When Creative Minds Meet: Temple St. Clair Interviews Joshua Bell
Joshua Bell: Great to meet you! Your work has a bit of a world-wide influence, considering your studio started in Italy and was eventually moved to New York. Your blog also mentioned several locations. Have your travels influenced your design at all?
Temple St. Clair: Yes. In fact, travel is essential to my work. I do spend a lot of time in my studio pouring over books but, for me, traveling is key to refreshing the mind. I never travel without a sketchbook for drawings and notes. I sketch architectural details as well things I see in nature. Also street fashion differs from culture to culture so I love people watching. I have shelves and shelves of my sketchbooks; they are as much travel logs as anything else. I constantly refer back to them for ideas that I save for new collections.
You often tour throughout Europe. Does visiting such far-away locales, to areas where much of the music you're known for playing was originally performed, change the way you view the music you're playing?
J: I don't know that it changes the way I view the music, but it can certainly enrich the experience.
I've played in centuries-old churches and halls that have hosted the world's most celebrated artists, many of whom are my heroes. Being on the same stage where so many great talents have performed is inspiring. While the walls can't literally talk, they do speak to you in a sense that is very special.
T: You play an instrument with a tremendous amount of history behind it – a 300-year-old Stradivarius. Do you feel like using a historically significant instrument has changed the way you approach music?
J: I don't think it changes the way I approach music, but rather that it enhances my ability to perform the music. It has such a magnificent sound. It's a very special instrument that one could compare to a Renoir. It's a work of art and I don't feel that I am the owner, as much as I am the caretaker of it for the present time.
Speaking of history, jewelry-making dates back for centuries. Do you draw on any of that history - such as techniques, materials, or styles - with your work?
T: I see my work as part of the greater history of jewelry. Jewelry is very much a cultural art reflective of the times. I don't believe that any art or jewelry is created in a vacuum without relation to past or future creations. The original inspiration for my jewelry was very much influenced by my academic studies in Italian art and literature. When I first became interested in jewelry, I was living and studying in Florence. I was deep in to the Renaissance. By chance, I went to a local goldsmith to have a piece of jewelry made for my mother and for myself. Meeting the goldsmith and discovering how the Florentine artisans still work was like stepping in to a time warp that took me back several centuries. The study of history and my direct experience with it has grounded my work and given a foundation of inspiration and knowledge that I still depend on today.
At Home with Friends contains a pretty wide selection of music – a Beatles song, a selection from Porgy and Bess, one of Regina Spektor's original tunes – and you've also recorded a huge amount of classical work. What music do you personally enjoy listening to on a daily basis? Do you think listening to newer music influences your classical playing, or vice versa?
J: I grew up listening to the Police, The Beatles, and to Peter Gabriel of Genesis as well as classical music when I was growing up. We had NPR on all the time at home and it was wonderful to have music have such a presence in our home. I also enjoy jazz-from Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, and many others. I can't say I'm up on country or rap... the majority of music I listen to is classical. I learned a lot during the recording with Regina Spektor as her approach to music is so spontaneous and improvisational. I also am always amazed by Edgar Meyer who is a renowned bass player with presence in both classical and bluegrass.
You recently did a few pieces in support of a few charities, such as Save Japan Dolphins and Services and Food for the Homeless. How does it feel to be able to give something back through your art? What made you decide to choose those specific charities?
T: At this point in my life, it seems that my work has come full circle in that it can help support issues that I truly care about. I have created a pendant for the Services and Food for the Homeless organization that represents abundance of food and drink. It is symbolic of sharing and giving back to those in need. This pendant supports a small but vital organization in the East Village of New York City where I live. I am familiar with the people who run this organization and I know just how productive they are and how many people they help everyday. There is immediacy in the support that we are able to provide through the sale of my Harvest pendants; this is very satisfying.
As for Save Japan Dolphins, I saw the documentary, "The Cove" over the summer. I was overwhelmed by the need to get involved. The film exposes the brutal slaughter of dolphins that is going on in Japan. I love the sea and have a particular love for marine mammals so I immediately wanted to take action. I got in touch with the Earth Island Institute in Berkeley, the organization behind Ric O'Barry who is leading the fight to save the dolphins. I happened to have created dolphin pendants as part of my Tree of Life collection. This collection has an environmental motivation with the dolphin representing the earth's water. Now I am using these pendants to bring awareness and to create proceeds to support the activists who are involved in putting an end to the killing and distribution of toxic dolphin meat in Japan.
I heard you recently renovated your apartment in Manhattan for a more performance-oriented setting. What was the general theme you were going for with the renovation? Were there any particular design choices that you saw beforehand that you wanted to emulate?
J: Everyone wants a great place come home to and so in renovating my loft (my second renovation) I knew that one of the most important things to me was to have a performance space. One might think that after being out on the road performing so much, the last thing I would want to do is perform when I get home. But making music with friends at home is a wonderful experience. Playing in an intimate setting is unlike any other performance experience. I have a very eclectic group of friends, and so what I love to do is have everyone over and we'll have a comedian do a few minutes, or an actor do a short reading, soloists will perform, or I will perform with another artist. Anything goes, and it's tremendous fun.
The home is very open and has a casual loft feeling. The music room is one step up from the living room. It has electric curtains which open and close and can instantly serve as a stage.
What was your motivation behind your new collection? I noticed you're focusing on moonstones for this fall, which seem a pretty interesting choice. Do current fashion trends play a role when deciding what styles you're going to focus on?
T: I'm actually just finishing up my collection for fall 2010. I basically work on a fashion calendar, creating spring and fall collections. The current fall collection does feature a lot of royal blue moonstone. I'm not really a diamond girl. I love unusual rare colored gemstones. Blue moonstone is one of my favorites and has become a signature gem for my brand. I don't really look at fashion trends with relation to my designs.
This fall I looked to very classical architectural motifs and patterns found from ancient Greek temples to antebellum southern mansions. With every new collection, I add new rock crystal amulets. This fall they have very stylized vine motifs that I also repeat in some of my bracelets and earrings. It is important to me that my pieces be timeless, so many of my favorite motifs I will carry forward in new designs.
I saw you're working with several other great artists on your new album – do you find you work best while collaborating with other artists?
J: I love working with musicians in all kinds of settings, whether it be as a soloist with an orchestra, as part of a chamber music group, when I tour with a recital partner, performing with friends at my home, or in the case of AT HOME WITH FRIENDS, with many artists I have come to know throughout my career. What was exciting about this new recording, is how much I learned from the other artists-especially those I don't play with on a regular basis. For example, one of the artists I collaborated with was Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of the legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar who wrote the piece we recorded. Playing with a sitar player is not something I often do and it was exhilarating to perform this unique piece with her.
Another cut on the album is called "Para Ti" written by Cuban keyboard player Jorge Gomez of Tiempo Libre. He was trained in classical music in Cuba and found success playing timba--very hot Afro Cuban jazz. That's not a genre I play every day! Another great experience was working with rock pianist Frankie Moreno who I met in Las Vegas through a mutual friend. Together we created a very special arrangement for the Lennon/McCartney classic Eleanor Rigby. Never did I imagine while growing up and listening to the Beatles that I would perform one of their songs. Now with this arrangement I will be able to incorporate this unique take on the song into my upcoming recital tour.
Josh Groban is another artist I have known for a number of years. I performed on his CD "Closer" several years back and I was so pleased that he was able to collaborate with me on Cinema Paradiso.
You've personally turned your shop into a highly successful business. Did you look to other success stories as a sort of guide for your own future?
T: I don't really look to other success stories per se. I happened in to what I do through my interests and passions, and through destiny. I do have a strong work ethic and am somewhat of a purist, not necessarily a perfectionist. When it comes to my business, I am self-taught. I have surrounded myself with bright, talented people and have learned business practices along the way. I have always sketched so that comes naturally. I have worked for close to 3 decades now with some of the world's finest goldsmiths and gem dealers all of whom have been generous with imparting knowledge. I continue to study and research on my own to deepen my expertise.
I do look to certain individuals and brands that I admire for their integrity and creativity. In terms of the big brands, I have always loved Hermes. As a brand, they have always stayed very true to their identity - an authentic luxury house without compromise. In my own brand, I do not compromise. We continue to seek out the best materials and best craftsmanship no matter what. With shifts in the economy, we just strive to be better at what we do.
As far as individuals, these days I keep my eyes on Michelle Obama. Her intelligence and elegance are admirable. She is a great role model for women as a professional and even more importantly, as a mother. I love how she subtly but clearly spreads her influence and message through her own personal demonstration from teaching good health practices to children to encouraging awareness of local farming and quality produce with an organic garden at the White House and local farmers' markets nearby. She is seemingly unflappable in her demonstration of balance between family and professional life.