Arts & Artists

Exploring human connection in many media

by Frank D. Quattrone
Posted 7/20/23

Visitors to the Woodmere’s annual juried exhibition might be tempted to ask: What do these artworks have in common?

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Arts & Artists

Exploring human connection in many media


Visitors to the Woodmere’s annual juried exhibition might be tempted to ask: What do these artworks have in common?

There’s a digital photo of a man and a woman embracing in a dimly-lighted subway station; a gold-filled bronze sculpture of a smiley-faced cobra set to strike; and a diabetes mellitus bracelet suspended above a process illustration, insulin pump, and Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) transmitter. 

A tough test to pass. Yet all three works are related by this year’s exhibition theme of connectivity. Artist and educator Doug Bucci, who selected the entries, said he arrived at the theme because he realized how vital human connection is, especially in our post-pandemic world.

The exhibition, which runs through Aug. 27,  includes works created in a dizzying array of mediums — from polyurethane resin sculptures and electroformed copper to jewelry crafted from bronze and digital polymer prints. Bucci, an assistant professor and head of the Metals/Jewelry/CAD-CAM Program at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture in Philadelphia, reached out to artists “to submit work that explores the connection between people and places and how humans interpret their own emotional being with the concrete surroundings of where they live,” museum spokesperson Amy Ferracci said.

Fittingly, as Woodmere Museum has devoted much of its efforts to showcasing the social ideas and achievements of Philadelphia artists, Bucci also wanted Philadelphia, geographically, to play a part in the exhibition. “I grew up in New Jersey,” he said, “and soon came to enjoy the attractions of the big city – the pediment of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, South Street – you name it. We’re at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, and we live in a city where medicine and art come together in a unique ecosystem.

“You have Thomas Eakins – this pure connection of medicine and art in his ‘Gross Clinic’ painting, where a great artist depicts a key moment in the growth of medicine. And in Frank Burd’s digital print, ‘The Subway,’ you feel like a voyeur watching a lovely moment play out in this close connection between two people in a most inopportune city space – a subway station.”

Bucci also sees a pleasing connection between Mallory Weston and Emily Cobb, the two teacher artists at the Tyler School of Art who created “Ssssmiley Face” together. Even though they lived and worked on opposite sides of the continent at the time, through emails, Facetime and actual shipping cross-country, they created their curiously contented cobra and tickled Bucci’s imagination. 

“Mellitus,” a 2009 work by Bucci himself, is another story entirely, one that helps explain and define his unique artistic vision. A diabetic since childhood, Bucci learned that his pancreas was over-secreting insulin after countless months spent at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Extensive study and diagnosis led to the surgical removal of his pancreas.

“Imagine me as a kid at a swimming pool,” he laughed in a recent interview. “I must have looked like the guy who was cut in half in a magic act gone wrong! So here I am, at 12 years old, a Type 1 diabetic without a pancreas. I literally grew up collecting data about my condition. This was my identity.”

Then came the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Bucci, then studying jewelry and metal at the University of the Arts, met his wife, Dr. Barbara Simon, who was then studying medicine at the Medical College of Pennsylvania (MCP) Hahnemann University. She helped stabilize his medical life, which had always focused on biological systems and the effect of disease on the body. 

A key question for Bucci has always been how to translate such medical abstractions and raw data into concrete artistic form. Familiar with 3-D technology since childhood and enhancing his knowledge through his studies at the University of the Arts, Bucci was finally able to put his experiential life into practical focus in his graduate thesis at the Tyler School of Art. There, he learned to stream and program tons of data from his insulin pump and other devices into 3-D technology. 

He soon realized that jewelry would be the perfect concrete form to express these abstractions. He began working with stainless steel, platinum and titanium, materials used to make hearing aids. It seemed so natural to him, an outgrowth of his grandfather’s career as a metalsmith, and his father’s work leading a company that made furniture. Young Bucci was always around tools and machinery.

So in the juried exhibition at Woodmere, we’ll find a pivotal piece for Bucci, “Mellitus,” a cluster of three spherical red bracelets, like a sine curve looping in on itself, suspended over an insulin pump, a hemoglobin A1C test (a prolonged three-month study of the average level of glucose in his body), and an illustration of the process. A complex set of connections, to be sure. But this is Bucci’s life. This is his art.

Bucci feels fortunate to be teaching and working in Philadelphia, which has been at the center of jewelry design and production for nearly two centuries. Jewelers' Row, established in 1851 and located between Walnut and Market Streets from 7th to 9th Streets, is considered the oldest diamond district in America. 

Bucci said Philadelphia also has been graced with “some amazing art schools,” including the University of the Arts, Moore College of Art, Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania, and of course, Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture. He also cited the Clay Studio, the Craft Now organization, and Elisabeth Agro, the Nancy M. McNeil curator of American modern and contemporary crafts and decorative arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as major forces in the world of contemporary jewelry.

Major programs at these colleges and universities, as well as local artists, have long supported the craft of jewelry, which has encouraged many innovative artists to move to the city. Among the most influential locals were Helen Williams Drutt English, who established the Helen Drutt Gallery in Philadelphia, dedicated to modern and contemporary crafts, and Sharon Church McNabb, the acclaimed metalsmith and longtime resident of Chestnut Hill who died in January.

Figures and institutions like these made it easy and inviting to cross-pollinate, Bucci said, “I love this about Philadelphia because we all support one another – despite the medium we choose to work in.” He is especially proud of the work and inspiration generated at Tyler, where the metals program was introduced in 1962. More recently, Tyler has pioneered programs in 3-D printing, electroforming, and electroplating.

He calls the Tyler connection “a family affair,” with three of his current graduate students, as well as several members of the Tyler faculty, represented in Woodmere’s 81st Juried Exhibition.