Meet an Emerging Artist: Kate Fitzgerald

Kate Fitzgerald double ring

Contemporary Craft’s one-year Studio Apprenticeship started in 2012. Every year, we offer one emerging artist/art educator professional experiences to help manage the educational programming of a sophisticated art center, as well as the opportunities to work alongside nationally and internationally recognized artists.

Kate Fitzgerald is our 2020 Studio Apprentice. She has been working tirelessly through many unique situations, including helping with the relocation to our new, permanent home in Upper Lawrenceville, transitioning to a new workshop registration platform, as well as planning virtual workshops and online Craft Show and Tell sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kate is also a talented emerging metal artist. Through collecting and altering found materials, she pursues questions of sentiment, disposal, and value in her work.

Now, let us meet Kate!

Contemporary Craft (CC): Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Kate Fitzgerald (KF): I grew up here in Pittsburgh, PA. Currently, I live in the Bloomfield neighborhood with my fiancé, and I share a large studio space with other metal artists at the Brew House Association.

CC: What draws you to work in the arts? And what made you decide on pursuing jewelry making and metalsmithing?

KF: Initially, I was majoring in Art Education K-12. Our program required students to take at least one studio class in each medium. I stepped into the Metalsmithing studio during my first semester in college and never left. I didn’t end up staying in the Art Education program, but the skills I have learned in my art education classes were invaluable and applicable in other situations.

CC: Tell us about your work and creative process.

KF: I’ve been focusing a lot more on the things that scare me – aging, matriarchy, connection, and loneliness. I collect materials that are relevant to these fears and use fine and base metals as setting for the things I find. Things like rusted hardware, old photographs, and vintage advertisements are really appealing to me, as they tend to show their age in interesting ways.

My design process has become a lot more instinctual and material-based. I make one or two sketches, but I arrive at the final design by arranging, cropping, obscuring, and combining materials until everything kind of clicks into place. I’ll give myself a time limit or a technique challenge every once in a while when I’m stuck. 

You can see Kate’s KEEPSAKE collection here.

CC: What are your inspirations?

KF: Like a lot of other contemporary jewelers, I reference the Victorian Era. I’m drawn to the very distinct shape language and the use of portraiture. The photographs I find can often be the inspiration for a piece, especially ones with distinct eyes. 

Kate Fitzgerald Ring with portrait

CC: What is your dream project?

KF: My fiancé is an illustrator, and I’d really like to put together an exhibition with him. It would be a really interesting challenge to find where our work can intersect.

CC: What’s the most fulfilling part about being a maker?

KF: Making something with your own hands is empowering. Someone wearing an object that you made is even more so. I love being able to connect with people through jewelry. 

CC: Tell us about your favorite artist or artists who are your biggest influences.

KF: Thomas Gentille is my favorite jeweler. His work is like architecture for the body, and he treats materials in such a quiet and beautiful way. In his interviews, he talks a lot about how materials can respond to you and tell you how to change them. I love that.

CC: What is the best piece of advice you received as an artist?

KF: When designing: to iterate, but trust instinct.

Kate Fitzgerald necklace with found materials

CC: As an emerging artist, how do you seek out opportunities?

KF: A lot of it now is just connecting on social media. Instagram is an amazing platform for artists. 

CC: How do you balance making work that is creatively fulfilling versus making work that “sells”?  

KF: It’s good to have a range of price points, so some things will just naturally sell more than others. I think a lot of artists struggle with feeling like their “gallery” work won’t actually sell, and I definitely feel that way as well. The more elaborate pieces can really inform the simpler “sellable” ones. I don’t want to overwhelm potential customers with something too big or too narrative or too personal, but I think I’m underestimating them. 

CC: What made you decide to apply to be Contemporary Craft’s Studio Apprenticeship?

KF: I’ve been promising myself that I’d work in some way with Contemporary Craft since I started metalsmithing in 2014. Some incredible fine craft artists have held this apprenticeship and I’m humbled to be in this position.

CC: You have been working with us since September 2019. A lot has happened, packing up in our old location, moving to our new home in Lawrenceville, try to get the studio spaces ready, and continuing the good work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tell us about your favorite experiences so far?

Kate hard at work to get Contemporary Craft's new studio spaces in Lawrenceville ready.
Kate hard at work to get our studio spaces in the new Lawrenceville home ready.

KF: It’s definitely been exciting! Getting to interact with students and instructors/artists in workshops has been the most fulfilling experience for me. I can’t wait to finish the move-in and have people make good use of the new studio spaces. Working through the COVID-19 pandemic has been an opportunity to connect with the community in new ways and explore how we can continue to use technology to teach craft when in-person experience is unavailable. 

CC: Has this Studio Apprenticeship experience opened up new doors for you?

KF: Definitely. Facilitating craft experiences has been really rewarding, and I’m working with some of my favorite artists. I knew that programming for an art nonprofit was the direction I wanted to go. I’ve been lucky enough to execute on that at Contemporary Craft. 

CC: Lastly, what is art/craft to you?

Craft is about purpose and connection for me. Even at its most abstract, fine craft still references the objects that we use, wear, and cherish daily.