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Holland Houdek

Interviewed by Morgan Calabrese

Holland Houdek is a jewelry and metalsmithing professor at Nasereth College in Rochester, New York. She received her BFA from University of Wisconsin-Stout, in Menomonie, Wisconsin and her MFA from Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. Hollands work is about the body and experiencing medical implants. She has exhibited her work througout the United States and Internationally. Holland is the recipient of the Janet Indick Sculpture Award and Material Hard & Soft's Ray & Georgia Gough Grand Juror Award. She was also a 2016 Niche Awards Winner and a 2015 Taiwan International Metal Crafts Competition Finalist, and she holds numerous Best in Show and other awards of merit. She is a former John Michael Kohler Arts/Industry resident, and was the 2014-2015 Visiting Artist-in-Residence at the University of Iowa. Working closely with the medical industry through her five Implants Series, Holland has formed professional partnerships with the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, MedWish International, Cleveland Clinic, and others.  


Device 39C
Insulin Pumps (2019)
hand-fabricated copper, pierced, insulin pumps,

Swarovski crystals (314), powder coat, patina
9″ x 9″ x 4.5″ 

Morgan: What exactly made metalsmithing interesting to you?

Holland: Really, I just fell in love with the material of it. When I did my undergrad, I got my BFA from UW Wisconsin Stout, which is the smaller school in Menomonie, Wisconsin. I was going to get my BFA actually in painting and drawing. Similar to most undergraduate programs, you have to take one of everything, right? You have to take intro to Ceramics and take life drawing, you know, go through all of the works. And I put off jewelry and metalsmithing. I was like, meh, I don't care, and interestingly enough, my work in painting and drawing revolved already around the body. I was doing more collage-based work and work that was pushing off of the canvas. Finally, in my last semester, I took metalsmithing, and I was like, "Oh my God, this just makes sense to me." I love the virginity yet the volubility of the metal. I love the body as a canvas, and that whole idea and train of thought totally made me rethink about how I approach my whole artistic method. I mean, right? Who doesn't love metal? To my parent's dismay, I ended up staying another two full years so I could get my BFA in metalsmithing. I think it's because when most people come out of high school, they have so much drawing and have so much painting. You go into your undergrad, and you're like, this is what I want to do. Then finally, you realize you have so many more options out there available to you. That's how I fell in love with metals. That took another two years, and my advisor was like, "Well, you're gonna go to Graduate School, right?" And I was like, "I don't know." And they're like, "No, you're gonna go to Graduate School," and I was like, "Yeah, maybe," and they're like, "No, you're going to go to Graduate School." Then I was kind of like, I don't want to say winging it because I was a really good student. I was very dedicated to my practice at the time, but I wasn't like, "Okay, grad school. I gotta go study under this person. These are my top schools that I really want to go to." It was more of my advisor was like, "Hey, I recommend that you apply to these two or three schools" Then I did, and I got in and chose Syracuse for my MFA, and I'm really happy that I did for all of the different connections that I made there. For my undergrad, I was focusing a lot on alternative materials, like heavily on alternative materials. Graduate School was not only very theoretical based for me to understand the deeper histories of jewelry and metalsmithing but also literally learned a lot more of the technicalities of it. I felt like I really learned to solder in Graduate School as opposed to my undergraduate degree. I don't know if you have a similar experience. It's hard in metalsmithing. You can't be exceptional at everything because there's just a plethora of different techniques. Long story short, that is how I got into metalsmithing.


Device 57A
Nebulizer (2018)

hand-fabricated copper, pierced, nebulizer, plastic tube, Swarovski crystals (134), etched, powder coat, patina
4.25″ x 7″ x 5″ 

M: I feel like you have to be really organized with where you have all these things and keep them separate from each other. How do you know where things are? Are they all labeled?

H: Yeah, I have the ones that are wrapped up in bubble wrap that are loose, but I was also given implants that have actually never even come out of the package yet. Which is sad. Totally sad because they're deemed no longer. Almost like they have a shelf life to them. An expiration date when in fact, they're still perfectly usable, and it used to be Med wish, the company that I partnered with, would actually ship implants to developing or the so-called third world countries, and they no longer will do that because, again, they're no longer deemed adequate. There's new and better, even though they could still save lives. 

M: So everything you're getting is just an older version of what they produced, or are things defective?

H: No, nothing is defective. At some point, I wanted to reach out about acquiring some because all of my work is based on stories and interacting with people. Like, what if I actually had implants from loved ones because you can get them, if you were technically next of kin, they're trying to refrain from doing that because it's considered a biohazard, which makes sense like, I get it. But for that reason, they can't just give a random hip replacement out. Typically, if you see them in museums or medical oddity museums, it's probably implants that are not coming from an actual body, unless you're at the motor museum in Philly, something like that. It's probably like examples that they have if that makes sense. I do have some of them that the doctors were like, "Oh, we use this as a sample implant to show people what was actually going to be placed in their body." I was like the same object


Device 63B
Bone Screw (2018)
hand-fabricated copper, pierced, bone screw, Swarovski crystals (363),
powder coat, patina
11″ x 2″ x 2″

M: I wondered if you could talk about using colors for your pieces. Obviously, you have to go with the colors of the medical implants, but you also add colors into your work. Do you just go off of what is available to you? Do you try to match what is already incorporated into the piece with the implants?

H: With my instrumental work, of course, it's still based on stories that I gathered from people, and I'm inspired heavily by like cabinets of curiosity and medical like oddity museums, and I take a bunch of documentation, and that leads to like the conceptual direction for that peice or the design aspect. So I might be inspired by a color that already kind of exists on that piece, but then I'll buy a vibrant, accentuated color pushing it even further. The powder coat itself is fairly inexpensive. You can get it for like $5 or $6 for a whole thing of it. And the reason why I chose not only the vibrant colors but there's something very like plasticky about powder coat. It used to not be anything that I was into whatsoever. I liked using a liver of sulfur patina. Like dark black, I think is the greatest color of all time. Everything I own is basically black. So like, bringing in color was almost like a shocker to me for my own work on my own eyes. I'll be honest, it was really kind of pushing me outside of my own comfort zone of adding color to my work. So I would pull in color that is either, already on the piece and accentuating it even more or just picking bright colors. I went to Eastwood and kind of went on a little powder coating buying frenzy of light colors like well, this is almost too much for my eyes. This has got to come home with me, and it's like teal electric blue is what I'm thinking. I don't do anything like hot pink. I mean, I guess there's only so far I could go. Maybe in the future, I could start going into more vibrant colors, but for me, selecting the colors has kind of like this whimsical, kind of alluring aspect that draws people into these intimidating pieces. So it's like a push pull of like this historical approach, yet making it more contemporary, inspired by kind of mixing together historical medical oddity tools and devices with new age ones to almost them robotic and combining them into one. They then have this like menacing yet kind of like playful aspect. So it's kind of a push pull of both of those like for me, I love like Cabinets of curiosity. I love going to those museums because you're both fascinated but horrified at the same time. That's kind of the approach that I'm going with, with adding color and with that entire body of work. The same thing with adding found objects or some of the implants. A lot of times people, when they hear that I received all of these different donations, they're like, oh, so do you actually use the actual implant? They're thinking, I'm like piercing through the actual implants, but I'm hand fabricating all of them. Except sometimes I am introducing on very few pieces. Obviously, I'm not making my own breast implants. I'm not making a prosthesis implant. There are certain bones for this that I'd like to add that I think is kind of fun to build around those objects, to bring them in as alternative materials. I just don't do it all the time. It really just depends on the stories that I gathered from people as inspiration to make those pieces. I think that's why I choose the colors and the pieces that I incorporate in. 

M: Your development as an artist is different than what I expected since you started off in another medium. Can you talk more about your development as a metalsmith?

H: Yeah, a whole different medium. I'll talk very briefly about Graduate School because it's to where I am today artistically in the bodies of work that I'm producing now. In Graduate school, long story short, my work has always revolved around the body and embodied experience. This is because I was a gymnast for a lot of my life. I mean, it consumed me. Gymnastics is all about grace but also dedication, perseverance, and physical strength. I wanted to carry these technicalities, this idea of understanding the body into Graduate School with me. In graduate school, I was making these bigger apparati for the body. It's on my website under previous work. It's like these big armatures for the body. That work again was all revolved on the outside of the body, either reconfiguring it, altering, morphing the body into different positions. As the work grew and as I explored different concepts revolved around the body, my work started to weed itself more into a medical realm, historic kind of aesthetic. So it was actually around my time that you're in right now, my final year developing my thesis work, that I started having studio visits with doctors and orthopedic surgeons. And I think that really was fundamental to working, from moving from the outside of the body to the inside of the body. Because my thesis work in Graduate School was kind of like an homage to these historical apparati, and I was making them purely based on aesthetic. Like purely based on aesthetic, obviously researching historical medical objects and devices. But my piercings, for example, how I was positioning them on the body was like, Oh well, this could be interesting. I wanna capture this gesture of the body, you know, but bringing a doctor in, all of a sudden they're like, "You know you're really capturing this bone structure here. That's interesting." Or this muscle structure, and I'm like, "What? Like, I'm not meaning to do that." But that's got the conversation rolling. And they thought I was this Med student that decided art was my true passion. Experiencing that throughout my artistic career up until now, when I meet with doctors and orthopedic surgeons, the medical community, they'll talk to me as if I'm a doctor. I have no idea what you were saying. This is way above my head. Coming from that experience of my thesis work, it just seemed like the next logical step to go from the outside to working on the inside of the body. So having those experiences of working with those doctors, my network kept expanding. Over the years I've made partnerships with the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons who believe Clinic and Med Wish International, and that was not an easy thing to come by, by any means. I had to throw out a lot of doctors names that I've met with. You know, they're like, oh, "Well, just say my name when you call this person." And the whole idea was to build further connections but also to see if I could get actual medical implants as inspiration, so I ended up putting a lot of time into that. Not only doing the research for actual work that I wanted to make but trying to build these connections, these conversations, written proposals to send out so they're not like, "Who is this person?" you know, with these different medical tools and devices. I would say that it definitely took years. I'm still building different connections with different doctors and clinics, but through my connections with the three organizations that I mentioned, they actually did end up donating and continue to donate hundreds upon hundreds of different medical implants and devices. It's wild. Unfortunately, because this is a new house that we got, my studio is in disarray otherwise, I would have been fancy and maybe have some nice stuff in the background of life like here's my implants. But those were all boxed up right now, but it's anything from hip replacement, shoulder replacement stands to full-on prosthetic legs. Cleveland Clinic donated for reconstructive breast implant surgery, like reconstructive surgery after having everything removed, a vasectomy like 20 or 36 pounds of breast implants. I've worked with urologists that have donated penile implants, I have this like whole eclectic, like what I joke about, like a Mary Shelley kind of about to build Frankenstein. That's kind of how I ended up with all of my implants. But what I think is an interesting story to add is that I had to sign a bunch of forms for the release of these objects because you can't just like give them out, right? Apparently, I guess they can because I have a lot of them. I did have to sign a form that I would not melt them down for material cost. Oh, the implants that I have are solid titanium or silver, like, pure silver, which I find fascinating, when, of course, I would never melt it down because I like them just as objects themselves. I had to sign a form that I would not sell them on the black market. I had to sign a form that I would not perform surgery on anybody with the objects that were donated to me but the the one that made me kind of laugh, but I was like, "Oh my God, are you serious?" Is I had to sign a form that I would not perform surgery on anybody with the objects that I make myself so all these different release forms. I found that even made my intrigue of those objects all the more fascinating is that, they hold that much power. You know, like, so much power. So I was like, wow so these objects you really can't take them for granted. Not to mention so many of us are so privileged to have health care, to have insurance, to be able to go to a hospital where so many people don't have that privilege around the world. I think these objects are just all-encompassing on just well, power, status, healing of the body, life giving, these symbolize death at the same time. They're just kind of all of the above and that takes me into my fascination and all of my implant series and instrumental that I have created postgraduate school. That's kind of my segue into Metatsmithing and my development as an artist, kind of to date and pushing out of grad school.


Spinal Axis Deviation
Scoliosis Implant (2017)
hand-fabricated copper, raised, pierced,

Swarovski crystals (2,306), bead-blasted, patina
6” x 13.25″ x 8.5”

M: Have you experienced anything like your favorite response that someone's experienced looking at your work? Even if it wasn't necessarily in a gallery setting?

H: Oh, that's a good question. I think each piece really varies. Ever since I stopped being a painting and drawing BFA student, I just kind of like stop sketching period. I feel like I now see everything and work better either with the paper model or actually doing a quick trial run, even if it's kind of hacked up. I don't really care if it's not going to be a perfect seam and just having the solder flow to see if I like certain angles or orientations of things. So not too much sketching. It's more based on the concept of the overall body of work that I'm working on. If I know I'm going to make another piece for hyperbolic, I already have that concept in mind. I can make the piece accordingly. Or instrumental, using an idea of a historical medical tool or device, I know that overall sweeping concept of that idea, and then I can use my inspiration to kind of further push that overall sweeping concept without sketching or drawing. I might have an inspiration, a story that I spoke with somebody about, or they spoke about something that happened with their own life, a surgery that they've had, the experience, the emotional trauma or physical trauma that put them through sometimes ill use just one story, or sometimes I'll kind of blend a number of stories to come up with a concept for that piece.


Submammary Pectoral Plate
Breast Implant (2014)
hand-fabricated copper, pierced, silicone breast implant,
Swarovski crystals (681), bead-blasted, patina
5″ x 5″ x 1.5″ 

M: Have you experienced anything like your favorite response that someone's experienced looking at your work? Even if it wasn't necessarily in a gallery setting?

H: People would ask me, why don't you use a fab lab or CNC router? There are so many things that could accelerate to make the work lot quicker to do. I don't want to do that, though, because I like the historical idea of jewelry and metalsmithing. I like the idea of doing things by hand specifically because they're pieces for the body. I feel like having my hand physically make them, there's a really nice conceptual kind of dialogue between the two. I do strive, however, to almost have that machine-like quality to my pieces though. I like having where people think that it was done by machine or laser cut out when in fact, it was all just hand done, but yeah. That's probably the type A quality, that sense of control that I like to feel over the pieces.

M: As a teacher, do you find inspiration with your students? Either by talking to them about their ideas, or do you encourage them to talk to other people outside the art community for their work?

H: Yes, I actually get inspiration from my students because they end up showing their parents my work and then and then the parents were like, oh, well I have a knee replacement, or ask her about this. Which is fun for me and they'll go down the rabbit hole on my website and start looking at my work. I try and direct students to find their own path because then they might want tomake work kind of based on similar subject matter, which is perfectly okay, very humbled by that, but I really encourage students to find what they are actually passionate about. I mean, you're sitting at a university or a college, there is a wealth of knowledge all around you. That's why like that meeting with people, it's just fun to like meet up and speak with somebody and get ideas. So yeah, I do encourage students to go out and get inspiration for whatever path they are seeking. We end up having awesome projects because of that.


Office/Studio at Nazareth College

M: I was wondering, you're saying that you work alongside the students sometimes. Do you find that difficult? I feel like they would be asking you questions while you're trying to work on your own thing.

H: Yeah, that happens. I'm there a lot. I just succumb to the questions. I should be better at setting boundaries. I'm trying to establish more because they see me soldering so much that they want to take on projects where they're soldering like hundreds of things. I'm like, you just learned to do this. Because that's going to require two torches, and it's essentially making me assist them every step of the way. The students are though getting better at navigating what is feasible for them. I still want to take Andrew kubecks recommendation. He always tells me I should do this, but I I've yet to do it. Where he will wear a green apron, which means it's go time, you can ask questions. Then he'll wear a red apron when it's like, this is my time. There should be no questions. I feel like unless you're really good at it, I'm kind of terrible when it comes to navigating those personal boundaries because, you feel bad when the students like, "Oh no," and they're freaking out. It's like, oh, let me just help you. So I guess talking about a burden of things, time is always the burden trying to navigate that. Luckily, I'm a big morning person. Students aren't necessarily morning people. So sometimes, I will get to campus at 7 in the morning. There is nobody around. I can just crank things out, and I would say I'm a fairly fast worker. There's something about soldering that I just love. 

M: Is soldering your favorite aspect about the process? 

H: Oh yeah, 100%. I am so happy when I'm soldering. Maybe that's why I don't mind doing work along with students, because even their tiny things, I'm like sure. Lets try this. Everything's a fun little challenge. I feel like no matter how small or intricate or how big, like the soldering is like, I guess I'd have to say, "Oh, Holland, for you to say you're a master at anything" I would have to say soldering. And that would be my own thing that I could do that I would say just because, I mean, I just love it so much. It makes my heart happy. 


Cross Section of Cellular Cluster
Cross Section of Cellular Cluster Implant Neckpiece (2018)
hand-fabricated copper, pierced, silicone breast implant,
Swarovski crystals (364), bead-blasted, patina
23.5” x 5.25” x 3.75”

M: So everything you're getting is just an older version of what they produced, or are things defective?

H: No, nothing is defective. At some point, I wanted to reach out about acquiring some because all of my work is based on stories and interacting with people. Like, what if I actually had implants from loved ones because you can get them, if you were technically next of kin, they're trying to refrain from doing that because it's considered a biohazard, which makes sense like, I get it. But for that reason, they can't just give a random hip replacement out. Typically, if you see them in museums or medical oddity museums, it's probably implants that are not coming from an actual body, unless you're at the motor museum in Philly, something like that. It's probably like examples that they have if that makes sense. I do have some of them that the doctors were like, "Oh, we use this as a sample implant to show people what was actually going to be placed in their body." I was like the same object

M: Have you experienced anything like your favorite response that someone's experienced looking at your work? Even if it wasn't necessarily in a gallery setting?

H: I could speak to a few experiences that are kind of funny, I suppose. A lot of the responses do stem from, of course, people that I know because that's just really easy. They talk with family and friends who are very familiar with my work. But I do respond well and love the response from others in a museum or gallery when I have a chance to speak with them one-on-one because so many people have implants. Even if it's more hyperbolic because I call it a hyperbolic series. They may be over the top or exaggerated. If you do read the label, you're like, oh, okay, spinal access deviation. In other words, scoliosis, so you can start to draw connections to it. I find even if the implants are fantastical hyperbolic. They can still be considered relatable. One experience that I think is really fascinating is after a gallery opening. Another connection with a doctor, who wanted to take me to lunch, and I was fresh out of Graduate School. I was in my first couple implant series that I was making, so I was like free food. Yes, sign me up. Let's do this. Out to lunch, they were like, "You know, Holland," after like sharing my thesis work to the work that I'm doing now, talking about it conceptually and technically, she was like, "Come to the bathroom with me." I'm like, "Okay," I'm going to the bathroom with you. We go in the bathroom, and she's like, "This is going to be very educational for you," and this is a doctor so she's from a medical standpoint. "I'm gonna get really real with you." She starts taking off her clothes, and I'm like, whoa, okay. She was like, "I just had a mastectomy, and I want you to be able to feel and see all of my scars and the portages that I have right now going into my breasts." I'm like, wow, okay, and she's removing the clothing, and nobody else came in. I think it would have been hilarious. I wish somebody would have came into the bathroom. I would have just made all the more perfect. But unfortunately, that did not happen. And she was talking about the emotional and the physical and deep thoughts. I don't know. There are so many emotions that come through surgeries, having just come out of a surgery myself, not dealing with breast cancer. But it takes a toll on you both mentally and physically, right? And you could tell that she was very emotional about it and went on to say, "this is not something that I necessarily speak to people openly about, even though I'm a doctor. I work with patients who literally are overcoming breast cancer and the fact that I'm not able to speak to it as openly as I should. I know it's like my job to get the word out there and share my experience, but I just can't." You can't shame anybody about that because everybody has a different way of coping with whatever situation would be that they find themselves in. She decided she wanted to go ahead and have breast implants put back in, same size, the same, to feel like herself. Maybe you want to call it vain, and maybe you don't. I personally don't think it's vain. It's just you're overcoming the situation of breast cancer. At the time, she was still going through chemo, had a wig on and was even talking about how she couldn't even be around her other colleagues. She still didn't want even to show them what she was going through, but she was like, alright now, put your hand on my breast here. And I'm like, okay, She's like, you can clearly tell the difference between a silicone breast implant and then a saline breast implant. And she was talking about the infection and the pain that she was having and then this port so she could pump up the other breast slowly because you can't do it too quickly. You have to let this skin like slowly stretch, okay? Which I thought was really fascinating and she would go in every so often and they would keep putting in more and more saline to expand the other breast out. All the while she was wearing this really loose clothing because her body was overcoming different surgeries, healing, and that her breasts were like accommodating different implants. That was a really interesting experience, just because I did not foresee going into a bathroom and then having her be like, alright, touch me here, look at this and talking about just overcoming that experience.

Just in general, overall responses to people when they see my work and they understand it's like a knee replacement or a spinal piece or a shoulder implant, and a lot of people have adverse effects to implants. It's horrible when people have an implant put in only for it needing to come out. To have other work to be put back in because then it's like you're going through physical therapy all over again, which I can't even imagine. But people feel like these are very foreign objects for their body, so for them to see it in a gallery setting and I think it's because I set a lot of stones. I really like the homage to memento morea into the Victorian era. I love how cultures all over the world celebrate life and death in certain ways. I feel that my hyperbolic series kind of like a trimph ring, that celebration of life and death to the forefront. When people are seeing it, they're like, Oh you know it's got some sparkle to it with the stones, it's it's more welcoming to look at. Then they think about like implant that's within their body and they draw a correlation to this art object, then they see beauty in that art object and then having them reflect about their own body and their own medical implant within them and then realizing actually that this is not necessarily a foreign agent within me, but something that I should feel empowered by. When I make work, I never really thought I would have, in my opinion, that type of a profound realization that my work could actually be therapeutic to people when I'm making because I really love the concept and how it could connect with everybody. I'm finding that it really is a connection point that so many people can actually relate to. I find that I get that response a lot, and it's actual stories of people that really inspire, in general, all of the work that I've done across all of my five different implant series, my instrumental series, and also the work that I'm currently working on now, but I don't have a name for that yet.


Larngectomy Tubes
Removal of the Larynx Neckpiece (2012)
hand-fabricated copper, nickel plated
13″ x 12″ x 1.25″

About the Author

Morgan Calabrese was born and raised in Roselle, Illinois. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois with a concentration in Jewelry & Metalsmithing. She received a Master of Arts at Eastern Illinois University and was awarded a teaching assistantship. Morgan then went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts at Edinboro University in Edinboro, Pennsylvania and was granted a graduate assistantship from the university. Her concentration was Jewelry & Metalsmithing with a minor in Sculpture. She has received multiple awards, one of them including, the Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award and her piece was featured in Sculpture Magazine.

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