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Boy with Green Parrot, c. 1989. Pendant, Sterling silver, 24 K. gold, enamel, pearl. Image from the collection of Alice Ross Graham.


Courtesy of Foosaner Art Museum

A creator in every sense of the word, D. X. Ross (American, 1953 - 2008) was perhaps best known for her totemic jewelry: hand wrought, intricate metal work, with juxtaposed materials of precious and semiprecious stones, unusual shapes and soft contrasts. Renowned for working in a distinctive form of enameling, termed grisaille, Ross was able to incorporate her drawings into a precious form, amulets, built with hidden spaces to allow room for the spirit of the piece to reside. She hoped that her jewelry was talismanic, bringing forth the mythic persona within each of us. Ross, a prolific artist, was also an etcher, lithographer, painter, and also created works in clay and fiber.

While pursuing a BFA in Printmaking at SUNY, Buffalo, NY, Ross encountered Harold "Bill" Helwig’s enamels. Helwig was considered one of the most imaginative and technically-adept artists working in the enameling field. Ross took a survey course and fell in love with the enameling technique of grisaille.

Grisaille enameling - a rarely practiced technique - was developed in the 16th century in France by the Limoges school of enamelers. Grisaille, French for greyness and pronounced "grieh-ss-eye", is a form of monochromatic painting; images are formed by many thin layers of white enamel over black. Many careful applications and firing are required, making this technique labor and time intensive. Ross described her attraction to the technique, "I cultivated grisaille for its jewelry application: fine enough to make a detailed image on a small surface, durable if not abused, and having a mood of mystery. Grisaille, with its innate, jewel-like quality made my vocabulary of wearable images feasible: wild creatures, goddesses, subjects for the wearer to learn from, be like. All my first jewels had grisaille images; eventually gems and metalsmithing were added."

"I used to think I used this imagery because I was nearsighted and I saw better in my imagination. Now I think it is because of the purpose for which I intend my jewelry to be valued and worn: talismanic transference. Specifically, each jewel is a talisman: statement is particular to each image’s attributes and the act or belief in the transfer is part of sensitizing oneself to non-palpable cause and effect, to the more delicate levels of matter."
D.X. Ross

After graduating, she moved to San Francisco, there she participated in the Street Artists Program which encouraged talented artists by licensing them to sell their work on the city’s bustling streets. A sold out show in New York encouraged Ross to become bi-coastal and frequent New York shows yearly. Ross expanded her traveling circuit to include shows in Florida, when her mother, Alice Ross Graham moved here in 1978.

To enrich her metal working skills, Ross pursued an MFA in Metalsmithing and Jewelry at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, in Philadelphia, PA; graduating in 1986. Expanding her skills enhanced her jewelry making vocabulary. "Gradually my metal work became the essence for my images. It became the jewels that my creatures would wear themselves: instead of wearing a particular likeness, one could wear the spirit of the image. One’s imagination tells a rarefied story about the jewel. Hinting as what is beyond one’s everyday concerns."

"A special thread connects the elements I use in a necklace: colors, variety of shape, form, texture, and optical depth… "Understanding characteristics of particular stones and metal alloys helps me make appropriate choices when designing a piece. Shape, color, texture, as well as reflectivity, density, and the feel of a stone are all considered when designing. Strength, color, surface and working properties influence my decisions of which gold alloy to use and the use of silver. I use four different golds, each having its own color and other properties. Silver is used in the structure of my pieces. I am comfortable with its properties of malleability and resistance, heating and soldering."

"… I acknowledge that many of the materials are taken -to put it mildly- from the earth. Therefore, I try to make the best possible jewels from them. I try to make each jewel a personal statement. In addition to flexibility and sensitivity in design, this involves using every detail to tell the story from surface treatment to tiny mechanisms that join parts together. This is accomplished by meticulous workmanship - with hand tools that have been used by metalsmiths for centuries - the joining of many parts, some smaller than a pinhead. Nearly every square centimeter of silver is engraved. The engraving adds interest and richness and tells its own story. My closest friend, Al Kleiner, does the engraving (as well as other tasks in the studio). This collaboration works because we understand each other so well."

In a 2001 letter to a gallery owner, Ross elaborates on her use of fantastical creatures, "Metamorphic creatures embody multiple attributes, which is very valuable in my personal jewelry philosophy. When you wear jewelry on your body, its significance transfers to you - Besides stimulating your imagination, this creature transmits qualities of fish (quietness questions) birds and angels (wings, power of light, perspective) cats (grace, wisdom) and higher qualities of humans - you know what they are."

It was through one of a kind fabricated jewelry making that Ross found a way to share her ideas. "I hope to give my jewelry a reason for being worn beyond fashion and independent of status, a reason that feeds the soul of the wearer. I would like my jewelry to unlock the barriers that normal consciousness of the most obvious, most dense things imposes, thereby enabling receptivity to what goes on in the more delicate and interesting planes of existence. The companionship of these objects act as constant and subtle reminder to be aware, receive."

9/11 caused Ross to step away from enameling and jewelry making to work in more ephemeral materials: mosaics, felt, fiber, clay, and mixed media. She was also an avid gardener.

Ross willingly shared her knowledge by teaching classes and workshops.

In 2008, Ross died, leaving a legacy of work that embodies her life’s philosophies and her dreams for helping humanity. "Interaction with my work produces a response affirming our respective individuality in the context of the mysteries of our collective past and future. In today’s tech-times I believe that those personal aspects served by imagination, dreaming and intuition must be nourished. I choose to feed the spirit such exotic delights from the material plane."

Her work is in a number of collections, museum and private, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


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