LAWRENCE – The honeybee motif continues to fascinate artist Sunyoung Cheong and those who appreciate her metalwork in the form of jewelry.
She has made around 65 pieces – including new brooches, earrings and pendants — for the “MAD About Jewelry” show running Dec. 6-11 at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.
MAD’s annual curated show and sale of jewelry by the world’s most innovative contemporary jewelers was twice postponed by the pandemic, but its December opening means that Cheong, a lecturer in the University of Kansas Department of Visual Art, can attend during her semester break. She is one of about 40 artists invited to show their work.
“The reason I made so many works in the middle of this chaotic semester is that I wanted to attend this show to see the state of the art and teach my students about the current contemporary jewelry scene,” Cheong said. “This is a weeklong event focusing on contemporary jewelry, which you don’t always get to see so easily. Also, this museum is committed to present jewelry as an art form, and it is the only museum that has a dedicated gallery for contemporary jewelry.
“This could be something students could do as a studio artist in the future. Students do not always know what to do after they graduate with a BFA or MFA. They can work in some commercial areas, but if they pursue art jewelry as an independent artist, this is one of the things they can do.”
The works Cheong has entered in the show were produced using a variety of techniques, from the most modern CAD-CAM design to the most traditional lost-wax casting and Champlevé technique of applying colored enamel.
Cheong said she was inspired by the bee several years ago and continues to work on different iterations of it. For the native of Seoul, it relates to notions of home.
“I moved to Kansas about 15 years ago,” Cheong said, “and at some point, I began to wonder if Korea is my home or Kansas is my home. I wasn't sure, because I have U.S. citizenship, but still sometimes I feel I don't belong. ... I started thinking about the meaning of home, village, Kansas. And the bee is one of the ideas that I use for creating a home — like a beehive. They develop their own homes, and they work hard, and they create these communities. This all relates to human society, you know?”
The honeybee is the Kansas state insect, as Cheong learned only in 2016 when the retail coordinator for the Kansas Historical Foundation asked to carry her jewelry in its museum stores at the Kansas Museum of History and at the state Capitol in Topeka.
Cheong said the endangered status of the bee as a symbol of environmental degradation was not on her mind when she began working with it, but she now appreciates that it may inspire viewers to relate to the work.
“Maybe I can share some of my concern for the environment with others using the small jewelry pieces,” Cheong said.
Then, too, she is thinking of translating the bee motif into larger-scale pieces, inspired in part by the digital design and fabrication technology that she teaches and uses.
“With this technology, it is easy to manipulate the scale from really tiny to really large, to create whatever you want to create. So I want to explore different ways to use this technology.
“I am planning to create a larger-scale, sculptural work in the future ... perhaps using two-dimensional forms,” she said.
Image: “My home,” 2019. Brooch of sterling silver, gold and stainless steel by Sunyoung Cheong. Credit: KC Studio, Seoul, Korea.