Moose Spotlight: Unceasing Contributions

All of us aspire to give back to our communities in one way or another. Dawn has been contributing to the Bay Area for years through teaching and creating. With her stellar and extensive track record, one would surely feel at ease when taking her classes. 

Born and raised in California, Dawn has spent many years enriching the metalsmith and jewelry culture in the area. For decades, she has contributed to various faculties and organizations. Since 1997, Dawn has been the head of Small Scale Metals at Cabrillo College. Prior to that, she coordinated San Francisco State's Metal Arts and Jewelry program for 12 years. Adding to her impressive background, Dawn also taught at Richmond Art Center, De Young Museum Art School, and Revere Academy, and California College of Arts.

For Dawn, having this tireless passion for teaching and creating stemmed from inspiring experiences with her mentors. In high school, she started her jewelry journey by discovering her love for casting and fabrication in a class taught by Mr. Fargell at Fremont High School. This experience even led her to be Mr. Fargell’s unofficial teaching assistant. Her commitment to this craft was strengthened more by other inspiring art teachers and professors from De Anza College, San Jose State University, and San Diego State University.

 Teaching encounters vary depending on the different types of institutions. Having taught at a state school, Dawn is familiar with the limitations of public institutions. According to her, teaching in a public institution requires navigating all the state regulations, budget, enrollment, and paperwork. Currently, the restrictions brought about by the pandemic have required many teachers to switch to teaching online. These tasks might be tedious and demanding, but Dawn finds that the rewards of teaching make these challenges worthwhile. 

“Most of my rewarding experiences are when my students have a breakthrough in understanding a technique or become teachers at other schools and institutions” 

From creating in high school to teaching in universities, Dawn has continuously fueled a passion for her craft. Her first jewelry commission occurred in high school. This sterling pendant with a dynamic Bisbee turquoise cabochon was for their school’s retiring District Superintendent. She chose turquoise for her first creation because of the stone’s vivid blue color and earthy matrix of patterns. Turquoise’s mix of details made up an incredibly regal presentation piece.

 “I work with many different types of stones, but when I choose turquoise, it is because of the many attractive shades of blues, greens, and matrix patterns that are so expressive in color.”

Dawn’s unique and stunning work obtains inspiration from nature. For her, experiencing nature yields creativity that produces timeless creations. Nature also motivates her preferences in materials. Working with natural materials is desirable for Dawn because of the pieces’ imperfections, patina, and surfaces. In comparison to natural material, she perceives lab-created synthetic turquoise, opal, lapis, as often looking more manufactured and too perfect. Like Dawn, nature also serves as an integral core for many creators.

“Nature inspires my work through living and being in nature, breathing it in, surrounding myself in the beauty and experience of natural space. Artifacts of stones, shells, branches, skeletons are metaphors for the cycle of life, and the universe.” 

Title: "The Crossing", Brooch,  4" x 4"  
Photo by Dawn Nakanishi
Commissioned for the traveling exhibition "La Frontera: Artists Respond to the Border Wall". 
Organized by "Velvet da Vinci Contemporary Jewelry Gallery", San Francisco
Exhibited in Mexico City and San Francisco
 Materials: Sterling, copper, brass, coral, agate, wood and polychrome pigment.

With her unwavering commitment to promoting learning, Dawn shares her top tip for rising creators.

“Keep learning, stay curious, experiment, practice, practice, practice, and be joyful in your process.”

Check out Cabrillo College's online show of contemporary jewelry: 

Art Gallery-Cabrillo College

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