Since graduating from Academy of Art University’s School of Jewelry and Metal Arts with an M.F.A., Jizhi “Gigi” Li’s talent has garnered her a number of honors and exciting opportunities. They include winning a coveted $20,000 scholarship to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) for her thesis project. The collection Li created for her project explored her “perfectly imperfect” philosophy on beauty and body image. Recently, a dramatic leg adornment from that collection earned Li another prestigious prize: second place in the Future of the Industry category of the Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA) Vision Awards.
“The piece I submitted is for people with flaws or disabilities,” said Li about the sculptural adornment she created from tightly arranged, overlapping wires embellished with cloisonné enameling. “It’s very sharp, looks a bit dangerous and restricts leg movement.”
She said that the design replicates what it feels like to have a disability, something she knows firsthand—one of her legs was temporarily paralyzed for several years due to an illness. “To me, flaws are what make us special,” she explained. “I wanted to create art that emphasizes scars and other imperfections, and that helps people with them be more confident.”
The MJSA Vision Awards recognize outstanding talent in the field of jewelry design. In addition to receiving prizes for their winning entries, Li and the other award recipients have been—or will be —featured in various industry trade journals, including the MJSA Journal, Instore and Metalsmith. They will also get to display their pieces for thousands of buyers at the 2017 MJSA Expo in New York City, the premier trade show for professional jewelry makers and designers.
In addition to her MJSA award, Li’s latest achievements include completing her year-long professional training program at the GIA in New York City. According to Li, the curriculum at the institute perfectly complemented the education she received at the Academy and helped her build on the solid foundation she’d already established.
“At the Academy, we focused on coming up with concepts and developing them into contemporary jewelry pieces,” she explained. “We also studied different techniques and materials—it was really fascinating for me, and I learned so much. Knowing these things also set me apart from many of my classmates at the GIA.”
Charlene Modena, director of the Academy’s School of Jewelry and Metal Arts, couldn’t be happier for her former student. “We are all so proud of Gigi, and how seamlessly she has moved into, and succeeded in, the professional arena,” she remarked. “And of course her ability to hit the ground running and share her unique vision through her art validates what we teach in terms of skills, concepts and career preparation.”
The GIA program emphasized fine jewelry, manufacturing and production. It also introduced Li to sophisticated design technology, such as 3-D modeling software like Rhino and Matrix. Since graduating from the program, Li has been busy interviewing for jobs and designing new jewelry. She is enjoying living in New York and will probably stay there to further her career and continue to learn.
“New York is a great place to meet others in the industry,” she said. “You can just walk to places like the Diamond District and talk to people about things like which casting and trading companies are the best. When I talk to people in the jewelry business here, I feel like my experience at the Academy helps me and makes me a little more special. I have a lot of things I can share, not only about fine jewelry, but about all the other things I’ve learned and the steps I’ve taken in the past to get to this place. That really means something to me.”
Text by Dorothy O’Donnell, contributor for Academy Art U News. This piece originally appeared on Academy Art U News.