I recently popped in on Baltimore based jewelry designer, Rebecca Myers, in her Clipper Mill Studio. She’s been producing her line of fine jewelry for the past twenty years, and sells her work at arts festivals across the country, including the upcoming American Craft Council Show this February 21-23 in Baltimore. Here’s a peek inside her world of design, fabrication, and an art that straddles fashion.
Gail Meerdter: How did you decide to become a jewelry designer?
Rebecca Myers: I’ve always been interested in the arts; however, it was really very serendipitous. I had a craft requirement at Tyler School of Art, and I chose jewelry. Little did I know that the studio there was highly regarded and that Stan Lechtzin, the head of the department, was a real tech guru with several patents. My classmates were setting things on fire and melting everything, but I actually had a pretty easy time of it. So I continued, and dug deeper into the history of jewelry design. I was amazed by the astonishing things that can be done with metal.
The commercial jewelry world doesn’t do the art of jewelry justice. I was drawn to the sculptural and engineering aspects of it. The problem solving that is involved is a challenge but very rewarding. By the time I graduated I had made a line of jewelry and sold it. I thought the $500 I had made from my work was a fortune. I was hooked.
GM: As a designer, where do you draw your inspiration?
RM: When I was a kid I loved the ocean and the world under the waters’ surface. I will never forget my first snorkeling trip in the keys when I was about 14. I was fascinated by the beauty of the natural world, but also with the culture of the art world in New York. Keith Haring was a local artist and I was completely star struck by his achievements, his amazing tenacity and of course, his work. I became aware of this at a young age. I still find sublime beauty in natural forms, and always have my receptors on for new ideas.
A while back, I took a trip to Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, where I collected seed pods and took images of the indigenous plants and insects – it is an intense, tropical habitat that produces some amazing flora. The details of what I experience are what engage me. The texture of leaves, the fabric of bark, the freckled pattern on quails eggs. I try to capture that feeling of unexpected wonder and simplicity in each piece without duplicating the actual thing in nature.
GM: Tell me more about your design style.
RM: My jewelry definitely has a feminine quality. That said, I’m obsessed with the contrast in the materials and the dichotomy that is captured in nature. We all straddle that world. The rough and the smooth, the dark and the light. I think that’s why I am attracted to natural stones and the various treatments I use on metals. While my designs are in some part delicate, there’s also something rough, a little edgy and organic about them.
Most of my pieces start with a casting and have many fabrication steps thereafter. I work primarily in high karat gold, palladium and oxidized silver, and use a lot of natural diamonds to highlight their innate beauty and flaws.
There’s something about working with raw but highly valued materials and creating something that people identify with and are excited to wear that I find really gratifying.
GM: What are the trends that you are seeing in fine jewelry production?
RM: Jewelry trends, like fashion, are constantly changing. You can get lost in it if you try to follow it too closely. It’s one thing to move in the direction of what’s fashionable, but it’s important to keep true to your style and maintain your design aesthetic and what you value in design.
Right now, there’s a lot of new technique evolving in the industry. The use of recycled metals and gems, alternative materials, and a greater awareness about being sustainable is big. Many jewelers are also turing to CAD CAM or 3D print programs to produce their designs, which makes it possible to achieve some of the intricate details that are difficult to replicate through traditional methods.
I take the approach of knowing how to mix all different kinds of fabrication techniques. I’m fastidious about the quality of each piece so I’m involved in the entire process. My assistants and I are all skilled in lost wax casting, setting stones, engraving, carving, and so forth. We’re starting to leverage 3D printing technology for select designs too.
GM: How have you make your mark in the jewelry world and how did you establish a client following? Do customers who collect your work like art?
RM: You’ve got to have a tough skin. I’ve been doing this for a long time. At first I just applied to shows and I hoped that my work would just speak for itself. Now I am more selective with the shows that I do. I just returned from Art Palm Beach, I’ll be at SOFA Art in Chicago later in the year and of course the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore this February. I’ve gradually built a client base that I look forward to seeing each year at these shows.
Here in Baltimore I have a combined studio and workshop. I always welcome people to call, stop by, browse the collection and try on pieces.
I think women who are buying fine jewelry designed and made in a boutique setting are definitely looking for pieces that can’t be found everywhere. So yes, it becomes more like collecting. I also show my work at festivals where contemporary art is mixed with functional art and jewelry. People who attend these shows tend to be very arts knowledgeable and interested in knowing the story behind each piece. I think that’s part of the appeal.
GM: What is the most challenging part of owning your own jewelry studio?
RM: As any artists who makes a living from his or her creations knows, being a jack of all trades can be a handful. Sometimes I think I’d be a hit in a juggling theatre show. Many days I don’t touch a piece of metal. Naturally, you’ve got to be able to churn out great jewelry. And the rest, all of the business aspects, the applications and show schedules, dealing with the public, all of that eventually falls into place. It helps to have a good sense of humor. I listen to a lot of stand up comedy to keep it light!
GM: What advice would you offer anyone who wants to build their own jewelry line?
RM: Refine your technique, differentiate yourself, know who your target market is. It also helps to love what you do! And above all, pluck trumps talent. Tenacity wins. Woody Allen was right when he said 80% of success in life is showing up. So, show up, show up, show up! Even when it seems you are beating on the wrong door. Someone is noticing.
Rebecca Myers’ Collection will be exhibiting at the American Craft Council show at the Baltimore Convention Center, February 21-23. Her Studio and Showroom is located in the Clipper Mill and open to the public by appointment.
* Contributor Gail Meerdter is an independent brand and promotional maven. She lives in Northern Baltimore County.