“walk with fear”
On January 18, Ruudt Peters and I spoke over Skype. He showed me pieces from his most recent collection, Terram, and explained how the collection came to be. Terram explores the connection between the body and the world around and below it, through the imagery of feet.
Created in two materials, ceramic and RenShape modeling foam, and saddled with leather or caged in silver, Terram is a self-portrait of Peters’ own tortured and misshapen feet — shaped by many miles traveled and countless hours spent standing.
A jeweler’s collection is a revelation of themselves at a specific time and place. To see a body of work is to explore ideas of the maker through each piece, to see the whole through many parts. In creating jewelry, Peters imbues an object with a transferable power in which his investigations of ideas can be communicated to the wearer. Terram is about the connection to the earth with the feet and body, building upon themes explored in his recent exhibition Ground, shown at Massachusetts College of Art and Design during SNAG’s conference in Boston in 2015.
Each skeletal foot in the collection is ugly — which is often the first impression of any interaction with someone else’s feet. Bringing the work close to the body transforms each piece from a distant object to a precious one. And so, the ugly feet become beautiful, tender, intimate. They remind us of feet we have, or feet we’ve loved.
Peters is driven by curiosity, and this desire to learn more is the starting point for each of his collections. Travels to India inspired Terram; new places and their many senses, scenes, and characters — and importantly, his experiences there. To Peters, India is alchemical and transformative. While traveling through the subcontinent, he saw feet everywhere. When one gives puja, a prayer ritual or act of devotion at home or in the temple, the always-present deity's feet are washed and anointed. Food, flowers, and incense are placed at the base of the statue in celebration, honor, and supplication. As a gesture of humility, a person may touch the feet of an elder in pranama, an act of salutation and respect. Feet are both a humble tool for locomotion and a site for reverence.
Back in Amsterdam, Peters meditated on his travels and inspiration through blind drawings. These large, gestural sketches were the next step in bringing this collection to fruition. He filled his studio with drawings and then took the challenge to render them in three dimensions. Clay proved symbolic as well as structural, as Peters responded to how the clay changed and hardened during the two hours he took to make each form. With such a process, a “certain kind of love” is necessary, he told me. Peters made supple leather harnesses for the clay feet, which are worn around the neck. They are a pleasant size to hold and stroke, and I found Peters doing so during our conversation. The sculptures are tormented, like his own “difficult feet.” Acknowledging their twisted and pained form, he told me how the foot “becomes a jewel with love.”
Terram is an exploration in materials. In addition to working with clay, Peters carved RenShape modeling foam, a graphite colored medium, to make the second half of this collection. Rather than leather harnesses, Peters used silver to cage the RenShape feet and create the brooch attachments. For the pieces with chain, Peters purposely made the links uneven and bent, an option he felt free to take.
Peters hopes that as others wear Terram, they will feel the energy of jewelry-turned-talisman. The energy that he works into each piece is transferred to the wearer. Emboldened by the power of their adornment, they find courage, freedom from fear. He says, “jewelry is not only a decoration, but it is very personal. It has a strong meaning, a bold character, it touches you. It says something emotional, it gives you strength.”
As we finished our conversation, Peters shared his greatest learning moment in life: “You have to walk with fear.” To accept the fear is to have freedom to keep moving forward.