Dover artist is the only representative of Kent County to receive a statewide grant.

Arden Bardol and super-villain Darth Vader share something in common. They both wear special helmets. 

Unlike Vader, Bardol’s helmet isn’t designed to keep her alive. But rather it protects her eyes when using a blowtorch to create metal jewelry fused with clay in her Dover metal shop (or Death Star).

Recognizing Bardol’s artful abilities, which she chooses not to use for evil, the Delaware Division of the Arts named her a 2017 winner of the Individual Artist Fellowship award.

She was one of 18 artists in the state to receive it. Bardol is also the only Kent County IAF winner this year.

“I’m very honored,” she said.

Her whimsical jewelry ranges from pins to necklaces. Bardol’s jewelry is meticulously crafted in geometrical shapes ornamented with colorful pieces of polymer clay on top.

Artful architect

The Dover resident’s art is inspired by her experience as an architect. She’s been in the industry for 30 years and is a senior associate at Becker Morgan in the Capital City. She’s worked there since 1999.

In Bardol’s eyes, architecture and jewelry are both art forms.

“I view architecture as art on a very large scale. It’s art that occupies the environment,” she said. “What I wanted to do was work on smaller-scale art; and using the human body as the platform for the display of the art interested me.”

Bardol’s process for creating jewelry involves dangerous tools, including a grinder and blowtorch that can reach up to 10,000 degrees.

The basic concept involves sketching a design, cutting and shaping metals, and using an industrial oven to melt clay onto metal strips.

Bardol said creating her fanciful jewelry isn’t easy because she works with thin pieces of mixed metals. And the thinner the metal the higher the probability you’ll burn a hole through it.

When asked why she chose to create her artwork under such difficult conditions, she casually responded, “I’m challenging myself.”

No backing down

For as long as Bardol can remember, she’s overcome big challenges. A major one was becoming the first in her family to graduate from college. She earned her bachelors in architecture from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Ironically, the Pennsylvania native wasn’t very excited about studying that career field before college.

“When I was in high school, a guidance counselor said, ‘You really love art and you’re really good with math, physics and things like that. You probably would make a good architect,” Bardol explained. “I said, ‘what’s that?’”

She took an aptitude test and it revealed she had a knack for architecture. The rest has been history.

Bardol’s proudest accomplishment as an architect was designing the Kent County Administrative Complex in Dover on Bay Road, which boasts a glassy exterior.

“It’s a major building for the county. All of the county offices are in it,” Bardol said. “It was a big building and it involved lots of moving parts that had to be integrated.”

Solo show in Milford

With regard to her art work, Bardol is looking forward to showcasing her jewelry at Gallery 37 in Milford.

The display will be part of the mandatory solo performance (depending on your art form) or exhibit IAF winners have to give.

The opportunity to exhibit at Gallery 37 is special to her because it’s based in Kent County and features works from regionally-recognized artists. Bardol said she doesn’t have an exact date, but it’ll likely be in November.

‘It’s pretty cool’

At the end of the day, Bardol is delighted to be an IAF winner.

“It’s pretty cool,” she said. “They don’t just hand them out.”

To be considered for an IAF grant, artists must fill out an application at artsdel.org. Applicants are considered based on their creativity and skill.

There are three categories for IAF winners: Emerging Professional ($3,000), Established Professional ($6,000) and Masters Award ($10,000).

Bardol won as an Established Professional.

The work of the Fellows will be featured in a group exhibition, “Award Winners XVII,” at the Biggs Museum of American Art this summer.

The grants are to help artists hone their skills and get their names out to the public.

“Individual Artist Fellowship grants provide the recognition and exposure that artists need to successfully promote their work,” said Paul Weagraff, director of Delaware Division of the Arts.

“The financial award," Weagraff said, "allows them to pursue advanced training, purchase equipment and materials or fulfill other needs to advance their careers.”