Gary Lee Noffke has been described as “a pacesetter” and the “ultimate maverick.” For nearly 50 years, he has consistently and simultaneously created jewelry, hollowware, and flatware, passionately exploring surface, form, and function. Beginning in the 1970s, Noffke’s work gained national attention. A metalsmith’s metalsmith known for his graffiti-like surface treatment, Noffke challenged metalworking traditions with his expressive spontaneous approach and sense of humor. Over the course of his career, he has received numerous accolades particularly for his technical prowess, hot forging research, the development of numerous alloys, and his ability to embrace and challenge tradition.
Attitude and Alchemy: The Metalwork of Gary Lee Noffke is the first museum-organized project about this consummate artist in almost 20 years. Dating from the 1960s to present day, the exhibition includes approximately 130 examples of his silver and gold hollowware, flatware, and jewelry in addition to a selection of objects forged in steel. This retrospective will not only capture Noffke’s distinctive personality, but also trace the evolution of his style, methodology, and impact on the field. From striking jewelry inspired by ancient aesthetics to exquisite goblets rich with surface decoration, these works will illustrate why Noffke is considered one of the foremost metalsmiths in the United States.
Noffke was born in August of 1943. He was raised in the small town of Sullivan, Illinois by extremely religious parents. His father was a church elder and worked in a local shoe factory and his mother was a homemaker. In the beginning money was scarce, so Noffke and his older brother had to find creative ways to entertain themselves. They made up their own games and regularly built toys from found materials. In the process Noffke leaned how to use tools and work with his hands. These early experiences gave him an advantage later in the studio. Noffke’s mother, in particular, encouraged his artistic endeavors. When he started college, she took a job in a shelter care home to help pay for his education. She soon became a partner in a neighboring shelter care home and later purchased that business. With her success, Noffke’s mother was able to pay his tuition for each of his degrees and even provided this young artist with a steady supply of gold to utilize. Noffke received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education from Eastern Illinois University. After a period studying painting in graduate school, he shifted his focus and obtained a Master of Fine Arts in metalwork from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. There Noffke studied under revered metalsmith Brent Kington.
After completing his MFA, Noffke taught at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, and California State College in Los Angeles. In 1971, he accepted a position at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens. Noffke devoted himself to the development of UGA’s jewelry and metals program and helped launch the jewelry and metals studies abroad curriculum in Cortona, Italy. After 30 years at UGA, Noffke retired as Professor Emeritus. He has received numerous awards and honors including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and membership in the American Craft Council’s College of Fellows. Noffke has exhibited internationally and his work is represented in numerous public and private collections.