PEOPLE SQUINT AT Diane Archer’s jewelry. “Is that a map?” they ask. There, incised in silver, are longitude and latitude lines, the words “river” or “forest,” bits of coastline and road.
If you’re familiar with the Oregon Coast, you might look even closer and get your bearings. Archer’s mixed-media pieces, with their background maps and vials of local sand and water, are clear enough that buyers can pinpoint their coastal house or favorite stretch of beach.
Archer’s art and life are now rooted around Cascade Head, north of Lincoln City, where she first arrived in 1999 as an artist-in-residence at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. After a four-month residency at the Center, she found ways—via housesitting arrangements and short stays with newfound friends—to stay. She tried to go back east, to North Carolina for another art residency and to Kent State where she had a teaching job. But in her year away, she kept returning to
the Oregon Coast for shows and gallery receptions. She didn’t really have to, but she couldn’t resist. When Oregon friends offered her studio space in their barn, Archer decided it was time to come to the coast for good.
It wasn’t as if her residency at Sitka had been perfect. Happy to escape her neighborhood in Kent, Ohio, where her street was being torn up, she arrived at the Sitka Center after dark and checked herself into her silent, solitary cabin. She awakened at the crack of dawn to the sound of bulldozers grinding against concrete just outside her window, where a new central courtyard was being constructed.
As a result, Archer spent most of her four months as a resident artist off the campus, avoiding the construction and scouring beaches up and down the coast for bones, rocks, sticks, and other natural artifacts to embed into Forest Service maps. One piece chronicles six different coastal locations from which she collected objects daily for a month. “Actually, it turned out well,” muses Archer. “Otherwise, I would never have explored the coast the way I did.”
These days, Archer is a regular at coastal and inland art fairs and galleries, where she shows her jewelry and mixed-media work. In 2007, she will be featured in shows at Ogle Gallery and Guardino Gallery in Portland, and she will have a guest spot on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Oregon Art Beat.”
The silver, copper, and bronze “Topo” (for topographic) jewelry is fabricated from photo-etched and embossed sterling silver, soldered and metal-stamped. Her pieces have a curious, rustic elegance, with map graphics clearly visible because of the antiquing process she uses. Some of her pendants feature a piece of agate pronged like a diamond atop a metal map of the very beach where the agate was collected. Clients also commission pieces to commemorate specific locations.
Clients hire Archer to make mixed-media pieces to their specifications as well, often offering her their own collections of bones or rocks to incorporate as part of the piece. “People feel strongly about certain places,” explains Archer. “They want a way to be reminded of events that happened there.” By super-imposing planetary maps over the geographic maps, Archer can indicate time as well as place.
As she walks Cascade Head each day, Archer collects objects to use in her work: pebbles, bits of driftwood, shells, bones, feathers, and fur. Even leaves and other vegetation might be collected and dried as specimens, or ground up for dyes to stain the U. S. Geological Survey maps she uses. Archer’s pieces reflect her own attachment to places and events, and her interest in science, philosophy, and the Deep Ecology movement. “Deep Ecology teaches that the land has a spiritual presence that can teach us and enrich our everyday lives,” she says.
More of Archer’s work and her show schedule can be seen at www.dianearcher.com.
Oregon Coast March/April 2007