Frances Edstrom

George Sawyer, goldsmith


by Frances Edstrom

In spite of dire winter weather warnings, I drove to St. Paul last Saturday to meet daughter Cassidy for a little lunch and to visit the opening of George Sawyer's new studio.

George is a childhood friend of John's, son of Neil and Ann Sawyer of Winona. He is now a goldsmith, and is making a name for himself internationally in the art jewelry world.

His signature art jewelry involves the use of various colors of gold to create surface patterns much like the patterns that we see in the wood of fine furniture. And in the same way that a furniture maker can manipulate the natural grain of wood by using veneers and juxtaposing pieces, George carves and creates new patterns in metal.

Several years ago, I was in Minneapolis and visited George's studio, where he showed me a Japanese sword he had recently acquired. George is a very careful, deliberate person. He took the sword out of a vault, laid it carefully on the desk, and carefully unwrapped layers of material to reveal the sword, truly a beautiful piece of metalwork. I thought I had an appreciation of the art of the sword, but George began pointing out the detail and nuance, and describing how the maker had melded the metals to make the sword not only more baeautiful, but stronger. The technique used is called Mokume. George studied the methods that the Japanese swordmakers used to create patterns using iron and has translated the technique to gold and other precious metals.

At the door to George's studio, which is on the third floor of a converted warehouse, the design begins. The door is made of solid silver-colored metal, decorated with a small circular medallion adorned with a carved and molded metal design of a carp, setting the stage for the Japanese-inspired interior and for the new George Sawyer collection.

Inside the corner studio is a large area featuring a reception desk, banks of workstations where the goldsmiths make each piece of jewelry by hand, and at the far end, an area filled with big machines they use to work the metal. Natural light is afforded on two sides through enormous windows, and artificial light is trained on work and display areas.

The interior is painted a clean lettuce green, and the cabinetry is blond. For the opening, candlelight was provided by rows of votives. The effect of the design made me feel as though I were on an island in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by sand and new vegetation and washed with light, even though I could clearly see through the windows that what really surrounded me was a looming winter storm and the concrete streets of Minneapolis.

In addition to the larger space, there was what appeared to be a lunchroom, and another room filled with huge strange-looking machines, and, incongruously, it seemed, three huge tree stumps each about three feet high or so. These, we found out, are used by the person who pounds and folds the layers of various colors of gold to create the chunk from which the jewelry pieces are cut and molded.

There is a room set up as a gallery, with one wall completely of metal squares into which are set the glass cases where the one-of-a-kind pieces are displayed under a trio of Japanese swords. I can tell you that even if you don't know the Hope diamond from a hope chest, you would be fascinated by these pieces, which in one case, at least, were accompanied by the trial models executed in unpolished copper. Among the pieces also were three pieces made by George for an international jewelry exhibit held each year, with a different theme, in Germany.

The year that the theme was water is represented by a long, angular piece featuring a stylized moon in a sky over a body of water made in the Mokume technique in several colors of gold, including gray, which of course I didn't know existed. The year of the puzzle theme featured a softly rounded square of several pieces of gold held in place with tiny side pins. But our favorite was the year of the wheel, which prompted George to design a stylized motorcycle wheel with a yellow gold highly decorated fender.

George and his assistant, Jill, let us try on several pieces from his new collection, which was displayed amid a variety of Japanese foodstuffs in stark colors arranged in spare patterns "” slender uncooked noodles tied in neat bundles, tiny bowls of tapioca pearls, set on green nori sheets. As we felt the weight of the gold on our necks and ear lobes, I was thinking "Ooh, I'd really like to own this." I looked over at Cassidy, and I can't remember if she actually said it or just conveyed it with a look, but she was thinking the same thing.

We left the opening and wandered through a trendy furniture shop and then an upscale antique store, but nothing quite matched the visual treats of George Sawyer Design's new studio opening. So we climbed into the car and drove off into the gold greyness of the mid-November day.


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