Alberta Street Gallery is home to six jewelers, all of whom create their works differently- from materials to design. For artist Mandy Allen, aluminum is her medium of choice, and before you begin imagining soda cans, think again!
Aluminum is a metal which can be transformed in a myriad of ways: from 2-dimensional framed wall decor, to 3-dimensional sculptures, to mix metal collage-like designs, as well as jewelry. Mandy’s work transforms sheets of aluminum into sculptural and jewelry forms that have a flow not unlike Art Nouveau designs.
Mandy took classes in metalworking at a high school magnet school, but her higher education moved her from Los Angeles to Humboldt State University in Northern California, to study with David LaPlantz. When she speaks of this period of her education, you can feel the excitement for aluminum art. She explains that she learned many jewelry-making techniques, not just those which focused on aluminum with LaPlantz, but she felt drawn to metals and especially colored anodized aluminum.
She has worked in this medium since 1994. After Mandy graduated, she worked part-time in jewelry manufacture, but she soon decided to set out on her own. Her love of aluminum art bloomed into a full-time, self-employed jewelry business called “Mandy Allen, Metal Arts .”
Upon arriving at Mandy’s home, she guided me to the basement, which serves as her studio space. We toured a small room off to the side, where she keeps the chemicals she uses to anodize and color her aluminum before it is cut and sculpted for jewelry.
The first part of Mandy’s process is focused on treating the metal as a solid sheet before cutting, shaping, and assembling elements. Anodizing aluminum is a chemical/electrical process. The purpose is to make the aluminum stronger and to create a porous surface that will absorb color. In order to anodize, the sheet of aluminum is submerged in an acid bath (see image) with electrical current. The current stimulates a chemical reaction, forming an oxide layer that helps not only with the coloring, but also giving the aluminum a resistance to scratching and marring during the cutting and forming processes.
After the aluminum is anodized, the next step is adding color. Vats filled with colored dyes (see image above), specifically made for this process, sit alongside the anodizing bath. The aluminum is then dipped in the dyes to add color. The dye absorbs into the aluminum quickly and, depending on which color dye, can be finished within minutes. Overlapping colors can be added to create a new color or pattern.
For some of her botanical pieces, Mandy uses sponges in various shapes, dips them in a different colored dye, and then places them on the piece for a few minutes (see image below). The aluminum then absorbs that color on top of the original dye used on the sheet. Finally, the dyed piece is boiled in distilled water for one hour, which sets the color in the aluminum.
Once the color is set, Pieces are cut or punched from the anodized sheet metal to create the desired shapes. Mandy manipulates the shapes with hammers and pliers into their final forms (see image above). At the end the piece has been hardened for durability when worn.
Aluminum can’t be soldered like other metals, so all elements are assembled with “cold connections.” Small circular links called “jump rings”, rivets (a form of kinetic connection), and wire-wrapping are her most common connections. One of the benefits of these cold connections is that they permit a great deal of movement when the piece is worn. She uses niobium for ear wires due to their hypoallergenic properties. Silver - both fine and sterling, is also used. The wire and chain are also either fine or sterling silver. She specially sources her chain, ensuring it is made in the U.S. and clasps are all hand-fabricated. Every aspect of her art reflects a thoughtful, well-educated, and inspired approach that cannot help but capture the imagination.
In terms of design, Mandy explains that her inspiration was originally rooted in Chinese and Japanese textiles with botanical motifs. Today, Mandy reflects on her earlier work and considers new approaches for old designs.
Her current work crosses both Mid-Century Modern and Art Nouveau with some geometrics but with flowing lines which are so commonly seen out in nature. Pieces have a feeling of geometric flow that is complex, while seemingly simple. Her work ranges from small, simple earrings to more elaborate designs with many elements. Each design is feminine and elegant, with that beautiful pop of color that gives the metal life!