How A ReClaimed Jewelry Life Begins
Found . ReMade . Shared ~ Finding My Way
I’m meeting someone for the first time, they ask me what I do for a living, I say that I am a mixed media jewelry artist; I get a slight squint of the eyes and/or cock of the head…so I continue; I work with vintage and reclaimed materials, I say, that I upcycle into jewelry….generally that’s where I’ve totally lost them! I can almost see in their mind that they aren’t sure what any of these words truly mean, except jewelry.
In attempt to recover I always say “I take old jewelry apart add some great stuff and make it something new!”….the nod of the head, and “Oh that sounds interesting” at this point it goes one of two ways (I really need to work on my Elevator Speech)….either they feign interest and aren’t sure what to say and ask “how did you get into that“? Which means they still don’t really understand what I do – because they just made it sound like some kind of racket.
Or there is eagerness in their eyes and they tell me about something they’ve seen and ask how did I get started, or where do I find the components or the truly amazed always want to see my studio – and no one ever believes me when I tell them it’s a disaster! Either way I start at the beginning (as one must)….almost always feeling like my old Irish uncle getting ready to start a story about the old land…..it’s a long story he would say….then pause, unless you’d rather me tell ya the short version….which we of course would never deprive him his stories, but you are welcome to if you like…the choice is yours to make….
I came into business a bit by accident and in the “middle”…I was taking old jewelry apart, and putting it back together in a new way (something I began when I was 10 years old after my grandmother passed, and she gifted me a box of her costume jewelry; which I proceeded to deconstruct and recreate and then sell to my friends at school…I pretty much sold my grandmother’s inheritance to me about 25 cents at a time!)
Well, after working in the corporate world, marrying, having three children and becoming an at home mother …I went back to my creative ways, making gifts for friends when we didn’t have enough cash to buy things….a friend convinced me to send a “pick box” to a gal that owned a boutique in Lake Placid, NY…I did, and she purchased everything in it! I then found out she sold each piece for about five times what I sold it to her for, and decided I could do this myself! I applied for a few art shows, was accepted, my first show I almost sold out completely, the next three I sold nothing at all, but in general I did very well…and the rest is history!
The Long Journey Began….
It all started when I was a child of 10; really 10? yes, really.
My grandmother had passed away, and being the only girl child, bestowed upon me was her fancy jewelry box. When I first opened the box it looked like a pirate’s treasure chest with all of the beads of different sizes and colors, the gemstones which most assuredly were rubies, diamonds and emeralds! Was my family crazy?! (well yeah, but that’s another story). To give ME all of these expensive sparkling treasures?! What were they thinking?! “Who cares” I thought, they’re pretty, they sparkle and they are mine!!
I began putting on the pieces, necklaces, rings, earrings -thank goodness for clip on earrings! I clipped them everywhere!! Now, being ten years old, piece I put on simply made me feel like a kid playing dress up; I wanted something beautiful (and cool) so I dug deeper into the box…. deeper… and then I just poured it all out on my bed and I started untangling and examining all of the individual pieces, when suddenly one necklace broke!
The beads bounced wildly on the floor as I scrambled to retrieve them! I was devastated. I broke my Grandma’s pearls. (I didn’t know at the time that pearls weren’t naturally created the size of gumballs) I had picked up all of the errant pieces, looking down at them I felt my eyes begin to tear, I held on to them tightly in a fist to my until I was able to hold back the tears. Then I released my vise like grip and allowed the beads to roll around in my hands, they felt fabulous to hold loose like that! I was immediately distracted trying to discover if everything in the box felt as wonderful as these did.
I took each piece out one at a time, and started to sort them, there were pieces that evidently my Grandmother had broken too; there were loose beads everywhere. It dawned on me slowly at first, I realized “hey, I could restring some of these…then quicker….with some of THOSE, then light a freight train…and some of these, and this one, and I must include this unicorn! My brain was racing, my eyes darted wildly across the treasure that was still mine! I began carefully disassembling (as careful as a ten year old, I’m pretty sure I just yanked one to break the chain!) a couple of different pieces and laid all of the individual sparkling lovelies in front of me on my bed. As I looked at them I realized that I could put “this one” with “that one” and make something dainty and ‘ungrandmalike’ enough for me to wear to school – and not get made fun of! I used the wire from one that I took apart, and put together a treasure I was proud to wear and to honor my grandmother. I was quite pleased with myself!
I carefully put it on in the morning before school, and was quick to cover it before my mother saw that I had taken apart my grandmothers jewels! At school, all day, everyone complimented me on my pretty treasure, asking where I bought it, how much it cost, and where could they get one of their own?! I was a bit overwhelmed at the attention, and proud, but ashamed at the same time; and a new wave of sadness for destroying my Grandmother’s things. Although proud of myself for having created it, I was a bit timid in telling anyone that I had. We hadn’t had much money growing up, and I received many hand-me-downs, so I learned to hand sew them to fit and to make them look different…for this I was often teased… I was now beginning to worry that I would be taunted for this new creation as well! I evaded the answers to all of the questions and simply said thank you for each of the compliments….at the end of the day walking home, I was confused as to what to do..
Everyone loved my necklace, but I didn’t want to tell anyone that I had made it myself…what to do? I of course consulted my very best friend to request her sage advice. She told me it was beautiful, she reminded me that I was creative, talented even, said she…that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought about where it came from, because they clearly all loved it today. Well said! She was right, and with my fears assuaged I felt proud again! The following day at school when people began to ask the same questions, I told them the truth.
I said that I made it and I held my head high, waiting for the giggles, the taunts, the eye rolling. Yet, what was this? No giggling, no taunts being cried out… I opened my eyes, some of their mouths had dropped open, some of them looked leary, but every one of them, were flabbergasted that I could have made something so wonderful…from that point and throughout the day, one at a time or in groups of two (because that’s what 10 year old girls do) they began to ask if I would make them something as well! Now I was flabbergasted! And being ten, I said “of course” and “sure I can make something” and “no problem”…holy crap, what was happening, what had I done!?
She said that she had some ‘left over’ jewelry that she didn’t wear anymore, maybe that would help? It hit me light a lightning bolt! I did not have to give away everything my grandmother left me! The gears started turning, I had to hang up the phone…I had to think! think! think!Walking home that afternoon, I came to realize that I did not want give away all of my grandmother’s sparklies by making things for other people, I was sad, disappointed in myself for making the promises, and my joy turned back into tears. (geez I was kind of a cry-baby, although my Grammy had just died, I’m allowed to cry). So yet another dilemma; therefore of course a call to my “wise old friend”-she was twelve.
At school the next day I told everyone that had asked for a piece of treasure, that I did not have enough material to make something for everyone. I inquired if they had any of their own jewelry that they didn’t wear any longer….earrings that had lost their mate, a necklace that was no longer loveable, bracelets that had broken, rings, anything?! I explained that if EVERYONE could bring in whatever they could find, that I would pool everyone’s jewelry, take it apart, add some components from my own treasure chest and I would surely be able to make everyone SOMEthing!
The girls were actually excited to go home and see what they could find! One boy actually asked (very shyly) if there were any way I could make something for his mother….her birthday was coming up and he wanted her to have something pretty…but he didn’t have any ‘extra jewelry’ at home to contribute, but said he would ask his sister – if that was okay with me!
The following few days I was bombarded with baskets, envelopes, bags and boxes of broken, tarnished and twisted items that were once loved but until now were fairly forgotten….it was FANTASTIC!! More treasure! I couldn’t wait to begin!
Many days later, after collecting, dividing, sifting, cleaning and recreating…I had something for each of the people who had asked…and I still had a decent portion of my grandmothers things…as well as a nice sized box of ‘left over’ components. I called all of them to let them know that I would have everyone’s ‘orders’ the following day- and we all know how long that took, with a rotary phone hanging on the kitchen wall, the receiver pulled on it’s long cord into the basement stairs so my mother didn’t hear!
I wrapped each one of them in paper and wrote the respective names on them, put them in my bag, and carried them to school. It felt as if I was carrying a national treasure, I could barely contain my excitement, I all but ran to the school yard!
Amazement struck me as I realized that everyone else must have been just as excited as I was, because even at my quick pace and early arrival almost everyone else was already there waiting for me!! There were a few people missing and the group of us waited impatiently for the stragglers to arrive…it was a small school, with no busses, everyone walked…some slower than others!
Finally the moment arrived, it was like Christmas and I was Santa Clause! I handed each package to their new owners and we all waited to open them at the same time….the anticipation of their reactions was suddenly weighing heavy on me….what if they didn’t like them? What if they thought they looked stupid? Oh my god, what if someone laughed?!!
I tried to turn and get out of the center of the circle as they were all distracted with the unwrapping, hoping I would be able to flee before anyone made fun of me!! When I heard gasps and giggles and sounds of excitement and as ten year old girls do…squealing and screaming! I looked around to see that everyone was astonished at all that I had made, they loved the pieces they had, comparing, showing each other; and absolutely everyone was thrilled to see that they could recognize bits and pieces of their ‘donations’ as part of someone else’s new treasure. I almost passed out after the rush of “fear adrenaline” was replaced with a wave of relief!
People hugged me and thanked me, and gave me the quarters I had requested for my time and talent…I was speechless….I stammered “your welcomes” and “glad you like it” and “thank you” to all the compliments I was getting, when the bell rang for class….I just stood there with my handful of quarters, a smile on my face and a thrill in my heart. No one laughed, they liked these ‘hand me downs’.
The school was abuzz all day with the girls all showing everyone their “one of a kind, specially made” jewelry. I walked on clouds all day, my face actually hurt from all the smiling I did that day. I was happy to be done though, overjoyed that everyone was pleased, relieved to my core that not one person made fun of me…I remember thinking that from unwanted junk (and my grandmothers treasure) I had made every one that had asked, jewelry that they were proud of, baubles that made them happy, and I was feeling pretty good about myself with my pocket full of quarters…that is when the guilt set in. What had I done?
Oh No, What had I done?!!!
I had pilfered my grandmother’s wonderful jewels and sold my ‘inheritance’ one quarter at a time! I hadn’t even considered that, I was so excited to be doing this wonderful thing for everyone…by the time I walked in the door at home, I was almost in tears (see cry-baby). I ran to my room to see what was left of the gift bestowed by my grandmother, although it looked as if there was plenty left earlier, now it looked like someone had robbed me of my treasure!
I of course called my wise and sage friend, who reminded me that I had made very many people happy that day. She told me how she thought it was amazing that I was able to get everyone to work together and bring in their old jewelry. She once again reiterated how talented she thought I was, and how she believed that my grandmother was not looking down at me in anger for ‘selling’ her jewelry, but rather she must be very proud of what I was able to do, and that it was because of her gift that I was able to give to so many others….she really is wise isn’t she….then she asked me to make her a bracelet to match her new one of a kind necklace! Wise indeed, well played my friend, well played!
transitive verb \ri-ˈklām\
- to get back (something that was lost or taken away)
- to make available something for use by changing its condition
- to get (a usable) material from materials that have been used before
- to rescue from an undesirable state
- to obtain from a waste product or by-product : recover
- to regain possession of
past tense: reclaimed; past participle: reclaimed
Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss…
It didn’t stop with jewelry though…I grew up with four brothers; and regardless of the fact that I was the second oldest, I was most certainly the smallest….and as I said, we didn’t have much money living the American Dream of a first generation family from Ireland, which you guessed it meant…from my brothers!
It was not long after the jewelry making that my inquisitive nature was put to practice creating new uses for all things and every thing. A book shelf became the headboard of my bed, so I could reach my books easily to read in bed; an old toy box in the attic became “secret storage” as well as a t.v. table for a tiny black and white I found at a garage sale. An old bucket became my shoe depository – such an easy way to “put away”my shoes!
Reclaiming Treasure Hunter
When I began my life as a jewelry artist, I soon came to realize that components spoke to me. I don’t really sketch my creations. I do not decide what I want to make and then find the components to make it happen. Rather the opposite is how my work generally comes to life. I have an incredible collection of vintage, found, antique, unwanted, forgotten and forlorn components sharing space with the incredible colors and energies of my gemstones and metals.
I’ll go to my studio, sift through a couple of drawers or boxes, see what calls to me, I’ll sit at my bench and give myself a moment, and then the ideas begin to flow! I never know exactly what is going to happen when I sit down….and I am most often surprised at what comes to life in my own hands, right before my eyes! To this day still that happens to me.
I consider myself a treasure hunter, because I am always waiting for something to find me so that it can come to life anew. My friends and colleges will bring me
boxes of items they no longer want or need. I work with other area artists for components as well. For example there is a leather worker a few towns away who will bring me her scrap leather for me to use. A beader friend of mine will give me her beads when she doesn’t like the way they turn out. My work is collaborative, quite by accident, and it pleases me so! I have found components at yard sales, bargain bins, estate sales, at the beach, on the street, in places they don’t belong…it’s as if I’m always finding treasure, so not so much a treasure hunter as a treasure finder I suppose!! This pleases me as well.
I can’t believe you made it all the way through the story!! Congratulations! You should get a prize!