A Design Pro Turns to Polymer

Ronnie Kirsch, Details 2, 2000
5 1/4″  x 3 1/8″ x 3 1/8″

Give Ronnie Kirsch three stones……and she’ll turn them into a meal. That’s the artistry she exhibits in her kitchen. Give her three blocks of polymer clay…..and she’ll whip them into a sumptuous feast for the eye.

So, you may be asking, how come you’ve never heard this name before as an acknowledged polymer artist or seen her images? It’s not because she lacks visibility as one of New York’s top designers.

For over twenty-five years, she’s been behind the scenes designing collections of  fine jewelry for Tiffany, Cartier and other luxury brand manufacturers. When a Hollywood actress wants to market a line of her own jewelry, or a Hip-Hop rapper wants to sell a line of “bling” with his own logo stamped into the gold, Ronnie’s business phone rings with urgent design pleas: “Can you help me?” And while she’s always ridden to the rescue, her name never appears on these pieces of precious metal jewelry; she’s always been the silent artist in the background, quietly turning out thousands of designs for earrings, rings, bracelets and necklaces that others manufacture and take the credit for.

Until now, with her polymer work, she’s been equally low-keyed. Promoting herself in public view simply hasn’t been part of her work ethic or her artistic nature — in the past. We hope that this article may bring about some type of change in that public posture. Ronnie Kirsch is a name you should know, as well as some of her history.

Ronnie Kirsch, Tribute to Louise Nevelson, 2001
5 1/8  x  3 1/4″ x  x 3 1/4″

She grew up on Long Island, New York and proclaimed herself an artist before she could even read, “after falling in love with Crayola's box of 64 crayons with the built-in sharpener.” In the 1970’s she majored in Jewelry and Metalsmithing at the Rhode Island School of Design. With degree in hand, it was off to Manhattan where she became a major force in the jewelry design industry.

After reaching the heights in one career, Ronnie decided to try new mediums in which to express her creativity. She took a class in polymer and found herself “instantly addicted.” Over the last decade she has explored various techniques including caning and mokume gane and has used the box form as a way to showcase them.

Asked if there was any relationship between her previous jewelry work and her polymer efforts, Ronnie replied, “I’ve always liked hard-edged, geometric forms, repetitive things and multiples. Clean, sharp precision edges have always appealed to me. With polymer and a tissue blade, I can have the cleanest, sharpest cuts, which to me is a beautiful feeling.”

Ronnie Kirsch, You Are What You Love, 2003
5 3/4″ x  2 1/2″ x 2 1/2″

Asked about the differences between her current polymer efforts and her previous contractual work, she said, “My new polymer creations are more whimsical, more free in design. My commercial work was done by assignment with specific parameters, whereas with polymer I feel the freedom to create.”

Ronnie tends to discount the influence of her early jewelry design experience on her current work in polymer. But one look at her boxes can reveal her credentials as a design professional. Ronnie whips a wild confluence of color, pattern and embellishment into a masterful balance of scale and proportion.

Ronnie Kirsch, Details, 2000
5″ x 2″ x 2″

In our recent interview with Ronnie, we turned to the question of recurring themes in her work and why they’re important to her. Here’s what she had to say: “Creating patterns and mixing them up with other patterns, that’s an essential look I’m after. I love mosaic work because it has the same feeling, putting things together which don’t have much to do with each other, but once assembled look great together.”

She went on to describe her intuitive work process. Unlike with her jewelry work, she does not begin with drawings.  “I begin with one piece and then add, recombine and add some more. From a side view, when I cut a cane, I have no idea what it will look like.   Then after I make the cut I go from there. It snowballs into a great pattern that normally I find both surprising and delightful.”

Ronnie Kirsch, Swivel, 2000
2 1/2″  x 4″ x 4″

Our last question for Ronnie was whether she’s had any “revelations” while working with polymer. Instantly she responded, “I learned how much I love making stuff, and that this medium is ideal for makers.”

Woody is an accomplished poet and recognized writer but his most important role is as muse to Elise