Artwork brings out the urge to explore

The notion of art is so engrained in Sarah Xeno’s life that she described it as difficult to pinpoint the exact age in which it took over as her main interest – and later, as her career.

“It’s just always what I did. It became my bliss,” Xeno said. “There’s no inception because it was before I even remember.”
In childhood, Xeno turned mostly to sculpture and drawing. In high school, Xeno, a Johnson County, Kansas, native, took a jewelry class, and she later revisited the medium after she contemplated the idea of becoming a painter, following her several years of study at the Kansas City Art Institute.

“I often say I cannot be sad when I am drawing,” she said. “It’s impossible. Those two things cannot mutually coexist.”

Today, Xeno is a jeweler and goldsmith. She chose the work instead of painting because of the significance surrounding the intimacy of something that is worn on the body. The symbolism, she said, “is huge, all throughout jewelry making and wearable art.” Xeno’s work also has shown at Haw Contemporary, as well as several showings of her pieces at West 18th Street Fashion Show and Kansas City Fashion Week in the past four years.
“In some ways, it’s a commodity: There is a lot of tradition and culture behind it, especially now as I work mostly with bridal,” she said. “There is the significance of that and the union.”

Xeno, a Prairie Village, Kansas, resident, in May completed a four-month Maker-in-Residency run at the Black & Veatch MakerSpace at Johnson County Library. In an interview inside the space, Xeno explained her initial attraction to the space beneath the hum of a 3D printer and laser cutter. The accessibility to the technology and machinery attracted Xeno to apply for the residency – she also said she has enjoyed her teaching with the public. As part of her four-month Maker-in-Residency, Xeno led several workshops for the public, including about etching on metal and another focused on precious metals clay, “kind of bringing the traditional aspects to this space,” she said.

“I love the library, so I am not surprised,” she said, smiling, about the introduction of a MakerSpace. “I think they need to be institutions of learning and exploration, and I think this makerspace is really doing an honor to that. I’ve just been enamored with the space. The potential for exploration is just amazing.”

As a professional artist, Xeno, 36, said she is always thinking about the ever-changing nature of her craft and the potential role that technology plays, or could play, in that evolution. In particular, laser cutting and vinyl cutting are causing Xeno to think about expanding in art in different directions than previously considered, especially with respect to apparel and textiles.

“I think my work has evolved and changed, and new technologies have informed it or given me alternatives that I wouldn’t have really thought of before,” Xeno said, in reflecting on how the Maker-in-Residence time has influenced her work. “It’s changed everything. It’s changed the way I see things on a day-to-day basis.

“Having exposure to the technologies, I’m thinking, ‘Well, I could have made this CAD model in 15 minutes and reproduced it 300 times, when I carved this wax for an hour-and-a-half.’ So, there are analogies that come through to my daily life that I’m constantly reminded of things that I learned at this space.”

Exploration, she said, “is really the impetus” for her time as a Maker-in-Residence. When she asked about the main objectives she should accomplish during her time at Johnson County Library, Xeno said she was encouraged to experiment with as much as she could in her art form.
Outside of the MakerSpace, Xeno also draws inspiration from sources like Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen, as well as Art Nouveau and figurative work. The library itself, too, has provided significant inspiration for Xeno in her residency: “Any time I need reference, I go through the stacks and look at something interesting, or pick up the newest Artforum magazine – whatever you need to give you some insight into what is happening.”

As a believer of the 10,000-hour rule associated with deliberate practice, Xeno said she wants to continue making the most beautiful artwork possible, working as the best craftsperson she can be. Teaching, she added, also is important, in passing along her experiences to others: She is currently in talks with several maker spaces on both sides of the Kansas City state line to teach a lost-wax metal casting workshop.
“The more engaging work is the work that keeps asking questions,” she said. “When you make things, you have more questions and maybe not so many answers, because answers are kind of stagnating. I just continually try to push at that edge of experience.” ^

Words Adrianne DeWeese  Photos patti klinge