published Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Nature dictates art for some jewelry makers

  • photo
    Lisa Berna and Jennifer Buchanan, of Colorado, create jewelry featuring driftwood and semi-precious stones.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Some jewelry makers take more than inspiration from nature; they incorporate found objects from trails and beaches in their work.

The result? Personal, one-of-a-kind pieces that impart a natural beauty.

Lisa Bernal, of Arvada, Colo., and her business partner, Jennifer Buchanan, of Keystone, Colo., have been making jewelry together for three years. First, they used leather and small stones. Their work now incorporates driftwood, tumbled smooth by nature.

“We were looking for fresh, unique connector pieces for the leather and the stones,” recalls Bernal.

They build pieces around the driftwood, incorporating semi-precious stones such as aquamarine and amazonite, and sell them at their online store, Elle Jay/ Natural Jewelry Design House, and at select Colorado stores.

“We try to do as little as possible” to the driftwood, says Bernal. “The most we’ll do is add mineral oil to bring out the richness of the wood.”

Often, the shape of the driftwood dictates how it’ll be used. “Each piece sort of wants to be something and then you just figure it out,” says Buchanan. “That’s why I love it. I think it’s fun to play with something and then it becomes this amazing work of art.”

The smooth stones, beach glass and pottery shards which jewelry-maker Karen Vesk of Erie, Pa., finds along the shores of Lake Erie impart similar clues.

“I kind of wait for them to speak to me after I get them back home,” she says.

Vesk also uses small shells and broken shell pieces that she collects on trips to Southern beaches.

Shell fragments have “an almost sculptural, abstract look to them,” she says.

The tricky part is preparing found objects for stringing — particularly the sea glass, Vesk says.

“It’s more breakable,” she says. “If it shatters, it can go in your eye.”

She wears safety glasses when drilling holes with her Dremel drill press, taking it slowly. Vesk sells pre-drilled pieces along with her jewelry at her Etsy store, Sunshine Statements.

Still, she recommends using real beach glass rather than trying to tumble your own, as she once tried, or buying it at a crafts store.

“Real beach glass has a frosting to it,” Vesk says. “It has more of a glow of a gem. And that’s what’s so very desirable.”

Tumbled and artificial glass look like etched glass, she says.

Funny thing about that beach glass, too: It’s harder to find when the skies are blue. Vesk goes hunting when it’s stormy, which churns up the surf, kicking up glass and other treasures, such as hand-painted pottery shards from Lake Erie’s commercial heyday.

“Normal people are inside by the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa or whatever they like, and I’m out on the beach,” says Vesk. “I look for the windiest weather. I really enjoy it.”

Jewelry made from found natural objects is often asymmetrical — something Lorelei Eurto of New Hartford, N.Y., specializes in. In “Bohemian-Inspired Jewelry” (Interweave, 2012), she and co-author Erin Siegel, include 50 jewelry-making projects inspired by nature. They use a lot of leather cord, silk ribbon and handmade beads, and they recommend basic materials and tools, such as various pliers, for getting started.

Most folks can get by with basic jewelry-making skills, such as crimping, stringing and using jump rings, says Eurto, who sells her pieces online at Lorelei Eurto Jewelry.

When nature fashions your “beads,” these artists say, you have to take to the trails and shorelines frequently to replenish supplies.

“I have a hard time going to the park with my daughter now,” says Bernal. “It’s like a giant jewelry box.”

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