Cate O’Connell-Richards

June 22, 2023

CateOConnellRichards_Headshot - Cate O_Connell-Richards

Cate O’Connell-Richards

Pronouns: They/Them
Identity: Genderqueer
Instagram | Website

Introduce Yourself:

Cate O’Connell-Richards is an artist, jeweler, broomsquire, and educator. Currently they are a Lecturer for both UW-Madison and UW-Green Bay in art foundations and metals/jewelry. O’Connell-Richards has been awarded several grants for craft research and was recently a resident at MASS MoCA, where they conducted fieldwork on the history of New England broom production. They have exhibited internationally and have shown work at Abel Contemporary in Stoughton, WI, Hesse Flatow in New York, Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA, EatMetal Inc. in Hoboken, NJ, the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA, Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago, and the Gallery im Körnerpark, Berlin.

Tell us about your work:

My work calls attention to the intersection of objects of labor with objects of spirituality. It is no surprise that it was tools of the home, the earth, that became associated with witchery and rebellion. They were weapons of the unheard, those systematically denied autonomy and wealth by a ruling patriarchal class. Today, these handmade tools are fetish objects animated by romantic notions and false memories of history. They assume new forms as bourgeois decorative elements, emblems of a perceived authenticity. After all, if you put the word craft before/after a word it somehow becomes magical.

Broomcorn, twine, wood, brass, sterling silver,
raw and woven wool, salt
9 x 9 x 48″

How did you start your metalsmithing/materialsmithing/adornment journey?

My first experiences with metals were with my father, who teaches history. I would cast lead figurines with him for tabletop gaming, recreating famous ancient battles. We would build these small landscapes with rubber molds, felt and flocking, small horses, painted shields, Picts and Romans – it was quite the introduction to the material and craft world.

I initially became enamored with the ideas of the miniature, of building a fantasy world for myself, complete with its own cosmology. That – combined with my own personal love of historical objects + a rural backdrop for my formative years – led me to a place where adornment, myth, history, and the pastoral come together. Tools and tool-like objects became my vehicle of expression.

How does your identity relate to your work? If at all?

I reject the gender binary for myself and identify as nonbinary and/or genderqueer. In my practice I question held binaries of many kinds – including art/craft, the romantic/quotidian, the magical/inconsequential, and pomp/shame.

I rarely feel square with certain categories. After so many years of trying to fit into one or another – and the pain it caused -–a kind of peace came when I finally voiced how I felt and embraced myself as not-this-nor-fully-that.

If you feel comfortable discussing your queer identity, what is something you would like share?

I am forever grateful, beyond words, for the support I have received throughout my life from my queer comrades and thinkers, near and far, who have helped me continually learn, feel loved, and combat loneliness.

What are the main concepts in your work?

Labor history, art + craft history, western concepts of witchcraft and American spiritualist movements, queerness, historical romanticism and revisionism.

Can you share a bit about your conceptual development?

There’s usually a lot of reading, along with an excessive note taking/bookmarking/filing system that I won’t bore you with. There’s travel, and fieldwork at historical sites with time to look at objects in person. Then, thumbnail sketches, material studies, and thinking. I usually identify several different silhouettes and shapes, then combine them in interesting ways with metal “conjunctions” as I call them, creating anachronistic, mutant tools.

How do you take a break and reset?

A cup of earl grey, mindfulness when I can muster it, and loud music to get lost in. This is a favorite:

Sterling silver, manila rope
9 x 3 x 23″

What is your favorite tool, material, or process?

Oh, the surface gauge! I do a lot of tube rivets through cylindrical forms. Also bezel mandrels – they are just cute. As far as process goes . . . casting was my first love and remains that way. I do not think I will ever get over the enchantment of it.

What is something no one has ever asked you that you would like to answer?

Honestly, some of these questions fit the bill. Thanks!

What do you want to see in the field in order for it be more supportive?

I would love to less emphasis on perfection, and more on experimentation, growth, social instigation, and storytelling.

*** All interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity


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