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Faces of New Paltz

Ravely Arias
Denise Kennedy
Elizabeth Golding

Faces of New Paltz

The traditions of metalsmithing have shaped the work Professor James Bennett exhibits in the classroom and the studio, but it does not define it.

“It is important to understand the conditions that shaped the subject matter you work with, not just give it a cursory glance,” he said.

As head of the Metals program at New Paltz, Bennett developed a new curriculum that reflects the contemporary practices, but also maintains a connection with the more traditional approaches of his New Paltz predecessors Bob Ebendorf and Kurt Matzdorf.

“I wanted the program to be responsive to the shifts that were occurring in our field and art in general,” he said.

As an artist, Bennett primarily works with metals and enamel to make jewelry. The materials he works with – gold and enamel – have traditional grounding, but present opportunities for growth and experimentation, both conceptually and in form.

His interest in the history of ornamentation brought him to Istanbul, Turkey in 2005 for three months. His interest was in both the Ottoman and Byzantine empires in Turkey and how that affects Istanbul’s contemporary culture. He observed his surroundings and filled six sketchbooks with what he saw on the streets and in the tiled mosques of Istanbul.

“There is a real contract in the history of Istanbul and its traditions with a very western city life,” he said. “They come up against each other in a very powerful manner.”

Bennett’s work, which includes paintings, has been on display throughout the world in solo and group exhibitions. In 2008, a retrospective of his work titled “Edge of the Sublime: Jamie Bennett” will travel to six museums across the country, including the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art on the SUNY New Paltz campus.

Mother’s wisdom:  When Bennett changed the course of his educational pursuits (he has a Bachelor of Science in Business) his mother, a fashion designer and teacher at Parsons School of Design, interviewed all his potential art professors before handing over her “sound endorsement.”

What’s cooking?: Bennett takes cooking seriously, preparing Mediterranean, Italian and rural French dishes,  “developing and experimenting” with different themes.