BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO
To know Dante is to love Dante. This Colorado-based artisan is not only incredibly talented, but extremely down-to-earth despite her National acclaim. At long last, we were lucky to sit down and get the back story behind her creative genius.
Let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us about your journey from sculpture to jewelry designer?
I studied and practiced art in various genre at multiple institutions of higher learning, but most notable for me was my time spent in the New Genres program at Santa Monica College, mentored by artists Sharon Kagan and Linda Lopez. Basically I was immersed in a year long intensive program held in an old hanger at Santa Monica Airport. I applied and was accepted into the program with a group of other artists working in a wide range of media and across multiple generations and backgrounds. We did studio visits to speak with successful, established working artists and because we were based in LA many of these visits were pretty incredible.
The whole experience was absolutely transformative, just the right balance of rigor and play. I ended up making some really interesting work and became so engaged that I stayed on for a second year as a teaching assistant. This was when I began to exhibit around town and build up my body of work.
I’ll just say that I took a very non-traditional number of years before I graduated with a BFA from Cal State Long Beach in Sculpture. During my time there I continued to exhibit and learn new material skillsets and enjoyed the making aspect immensely but somewhere along the way I found I had lost my enthusiasm for aspects of working in a gallery setting. Creating sculpture exhibitions that were highly conceptual required viewers to have some arts education to really relate and connect with my work. I knew I wanted to use my skills to connect more personally and have an easily accessible end result that could serve people in their everyday lives. I wanted my work to have an existence/ duration beyond the footprint and dates of a gallery exhibition. My solution was clear as soon as I took a metals course. I was beyond delighted to find that the forms I was using in my sculptural work translated beautifully to jewelry so it didn’t feel like I was abandoning anything. Though I did eventually finish my institutional learning with a degree in sculpture, I prolonged the experience and crammed in as many metals classes as I could before doing so. I never looked back after that first metals class. I am forever grateful for having found this path.
I draw inspiration from so many places, but I find my best work comes from defining a set of parameters that challenge me as a designer. I’ll quickly hone in on what I don’t feel comfortable in, or don’t possess enough skill and work until I have found a way to make something I am proud of. Pushing through barriers is the best feeling-even when the barriers are self imposed. This is usually the process of how I come up with entire new collections.
Often in my studio practice, each new design is building on the last. I like to find small elements of the previous design that inspire me on the merit of its formal qualities, so I pull it forward and develop it into new pieces. In this way, I am able to create cohesive collections and this process keeps me connected to my artistic foundations while bringing purposeful, powerful objects into the world.
My materials also inspire me – I LOVE working in the lost wax casting methodology. I find that I have much more freedom to design in this medium in the way that I enjoy – allowing for more improvisational and intuitive manipulation.
I do love aspects of fabrication work, too (soldering, filing, sawing, forming from sheet, wire and scrap) but when I do that kind of work it is usually pre-planned, sketched out and executed to specifications to working this way, for me tends to be more functional in nature.
Can you offer a glimpse into your process and describe your studio?
Sure! So, I work in my backyard studio in Lakewood. We fondly refer to it as the she-shed because it was an unfinished shed left behind by the previous owners. We put in electrical and finished the wall to make a suitable space to house DPJ. Back in LA, I kept my clothes in the baby’s room and worked out of my walk in closet – no joke. So yeah, this current space of mine is more than dreamy!
Of late, I have thoroughly annoyed my assistant (and myself) by re-arranging workstations a million times. Since I started to bring in my casting equipment last year I have had to play around with the arrangement of things to find the best system of work. I am happy to say that I have finally found the perfect flow and have arranged the space to suit.
Here’s what the process looks like. I’ve got two jewelers work benches – one dedicated to the fabrication of metals and one is exclusively for working on wax carving. Both are heavily used and this is where the creative work and playful stuff happens. If I can spend a day at one or both I am a very happy girl. The rest of the studio space is set up for my production needs. There’s a kiln, vacuum table, casting machine, polishing lathes, mold station, solder station and various small machines that help me take my originals to scale for production purposes. I have one area for packaging and fulfillment that I try to keep cleared off. I often marvel at how much mess has to be made before we get to the glamorous end result of finished jewelry.
Your pieces are rustic yet modern and have evolved over the years. Do you anticipate your designs continuing to evolve?
Oh yes, of that there is no doubt. I’ve got enough plans, dreams and ideas stored up for more than a lifetime of work. A small percentage of those will probably ever see the light of day and they will not look like I think they will. As life, new skills and inspirations are in constant flux all that is going have an impact on my way of working and of seeing things. I do however think I have found my overall signature and will evolve within this modern highly polished textural style. But you know, there’s no rules. Only time will truly tell.
Some of the plans I have are to re-incorporate gold into my work. The trouble for me is that I love to design BIG. I love a statement making piece and that work is not really sustainable or accessible for most to have made in this beautiful but expensive material. Though I am able to make any of my existing pieces with gold, I am slowly working on a collection on a scale more suitable to the material.
You have collaborated with other artisans in the past. Can you tell us more about these experiences?
Ah! Collaboration is the best. It’s such a great entry point to the process I described earlier of working within imposed parameters – and I mean that in the most positive way. The act of collaboration can require compromise, it calls for a conversation and response to someone else’s ideas that I can then filter through my own visual vocabulary and vice-versa. It creates a wonderful treasure trove of happy surprises and inspiring moments outside of my own weird headspace. Collaboration is so important to me and the big thing I have decided to prioritize for the year ahead. You’ll see a lot more collaborations coming out and I wish I could tell you more now but it’s a little too soon.
When you’re not designing jewelry, how do you spend your time?
I’m married and we have two sweet little boys so travel, and family focus is hugely important and beautifully fills most of my time. For myself, I love delicious food both at restaurants & patio dinners. I nerd out to science fiction books and epic fantasy sagas. I recently found a love for taking kickboxing classes when I can find the time. And, after moving here 5 years ago, I discovered that I have a pretty green thumb so in warmer months I can often be found in the garden.
Aside from your website, where can we find your creations?
I do a lot of in-person events, I have a monthly newsletter, have my work available at a growing list of retailers nationally – and I also teach workshops when I can find the time! Sign up for my newsletter at
danteperozzi.com for more details.
What is spinning on your record player?
Oh, its all over place. I’m thinking of the last few days… De La Soul, Nathaniel Rateliff, the Walkmen, Lorn Huron, Damien Marley.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Dante. If you’d like to see more from her vast collection, visit danteperozzi.com and meet her in person on Old South Gaylord Street for the Firefly Handmade Summer Market in August.