Heather Skowood is a self-proclaimed "metal goddess and fire starter" who wants to share her passion for teaching, designing and making contemporary handmade jewelry. As I've learned more about Heather and her work, I've been impressed by her continuing journey as an artist. Just back from a photoshoot in Manchester, UK for her upcoming book, Heather spoke to me about her recycled jewelry.
You mentioned living in Worcester, Massachusetts after having spent some time in the UK. You also sound like someone who's lived in many places.
I’m originally from the Philadelphia area. I went to Moore College of Art and Design in the city, the only all women’s art college in the US. After graduating I worked for an Armenian goldsmith and learned all aspects of repair and custom work in gold and platinum. I moved to Worcester, Massachusetts in 2001 to participate in an artist-in-residence (AIR) program at the Worcester Center for Craft to get back to creating exhibition work. After completing the AIR program I moved to Manchester, England, got married and started my own jewelry business that I ran from a shared studio at the Manchester Craft and Design Center, in the city’s Northern Quarter.
How was it moving back to the States from Manchester, England?
Moving back to the US after being in England for 5 years was a big transition. First off, Worcester is a much smaller city with not a huge arts scene, so, it’s kind of quiet in comparison. Manchester, because of its music reputation (think The Smiths, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays) has a huge arts scene. There is a so much arts activity in Manchester. Plus, there is a lot of access to arts funding from the UK government and the European Union, which allowed me to do a lot of exciting things with my jewelry. In Manchester I was an active member of the Manchester Jewelers Network and with them I helped organize and show in jewelry exhibitions in England, Northern Ireland, Spain and the US. (http://www.manchesterjewellersnetwork.co.uk)
I also had the exciting opportunity with the MJN to curate and help organize an exhibition called “Architectonics: Foundations in Jewelry” for the UK’s Architecture Week. It was exhibited in Manchester, Liverpool and here in the US at the Velvet Di Vinci Gallery in San Francisco (http://www.architectonicsjewellery.co.uk).
How is it that you became a jeweler?
Growing up, I loved putting on performances, dancing, singing, and dressing up pretending I was different character. I was always snooping around in my Nana and my mother’s jewelry boxes enjoying the sound of charm bracelets clattering and being hypnotized by shiny surfaces and pretty stones looking for objects to complete an ensemble for these performances.
I took my first jewelry class when I was 15, in high school. It was then that I realized I was definitely a 3-dimenitonal artist and jewelry was my medium. I’ve always thought of jewelry as the ideal medium for self-expression. As a jewelry designer/maker you can create a theatrical concept that you turn into an actual object. Steam Punk Bracelet, Scrap silver and copper, by Heather Skowood (photo Heather Skowood)
You’re writing a book about jewelry made with recycled/reclaimed materials that’s coming out in 2010. Can you tell us about the book and when it will be released?
I’ve been blogging about my jewelry for almost two years now. Last spring, Stackpole Books, a publisher in Pennsylvania, found my blog and asked if I would write a book about recycled/reclaimed materials in jewelry. The book will feature examples of my jewelry as well as jewelry from 5 other jewelers (3 from the UK and two from the US), insight into what inspired the pieces, tips on where to source materials, plus a few step-by-step tutorials explaining a few basic techniques for creating this type of jewelry.
I’ve always been interested in found objects. For me, to find an object at a flea market, in a junk drawer or even on a dumpster dive for something and then give it new life is like alchemy. It’s a wonderful challenge to turn discarded objects into something new and maybe even beautiful. I sometimes feel like an archaeologist. I find these objects and wonder where they have been and what they have been used for. I often never find the answers so I create something to give them a new story to tell. I collect all sorts of things from gun shells to plastic packaging. My main collecting obsession are rusty objects that I find in the street. Cities like Philadelphia and Manchester, which have large industrial areas, are great locations to find rusty objects, but you can find them everywhere if you look. Milk Top Bracelet, by Heather Skowood, (photo by Heather Skowood)
Are nails and cable ties some of the recycled materials you have used? What other unusual materials appear in your recycled jewelry?
I used nails and cable ties in my recent work. I have also used rusty washers, old photos, drinking straws, copper electrical wire, old toys, and silver and copper scrap from my scrap box.
I was introduced to Jonathan in Manchester about 6 years ago. He has done promotional photography for the Manchester Royal Exchange Theater as well as photos for Mercedes Benz, Caterpillar and North Face. He’s done all the promotional photography for my website, business cards, brochures etc. as well as all the photography for the “Architectonics: Foundations in Jewelry” exhibition. Filling in some light and shadow on Colette Hazelwood's neckpiece. (Photo by Heather Skowood)
What I am drawn to is Jonathan’s dramatic style. He creates such a gorgeous mood for my jewelry. He knows exactly what I want for my jewelry often without a lot of discussion. He is also incredibly easy going. It’s always a "chill" environment in his studio making it a pleasure to work with him. (http://www.jkeenan-photo.demon.co.uk/ and http://jonathankeenanphotography.blogspot.com/)
Please tell us about the recycled curler bracelet (from the photo featured in the post).
The curler bracelet is actually one of my favorite pieces that I created recently. I think what makes this piece so successful is that the plastic curler elements create a wonderful flowing pattern. The metal jump rings make the piece flexible. Also, I love that the closure is not distracting and doesn’t interrupt the pattern.
At the moment my attention is focused on finishing up the book so I haven’t worked out any shows dates yet. A couple of the pieces in the book created with ribbons and painted metal flea market objects are inspiring a new series I would like to continue to work on and then find a gallery who will show them. So keep your eyes on my blog for that.
I have a scheduled a Found Objects Workshop at Metalwerx in Waltham, Massachsetts for Earth Day 2010. And I am also talking with Worcester Center for Crafts in Worcester, Massachusetts about offering a 12-week course on found object jewelry. Plastic Army Men Bracelet, by Heather Skowood (photo Heather Skowood)
NOTE: Madame Deux Chats is Heather's friend who helped her on the UK photo shoot. She is also the keeper of
NOTE: Madame Deux Chats is Heather's friend who helped her on the UK photo shoot. She is also the keeper ofHeather Skowood's Madame Deux Chats blog: (http://52things52weeks.blogspot.com/).