Looking at the ornate collars artist Jesse Mathes creates, it’s hard to believe they begin with a single copper wire. Mathes introduced her collection of ornate collars to Denver’s fashion community during Denver Fashion Week(end)’s Fall ’17 show, adding a sculptural dimension to the runway looks. “Charlie Price combined what I did with the headpieces and clothing in such an inventive way,” said Mathes. “Before then, I had only ever seen my work on mannequins and pedestals, so it was such an incredible experience for me.”
Originally from Denver, Mathes moved to San Diego in 1995 to study at San Diego State University. “I really got into art on a whim, because I was a management major and completely miserable,” she explained. “I ended up studying metalsmithing under Arline Fisch, who encouraged me to make large-scale adornment outside of traditional jewelry and to experiment with sculptural forms.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Metalsmithing and Applied Design from San Diego State, she went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts from Indiana University in 2004. From there, her life took some twists and turns of its own, eventually leading her back home to Denver and creating the kind of art she loves. “I don’t make the traditional art people buy when they purchase something for their home, but I love doing it, so if it never sells, I’m still happy,” she said.
Historical clothing, like the ruffs Elizabeth I wore to convey her authority and distinguish her as England’s queen, are Mathes’ inspiration. It is also a visual representation of how Mathes feels in social situations when she wants to protect her personal space and appear assertive. “It’s about seeing ourselves in a certain way, and how other people see us,” she explained. “The proportions I work with are very important because if you wear something really enormous, it makes you look powerless.”
Mathes was recently featured at the Denver Art Museum, where she demonstrated the techniques she uses to knit and crochet thin, copper wire. Attendees practiced the techniques and created their own work using a variety of colors. “She is very passionate about what she does and it comes through in her work,” said Wendy Nanasi, who attended Mathes’ demonstration. “The fact that the museum is integrating her work in an educational way is phenomenal and says there are a lot of fresh ideas in Denver.”
Mathes’ next project is a full year of work leading up to Denver Fashion Week’s Fall ’18 show, where she will debut 10 new pieces exclusively for the runway. “I’m drawing inspiration from traditional Japanese basket weaving and from the shapes birds and other animals make when they are in defense mode,” she shared. “The new pieces will still be about personal space and boundaries, but my earlier work was aggressive. I’m experimenting with forms rather than making them as spikey.” Mathes’ pieces may not be traditional, but that’s why they have so much impact on the runway. They are artistic representations of the range of emotions we go through and how we respond to life’s challenges.