Can ya believe it??? I got to walk down Bourbon Street in the most beautiful dress in the world, and then marry my sweetie on a bridge over the bayou. NOLA LOVE.
Finally, FINALLY i was able to get my ass to Spruce Pine North Carolina, home of the revered Penland School of Craft. If you're not familiar with this institution, definitely pay their website a visit.
The school has been around for nearly a hundred years, and it serves as a place for artists to come and learn new techniques and study with established artists from a variety of different mediums. Of course, for me it was ALL about learning new jewelry techniques, but other class offerings included glass blowing, woodworking, ceramics, textiles, and printing. The school is INTENSE. We began every morning at 9am and even though classes technically ended at 5pm, the entire class stayed in the studio late into the night working on their personal projects.
The class I took focused on a process I've always been fascinated with -- bi-metal etching. This is a process of fusing two metals together, then chemically etching away one of the metals. The result is a two-tone mixed metal design that really has endless creative possibilities.
I've been so lucky to have the best team of artists helping me create the Queens Metal collection.
Amber is a multi-talented artist who works with textiles, metal, and about a million other mediums. She's my go-to person when I'm getting buried with orders. I can hand her a spool of metal, a few basic instructions, and she runs with it from there.
Antoine is also an incredibly gifted visual artist. He makes these incredibly complex paintings of shapes and lines that make my brain twist into knots every time i look at them! Antoine began by helping me out at my booth at the Frenchmen Market. Now, he's moved on to crafting jewelry too.
I am so grateful to have these multi-talented artists helping me out!!
It's that quiet time of the year between Mardi Gras and Festival Season, so I've been experimenting with shapes and metals. This brass necklace will be great for my fall collection -- I love the warmth of the brass and the industrial look of the oxidized silver and brushed finish.
As some Queens Metal fans probably already knows, I started my jewelry company when i was living in Queens, NY, a place I loved so much, I named my business after it. After ten years on the east coast, I relocated to the swampy south and fell in love with my new home, New Orleans.
For most of the country, the months after Christmas are DARK, COLD, and, at times, DEPRESSING. But In New Orleans, they are some of the most joyful and beautiful stretches of the year. Because after Christmas comes MARDI GRAS!!! The giant misconception about Mardi Gras is that it's nothing but boobs, frat guys hanging from light posts and people vomiting in the street. And yes, all of that happens. But it's a teeny tiny portion of the whole Mardi Gras celebration. In reality, Mardi Gras is a family celebration, something that parents share with their kids. The weeks leading up to "Fat Tuesday" are an endless stream of parades, balls, music, pageantry, and ELABORATE costumes. One thing I was told before I moved here was, "Everyone in New Orleans has a costume closet." And it's true. It's impossible NOT to have one, unless you plan on locking yourself in your house for all of carnival season (and most of the rest of the year too.) In the few years I've spent as a resident of this beautiful city, I've acquired more wigs, corsets, tutus and pairs of fake eyelashes than I could ever count. I've spent countless hours covering my shoes in glitter and attaching strips of battery powered neon to corsets. I've spent many late nights comparison shopping one piece latex body suits, or hot gluing thousands of feathers to an elaborate tiered tutu. And the weird thing is.... no one here thinks this behavior is weird.
On Mardi Gras day, the whole city sparkles, and the people sparkle too. Everyone is decked from head to toe in their finest and most over-the-top creations. You'll see all types of costumes --- beautiful, raunchy, hilarious, politically inspired. Every one created with love, and lots of dedicated hours.
This is a city of creative eccentrics, of hard partiers and working artists. It's a city full of families who've been celebrating mardi gras for generations, and thus it's a city that embraces it's traditions. It's a city with a fair share of expats, who fell in love with this place and wanted to become a part of it. Put these people all together and when carnival season starts, it's impossible NOT to get swept up in the magic.
And , of course, theres the most recognizable symbol of Mardi Gras: beads. It's a misconception that women need to lift up their tops to get a strand of beads. In reality, thousands and thousands of beads are thrown from floats every year, to absolutely everyone. If you attend a parade in New Orleans, you can easily leave with so many strands of beads around your neck that you can barely stand upright!! What surprised me when i experienced my first Mardi Gras was how distinctive the beads can be. There are your standard round ones, of course, but then theres beads customized for every Krewe. These beads can match a theme or a commemorate an event. They are truly works of art!
So, for the next few weeks, Queens Metal jewelry is going to take a bit of a back seat to a different kind of jewelry, as I join my newly adopted home in celebrating, partying, costuming and generally basking in this fabulous , unique and wonderful time of year.
In June, unexpectedly and miraculously, a retail space became available on a trendy block near my home. Somehow, myself and a friend were able to snap it up and within a few weeks we were opening our doors for business.
I've always wavered over the idea of someday owning a store. I became self-employed, in part, because I value a flexible work schedule. Now, with the opening of our little boutique, there will no longer be extended vacations and taking a "beach day" simply because it's sunny and I dont feel like working.
But on the flip side, now i have a dedicated, permanent space for my jewelry and a place to share with others the awesome satisfaction that comes with making something by hand. So, I've begun teaching "Intro to Metalsmithing" classes once a week. Students sign up for a 4-session series and learn some basic skills that open the door to the amazing possibilities of jewelry design.
I love making jewelry. I really and truly have stumbled onto my "passion." Certainly, I gripe about it and theres times when I'm so sick of making a particular design, I could just SCREAM. But I never, ever have been sick of sitting down at my bench and firing up my torch. So now I have a chance to teach others this skill. And, with every group that I've taught, (we've have five groups so far!) I find myself continually blown away with what they've come up with! Some people stand out for just having natural artistic talent. Others shock me with the creativity of their designs. Sometimes, I'll look at a finished piece made by a beginner student and KNOW that it would be a bestseller in our store if we were to sell it.
Since we began offering the Intro class, word has been spreading about it, and now I'm getting a few emails a week from people asking when we're offering it next and how they can participate. It's pretty cool to know that other people are as eager to learn these skills as I was when i first started out. Metalsmithing is such an inclusive medium --- i really believe that anyone who has even just a pinch of creativity and a lot of passion can produce amazing jewelry. I'm so grateful to be spreading this skill that i love so much with others!!!
Of all the collections I carry, my "Shatter" series is by far the most tedious to make. And yet, the results are so beautiful that I just can't help but make more of them!
I was introduced to this technique when I was studying with a family of jewelers in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. I was introduced to this family entirely by chance: I had just begun a lengthy backpacking trip through Central America, with no real destination or itinerary in mind. After a couple weeks of beaches and ancient ruins, I headed inland and discovered San Cristobal, a city full of music, art, and a complex political back story. I wandered the streets, only to discover a main thoroughfare lined with artisans shops. I went from one to the next, gaping at all the beautiful handmade goods that were far too large/heavy/expensive for a backpacker to purchase. Then I happened into a shop selling stunning silver and gold jewelry. I snuck a peak into a back room and my eyes lit up -- there was a fully stocked jewelers bench!
I wanted more than anything to learn some new techniques and, after a few weeks away from my jewelry tools, I was already missing them terribly. So I began scheming how I might convince these artists to let me study with them. The only problem? I didn't speak any Spanish. I returned the following day with a Spanish-speaking friend and he negotiated a sort of work-study that would last for several weeks.
I loved every minute of my time studying with this family. We kept a Spanish/English dictionary on hand, and when I wasn't working with them, I was teaching myself Spanish. When we would reach a language barrier, we would try to mime it out, laughing the whole time. On my first day, they wanted to test my skill level, so they traced a few patterns onto a sheet of brass and had me saw them out, while they stood over me. Luz, the matriarch of the family, watched silently, eyebrow raised. I was nervous -- what if i strayed from the lines? Would they cut me loose? Luckily, I sawed each pattern perfectly. When i finished, Luz said, "Very good. But slow." Haha. I think of her teasing me for my slow technique every time I have a batch of work to saw.
It was Luz and her son Manuel who taught me the "Shatter" technique. It's a process that requires a lot of patience, because it involves slicing hundreds of shards of silver from a larger sheet and, one by one, soldering them onto a back plate. The shards are tiny and lightweight, so the heat and the flux tends to make them jump around, which means you always need to be nudging them back into place. It can take hours to create a piece that has a surface area of only and inch or two. But the end result is stunning -- a textured piece that resembles (in my mind) shattered glass. Each one unique, each one begging to be picked up, worn, and loved.
After a month in San Cristobal, I moved on. It was hard to leave; there was so much more i wanted to learn!! But, even four years later, I still use many of the techniques I learned in San Cris.
These geometric earrings take a while to make, but damn they're pretty when they're finished. Working on a few sets of these this week for some upcoming shows.
The great thing about having your own jewelry business is that whenever the creative urge strikes, you can follow through and make it. Sometimes the crazy creations you see in your head look amazing in real life. And sometimes they just don't work out the way you imagined them. A while back, I had an urge to make a crazy pair of earrings that had a lot of moving components and I little bit of an industrial edge. So I got to work hammering a couple dozen silver circles into domed, pod-like shapes, drilling a center whole in each one, and then slowly adding them to an earring framework. The earrings would only work if each pod stacked against the next "just so". At the same time, I needed them to make sure that the earrings weren't to heavy or bulky.
After a lot of work, my "pod" earrings were done. I brought them to my booth at the Frenchmen Art Market, and it didn't take long before they sold. Under normal circumstances, these "one off" earrings would never be made again. Often times, I'm amazed how quickly I forget about my one-off pieces, even the ones that took hours upon hours to create. I rarely photograph or document my one-off designs, so usually when they sell, that's the last I ever think of them. In this instance though, I was surprised when, months later, I got an email from a fan who'd seen and fallen in love with the pod earrings, but they'd sold before she'd had a chance to snap them up. She wanted me to re-create them for her. And -- thank god -- she'd snapped a picture of the originals at my booth before they'd sold. (Some artists don't like to have shoppers taking pictures of their designs. For me, it's not a problem and actually something I encourage customers to do). Using the photo she sent me, I was able to make her her very own version of the pod earrings. Yay! It turned out to be a win-win: She now has the earrings she coveted, and I actually have photo documentation of these awesome earrings in case i want to make them again in the future!