Rachel’s Eye on Design: Caned Cuff Bracelet

Sarah Shriver, Kaleidoscope Caned Bracelet, 2000The appeal of a kaleidoscope is its capacity to offer a constantly changing view from the same set of components.  For Sarah Shriver, the possibility of perpetual change from a single starting point suggests an inspiration for her intricate compositions.  In her elasticized cuff bracelet, one’s initial sense is of an amalgamation of coordinated, but disparate parts.  With multiple patterns and two differently scaled sets of tiles, it would be easy to lose focus.  So, how does she make it all work together so well?

Sarah’s ornamental use of pattern and color is likely to be the first thing one notices.  The limited color scheme of predominately green and a rusty orange-red hue is expanded with black, cream, and ochre accents.  These colors, alone or in blends, are the foundation of her group of inter-related canes.  A boldly striped border defines the lozenge-shaped pieces, which have a  mirror-image pattern emanating from the mid point.  The brighter value of the creamy center immediately draws in the eye.  A short, horizontal band of green delineates a center line as well as marking an imaginary circumference.  Green and ochre brackets positioned on either end of the horizontal green band keep your eye within the form.  These brackets also help to direct attention to the undefined dark shapes floating within the variegated cream-to-rust field.  Above and below this central design are rust-to-ochre fronds that continue to direct the eye outwards from the center.  The pairs of small triangles, comprised of various greens, recede as a cooler color note relative to the warmth of the rust tones.  However, within each triangular tile there is a hot spot of rust toward the outer edge which helps them to “pop” just enough to attract interest along side the larger lozenges.

Sarah’s intricately caned patterns and her use of color are harmonious, but they also complement the formal structure of the bracelet.  Although the eye is drawn to the decorative surface, the design of this bracelet provides much of its stylistic continuity and cohesiveness.  Intuitively, we understand a bracelet to be a rounded construction.  Here, the symmetry and repetition quickly establish a sense that the pieces will encircle the wrist.  Against this horizontal movement, the lozenge shapes move the eye up and out.  By opposing the horizontal with the vertical, Sarah created a more engaging and decorative exterior contour, than had the pieces been evenly aligned.  The twisted stripe border of each lozenge delineates its shape, while the black dot highlighting each end point halts any further expansion out from the center.  Pairs of small triangles complement the lozenge shapes by inverting their pointy end.  These small triangles also suggest two parallel horizontal bands that circle the wrist, once again reinforcing a sense of continuity and roundness. 

Whether Sarah started with the inter-related forms or the series of caned patterns is irrelevant since all aspects of this bracelet design work so successfully together.  Tension between the vertical and horizontal elements of both form and surface pattern helps to impart energy and a variable rhythm to the whole, while maintaining its symmetry and round shape.  The rust colored back of each tile is a lively decorative detail, although it does not affect the look of the bracelet as it is worn.  Sarah’s attention to craftsmanship and finishing completes the impression of a finely constructed work.  Each component has a polished smooth surface both inside and out.  And so after close examination, it is easy to see why Sarah’s bracelet represents a masterful combination of ornamental pattern and formal structure, that is as engaging of the eye as it is appealing to the hand. 

I cannot remember a time in my life that I wasn't interested in looking at art, talking about art and the making of art. In 1990 I earned a Phd in art history at the University of Maryland. My first experiences with polymer clay were in 1992, but I consider my real work with the medium to date from 1999.