A native of Bristol, Rhode Island, Kendall Reiss grew up exploring the rocky shoreline of Narragansett Bay. She attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA where she received a BS in Geology, which provided the visual training and hands-on approach she now uses as an artist and educator. After studying at several prominent institutions including the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Kendall returned to school to combine her fascination of the natural world with the study of jewelry. In 2011, she received a MFA in Jewelry + Metalsmithing from the Rhode Island School of Design.
International presentations of her work include: Finnish jewelry triennial, KORU8 with exhibitions at The Finnish Forest Museum Lusto in Punkaharju and The Oulu Art Museum, Finland in 2024 and 2025 respectively. Her work was exhibited in Jewelry & Nature at Tincal Lab in Porto, Portugal, as well as nationally for New York City Jewelry Week, at the Baltimore Jewelry Center, Greenville Center for Creative Arts, Bristol Art Museum, and Haskell Public Gardens. Kendall will present her ongoing research project, BEING [with] TREES at the College Art Association annual conference in a panel led by curator Martina Tanga; Learning from Trees: Artists & Climate Solutions.
As a gallerist, Kendall has worked both independently and collaboratively on curatorial projects on the East and West Coasts at Brooklyn Metal Works, The Hotel Wilshire, Velvet da Vinci, and Alloy Gallery. She has taught across New England and nationally including at the Rhode Island School of Design, Fuller Craft Museum, and with Pocosin Arts School of Fine Craft. Kendall is currently a Professor of the Practice in Metals at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston, MA, where she serves as Chair of the 3D & Performance Department.
Kendall lives in Bristol, Rhode Island where she owns and operates the local arts initiative, Kendall Reiss Gallery & Studio. Located at 469 Wood Street in Bristol, RI, the business focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary artists and jewelers, offers private instruction and small group classes in jewelry making and metalworking, in addition to serving as Kendall’s studio.
Art activism and community focused projects have become an important aspect of Kendall’s practice. Notably, Research BIPOC History, a grassroots effort dedicated to researching, recognizing, and honoring the history, humanity, and contributions of the enslaved people who resided in Bristol, RI from the towns founding in 1680 to the Civil War.
By L.A. Reilly
LA: You have a Bachelor of Science in Geology, when did you start having an interest in this field?
KR: When I went to undergrad, I went to a liberal arts school and I was interested in art and I’ve always been a student of the natural world. I’m an observer, a collector of little things that I might find and I’ve always been curious about nature. When I went to college I had a lot of questions about how this planet is here; what’s underneath our feet, how soil is produced, how trees come along etc. I took an oceanography class and I started with the marine part of it and it answered a lot of bigger questions that I had. How do these systems work like the tides and currents? When I was an undergrad I did a semester at sea and I went abroad on a 135 foot long “Schooner” I learned not only about boats and nautical maritime history, but also about science. There was a lab on the boat I’ve always been asking questions.
LA: You went back to school to study jewelry in 2011 and received a MFA in jewelry and metalsmithing from RISD. Your work has been showcased around the globe, what is your favorite type of jewelry to design ?
KR: Right now, the thing that really gets me excited as an artist has been working with glass doing glass casting. It’s not wearable jewelry but work that’s based on my ongoing research I’ve been doing around old growth trees in Bristol and all over the world. I’ve been making these glass tablets that reference necklaces. I do both jewelry and work with glass tiles. Because I’m a full time professor at Tufts University, this means I also have to keep up a research practice. I really like teaching casting classes. Students are working across a lot of different materials and are learning different skills in casting and mold making that would apply to jewelry. I’m more of an interdisciplinary artist and community organizer. We got a substantial grant from Tufts to support a project I’ve been working on in Bristol for the last four years. There are a lot of things that tie into my creative and artistic practice that aren’t necessarily jewelry.
LA: Tell me about your ongoing research project called “Being (with) Trees” at the College Art Association.
KR: This is a presentation that I will be giving with six different artists. The College Art Association is a long standing organization. They have an annual conference and this year it’s in Chicago which is an opportunity for me to present my work that I’ve been doing like the glass casting pieces. During the pandemic I taught a class called “Relational Placemaking”. The assignment for students was they had to choose one place wherever they were. People were from all over the globe. They had to go somewhere outdoors weekly and connect with it, record it, document it and think about what it meant to them as an artist. I did projects locally in Bristol. The trees were really the focus of this project and got me thinking about the lifespan of the trees, who it would have known and what would have been in its lifetime. I self-published a book for people weekly about a tulip tree that I love near Linden place. It was available for people walking by it was in a book box that they could just take. They were highly popular. We did a workshop with a photographer from Boston. She taught us a process called “Anthotype” using pigment from plants to make photographic prints. I use parts of the trees to make impressions and then create the castings. A couple of the pieces are going to Finland they’re accepted into a major exhibition
LA: You are a very busy woman along with owning a gallery, you also teach locally and nationally at RISD and museums. You are currently a professor of the Practice of Metals at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts. Tell me about this.
KR: It’s a school within a school, we are within the school of Arts and Sciences, but the Museum School, SMFA, has been in existence since the 1800s. SMFA is a very unique. There are no majors. Students major in studio art. They don’t focus on one thing which is great because it’s very broad and we can use all different techniques and materials. I started in 2012 part time after grad school, then I was a full time visiting artist for two years. In 2018 I applied for and was offered a full time position. Tufts is a Research-1 University. They support faculty and have great opportunities for different ways to support my practice. I’m an artist and also a business person. In the spring I’m teaching a class called “Art Entrepreneurship”, which helps students to be problem solvers. As a professor of metals I teach soldering. Starting with sheet metals and wires and fabricating to make sculptures and jewelry. In terms of hands-on skill building it’s traditional metal smithing techniques. I teach a casting class as well
LA: Tell me about your gallery and how you came about opening it and when did you open? Your business focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary artists and Jewelers? You also offer private instruction and small group classes in jewelry making and metal working, when your classes offered and what type of jewelry can people make?
KR: I bought this building seven years ago. Wood Street is booming so we have a really great spot. I teach classes here and right now I have one remarkable student that I am working with she wants to learn all about jewelry making I do a lot of community workshops in town as well .
LA: Tell me the difference between jewelry making and metalworking.
KR: Metalworking is very specific to a material. We work with copper, bronze, silver and gold. Jewelry making is more open-ended. You’re not working with just one material, you work with wood, glass and mica. Metal is not necessarily used.
LA: Tell me about your current showing “Shiny Things”. It features works of 30 contemporary Jewelers and artists. this exhibit goes to January 14th. So people can buy the art and jewelry at your studio? Also how do artists get to be showcased at your gallery?
KR: Everything is for sale, this show was by invitation only. They are a group of artists that I curated myself and brought in based on how the work would all show together and also a range of pieces both in prices and materials and wearability styles. For the last eight weeks the shows been up it’s been so great to connect with people. You can come to the gallery, show me what you make and if it would be a great fit I would think about it but I specifically look for work that is contemporary and you can’t find anywhere else. I want to show emerging artists. I want to support students who are getting an opportunity for the first time to get their work out in the public.
LA: You have an upcoming exhibit in two different museums in Finland that runs to 2025 called “KORU8”. Tell me about this and how you got involved. The theme is forests and that they play a crucial role in climate change.
KR: I’m in shock about Finland and it happens once every three years since 2003. KORU means jewelry in Finnish. In Europe they have a National Finished Jewelry Association. It’s an exhibition, symposium and workshop. First it will take place in a forest museum. In June there will lectures and hands on workshops. 450 people applied to the show, 49 got accepted and I was 1 out of 3 people from the United states that got accepted. I feel very grateful.
LA: Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry that you ever made that you couldn’t part with?
KR: All of them! I have made things over the years that I loved but this ring I’m wearing I would never sell. I got the gem in Peru at a marketplace and I would never get rid of it.
LA: Lastly, when you are not busy with your gallery, making jewelry ,teaching classes, what do you like to do for fun? You must have a favorite restaurant in Bristol.
KR: I have my dog Bubba, he’s a great excuse for me to get out and about. I love to go walking and hiking with him and I love to see other art shows, I love music and food. I love O’Brien and Brough for a drink and for food I’d say Bywater in Warren.
Kendall Reiss Gallery & Studio:
Address:469 Wood Street, Bristol
FB@KRGallery and Studio