2015-04-01 / Local News

Cherry Hill artist recalls her heavy metal years


FAMILY: Sons Michael (Phyllis), Matthew, and Robert (Adriane); grandchildren, Samantha, Jacob, and Leo

SYNAGOGUE: Cong. Beth El

FAVORITE MUSIC: Country with a little Eagles and Elton John

FAVORITE RADIO & TV: Public radio and “Homeland,” “Mad Men,” “The Affair,” “Downton Abbey”

FAVORITE BOOK: “The Secret Life of Bees”

Long before “repurposing” was all the rage, Cherry Hill resident Linda Markoff would head to junkyards while her kids were in school, scouring the junk piles in a quest to find promising pieces of metal.

Back at her South Jersey metal smith studio, she donned protective gear, fired up her torch and got to the business of turning flat pieces of sheet metal into beautiful, one-of-akind jewelry. It was a long and involving process, sometimes requiring many turns at heating and rolling mesh wire and lace before adding unique stones, trinkets or beads in the right places.

Throughout the 1980s, Markoff created these works, often displaying them in juried art shows. She sold the pieces on commission, in boutique stores and craft fairs near and far. She also gained a following as a contributing columnist for “Workbench Magazine” and “Home & Garden.”

When her youngest son Robert went off to college at the University of Pennsylvania and Markoff took a fulltime job at Penn in administration, she gave up the metal studio. Although she sold off most of her pieces, there are many others that she has been wearing herself throughout the years. Others were just collecting dust. Now, more than two decades later, the remaining pieces are on display this month at the Joel and Linda Appel Gallery at the Katz JCC. And although Markoff is not creating new pieces (to the dismay of many who have seen the work), she said the exhibit has brought back wonderful memories of her metal-smithing days.

“It’s exciting to think about what I used to do and what my abilities were,” said Markoff, the mother of three grown boys and three grandchildren.

In reality, there has never been a time when she wasn’t involved in creative pursuits. A Philadelphia native, Markoff started thinking of herself as an artist by the third grade.

“I was chosen to paint the front of some man’s store over Halloween after winning an art contest and having my picture in the paper,” she recalled. “From then on, I was always making art.”

Markoff attended both the University of the Arts as a sculpture major and Peirce Junior College for a degree in business administration. She made many huge outdoor and indoor metal sculptures on commission after college and worked in a metal studio in Cheltenham, PA. But when her family moved to South Jersey, she started looking for a studio closer to home. During a visit to Rowan University to check out their facilities, a professor convinced her to try her hand at jewelry.

“I had to mentally break down the measurements,” she recalled. “As I worked at it, it became more and more like jewelry rather than pieces of jewelry that looked like sculptures. I gradually fell into my own designs.”

During the break from making art to focus on her business career, Markoff went from Penn to working for the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey on the Annual Campaign (now called JFund). She then worked as an administrative assistant in Temple Beth Sholom’s religious school.

Upon retirement seven years ago, Markoff has had more time to devote to her interests, including the arts and Judaism. She was part of the first graduating class of docents at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, where she presently volunteers. She is also a presence at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where she is the editor of the PAFA docent newsletters. In addition, she works in family programming at the Barnes Museum.

Although she was always dabbling in art—making murals for her grandchildren’s bedrooms for example—she recently became more serious again. At an art outing, she met a painter who now leads classes at her home for three retired women who all have art backgrounds. While hunting around for a place to exhibit their works, she was presented with the opportunity to display her jewelry from long ago.

Although the exhibit has made her nostalgic for creating such pieces, working on canvas is keeping her busy for now.

“There is always something on my table I’m working on,” she added.

(Linda Markoff’s metal pieces will be on display throughout the month of April at the Joel and Linda Appel Gallery at the Katz JCC.) .

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