Gifted Hands

Categories: Nevus Outreach Community

By Patricia McAdams, Staff Writer, Nevus Outreach

Jewelry piece entitle 'Penguins Viewing the Sunset'

"Penguins Viewing the Sunset" ring

Jewelry piece entitled 'Jade Mountain Path'

"Jade Mountain Path" pendant

Jewelry piece of a bee and a beehive

"Beehive Pieces" pendant

Jewelry piece entitle 'Ivory Gull Touching Down'

"Ivory Gull Touching Down" pendant

A love born as a boy

Nevus Outreach families know Bruce Bauer, MD, as the surgeon who removes more congenital melanocytic nevi (CMN) than anyone else anywhere. But Bauer also cares for children, as well as adults, with congenital and acquired ear deformities, cleft lip and palate, craniofacial anomalies, and vascular lesions. He is, in fact, one of the most versatile and respected cranial reconstructive plastic surgeons in the world. Curiously, he traces the beginning of his skills as a surgeon to when he was growing up on Long Island.

“It was my work as a boy with gem cutting and carving whales’ teeth and ivory that set the stage for some of my bone and cartilage carving abilities in surgery,” he says.

“My true artistic passion is jewelry work. I have always liked working with my hands. I started cutting stones and working with silver jewelry at about 10 years of age, self taught, but guided by several jewelers in Manhattan — both in the jewelry district downtown and in Greenwich Village. My earliest work reflects simple Scandinavian type designs. I had interest from one of the fine jewelry houses in New York to show my work even before I went to college.

“I began ivory carving when I was a teen and I began to develop a strong interest in Art Nouveau design and its Asian origins,” he says. “By this time, I had moved from the simple cutting of stone to faceting, which is the cutting and polishing of cut surfaces on a gemstone so it sparkles. I also started working in gold, which was not so costly then, as it is today.”

With his passion for art playing such a prominent role in his young life, Bauer briefly considered becoming a geologist to work in gem cutting as a career, before finally choosing medicine when he went to college. He had already decided on a surgical career when he started in medical school. He fixed rapidly on plastic surgery after meeting the Chief of Plastic Surgery at Northwestern University Medical School, who treated his problematic facial scar late in Bauer’s first year in medical school. It was time spent with his future Chief that cemented his decision on plastic surgery.

Borrowing stories from nature

As Bauer has perfected the intricacies of working with gems and precious metals, he is evolving into a storyteller using gems as his primary medium, most of his work “with a Japanese sensibility.”

And so he sculpts using treasures from the earth — a sea gull from a bit of ivory (pre-ban whale’s tooth), a honeybee from silver and gold, a beehive from sunny golden amber.

He carves penguins in wax, then casts them in silver to fashion a stunning silver ring. He paints the birds black by applying an oxidizing chemical. Then he places them poised alongside a tourmaline — a stone of varied colors often with shades from deep green to pink and some with colors that mimic a watermelon. The stone in this penguin ring is unusual in that it has just the white and pink and the crystal structure that creates a cat’s eye effect, so it shimmers almost like an ice flow with distant colors of the sunset.

But Bauer’s jade mountain pendant may be his crowning glory. This pendant would have been exquisite with the gem alone, but the varied colors and natural fault mimicked mountain ridges of a Japanese watercolor painting and led quickly to the planned pendant. As a consequence, this isn’t a solitary jewel in a setting by itself. Instead, it is both background and landscape for what he calls a “jade mountain path.” He describes this creation as “jade, silver, and quartz crystal snow-capped mountains, with a mountain path of green diamonds.” As typical of his work, the piece has details on both front and back. And close inspection of the moonstone moon in the cloud from which the piece hangs, there is a crane flying behind the moon.

Bauer works in other mediums as well. As folks who attended the 2012 Nevus Outreach Conference may remember, he donated two Inuit style silk screens to the auction that, much to his surprise, raised $2,400 for the organization. “These silk screens represent an early endeavor at something different.”

Because of his first priority to his patients both now and in the past, Bauer’s time to embrace his art has been inadequate over the years. He is trying now, however, to whittle a few more hours out of his week to return to his first love again. In particular, he hopes to create a series of pieces such as those described above, each telling a story, and each with natural themes featuring birds and bees and the like.

Seeing in three dimensions

“These pieces are all unique, complex, and have a three-dimensional sense, allowing the stones to show me what to do, rather than my forcing them into a particular theme,” Bauer says. “This is very much a result of the way I view things three dimensionally as a surgeon, too, not as just someone making a piece of jewelry.

“Each and every one of these designs involves doing things that I absolutely have no idea exactly how to do, and learning the techniques as I go.

“It is a constant exploration and, as much as it is a challenge, it is always a wonderful way to relax. In the past year I have had my most fertile and productive period and have every intention of keeping that going. I am trying at present to mount a collection to start showing my work.”


Dr. Bauer is pleased to have been chosen as an Emerging Artist for the upcoming 29th Annual American craft Exhibition being held on August 22-25, 2013. This juried exhibition – among the most difficult exhibitions to get invited into in this country – is actually a benefit for the Auxiliary for NorthShore University HealthSystem, where Dr. Bauer practices. He is the first medical doctor, or even staff member, to be both part of the NorthShore University HealthSystem AND and exhibition artist.


Read our Tissue Expansion 101 story and Nevus Removal 101 story.

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