BJ Keith Art

This blog is written by BJ. Keith's daughter and artist, Linnie Aikens, and is her perspective and a result of numerous, if not daily conversations about art with her mother, BJ.  It is currently being moved from another site to here and will take a couple of weeks to do so, so keep checking back.  All or most of it has been/will be compiled into a coffee-table artbook by Linnie Aikens.  


NOTE: The dates of these entries have been changed to read sequentially.  


Photos of more of BJ's sculptures are on my website at  Thank you!  Linnie




All material is copyrighted by Linnie Aikens and permission must be granted for use by anyone else. It must be clarified that the thoughts expressed in this blog are the opinions and interpretations solely of the author, and may or not be of the artist.


Page 1 from BJ Kieth - One Artist's Odyssey, written by Linnie Aikens


When most little girls fancied dolls in the 1940's and 1950's, this mechanically-inclined little girl's favorite "toys" were tools, her own tool box, and her box of paints.  She idolozed her father, a master carpenter, electrician and unofficial architectural designer, who kept her supplied in oil paints, canvases, soft white pine and hand tools.  An accomplished equestrian at a young age, most of her early paintings featured horses.  She later graduated to power tools and a welder and learned to create abstract metal sculpture while she earned her studio art degree at Cal State University in Los Angeles.


BJ Keith had returned to college at age 32, after her four daughters where in school, and earned her BFA from CSULA.  She completed all of her work to receive her masters at the same school, however the art professors in charge of the department at the time refused to confer the degree upon her in 1982 because they contended that the work was "just too good--too professional" and that "she couldn't possibly have done it on her own."  Later, her college-bound granddaughter was outraged when she had heard the story, but BJ winked at her and said, "You don't need revenge when you've achieved success!"


BJ's life as a metal sculptor was certainly a success story.


BJ learned to weld while creating a two-foot old fashioned canopener, which she showed to Jerry Fels.  Fels and his partner, Curtis, founded the C.Jeré line of metal sculpture at Artisan House, Curtis, being the business side, and Jerry being the designer, thus; C.Jeré.  BJ's canopener, which was remade as a four-foot piece, became the centerpiece of an oversized kitchen line, which she designed under the name of C.Jeré. 35 years later, these pieces are still being sold, although she quickly moved into more non-objective pieces of metal art.  It is these fine art, non-objective metal sculptures, under the name of C. Jeré, for which she is most well known.  Jerry had told her that he'd seen a genius in her and took her under his wing as his protogé.


Even today, 90% of the non-objective fine art sculptures are by BJ using the nom de plume of C.Jeré.



All material is copyrighted by Linnie Aikens and permission must be granted for use by anyone else. It must be clarified that the thoughts expressed in this blog are the opinions and interpretations solely of the author, and may or not be of the artist.

BJ had her professional start at the Artisan House in Los Angeles, in 1979, when it was still owned by Curtis Freiler and Jerry Fels, who founded the company in 1964.  Jerry Fels, immediately having recognized the talent in BJ, made her his protogé and taught her how to turn her ideas into metal sculpture.  After Fels retired and sold the company, BJ remained as the top designer under the C.Jeré name, a combined nom-de-plume for the two founders' names.  From 1980-2010 BJ brought distinction to the company for her high quality fine art abstract sculptures, which have brought in a majority of the company's revenue for over 35 years, and continue to do so.  Under the C.Jer´name, she is a world renown metal sculptor, with works sold around the world and some pieces even in museums in Europe. Above are just a few of those pieces.


It should be noted that BJ is still one of the very few metal sculptors working in the industry who not only designs her own work but creates, welds and finishes the prototypes herself.  The more common practice is to have a team of engineers figure out how to make the drawing or design into a sculpture.  By creating the prototype herself, BJ learned to "feel" the metal material and learn the engineering herself to preserve not only the integrity of the peice but the grace and beauty of the design as she had originally envisioned it.


All material is copyrighted by Linnie Aikens and permission must be granted for use by anyone else. It must be clarified that the thoughts expressed in this blog are the opinions and interpretations solely of the author, and may or not be of the artist.

IN BJ's WORDS:  "I most enjoy making artwork that combines moving, curved lines with negative space.  Line, implied movement, balance of elements and rhythm are the foundations of my art; That's what makes my heart sing."  She smiles widely.  "I like to always learn and take risks," adds B.J., who was encouraged early on by the renown Artisan House's director and founder, Jerry Fels.  "He took me under his wing and became my mentor and friend.  My first metal art drawings that I submitted to Jerry were pretty amateurish," she recalls with a grimace, "but he just went crazy over my two-foout tall, pop-art metal can opener that I did as this silly school project, and he enlarged my design to four feet in height and asked me to create a whole series of kitchen-themed wall sculptures." After 35 years, this kitchen line is still highly sought after and sold by the company.


While B.J. had her beginnings in representational work, she was never content to remain in one place.  She had the gutsiness to step out of her comfort zone and try new directions.  It was only a year after her kitchen series that her work moved almost exclusively into abstract designs, emphasizing the graceful lines and movement she saw in nature.  She experimented with variations in welding, soldering and sanding to achieve different finishes and looks.  Taking her mentor's lead, she moved away from the safety of small sculptures and created works closer to 8 ft.  Within a few years, nearly all of her work was non-objective, the quality of which elevated her work to the level of fine art.  


The three C.Jeré sculptures above are just a few of her indoor/outdoor sculptures, standing 8 ft. tall.  One of her favorites is the one below, called "Cross Wind":



Whenever one turns on the television or a movie and sees a large standing or tabletop metal sculpture in an office or lobby, 9 times out of 10, it is one of BJ's works under the pseudonym of C.Jeré. (see Artist History for a sampling of some of the TV shows and movies in which her sculptures have been used.)


All material is copyrighted by Linnie Aikens and permission must be granted for use by anyone else. It must be clarified that the thoughts expressed in this blog are the opinions and interpretations solely of the author, and may or not be of the artist.

























BJ surprises most people.  She's a petite, often quiet woman with muscles of steel to do the work she does, and a loud, expressive voice through her art.  Not only does she conceive of the concept for each art piece, she has the engineering and welding skills to create the prototype for each.  Most of her tools were inherited from her father, also a master carpenter, electrician and architect.  Her bending maching, welder and 200 lb. argon bottle, large vice, table saws and metal working tables are at least 70 years old.  


Her father, the late Harold Keith, recognizing her artistic and mechanical talent early on, taught her how to use all of the equipment, and her exhusband, Ron Aikens, helped her refine her technical skills.  He father had intended to send her to the Sorbonne in France when she graduated from High School, but having married early and raising four daughters, her artistic career was put on hold for a time.  She didn't let that stop her, though.  When her oldest girls were in High School themselves, she went back to school and received her AA and then did a BFA and MFA program at Cal State University, Los Angeles.  In fact, she, her then husband, and her oldest daughter all graduated from college the same year in 1982.


Here and there through her metal sculpting career, she tried to incorporate her first love of painting, with techniques of painted metal, enameling and mostly burnishes and patinas.


BJ does all of her own metal work, from the smallest piece-work wall sculptures, to tabletop sculptures, to the tallest 8 foot large standing sculptures.  Now, in her 70's, BJ does all but the latter, and in her free time, she paints large 3 foot x 4 foot canvases in oil. In these paintings, one still gets a glimpse of the metal sculptor background.   As in everything, from cooking, to music, to metal sculpture to painting, BJ's unparalleled work ethic, creativity, vision and persistence insists that she excel in all.


Some of her work using paint on metal or enamel and metal were featured in the 2007 catalog page from the Artisan House, shared below.









"I've always had an insatiable artistic visual appetite.  It compels me to study the striations in rock formations or to create a contemporary, bold interpretation of the life cycle of biological organisms.  It's about learning how to see," Keith says.  "I think we artists see the world in a way that's different from everyone else.  Everything I observe gives me inspiration for my art."

When asked about her process, BJ explains, "When I do a new design, I first sketch my idea on paper, and sometimes I use wire or stiff cardboard to make a mockup. Then I decide on the type of metal would convey the design's purpose the best. The I start assembling it in the garage.  I know that  most metal scuptors hand off their drawn design to others to do the engineering and welding but I like to do all of that myself."  She holds up her hands to me, "And your mother has the ugly hands and scarred arms to prove it"  One might ask why a beautiful woman would do so, but BJ is an artist through and through.  "When I'm working on a piece, my favorite part is that element of surprise, you know?  I'll think to myself, 'You know what? I actually think it would look better this way instead.'  I'd hate to miss out on that surprise and understanding of a piece if I let someone else construct it for me."  History has many examples of famous artists who allowed the art to speak to them and surprise them in the hands on making—Michaelangelo, for one, who was convinced that the block of marble always revealed the art it wanted to create.


Where did BJ learn to weld?  Well, initially from watching her father with her old welding mask, but later, when she was in college.  "When I was studying for my MFA, I realised that the metal sculture teacher didn't know anything more than soldering. I could have learned that from my father and husband. So instead, I went to the industrial arts department and took a class in welding.  The teacher and I had a ball.  Rarely did he get an artist in the class, for he mostly saw tradesmen, so we would try all sorts of things to see how metal would respond.  We had fun experimenting!  He didn't make me do the regular assignments but let me create my own.  I was very lucky.  Then I used my husband's welder at home and eventually inherited all of my father's tools, including his welder."


Link to Style Craft Video of BJ working:

This Article was published by the Artisan House in 2009.  It is merely shared here.  Many of the quotes are the same quotes provided by the artist to her daughter in the documentation of her life as an artist.

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