"Ron Ho: A Jeweler’s Tale” gives museum visitors a chance to marvel at Ho’s skills and to understand who the late jeweler was as a person. The mural-sized photo of his living room gives viewers a window into his creative life. In front of the image sits a Chinese gilded statue of an infant Buddha, an iron candlestick and temple toys from India. A dragon festival robe is one of three textiles hanging nearby. Ho didn’t just make fine art; he was an avid collector. Each work represents everything from a distant destination to a close relationship.
“His spirit was so beautiful,” said Nancy Loorem Adams. “I really wanted people to get an insight into what his whole life was about and how that then came into his jewelry making.”
Adams co-curated the exhibition along with Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM) Chief Curator Benedict Heywood. Adams was a friend of Ho’s and vice president of the nonprofit organization Northwest Designer Craftsman. Ho was a lifetime member. The two collaborated to bring in his jewelry and personal items, such as 25 custom silk shirts. Each indicates a trip to Asia over the course of several decades. He loved traveling and enjoyed going to markets for unique finds.
Ho’s intricate necklaces were internationally beloved. Oftentimes, a piece was already sold before it was even complete. He used found objects and metal to create bold, eye-catching necklaces. Aesthetically, they made a statement and also included a narrative. Before his death in 2017 from prostate cancer, Ho made a piece titled “Bear’s Reliquary.” It was for Jim Dow, the only man who conmissioned a piece for personal use. Ho created it in remembrance of Dow’s Siberian husky named Bear who passed away. Felted hair from Bear is inside a silver box on the necklace.
Ho himself enjoyed wearing jewelry as much as making it.
“When he got dressed up to go out, just every day or for special occasion, he was always wearing some piece of jewelry,” said Adams. “He loved the idea of men being able to wear adornment. Just like women can.”
In 2016, Ho created “Yu,” which is the ancient Chinese term for jade. It’s the only piece he made for himself and depicts a dragon chasing a monkey. He created it in 2016 for BAM’s “Metalmorphosis” exhibit.
It can be placed on a leather thong and worn around the neck or displayed on a ceramic stand.
Visitors to BAM can also watch a “Living Treasure” video of Ho. Northwest Designer Craftsman embarked on the project to record the lives of artists and showcase their achievements. They decided to feature Ho shortly before his cancer diagnosis.
In it, Ho is wearing “First Birthday,” which depicts a chair with a plate of noodles on the seat and a pair of chopsticks floating above it. The noodles represent a long life. The piece is also a nod to his Chinese heritage. He initially didn’t explore it in his works until mentor and friend Ramona Solberg suggested it. Of the process, Ho said it transformed him from being just an American to really respecting his family’s past.
“A Jeweler’s Tale” also includes his studio. They removed it from his home and reconstructed it in the museum, complete with cabinets made by his father, a DVD player and television, plus a coveted award from the American Craft Council. He loved old MGM musicals and would play them while he worked. While in his home, the studio was a space rarely seen by those close to him but now it’s on display. It gives visitors a glance into where he spent time sketching and building distinctive necklaces.
Ho was born and raised in Hawaii. His sister persuaded him to enroll in Pacific Lutheran University, the same school she attended.
After graduation he started teaching in Hoquiam then moved to Bellevue’s school district. He taught art to junior high students and also halftime to elementary aged kids. Ho was hesitant about the younger group but they quickly won him over. He explained what it was like in the “Living Treasure” video.
“Once I started teaching them, they were such an inspiration, they were so creative,” said Ho. “My main focus on them was to see in a more aesthetic, a more visual way.”
He used artifacts from his trips around the world as inspiration for the students.
While finishing his masters degree in art education at the University of Washington, Ho took a jewelry-making class taught by Solberg. It would have a lasting impact on how he expressed himself. He no longer pursued creating impressionist paintings.
Ho taught in Bellevue for more than 30 years.
In 2007 BAM held a retrospective to highlight 50 years of his work. “A Jeweler’s Tale” is different in that visitors are given an immersive experience of his life. The audience is surrounded by what he cherished and it offers an understanding of how art informed his life.
In addition to his talent, Adams also remembers the convivial times they shared.
“He had this great laugh. You don’t get to hear it as much in the video but he just enjoyed life so much,” said Adams. “He was a real ultra-foodie. He knew all the best restaurants in town. We all loved to go out to dinner with him and we always let him order for us.”
WHAT: “Ron Ho: A Jeweler’s Tale”
WHEN: Runs until Sept. 15
WHERE: Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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