Almost every day, people wear jewelry of some kind or another, without much consideration to the actual art form of creating jewelry.
Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM)’s new exhibit, “Ron Ho: A Jeweler’s Tale,” shows the life’s work of the renowned Northwest jeweler.
While Ho’s work is not one’s typical, wearable jewelry, his necklaces use found-object pieces and materials enriched by cultural associations. It is said that his work reflects his search for a cultural sphere from areas as far as China, Thailand, Nepal and Afghanistan.
Co-curated by Benedict Heywood and Nancy Loorem Adams, vice president and museum liaison of Northwest designer craftsmen, as well as a colleague and a friend of Ron Ho, the exhibit highlights many of Ho’s works and offers a glimpse into what made him an artist, educator, friend and creator of some of the most highly sought after contemporary jewelry in the Northwest and beyond.
Building off of Ho’s 2006 retrospective at BAM and the recent Northwest Designer Craftsmen Living Treasures film “Ron Ho: Becoming Chinese, A Jeweler’s Tale,” the exhibition highlights selected works from Ho’s decades-long career, and artifacts from his personal collection are displayed alongside drawings and notes that illuminate his creative process.
In regard to bringing the exhibit to BAM, Adams said she wanted to show people Ho’s “beautiful soul.”
“I didn’t just want to show his work, I wanted to show others who he was,” she said. “He had a beautiful life and a beautiful soul, and that’s what we selected the pieces on.”
Before Ho became a jeweler, he thought he would be a painter — that is until he met jewelry artist Ramona Solberg at the University of Washington when he was finishing his master’s degree in art in the early 1960s. Through Solberg’s introductory class, Ho began using found objects in his jewelry. Ho’s first successful necklace “All Fall Down,” was a gift to Solberg.
A selection of Ho’s greatest necklaces are part of the exhibit, including the last necklace he made — completed after his death in 2017.
His last necklace, “Orchid Dragon Galaxy,” was completed by his friend Nadine Kariya.
“A week before he passed away, Ron was thinking about his client, and he asked me to finish the necklace. He also gave me a simple sketch with long leaves on each side,” Kariya said in the necklace’s description. “He wanted me to add a porcelain butterfly and the client’s 17 diamonds. I could only work in my own style, but hopefully Ron understood this and would forgive me.”
Aside from Ho’s jewelry, the exhibit displays his reassembled studio as well as his treasured possessions he collected from around the world.
“He loved musicals, you know, the old MGM ones,” Adams said. “He would work all night in his studio and have them play in the background.”
“Ron Ho: A Jeweler’s Tale,” opened May 10 and will be at BAM until Sept. 15.
“He was such an elegant man,” Adams said. “He had the best laugh and enjoyed life. His spirit was so beautiful.”