Trisko Jewelry Sculptures, Ltd.
Trisko Jewelry Sculptures, Ltd.
P.O. Box 674
St. Cloud, Minnesota 56320-0674
Telephone: (320) 253-5346
Toll Free: (877) 874-7562
Fax: (320) 253-6413
Web site: http://www.trisko.com
Sales: $3 million (2002 est.)
NAIC: 711510 Artists Independent; 541490 Jewelry Design Services; 339911 Jewelry (Except Costume) Manufacturing
Trisko Jewelry Sculptures, Ltd. is a small central Minnesota company built around the designs of founder and artist Robert C. Trisko. Trisko designs wearable sculptures out of precious metals and gems. Although Trisko’s production is based in Minnesota, the artist competes in juried art shows throughout the United States. The company’s sales and marketing are done though an extensive client/patron database and nationwide touring, where Trisko has made a name for himself by displaying and often winning prestigious art shows throughout the country.
Company Origins: Geometry and Jewelry in the 1970s
In the early 1970s Robert C. Trisko discovered that he possessed a unique cerebral combination. While most people work out of one hemisphere of the brain or the other, Trisko found that he could easily adapt himself to both right brain activity, generally associated with artistic, intuitive skills, and left brain reasoning, with its emphasis on logical and mathematical reasoning. It was a combination that landed him his first teaching job in the St. Cloud school district in 1970.
The St. Cloud school district had two part-time position openings when Trisko graduated from St. Cloud State University that year. The district listed a part-time opening in mathematics and a part-time position in art. Trisko, with his undergraduate degree in both disciplines, was hired full-time for both appointments. It was this combination of artistic sensibility and mathematical know-how that led Trisko to develop the wearable sculptures for which he has become known.
In the early 1970s Robert Trisko began experimenting artistically with horseshoe nails he salvaged from a local saddle shop. Although he originally brought the nails into the classroom for students to practice jewelry making, Trisko began molding the pieces into creations that he found worthy of the marketplace. Local art fairs and festivals presented the opportunity for the enterprising artist to sell his creations and Trisko began to supplement his teaching salary by participating in such shows.
The artist’s early forms were organic and free-flowing. The designs found a following in the fashion climate of the 1970s. Ever improving on his work, Trisko found an electroplater in the Twin Cities who plated the nails in nickel and gold.
Over time Trisko’s experimenting led him to produce pendants in enamel. He continued to sell the items at regional art shows for modest amounts of money. The prices for his works ranged from two or three dollars to not more than $20 for a sizable pendant.
Trisko’s experimentation ultimately inspired him to strike out on his own. His work was evolving into what was to become his signature—geometric pieces, with mathematical forms and architectural characteristics. He also was beginning to work with precious metals and stones. Trisko produced his first gold band ring in 1980, and although unlike his later sculptures, it pointed to his early interest in geometric shapes. The artist shaped the ring round but played with geometric patterns on the surface of the gold. Trisko also made use of silver. Because silver was inexpensive it was the metal he used the most in the early 1980s. He preferred even then to work in gold but at $40 an ounce the metal was out of reach for a part-time artist on a teacher’s income. His work in silver was short-lived, however, when he began incorporating gemstones into his pieces. Silver was too soft to allow him to set the stones in the settings he created. Trisko began using yellow gold, white gold, and platinum for the intricate geometric forms his designs were taking.
While committed to form, Trisko described other elements he used in his sculptures in a June 23, 2002 St. Cloud Times article. The artist referred to the fundamental criteria applied to his creations as, “the elements of good design: line, texture, shape, form, balance, contrast, pattern repetition, movement.”
In 1980 Trisko was an established teacher in the St. Cloud school district. He had gained a reputation as an outstanding educator and had been made chairperson of the art department. He had completed a Master’s degree and additional course work toward his Ph.D. and was reluctant to turn away from the steady income that teaching provided. That all changed for the artist, however, when he won first honors at a national jewelers competition in New York the following year. Trisko realized that his work could be self-supporting and he went to the school district with a proposal for a five-year leave of absence. The school district accepted his petition and granted him a leave. In 1982 Trisko decided to resign his post and follow his artistic inclinations full-time, chasing art shows around the country and winning blue ribbons at many of them.
With a new business underway, his wife Helen took over the administrative duties of the company, freeing up Trisko to concentrate on design, manufacturing, and his participation in juried art shows. It was a combined family effort and division of labor that worked well for the company over the years.
Moving Geometrically: The 1980s Through the Dawn of the 21st Century
Throughout the 1980s Robert Trisko’s work took on a more sculptural quality and he frequently found himself inspired by the work of well-known architects and their buildings. From Gothic cathedrals with their rose windows to the cascading waterfalls of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, Trisko designed wearable sculptures using precious metals in place of bricks and mortar.
Trisko’s designs included rings shaped like trapezoids, ovals, and squares. At first glance the rings appeared unmatched to the round shape of a person’s finger, but when fitted properly followers and patrons of the artist were amazed at the comfort and ease with which they could wear a Trisko work. Comfort had more to do with balance, according to the artist, and he maintained that so long as a ring is balanced on the hand it will not slip and slide on the finger. In fact, many of Trisko’s works were made to be freestanding on a flat surface. As to the shapes of a ring, Trisko maintained that his sculptures fit more easily over the knuckle than an ordinary ring, making them an excellent shape for the human hand. The Trisko pieces would be placed on the finger sideways, moved over the knuckle, and turned into place—something conventional rings cannot do.
Robert Trisko believed that the round shape of most mass-produced rings was mostly a cost consideration, not a design one. Trisko’s designs used significantly more gold than most rings. Geometric forms use gold in corners and other places that round rings do not, so it cost considerably more money to produce a ring that was not round.
Another design principle that set Trisko apart from jewelers who mass-produced their products was the selection of stones made by the company for its sculptures. Whereas most jewelers bought stones that were cut at calibrated weights, Trisko often hand-picked gems that were cut to their refractive index. The custom cuts allowed more “fire” and brilliance in the stone and a uniqueness that most jewelers could not match. The practice of cutting to a refractive index of the mineral was seen by many jewelers as wasteful because value was tied to a stone’s weight. Trisko’s intention was to create a sculptural statement, and a stone’s value was only a small fraction of the whole.
Perhaps one of Trisko’s most well-known line of designs was his “Stackables.” These rings made use of several gemstone rings that could be worn independent of each other or combined to create a bolder, brighter statement of color. According to a November 2002 article in Lapidary Journal, Trisko created the designs with much thought given to color combinations and to his customer’s wishes. He said, “Women who own a lot of my rings use a lot of ‘Stackables’. It’s a flexible system for women who get bored with their rings. They have different rings that they can mix and match in many ways.” As to the color in his “Stackables,” the artist explained, “I start with the design first, then add the stones. I’m sensitive to what color of blue topaz will go with a purple stone. I choose the right color pink. I’m playing with the intensity of the color. I don’t just plop any old stone in there and put them side by side. I look within those stones and use those that really produce a statement when you put them together.”
Trisko’s many clients often came to him with jewelry that they wished to have remade into Trisko pieces. The artist created works from pearls formerly used in a necklace or gold refashioned into a contemporary ring.
Trisko’s studio consisted of multiple rooms with several craftspeople working at casting his designs, manufacturing them, and polishing the finished product. He personally trained many of his workers, taking people with little or no experience in the trade. Trisko preferred to teach his method rather than hiring craftspeople with preconceived notions of how to execute his complex designs. His square rings were challenging for many jewelers, because as Trisko pointed out, “You can chase a square for hours on a polishing machine trying to get it perfectly balanced.” Trisko admitted that perfectionism was a trait he acquired throughout his artistic career. He stated in the Lapidary Journal, “I’m fussy because of my math background. Everything must be perfect, perfect, perfect and neat and tidy.”
It is the unique combination of geometry, outstanding style and craftsmanship that makes owning a piece of Trisko jewelry an investment that you will enjoy and appreciate for years to come.
Trisko’s accomplishments included prizes too numerous to list. The artist took top prizes at more than 75 art shows in the past few decades. He spent a lot of his time competing and marketing his jewelry pieces in vacation destinations in Florida, Texas, and Arizona. He received national and international recognition for his work. In 1986 Trisko was selected among top U.S. artists for an international exhibition in Paris. Perhaps one of his crowning achievements domestically took place when he was selected in 1987 to be a participant in the Smithsonian Institution’s Arts and Crafts Exhibit.
Trisko held memberships with many trade organizations in his field. He was a member of the Jewelers Board of Trade, The American Crafts Council, The Minnesota Jewelers of America Association, and the American Gem Traders Association.
After logging many miles, touring, and displaying his wares at shows across the country, Trisko looked toward the future of his company, his name, and his art. He had begun working with a Chicago manufacturer to develop furniture and accessories based on his sculpture. He had hoped that this effort might attract the attention of a major design house and that this would lead to a buyout of his company. An established design house could supply the necessary capital that Trisko needed to expand his business and to take the company to its next level. Trisko wanted to design his trademarked wearable sculptures, but also to expand his creative enterprises to furniture, home accessories, corporate artwork, and whatever else Trisko’s mathematical and artistic mind might imagine.
- Trisko begins making free-form jewelry using horseshoe nails.
- Trisko begins marketing his designs through local art shows and street fairs.
- Trisko wins the grand prize at a national jewelers competition.
- Trisko is selected among the top U.S. artists for a Paris exhibition.
- Trisko receives a trademark on “Wearable Sculptures.”
- Trisko is accepted to exhibit in the Smithsonian Arts and Crafts Exhibition in Washington, D.C.
Drazenovich, Dana, “Jewelry Maker Robert Trisko Masters Art of Design,” St. Cloud Times, June 23, 2002, pp. 1C, 5C.
Thompson, Sharon Elaine, “Robert Trisko: Power in Architectural Designs,” Lapidary Journal, November 2002, pp. 21–22.
—Susan B. Culligan