Prior to the invention of photography, capturing the likeness of a person and preserving it for posterity took incredible skill, a lifetime of diligent practice and years of apprenticeship. Artists worked with clay, stone, canvas and tapestry and the subjects of their art were almost without fail royalty, dignitaries or the otherwise very wealthy. One of the most beautiful and portable ways of preserving an image throughout history is in cameo form.
This beautiful art form has inspired well-known products of our time, one of the greatest examples being Wedgwood‘s famous blue Jasperware. The Wedgwood and Bentley collection is meticulously handcrafted and one of a kind but comes with a hefty price tag, $30,000.
The earliest cameos were made of stone and date back to the 3rd century B.C. Cameos have reappeared as popular art and jewelry several times throughout history, most notably in the Victorian and Edwardian periods when they were often seen gracing the throats of fashionable ladies with high lace collars. Cameos became an affordable luxury when ultrasonic machines, also known as ultrasonic mills, were created to replicate the work of cameo artists.
There are cameo artists today that offer replicas of their original artwork reproduced by ultrasonic mills, but there are some artists who still create one of a kind custom cameos. Gareth Eckley, a gifted artisan whose work includes a commissioned cameo for Queen Elizabeth II, creates custom portrait cameos for display in pendants, lockets and brooches, as well as family crest rings. Eckley’s cameos are primarily made from layered agate which allows each layer to take on its own color and character. Each custom cameo comes with a photo journal of the creative process.
The process begins with clients sending Eckley images and information about the subject. When asked how he brings his pieces to life, Eckley has said, “This is where the magic happens and technique becomes art. I find out as much as I can about the subject so I feel that I know them. I draw their portraits from the photographs to get a feel for their character. Then when I am carving I surround myself with images of the subject. In the final stages of carving my hands just seem to know how to bring the carving to life with their spirit.”
One of the most common requests that Eckley recieves are for “memory cameos”, portrait cameos of persons or animals that are no longer living. I am always searching for artistic ways to record and preserve family history. With cameos surviving from the 3rd century B.C., what better way to keep a memory alive than to capture an image in something as beautiful and lasting as a cameo?