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Life and Work with Sarah Kathryn Chenault

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Kathryn Chenault.

In January of 2013, Sarah developed her line of jewelry Aull Things. A friend had asked her to sell her furniture refinishing projects at her booth in Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles but Sarah opted to return to a practice she had begun in the Sculpture BFA program at Washington University in St. Louis – combining metal and natural materials to adorn the body.

“I have been fascinated by the flora in this state and I was constantly collecting the woody objects that fell from the trees- the magnolia cones, pine cones, and jacaranda pods, for example. I thought this was a great opportunity to translate my decorative finishes skills to jewelry. Each bit of natural material is art in itself and I aim to draw out the visuality of the complexity of the shapes of these items by adorning them with gold- hence the “Au”, the chemical symbol for gold in the name of the jewelry line. My material is at my fingertips in my very own neighborhood of Westwood and I like to think that using these otherwise forgotten bits of nature eases my impact on the environment.”

To promote this idea of loving and enjoying the Earth, in every box there contains care instructions that read: I am a tiny sculpture, be gentle with me as you would the Earth. Keep me dry and wear me to art openings often!

Because each piece of jewelry consists of a piece of Mother Nature each design is unique. One thing viewers are always surprised by is how light the jewelry is. You get the voluminous overall gold effect with none of the weight. Most all of the chain and other structural elements are gold fill, but many upcycled materials are also incorporated such as various kinds of stone beads, champagne caps to hold wasps nests, fabric or bone.

“Throughout the years, I have noticed that I even draw the attention non-jewelry wearing men at my booth. As a nod to this interest, I have begun to make ornaments so that these gilded bits of nature might appeal to everyone.”

Sarah has sold her jewelry at various locations in California, Texas and Michigan, and is currently in Free Hand Gallery on W. 3rd St. near Beverly Grove.

Other arts-related things:
Sarah moved to LA from Texas in the fall of 2009 to attend the Latin American Studies MA program at UCLA and has been a part of campus life ever since. It has always been her goal to combine her artistic skills and interest in Latin America. During the MA program, she not only conducted academic research but kept up a studio practice producing documentary and art photography to support her studies in the area of Afro-Cuban Musicality and Muralism in Los Angeles.

After graduating in 2011, Sarah worked at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach (MOLAA) but soon returned to campus to work at the Fowler Museum as a preparator — building the exhibition spaces and installing artworks. A year into this position, she was brought on as the Assistant Curator on the current exhibition Axé Bahia: The Power of Art in an Afro-Brazilian Metropolis- which was one of the exhibitions funded by the Getty for Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles Latin America (PST:LA/LA) — open until April 15, 2018. This role entailed many tasks but mostly included some curatorial decision making, researching artists in Bahia, obtaining loan agreements from artists, museums and private collectors, as well as obtaining the image permissions for the catalog that accompanied the exhibition. PST allowed for an amazing opportunity to bring Latin American and Latino art to our city. Because of it many junior museum professionals like myself found a place in the city among the major arts institutions– for at least a short period of time. In order not to lose the momentum of our work and to continue to self advocate, educate, and continue the dialog of what PST brought to LA, I am forming the group PoST—and have the support of the Getty to do so. The aim will be to bring together all of the assistant curators of PST so that we can finally know one another and be a cohesive community, in order to create our own space to cultivate our research on Latin America and other professional interests. It has been Sarah’s greatest joy to be a part of PST:LA/LA — it’s a wonderful time to be a Latin Americanist in LA!

Besides continuing to make jewelry in her spare time, Sarah also develops Serendipitous Projects in the Arts. At the beginning of 2018, she fabricated about 50 mounts for her fellow Washington University Art School Alumni Daria de Koning. Daria makes fine jewelry and the mounts were for her booth at the LA Art Show. Sarah will also soon be representing a private collection of artworks for showing in museums, galleries and other exhibition venues, more details coming on that soon!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has been a pretty smooth road, yes. This has been my craft for a long time, so I am very comfortable in the design and creation phase. It has mostly been a learning experience of beginning to understand that you can almost never predict retail — at least at my level. I might only sell my most affordable pieces or my most expensive ones—there’s never any consistency. The thing that is most consistent is the constant support of friends and family.

My advice to young women is to not sell yourself short. Your business needs to support you, so charge what it is worth, yet be generous with your time and effort as you get off the ground. Be informed about your work, don’t wait for your clients to ask a question, go ahead and pique their interest with the fascinating details. A dialog and a client will soon follow.

Please tell us about Aull Things Jewelry and Serendipitous Projects in the Arts.
I am most proud that I can get involved in almost any branch of the arts. This is very satisfying to me and has kept my career dynamic. I think I can set myself apart because I wear all of the hats of the artist, the teacher, the fabricator, the researcher, the producer and the representative.

Do you think there are structural or other barriers impeding the emergence of more female leaders?
I feel very fortunate that any barriers I have encountered are not due to my gender, but just generally standing out in the crowd. The art historical world is very saturated with women. The preparator world seems to be saturated with men but I still found my place there and feel very respected. If I ever got the sense that a boss didn’t think I could do something, all I had to say was that yes I could and I got my opportunity. And making jewelry, no gender barriers there for me either.

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