Jeweler and metal-worker Barbara Mann has been creating science-infused and nature-inspired creations here in Athens for over 35 years and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
After first coming to the University of Georgia in 1971, Mann arrived to study painting and drawing but found herself hooked on a new medium of metal and jewelry. She laughed that she hasn’t left the area in decades, having received her undergraduate at UGA, as well as a masters in jewelry and metal. Although these are the primary components Mann employs in her sculptures, jewelry, and other pieces, she also takes pleasure in employing other items.
“I use lots of materials, cow horns and coral, pearls and wood, found objects,” Mann said. “A lot of things I will mold of organic objects and alter it, test it in the metal. All materials are open for use in my pieces, but I do like metal as the main focus, with other materials as accents.”
Her inspirations include everything in the sea, in the sky, and in hard-cutting labs, as she explains.
“I'm interested in observation of nature, theories about life and death and things happening in science,” Mann said. “I’m interested in meteors and cloning, things that are real in the sciences that are truly thought-provoking. I try to have my work have some formal interest, the aesthetics of the piece, but also ideas about the dynamics of the universe and nature.”
For example, one of Mann’s favorite pieces is a sistrum, a musical instrument used in ancient cultures that supposedly when shook would help “keep the world moving forward.” Her piece, cast in copper, brass and silver, also bears cow horn and pearls, symbolizing “life and death, motion and inactivity.” These piece also features cloned calves, intended to encourage and familiarize audiences with the concept of cloning, and the therein benefits Mann supports.
“I’m interested in stem cells,” she said. “So many people see cloning as a frightening thing but maybe it’s helpful and a positive thing that people need to look at.”
Her interest in science can also be seen in popular piece “Evolution/Panspermia,” referring to a scene of a dinosaur and bird, representing “two theories of life on earth.” This sculpture includes the use of a real meteor fragment, as well as silver, 14K gold, and opal to create the scene.
Mann taught at UGA in metal classes, as well as for around 35 years in continuing education art classes. In addition to her work in Athens, Mann has also taught jewelry and metalwork classes abroad both in Costa Rica and Cortona, Italy in programs associated with UGA.
Mann’s experience with workshops continues, including one at the Oconee County Art Fair foundation on April 9th. This process, called “cuttlefish casting,” is just what it sounds, and involves the bones of the titular sea creature being cast in silver.
“You carve into the skeleton and pour molten metal into it, creating a wavy pattern beautiful,” Mann said. “Whatever form you carve is created, in a mold from an exoskeleton of a mollusk. I use cuttlefish skeletons that wash up on the beach in the Philippines and Australia and are collected and sold.”
With a few others Mann also helped to start the Athens Metal Art Guild of which she was president for three years. The group planned activities for those interested in metal and jewelry as Mann herself was, through shows, lectures and workshops.
Current projects include a piece based on cell magnification, created with a textured shell found on a Costa Rican beach, now being made into a necklace. Mann is also preparing for a solo show and exhibit at the Oconee Cultural Art Foundation where she was chosen by a national jury.
“I’m working on a series of vases,” she said. “The vases as a symbol of life and death, because you have these beautiful flowers contained that then pass away. It’s this idea of transition and change, and that’s what I’m trying to focus on.”
Mann is also finishing up a sundial in cast-bronze that will be erected in the Founder’s Garden on north campus dedicated by the Peachtree Garden Club and rededicated by the Heritage Garden Club. Currently the piece is being cast in a foundry outside of Atlanta until its completion and installation by late April. And on May 24 she also went to the Lyndon House Arts Center Juried Exhibition opening and received the Nancy Lukaseiwicz Award for Excellence in Fine Crafts.
Mann’s work is housed in many other locations, including The Mint Museum of Art, The Georgia Museum of Art, The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, The Committee for the Olympic Development of Atlanta and Nations Bank. Her future aspirations include being featured at the Smithsonian, as well as the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco. Another highlight of her career, a review in World Sculpture News magazine, round out her diverse portfolio fostered by the Athenian art scene.
“It’s very supportive here, it’s a great place to be an artist,” Mann said. “Because a lot of people have stayed on there's a strong community. All my friends are artists, people I’ve met through art, they’re my extended family. I feel like I’ve contributed some of my knowledge and thoughts about art. I’ve gotten back a lot more, that’s for sure. This is a great art community.”