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A Most Noble Pursuit

aeLocal metal arts community breathes new life into ancient craft

The 100-plus members who comprise the Monterey Bay Metal Arts Guild (MBMAG) share a deep love and appreciation of the metal arts in its various forms, and are dedicated to helping this ancient craft thrive in the modern, technological world.

“One of the nicest benefits of belonging to the guild is that you are surrounded by mentors who are already very skilled and willing to share techniques, resources, and help you with problem-solving,” says Toni Danzig, MBMAG vice president. “I have seldom been in a group that is as sharing as these people are.”

The guild, which was formed 15 years ago, offers numerous opportunities for people to explore a new creative outlet, regardless of their age or profession. MBMAG’s mission statement reads: “The art and craft of fine metalworking is an ancient and noble pursuit. It is the mission of the [MBMAG] to celebrate that art through public education, exhibitions and workshops.”

Dawn Nakanishi does just that as the head of the Small Scale Metals and Jewelry Area at Cabrillo College. Nakanishi has taught at various Bay Area institutions since 1981 and has owned her own jewelry studio since 1975. She received her first metalwork commission in high school, and has been experimenting with the medium ever since. But finding a balance between creating her own metalwork and teaching can be tricky.

“I try to do [metalwork] during my winter and summer breaks because the teaching I do is so all-encompassing for me that it’s frustrating and futile for me to try to be creative because I’m constantly thinking of creative ways to present material to my students,” Nakanishi laughs. “But it’s very freeing. That’s the beauty of art—it’s creative and it’s all about doing something yourself.”

While Nakanishi has been working with metal most of her life, the art form is still a relatively new hobby for people like Danzig. Her four-year journey into the field of metalwork began after entering retirement. While she admits it’s been a challenge at times, it’s also a rewarding one.

ae2The MAH is hosting a metal arts exhibit featuring a vast collection of locally made creations.“I’m more of a field biologist person, a nuts-and-bolts person, so going from the right side of the brain to the left side is very difficult sometimes,” Danzig laughs. “It’s a retraining process and it’s not been an easy one. It’s been very strange and new, and has been a lot of hard work. But that’s the pleasure of it, actually.”

MBMAG’s current exhibition at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, titled “Mind, Heart, Hand: From the Metal Artist’s Studio,” features metalwork ranging from delicate jewelry to large sculptures; techniques like fabrication, etching, chase and repoussé, and mokume ganne; and the list of artists includes everyone from students to internationally renowned artists like Jerry Blanchard, Albion Smith and Lynda Watson. The collection, on display now through Feb. 2, 2014, was born out of an invitation to MBMAG members to think about what inspires them to create.

“I am always intrigued by an artist’s creative process, and that was why putting this challenge to our guild was so exciting to me,” says Danzig. “It was great to have everyone do [some] introspection as to where their own creative process takes them, what kind of journey it takes them on, and all the pieces in this exhibit really reflect that introspection.”

That willingness to not only create, but to also do so intentionally, is something that drives people like Danzig, Nakanishi and others in the MBMAG. Each project has boundless potential—from determining what the piece will look like to practicing a certain technique.

And as much as the creative process means something different to each member, Nakanishi captures the spirit of the guild when she explains why teaching metalwork is just as important as creating. “It is great to be an instigator of something that is really meaningful to people,” she says. 


The “Mind, Heart, Hand: From the Metal Artist’s Studio” exhibit is on display now through Feb. 2, 2014, at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz. For more information, call 429-1964. For more info about the Monterey Bay Metal Arts Guild, visit mbmag.org.

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