Saturday, January 2, 2010

Melissa Lew’s green jewelry springs into full blossom (Part 1)

Melissa Lew’s jewelry springs into full blossom in an upcoming collection honoring the Chinese symbol of dominance and strength, the Cherry Blossom flower. The designer draws upon her Chinese heritage for inspiration in her collection of eco-sound jewelry.

In a recent two-part interview, the designer shares what being a “green” jewelry designer means and living “green.” She says she launched her line (2005) after acknowledging an affection for working with her hands. Lew returned to her love for sculpture and began to design pendants and bracelets using recycled fine silver and bamboo. Her collection is sold at DEKKA Showroom and online.
Part 2 of this interview will be posted 1/4/2010

KL: When did you add "wearable art" to your resume?
ML: After finishing my thesis in 2005 (a series of artist books and scrolls about women’s rights in China), I started researching other materials that could be used to create artist books. I discovered recycled fine silver, and fell in love with it! I am a self-taught jewelry designer (I earned a Bachelor of Arts from George Mason University in Art and Visual Technology, with a concentration in Digital Arts in 2005), but have loved beads, shiny components, and anything jewelry related since childhood (what can I say, I’m a magpie!).

KL: Why did you decide to use alternative materials in your design?
ML: I am a researcher by heart; I love to read, I love to learn new things, so I was interested in finding alternatives to the traditional mined metals and gemstones. I guess you could say, my aesthetic is by no means traditional and I wanted to be able to create wearable art that I had never seen before. When I discovered the recycled fine silver, it was a no brainer for me. The fine silver I use was doomed to become trash – and it appealed to me that I could take something someone else thought was trash and turn it into a work of art that people could admire and cherish. Trash into treasure. I definitely design with the alternative material in mind.

KL: What materials do you work with and why?
ML: I mainly work with recycled fine silver and bamboo.
The recycled fine silver I work with comes in a clay format – fine silver particles (taken from disposed photograph development solution) mixed with a clay organic binder. I come from a fine arts background (with sculpture experience), so I feel especially comfortable working with the clay. I sculpt each one of my pieces individually and after they dry, I kiln fire them – this is where all of the organic binder is burned away and the fine silver particles are fused together. After the pieces cool down, I shape, polish, and finish them.
I love working with bamboo because it is such a sustainable plant (there’s an abundance of this plant worldwide) and because of it’s beautiful rich amber color. I also incorporate my ink paintings into my jewelry, and the bamboo’s natural color lends itself beautifully to my work (like an aged Chinese painting).

KL: Where do you buy your materials?
ML: Mostly online; unfortunately, because these are not “traditional” materials, they are not readily available in the area. I have not mastered the art of drying my own bamboo – yet!

Where to find?

DEKKA Showroom – 1338 U Street NW, 2nd Fl
Balston Farmer’s Market - May – October
Crystal Couture fashion expo on Feb. 5

Part 2 of this interview will be posted 1/4/2010

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