - male/female - dark/light - beautiful/ugly - wit/cynicism - are usually apparent to these to take the time to decipher my iconography.
As a final note, I cannot underestimate the role that migraine headaches play in the conception of some of my best work. I suffer migraines quite frequently, but during the recovery period, which is wretchedly painful, I think and conceptualize very clearly, and have often been inspired during these times with some of my deepest ideas for my work.
Do you work alone on your craft, or with others?
- I work along and am responsible for at least 95% of my work. I am blind in my left eye, and have no depth perception, so certain very intricate soldering operations are too difficult and tedious for me to see well enough to do properly - for these, I have help from another jeweler, a former student who knows how I want things to be.
Do you ever teach, or take on apprentices?
What's the most exciting part of creating your works?
- The most exciting part of my work is conceiving it, making it, seeing it come to completion and surpass my original intentions.
What's the most difficult part of creating your works?
- The most difficult part of my work is during that part of the making process where I hit a wall - either technically or conceptually - and have to resort to "creative problem solving." I do no preparatory sketches or drawings for my work - "I see it in my mind" - its essence. I am constantly making changes in the pieces as they develop. When things go wrong or are not aesthetically right, I must make decisions about how to save the work - this period is exasperating, but extremely important and often some of my most inspired work is done at this point!
What sort of technology do you use in your work? Has the technology of your craft changed dramatically over the past 100 years?
- I am a very low tech craftsman. My most important tool is my mind, and the ability to change it.
The only changes that I can see in the past 100 years is the availability of electricity, and how that has changed kilns, power tools, etc., for ease of working. Also the quick availability of raw materials - from refined metals to hundreds of enamel colors to expertly crafted tools make doing this kind of work so much easier that it was for artists/craftsmen of the past. It makes their work all the more inspiring.
Do you have any advice for somebody just starting out?
- To anyone starting out in any art form, I suggest becoming as much of a Renaissance person as your intellect allows. Do not waste your youth and your education. The art of any time that will last is that which is most grounded in intellectual depth, not in just the craft of making it. Read, look, observe, listen, experience deeply, and assimilate everything through your own individual personality filter. Only then is the craft of working able to transcend to ART.
Can you share a "secret of the trade" with us--something nobody else knows or that you found out only after years of experience? Put another way--what do you wish somebody had told you when you were just starting out that might have saved you hours of wasted effort?
- It is only the so called "hours of wasted effort" that are truly important in terms of forging a personal viewpoint - they are part of the maturation process of creative thinking - to avoid them usually makes one an imitator and not a true visionary!
What are we missing by experiencing your work through the Internet and not seeing/hearing/feeling/smelling/touching it in person?
- Is a picture of food equivalent to eating? Are slides of a foreign place like really being there? Is reading a romance novel as exciting as being in love?