M A R N E    R Y A N

E m p i r i c a l    D i s c o v e r e r

b y    P a t r i c k   K a p t y

"Star" bowl, pleated, hammered , 1995; copper

Raised on a tree farm in East Marlborough Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, Marne Ryan credits her early life experiences with a profound influence on her later career. "My mother taught me to appreciate the elegance and drape of finely made fabrics, and her mother taught me sewing from three years of age. My father, a test pilot, flew us through the clouds and the land would flow below disclosing the earth's patterns and formations." At an early age, while burning the family refuse, Marne discovered the transforming nature of fire. "The sheer joy of working with fire has never left me. Utilizing flame in a constructive manner is the foundation of all my work."

"Mt. Fuji" cuff bracelet,
1981 silver, gold

Cuff bracelet, 1986; silver, gold tourmalinated quartz

Marne's first piece in her own studio--1979; silver gold, opal

While studying fabric art at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia in the early 1970s, Marne fortuitously wandered into the metalworking studio and discovered fire all over again. Her first instructor, the noted studio jewelry artist, Eleanor Moty, taught Marne two invaluable lessons: the artist must have a sense of joy for her work, and craftsmanship counts. While still at Moore, Marne had a chance exchange with another well-known jeweler, Olaf Skoogfors. This proved to be prophetic as, just two weeks before his untimely death in 1975, Skoogfors told her, "You're going to have a really rocky road ahead, but stay on the path. You have a lot to offer."

"Pinwheel" bangles, 1987; silver


Armed with a BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing from Moore in 1976, Marne went immediately into the commercial jewelry world. She worked for Harvey Levinson in Philadelphia, and estimates that during her three years there she repaired and sized several thousand pieces of jewelry. More importantly, while rolling out scrap metal for the shop she chanced upon a technique, and the random textures created with it, that would later come to form a large part of her distinctive style. Other jewelers that Marne credits with contributing to her artistic development include: Jean Stark, Betty Helen Longhi, Charles Lewton-Brain, Heikki Seppa, Elliot Peugeot, Lisa Gralnick, and John Cogswell.

Rice bowl, raised, fused, 1995; silver

The "Marne Ryan Look" starts with very thin gauge silver, either cutouts from scrap or sheet run through the wire mill to create furrows in the metal. These pieces are then repeatedly folded, milled and rolled to produce more and more depth to the resulting texture. At this point, texture is also created using the torch. Several smaller pieces are then fused together, a process using high heat and no solder. Once the desired texture and pattern is achieved the basic form is cut from the many-layered sheet. For the vessels and other hollowware the next step can include raising, dapping, or hammering followed by patination in a liver of sulphur bath, and a final polish to bring out the highlights of the raised areas. For the jewelry some of the above techniques may be employed as well as the fusing of high karat gold or platinum to the surface, fusing of inner linings for rings, soldering of stone settings and rims in gold, and sizing if necessary. Marne calls her design process 'empirical discovery'. Her theory of empirical discovery can best be summarized, "If it doesn't hurt you, someone else, or your tools, try it, you might like it!" At the end of the process outlined above, if the object doesn't meet her exacting standards, then it goes back into the scrap pile to be used again for another project.

Collar necklace, 1993; sterling, gold, platinum

Brooches, 1997; gold, citrine

Over the past 30 years Marne has worked hard to perfect her craftsmanship, and to achieve a style all her own. There is no question that she has been successful in her endeavors. At this point in her development she feels that "understanding the principle of a form allows you to work in any style from Art Nouveau to modern." There is nothing that she enjoys more than the challenge of breaking away from her own artistic modality to meet the specifications of an unusual commission.

Marne's choice of stones for her jewelry ranges from flamboyant and costly boulder opal; to the work of artist-stonecutters like Bernd Munsteiner of Idar-Oberstein, Germany, and Michael Caldwell of Idaho; to asymmetric cuts of more humble stones like rutilated or tourmalinated quartz. Her work can also include simple brilliant-cut diamonds as accents or plain oval cabochons of unusual color or pattern.

Cuff bracelet, 1987; silver, gold, boulder opal, diamonds

A recently completed ring includes a small 'bull's eye' rhodocrosite, a rare and attractive formation of that stone. Sometimes the stone will suggest the design, but just as often the design will dictate the choice of stone.

Earrings, 1996; silver, gold, boulder opal
photo by Sue Swanezy

Over the course of her career, Marne has received many awards, prizes and commendations for her work. In 1986 and 1987 she won awards for her entries in both the 14th and 15th Japanese International Pearl Competition. She's also been a finalist in the DeBeers International Diamond Competition, and in 1997 was awarded the Rolex Award for Innovation and Excellence in Metal at the Philadelphia Craft show.


Prize winning cuff bracelet, 1987; silver, gold, pearls
photo by Jim Graham

"Pinwheel" bangles, 1987; gold

"Pinwheel" bangles, 1987; silver

For the last ten years teaching has become a rewarding sideline to her studio metal art. She's lectured, given workshops, and taught courses at many of the metal arts centers across the country, including the Spokane Art School, Penland, Touchstone, COMA, and the Metal Arts Society of Southern California. Marne considers teaching her craft an ethical imperative, a sort of sowing of the seeds of future generations of craftspeople. Another motivation for her to teach is the interaction with her students, and the joy of someone 'getting it' while under her tutelage.

Marne Ryan hammering

Marne also feels that she 'teaches to learn', that every now and then some aspect of a technique or problem will present itself to her in a new light through the teaching process. Marne is currently teaching two jewelry courses through the Emeritus Program of Saddleback College in Laguna Hills, California.

Sake cups, fused, hammered, 1995; silver

Marne has an instinctual affinity for Japanese culture and craft, thus her line of sake cups, rice bowls and wasabi bowls. She's traveled extensively in Japan, and recalls a visit to a museum where she intuitively understood the technical descriptions of the exhibited items even though she doesn't read the Japanese language. An early exposure to Asian crafts via her mother was a pivotal event that opened her eyes to cultural differences in handling color and form

Reliquary, raised, fused, pleated, 1995; copper, gold

Among the jewelry and objects illustrating this article a few have very deep personal significance for Marne. The 'reliquary' was made upon the death of her mother in 1995, and is entombed at Arlington National Cemetery. The texture is reminiscent of the bark of the locust tree, a tree especially admired by her mother. The dot of gold at the center-top symbolizes the union of her parents, and to either side is a pleat representing her parents at the center of their children. The ten 'pleats' or folds in the metal to either side each symbolize a child, and they face to the right or left according to the sex of the child. The rivets used in the reliquary were originally airplane rivets. The 'Wind Vessel' and 'Neptune's Rising Mask' were graduate projects made while Marne was completing work on her MFA in Sculpture in the early 1990s. 'Wind Vessel' has shamanistic overtones, and makes an eerie scratching sound when shaken. 'Neptune's Rising' is a fully functional mask complete with leather padding on the backside, straps to fit it to the head, and small off-kilter viewing holes.

"Wind Vessel", pleated and raised bowl, 1991;
copper, wire

"Neptunes Rising", elctroformed mask, 1991;
copper, wire

As with many jewelers, the wedding ring trade is a significant portion of her business. However, Marne's unique creations have been sought out by collectors to celebrate almost every other occasion, including birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries. "The piece of jewelry or vessel becomes part of the ritual in one's life. This level of intimacy is the ultimate goal of my work."

Early cast wax rings, 1976-77; gold

Marne Ryan with her production assistant Rene (right) and office manager Suzanne (left)

To see more of Marne Ryan's work, visit her site at:

Take a look at her 'art show' page for locations and dates to see her work in person

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Article by Patrick Kapty

“Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern”
(760) 671-4879

photographs courtesy of Marne Ryan and Patrick Kapty
Web design by Marbeth Schon

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