Alumni Profile: Casey Newberg is Thriving at the Intersection of Making and Learning
Grand Rapids, MI
(’18, BFA Metals and Jewelry Design)
Casey Newberg understands that excellence is a habit, which is why she made every moment of her KCAD experience an opportunity for growth. Her willingness to experiment boldly, think critically, and look outside her own perspective led her to land one of ten $15,000 Windgate Fellowship Awards offered up by the Center for Craft just weeks before her graduation.
Since then, she’s been making the most of the game-changing opportunity and making big waves in the world of metalsmithing in the process. Now, on a full-ride fellowship to the University of Iowa’s MFA Jewelry and Metal Arts program, Newberg is looking to expand her fusion of cutting-edge digital fabrication technology and the age-old process of electroforming into uncharted territory.
What made you pursue a life of creativity, and why did you choose to do it at KCAD?
I did two weeks in nursing school after graduating high school and knew it wasn’t for me. The arts were where I really wanted to be, so I spent the next four months putting together a portfolio and applied to KCAD.
It was a great decision because I didn’t feel rushed to know exactly what I wanted to study. I experimented a lot for the first two years before settling into the Metals and Jewelry Design program, and my faculty there were amazing; they gave me the confidence and the support to formulate an end goal.
What is it about working with metal that moves you?
With metals, you’re forced to have patience. I really enjoy that. It’s tricky to work with, and it can take a lot of time, but you feel this immense pride when you complete a piece. You start with something so rough and unformed, and in the end, it becomes functional or just completely unique.
The first piece I ever made in the program was a pair of stainless steel scissors with rippers on the end, and it was published by the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG). To have that happen on my first go-around was incredible.
"Sewing Scissors" by Casey Newberg (image courtesy of the artist)
How did the Metals and Jewelry Design program help you thrive?
It’s highly collaborative, and that environment really helped me discover my identity as an artist. If you have an idea, [Program Chair] Phil Renato will help you figure out how to make it happen. He helps each student find their own path. And as students, we bounced ideas off each other all the time and took cues from each other’s craftsmanship.
Also, the more I explored and the more time I invested, I came to see how special the Metals and Jewelry Design facilities are. You have everything you need to bring any idea you have to life right there at your fingertips, even tools you didn’t know you needed until you picked them up.
What about experiences outside of your major?
KCAD Art History classes are mind blowing. They opened my eyes to how craftsmanship and aesthetics have evolved, which helped me understand why I like what I like. It gave me a rationale for my own thought process.
How would you describe the work you currently do?
Recently I have been focusing on the process of electroforming for the production of serving vessels, integrating 3D modeling and printing technologies into a field where objects are either mass produced or raised from sheet metal with a hammer. An idea becomes a 3-D print, and ends up as a hollow metal object with the help of copper bars, electrochemistry, and time.
My forms have often focused on the female figure, and the reductive way society views the body in general. I sort of dismember and rearrange these forms so that audiences can find something unique and personal in each piece, whether it’s something validating, something challenging, or something completely foreign. Lately though, I’ve been doing work that focuses on the fragility of life, and how that fragility manifests itself in both dark and ethereal ways.
work from Casey Newberg, "Birth Pitcher" (above) and "Rely Creamer" (below) (images courtesy of the artist)
What led you to embrace digital fabrication?
At KCAD, I became very interested in taking 2D forms into metal, and Phil [Renato] suggested 3D printing the forms and coating them with metal using electroforming. He even went out and secured a huge raised 3D printer for the program that opened up a world of possibility for me.
I was also allowed to do a lot of independent studies, and that helped me refine my interests and my direction. The classes were like a scale, a series of confidence builders.
Last year, you were one of ten people nationwide to receive a $15,000 Windgate Fellowship Award from the Center for Craft. What impact has that had on your creative practice?
It’s been an amazing, eye-opening experience, especially since it happened just after I graduated. I started by traveling to Italy to study the masterworks there, especially works that dealt with the female form. I typically base my work on forms I see in my daily life, so I wanted to get outside of that. It was a really unique way to reevaluate what I was doing.
I also traveled with Phil [Renato] to the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina to teach a three-week class on comb-making. It was awesome meeting some of my contemporaries and growing my network. The crafts community in this country is very close-knit and supportive, which is great, because everyone I’ve met wants to help each other up.
I’ve also been able to really focus on making new work, and this year I was published again in the SNAG JAMS [Jewelry and Metals Survey], an annual survey of everything going on in the metals world—this time with two separate pieces. I’m a peer of people who are shaping the field, and that’s just an incredible feeling.
"Rail Flatware" by Casey Newberg (image courtesy of the artist)
You’ve also been applying to grad school, and chose the MFA program at the University of Iowa, where you’ll be headed this fall on a full-ride fellowship. What do you hope to get out of the experience?
I was accepted into all three schools I applied to, and two of them offered me incredible fellowships! To be wanted like that feels really affirming. I chose Iowa because it’s a three-year MFA, which gives me room to really experiment within and outside of metals.
Also, the electroforming facilities there are beyond huge. I want to continue my focus in that area, but I want to grow broader as well, and this is a great opportunity to do that.
"Recurrant" by Casey Newberg (image courtesy of the artist)
Where do you see yourself heading after grad school?
I want to get a second MFA that allows me to dive deeper into the conservation of 3D objects. I want to continue my studio practice, of course, but I love arty history and I love to work with physical objects with my hands, so it’s the perfect fusion of the two.
There are a lot of unexplored metal objects that museums don’t tend to keep around, and I’d love to help change that and maybe go into conservation long-term. 3D printing is changing jewelry and metals entirely, and contemporary art could go anywhere.
It’s about situating what you create in this broader dialogue that’s been going on for all of human history. You have to know what’s come before to know what you can build on.
See more of Casey's work at caseynewberg.com