We had the pleasure of visiting Lucy Derickson in her studio this week. Lucy is currently a second year graduate student in VCU's Craft and Material Studies Department with a focus on metals. She is also the co-chair of the Ethical Metalsmiths Student Committee, a group dedicated to giving students a voice in the conversation of contemporary metalsmithing.
MS - Could you talk about the Ethical Metalsmith Student Committee?
LD - It is this larger non-profit organization and we just started the committee last year. Our focus is on the student connection and how can we teach students and get them to be more involved, or communicate to us what is it that they are doing that is working ethically that maybe they aren't even thinking about in the first place. Last year we hosted our first annual Ethical Metalsmiths Student Exhibition , it was a big hit and we have an online exhibition for it.
MS - Are undergraduate and graduate students working together on this committee?
LD - It’s open to any student to be apart of it and our committee is mostly just grad students. Its been a really amazing thing. We’re supported by the Greater Organization, and even in the first year we’ve gotten so much momentum and support from them. It’s one of the major things that I’m going to take away from this graduate experience.
MS - Do you find yourself shaping the way you operate within your studio space more now that you’re apart of EM or was it something that you were already conscious about prior to EM?
LD - It’s always something that’s been on my mind, just because of contemporary culture and waste. I feel like in general, there is a lot of excess in waste and issues of making in the world of art. And it’s an important thing to keep on your mind all of the time and if there is an alternative way to do something, to do it. But if you don't even know that that alternative way exist , you have no choice of being able to do it. First thinking about it, and considering your processes in such a way, like is this the only way to get this done? or is it that important in my finished piece that this process is included if its actually really bad for the environment? So it’s not necessarily that you need to change your entire practice, but how can you look at your practice through this lens of ethical making? It has affected me; I don't know if I'm making completely different work because of it, but I’m definitely thinking about that. If I didn't come here or if i wasn't a part of this committee, would I be making the same work? Its impossible to know, but I'm certainly thinking about my work consciously as I make it now. Though its not one hundred percent sustainable in any way; I still use all sorts of bad materials but I try to use them as little as possible.
MS - Does the majority of your work first start as an existing metal piece that you transform to make your own?
LD - Yeah that’s one main thing that I’ve latched on to. Instead of requiring new mining for materials, I try to use materials that are already existing and that has turned into pewter. Pewter is a cool material and its not always a part of metalsmithing programs. It’s kind of a funny material because it can contaminate other precious metals so it has to be quarantined into its own little area. A lot of metals studios don't feel they necessarily need to have it, but I love it. So i just have this huge collection of all this pewter stuff.
MS - Where do you find your materials?
LD - I get them from antique shops, or sometimes thrift stores. It takes a lot of time to go through antique shops over and over, and I’ve been to a lot of them in town here. I really enjoy the connection to serviceware, and serviceware being this object that mediates communication, or starts communication in this scenario, and the reinterpreting that and these new objects that communicate but also negate communication at the same time.
MS - Has your work changed since entering the VCU graduate program? What did you make in undergraduate compared to now?
LD - In undergrad, I did a lot of goblet style vessels, and my theme with that was always about objects. It’s funny because there’s a very similar theme, and if you step back you can see this common thread thats been happening the whole time but I didn’t notice it until recently. The goblets I made in undergrad generally revolved around an awareness of using an object or how that object has some kind of connection to another person. I had a series of five that were connected by latex tubing so if you are engaged with this object then you are engaged with these people and you have to be until the session is over. You’re there and you’re stuck. Or other things where I would recreate a stem so that you’re forced to go back to a specific place or the vessel has a hole and you’re suppose to go together in this hole. Or trickery - I did a series about a vessel that hits your on the head when you drink from it.
Serviceware has been a big thing in the world of metalsmithing - I don’t really do jewelry much at all. I’m way more interested in the objects that you can make with metal. It’s funny - even when I tried jewelry I had a tendency to fail at it. Like I can’t make a brooch, you know? No one would wear that! I love the world of it, but it hasn’t come into my world.
But serviceware and functional/nonfunctional objects has been the common thread specifically that have to do with connecting to other people or how objects help people connect or perhaps prevent that connection. I’ve been thinking a lot about modern communication through telephones and texting and how it’s taking the person out of the communication and how being in a relationship has to do with being vulnerable and how putting that block between people protects us from that vulnerability and how that changes how we interact with people after we’ve practiced not being vulnerable for so long. So I’m interested in that and I’m just starting to dip my toes in there but I don’t know what it’s going to turn into just yet.
For my most recent project, I made these really tiny vessels. It’s this object that is generally used to begin a conversation or be at least instigating it and then I smashed them in the hydraulic press and inside these objects is a handwritten letter. I wrote heartfelt letters that talk about my relationship about a specific person and in crit I gave one to everybody. I was trying to be vulnerable, but I definitely wanted to be protected at the same time so I encased them in the pewter to make a parallel connection between the texting of an iPhone. And then I have their initials on the back so that they knew it was personal to them. It was an exciting conversation.
MS - I smell it!
LD - Yeah! And something that’s also really fun about this stuff - I put a patina on there, so as you hold it in your hand, it leaves a mark.
MS - There’s something about the size and weight of it that makes you want to keep it there.
LD - Yeah like a worry stone! One benefit to using pewter is that it melts at a really low temperature so I can solder these things together knowing the letter inside isn't getting damaged. I just love pewter. It’s so approachable, you don’t pickle it, it melts at like 400 or so degrees so you only use the tiniest torch tip to melt stuff. You just wash it in the sink with soap, so it is a little more ethical that way because I don’t need to use these chemicals to clean it. But I do use chemicals to patina, I’m not chemical free. I wish I was, but I like that I don’t have to pickle it so that’s one thing I can check off the list.
MS - Do you plan on staying in Richmond after you graduate?
LD - I’m not planning it. I’m kind of up to do whatever to be honest. I would actually love to move to the west coast, to like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, or any of those beautiful, wonderful places. I live with my boyfriend here and he does web development and works from home, so we have some flexibility in what we can do. But I would really love to teach at a university and run a metals program. I’m going to look for places I’m interested in living first and take it from there.
I just did this project recently - these are all devices for a first date. Like this is something you put on your toe to play footsies. And something to smell your lover, to hear them, to listen to them. This is to go on someones lap. It’s almost a nod to history and etiquette but it’s also asking, will we eventually prefer to be removed from people just like we are through our communication? So this is the physical manifestation of that removal.
Thanks so much for letting us stop by, Lucy! Be sure to check out her pieces below that are currently being showcased in our exhibition, Here, In This Place. You can also see more of Lucy's work on her site.