We had the good fortune of connecting with Elaine Unzicker and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elaine, why did you pursue a creative career?
As a child, I was taught to be quiet and not express myself. Intuition led me to study the arts; I find my voice when I create art. From my farm bred parents’ perspective, this was a totally unexpected goal. A business career path would have been more suitable. But, the quilting history in my family drew me to working with my hands where I finally settled on metal as a medium. And, once, the mockup of a nickel headpiece frightened me so much I hid it in the closet from my professor and myself until I was ready for it to be seen. Funny, that a visiting artist I showed it to, said, “It couldn’t be made.” An armor inspired piece, the headpiece, went on to be exhibited at the Schmuckmuseum (Jewelry Museum) in Pforzheim, Germany.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Chain mail is an original material to use in wearable art as it is associated with war. Looking closely though, you can see the web of interlocking metal rings which represent our connection and dependence upon each other. Each ring interlocks with four others which gives movement to the whole. “Knitted” with thin metal wire and small rings this drapey material becomes extremely soft and caresses the female body. When a woman wears the transparent veil of chain mail, it invokes a sense of security and a feeling of empowerment. It represents a personal ceremony taken on for a specific event. My fashion is a merging of art and history in an intimate setting.
My artwork is also sustainable. Scraps of tiny cut rings of stainless mesh are collected and recycled. The tiniest scraps are turned into earrings or parts on wearable items. Nothing is wasted. And, if I decide an older piece should be altered or changed, I can cut it up and begin anew. Stainless can be washed by hand and worn over and over. You’re likely to be gone before the piece is destroyed. So, it is an heirloom to be passed down to others. And, many of my clients have taken to hanging their wearable art on the wall for others to view. This means the art is enjoyed beyond the wearing of it. Sometimes, the outward form of an object brings joy beyond its function. And, function is an expression of the unique individual.
“Invincible” created in 2020 is a jacket to be displayed on the wall so it has definitely crossed into the non-wearable category. But, it can be worn and I know I personally felt better each time I put it on. Somehow, the protective quality exuded by the metal surrounding my body created a sense of comfort that is difficult to fully describe. This quality, the magical feeling behind my work is why I do what I do. And, I want others to share in the experience as well.
“Legacy” is another piece strictly for the wall, only this time wearability is not a concern. It represents a quilt square and pays homage to my quilting family background. The bright colors are made of anodized aluminum chain mail creating a quilt pattern similar to one on my Grandma Louise quilts. And, those colors relate closely to the bright colors my Grandma Minnie used on her quilts. She was given scraps from graduation gowns to work with and I did want to convey the brightness her quilts have. Sometimes the object is important when creating and that’s exactly what happened in this piece.
Another aspect of my work that I’d like to share with you is that I do commissions. There’s a
rhythm in the sound of pliers dropping as I change tools and in the quiet cutting. This motion allows me to drop into a meditative state; I seem to have calm all around me as I continue the process. You’re welcome to commission me. You’ll be spreading calmness around my house as I dive into your piece. And, I love the collaboration we’ll have together because that’s what’s required. We become a team. I listen and translate and play in my studio. And, you and I are advising each other and, in a way, cheering each other on. What could be better? The latest commission was a dress for Noy. Please be sure and take a look at the photos for a closer look.
You can find my work at Freehand Gallery in Los Angeles and at the OVA Gallery in downtown Ojai. Please feel free to contact me directly for an appointment.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Craft in America connected to Freehand Gallery in Los Angeles is always a fun place to explore art. Be sure to visit The Hammer Museum as well. And, I’d recommend Kali restaurant for a delightful meal, with Chef, Kevin Meehan and Wine Director, Drew Langley as the Co-Owners you won’t be disappointed.
A trek to Ojai to spend time in the outdoor setting of Bart’s Books is always fun. Don’t forget to hike Ojai while there; Cozy Dell is one of my favorite hikes along with the variety of trails in the river bottom maintained by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The Ojai Studio Artists have provided an artist community to reach out to with concerns and questions. Their support have given me resources I wouldn’t have expected. And, the advantages of being in a group, have given me unexpected opportunities.
Certainly Dennis French deserves acknowledgement for his continued mentorship of my art career which started in day one of my graduate degree pursuit. He keeps me grounded in the creative ideas that burst forth, talking through the inner workings to bring them to life. We still talk frequently and discuss art as well as life experiences.
But, in all honesty, I could not leave out my husband who is constantly encouraging my creative pursuits and willing to help out in all phases of the business. And, my Mom who has been an avid supporter of the business which includes helping with setup and selling in the very beginning. I learned so much from her own business experience in insurance.
Deborah Lyon, Keith Helmkamp, Kelsey Hellebuyck, Kristan Altimus