Barbara Klar shares her fascinating story as an artist, a gallery owner and a celebrity watcher.
ABI: You refer to your jewelry collection as “edgy”. Could you explain that?
That is actually something I have heard about my work from gallery and store owners who carried my work in the past. I guess it is one of those things that make my work slightly “left of center” and I realize it is not for everybody. I use traditional metalsmithing techniques but my execution in the final product is unexpected and “edgy”.
ABI: What have you learned from being an artist as well as a gallery owner?
BK: I have learned that whatever I’m doing, it’s got to be fun. Enjoying my work propels me forward, which keeps me inquisitive and constantly experimenting with design. I have learned that it is not only invaluable to be able to talk about my work, but to listen to my customers.
Early on, when I would pound the pavement with my portfolio of work in New York City, my only goal was to gain exposure. However, I quickly learned that having my jewelry on a shelf in a store did not guarantee it would sell. I had to learn to talk to buyers and sales people so they could understand my design sensibilities and be able to tell my story in order to facilitate selling.
Other artists and peers would say to me: “Let the work speak for itself. It‘s better if you don‘t talk about it.” I learned this couldn’t be further from the truth. When I opened my first store, the conversations with my clients were enlightening. I quickly found out that being able to communicate about my work was necessary and enjoyable. I wanted to know who they were as people: what were their hopes and dreams and victories? Often my work plays a part in their personal evolution and nothing delights me more. When I make a piece that commemorates an event in someone’s life journey, that is exhilarating for me.
ABI: Talk about your celebrity connections, and how this has affected your business.
BK: I did not actively seek a celebrity clientele, but it is something that organically happened just by having a store on the streets of New York Center. Word of mouth was the only publicity I sought, but other designers and stylists would come in and soon I had an underground or cult following.
I think in America we have an odd preoccupation with celebrity since the early days of Hollywood. Somehow when a celebrity endorses an artist, the work becomes more legitimate. As much as I ridicule that, I am a huge fan at heart. I admire the fact that an actor or musician can get up and reveal him or herself on stage. I could never do that because I much prefer the isolation and privacy of my studio and am more comfortable backstage and creating behind the scenes. But if I can help them look cooler when they’re on or off stage that delights me.
I remember when I first moved to New York and would walk into a local deli in the East Village and see all those signed photographs of celebrities on their wall, I used to get a kick out of that. I started to do that on my own “Deli Wall” in the back room of my store and everybody always wanted to see that wall. That wall gave me “street cred“. I guess celebrity endorsements give an artist credibility. Has it helped me? Not really, but I definitely have some good stories to tell at a dinner party!
ABI: How do you see your work transforming in the future?
BK: Since closing my store and moving into the Hudson Valley, I have started to focus on one-of-a-kind pieces which are works of art that incorporate elements of jewelry. I have re-kindled my love of reliquaries and these are often accompanied by poetry or prose.
Recently I have developed a love of writing that is a companion piece to the story I am telling in metal. In the past, whenever I have created a special piece of jewelry for someone, by the time the piece is finished, I have learned an incredible amount about that person. The story of the creation is the journey I would like to tell in these little pieces I call “objets d‘art”.