When a curator arranged a retrospective show of her work in 2001, Ramona Solberg reacted with some amazement. "That's something famous people...
When a curator arranged a retrospective show of her work in 2001, Ramona Solberg reacted with some amazement. “That’s something famous people do,” she said in an article in The Seattle Times.
Yet when Ms. Solberg died Monday at the age of 84, she had achieved wide notoriety for her jewelry’s innovative designs and her influence as a teacher, had received the National Metalsmiths Hall of Fame Award, and had been profiled as a “Living Treasure” in the documentary, “Ramona Solberg: Jeweler, Teacher, Traveler.”
Ms. Solberg eschewed precious materials and made necklaces and pins out of found objects from cultures around the world — bottle tops, dice, sardine cans, dominos, beads, bone. The Sand Point apartment where she lived alone was jammed with boxes and drawers of such items, many of which she collected during her extensive travels. The resulting pieces were large and substantial, meant to be worn rather than displayed in cases.
“I make it for myself,” Ms. Solberg told The Times. “I’m substantial.”
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Vicki Halper, curator of the retrospective, “Findings: the Jewelry of Ramona Solberg,” remembers her as “large — jolly might be a good word — engaged, interested in life around her, the people around her, things, objects. She had a huge capacity for enjoyment of life, of other people, of travel, of new things.”
“She was prolific,” said Karen Lorene, who represented Ms. Solberg for 20 years at the Facere Jewelry Art Gallery. “If you see a Ramona piece you almost always know it’s a Ramona piece.
“She always said, ‘I’m the Henry Ford of jewelry.’ She wanted everyone to be able to afford her work.” While her necklaces could fetch prices north of $6,000, she continued to make a pin called a “fibula” that never sold for more than $125.
Ms. Solberg was born May 10, 1921, in Watertown, S.D. Her family moved to Seattle when she was 1-½. In 1943, she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps and served until 1950. Afterward, she studied art at universities in Mexico before earning a bachelor’s degree in art education, and later a master’s degree at the University of Washington.
Ms. Solberg’s long teaching career began at James Monroe Jr. High School, where she worked from 1951-1956. She became an associate professor at Ellensburg’s Central Washington State College until 1967. From then until she retired in 1983, she was a professor of art at the University of Washington. Along the way she wrote the 1972 book “Inventive Jewelry Making.”
Halper said of Ms. Solberg’s found-object work, “In the ’60s, she was not the only person doing this, but she was the major person doing it in this area of the country — also without a political agenda. She was always a formalist. It was more important what it looked like than what it said.”
As for Ms. Solberg’s continued astonishment at her recognition, Halper notes: “One reason was that she had so much fun along the way.”
Ms. Solberg died from congestive heart failure. She never married. She is survived by a sister, Evelyth Green, of Ellensburg, a niece and nephews. A memorial party will be announced at a later date.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org