Kendall Reiss, a member of the Bristol Art Museum’s Board of Directors, artist and owner of Kendall Reiss Gallery & Studio, was selected as one of only two artists in the United States for the Tincal Lab Challenge 2021: Jewelry in Nature exhibit. The show, which opened in a contemporary gallery in Porto, Portugal, in November, questions “the action of humankind and appeal to sustainability and ecological awareness” through a reflection “on the current situation and human vulnerability to natural causes greater than us,” according to the exhibit’s organizers.
Porto is the second-most populated city in Portugal and a design-centric area that inspired Reiss’ work during a 2019 trip there, specifically, FUTURO, an initiative to plant 100,000 trees in the city following systemic deforestation of the city. The FUTURO project complements a local initiative established by Reiss titled, Being With Trees. The Being With Trees initiative focuses upon a 230-year-old tulip tree in downtown Bristol that acknowledges this particular tree as a witness to history. The tree has witnessed the inhumanity of slavery (when it was legal in New England), climate change, and other events of historical significance. Reiss received a Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Individual Artist Grant to support the publication of a free artist book that will be installed in spring 2022 beside the tulip tree located near Hope and State Streets in Bristol.
“How do we engage with the landscape and recognize the history and what we can learn from this occurrence?” pondered Reiss. “These trees have witnessed some of the greatest atrocities in history as well as several hurricanes and shifts in the earth’s climate. There is much to be said in archival collections or the natural elements in our landscape, and it is important to take a moment to pause and reflect upon such.”
Reiss drew from the Being With Trees initiative in creating her original jewelry accepted for the Porto exhibit.
Using a process called cyanotype, a photographic technique used in the 1800s to create blue images developed using light from the sun, Reiss created a series of photographic prints featuring three species of plants indigenous to Porto. These species possess particular medical and healing properties. Portions of the three 5" X 7" photos were removed and embedded into a series of three silver rings. Each ring features a quartz rock crystal lens that magnifies the embedded botanical image. The collection of cyanotype rings seeks to evoke the healing elements of nature and how humankind is destroying such gifts to its peril.
“Jewelry, especially contemporary jewelry is not always wearable,” explains Reiss. “This was an interesting connection to thinking about medicine and its connection to the natural world. These materials from nature have been used as a form of healing over time are a metaphor for the necessary healing that needs to occur relative to COVID-19. Complementing the Being With Trees initiative, the pieces are also a metaphor for healing our planet and nature, which have been devastated over time.”
Reiss focuses on two separate yet parallel modes of inquiry: the design and fabrication of contemporary jewelry alongside material experiments, which result in sculptural objects and time-based installations. Her B.A. in Geology provides the artist with the visual training and hands-on approach she now uses in her work. After studying at several prominent institutions, including the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Reiss returned to school to combine her fascination with the natural world with the study of jewelry. In 2011, she received an MFA in Jewelry + Metalsmithing from the Rhode Island School of Design.
She has exhibited at the Clark Gallery, Greenville Center for Creative Arts, Bristol Art Museum, and Haskell Public Gardens. Kendall is also an independent curator and has worked independently and collaboratively on curatorial projects on the East and West Coasts at Brooklyn Metal Works, The Hotel Wilshire, Velvet da Vinci, and Alloy Gallery. Reiss also initiated and moderated a Social Club panel discussion in collaboration with Current Obsession magazine to correspond with the opening of Past is Present: Revival Jewelry at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Reiss has taught throughout New England, including at the Rhode Island School of Design and Fuller Craft Museum. She is currently a Professor of the Practice at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston, MA, where she teaches in the 3D & Sculpture Area and co-directs the Senior Thesis Program.