[Editor’s note: For more about the workshop, see “Working Alongside a Metalsmithing Master” by Adam Couitt ’18.]
By Anthony Robles ’20
Before her presentation in the Hop Garage on Sunday, October 9, metalsmith Marilyn da Silva was described as “one of the best in her field.” After watching that presentation and hearing her discuss the work that she has dedicated her life to, I could not agree more.
Da Silva hails from Akron, Ohio, and graduated from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, where she taught for nine years after earning her MFA at Indian University. In 1987, da Silva moved to Oakland to teach at California College of the Arts, where she is program chair of the Jewelry/Metal Arts department, and has been there ever since.
Da Silva’s pieces are imbued with much symbolism, much of it relating to her own experiences in life. In her presentation, Da Silva related how she had always wanted to be an artist growing up and how that ended up shaping her work. Although soft-spoken, the passion that Da Silva has for her work was made evident as she always found the right words to describe what the pieces meant to her personally.
Multiple common motifs are repeated through da Silva’s entire body of work, the more common ones being books and birds. Da Silva noted that she spent much time researching exactly which bird she was going to use every time she started a new piece in order to ensure that she found the right fit. As an example, for a piece that she crafted in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, da Silva included a sandpiper in the piece to reflect on the oceanic nature of the disaster.
One of the most interesting pieces that da Silva showcased in her presentation was “Bird of Prey.” The piece depicted a predatory bird that had been crafted out of an old revolver. The revolver formed the bird’s body, tail and head, with da Silva attaching wings to the cylinder to complete the piece. Although it contained the bird motif that da Silva has been using for many years, the piece was unusual in its construction, completely breaking the standard she had established.
That standard process, she had explained, began with her carving the bird out of basswood and then adding the wings, which were formed from metal. She then covers the bird with gesso, which helps the wood and metal blend together, before she finally goes over the undetailed body with coloring pencils. Although “Bird of Prey” had been subjected to the coloring pencils treatment, it was still fascinating to see how da Silva had manipulated a revolver to form the majority of a piece.
However, Da Silva does not only just craft birds and books, but also more traditional jewelry, such as brooches and candle holders. All of her pieces exemplify the care and professionalism that only comes with over 40 years of hard work. And in the end, the impeccable attention to detail was what impressed me the most about her work.
Anthony Robles is a ’20 from Dallas hoping to double major in film and economics. On campus, he is a news writer for The Dartmouth, volunteers for the Upper Valley Humane Society and is excited to be an Arts Ambassador this term!