Thursday, July 02, 2015

The taste of freedom is orange sherbet…

My dear reader,

Every year, on the day before the 4th of July, the principal of my elementary school, Mr. Lyons, called for an “assembly.”  It was a welcome break from practicing cursive or laboring over a long division problem. A bell rang; we dropped our pencils, got up and left the classroom. All students proceeded out toward the steamy tar playground in a double line, holding the hand of the classmate next to us. (How is it that I always got Shorty Martin’s sweaty palm?) The procession was accompanied by a record player blaring “Stars and Stripes Forever.” As we marched in formation, my pal, Vicki Reynolds could be heard singing the silly version of the lyrics. Snickers rippled through the line until a teacher reprimanded us.
A beautiful way to show your colors, click to see our 
American bow pin, designed and 
made in our USA factory! 

When the entire school was assembled outside, the venerable Sousa marching music stopped. Mr. Lyons tapped the microphone.  He was a large man who modulated his deep voice to win the attention of children. He was stately, yet fatherly. On this particular day, there was no history lesson about 1776. Instead, he asked us to think about what made us glad to be Americans. “Free speech,” a sixth-grader yelled out. “Free newspapers,” offered another boy. “You mean free press,” his teacher corrected.
Click to get a closer look at our
 American Beauty ensemble
The concept of freedom was too advanced for me, a seven year old.  I did understand gladness about the occasion and that every year, the July sun was hot, the trees were flowering and that ice cream would be served at the end of the assembly. As simple as those perceptions are, we who live in freedom may indulge in them,  life’s joys, untroubled by the fears and burdens that afflict millions of the world’s people enduring under oppressive regimes.

Although I am well into the complicated life of the typical American adult, on July 4th, every year, I ponder the momentous American tenets of freedom and independence. The meaning of the 4th is so powerful, that, without having experienced its polar opposite, I grasp its substance by simply reveling in the warmth of July sun and the taste of ice cream on Independence Day.

How did you spend the day?  What are the symbols, the touchstones of your life that make you glad to be an American? 

Please post your comments below.
Love from Shelley
Click to get a taste of freedom. Choose your flavor

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The devil IS in the details…

My dear reader,

For Sweet Romance jewelry, our finished product cannot possibly result from assembly line production.  Most designs require talent in various techniques, handling each piece one at a time.  

A cuff bracelet of artistic excellence and profound
meaning, the subject is the Monarch Butterfly
The creation of just a single original piece of jewelry is quite a process, requiring a broad knowledge of materials and methods. It’s yet another story to do a production run of, say, 100 of the same article. Problems and obstacles quickly overtake the joy of the creative side of a project requiring perfection times 100. 

Our Monarch Butterfly Cuff is an example. Once off the drawing board, we order several of the tooled parts – the cuff and butterflies. We cast the settings and pierce worked elements. The butterflies arrive with sharp edges which must be smoothed with a hand drill. The gorgeous carved onyx flowers come in, but they vary in size and most don’t fit the settings we made. Ok, so we make additional settings of varying sizes to accommodate the problem.
Here's how we do it--the traditional method of joining elements--torch heat and years of experience.Click to shop our Rosette Cuff which is made in this technique.
We’re ready to join the parts which requires a variety of different solders because the melting points of the metal elements are all different . Insufficient heat means a cold joint that won’t hold. Just a tad too hot and the fixed elements begin to drift and melt. There we are—a finished bracelet. ..What do you mean a butterfly is on crooked? We’ll just torch the underside and
Click to take a closer look at this amazing turquoise ring!
 move it a little... whoops, we melted an edge of the round setting. In lifting off to replace it, the blasted butterfly has heated and slipped again.  Only 184 more butterflies to go… Days later,  we finally have our 100 bracelets ready for the next calamities of plating, burnishing and enameling.  


They say that everything must fall apart in order to come together again...that a Phoenix rises from the ashes…(at least our butterflies really do.) Anyway, that’s the axiom we’ve come to live by in the production of our jewelry designs.  It accounts for the beauty and complexity of every piece.

With love from Shelley

Thursday, June 18, 2015

‘Statement jewelry’…whatever that means…


Traditional jewelry making is a lifelong apprenticeship in a multitude of different arts. At first you aspire to become proficient in the basics of fabrication: cutting, carving, casting and soldering. Then, there’s the ornamental finish work such as enameling, engraving, stoning and beading. Harnessing your abilities to produce an admirable piece of jewelry from a design sketch is a very un-glamorous proposition. You must wrestle with all the mechanical aspects of birthing a creation so that its finished form compels someone to wear it for its beauty or self-expression.

Gemstone beads are cut,shaped and polished.
Click to view our Blue Creek bracelet featuring
lapidary cutcabochons.
Much of the jewelry out there is a monotonous rehash of some theme, handed down by the trend gurus (whoever they are), mass produced overseas and marketed by every tier in retailing. A pink plastic geometric necklace plated in imitation gold, made in China is offered by a hundred small vendors on various websites for a couple of dollars and another couple of dollars for delivery to your door, 6,000 miles away. You can buy the very same “statement necklace” at a tony department store for >$100, labeled in the name of a celebrity “designer” whose offerings, from purses to bathroom towels, dubs them a “life-style brand” (whatever that is).

Quality inspection of our Auturm
Haze necklace with frog knot closure.
The fundamental requirement for innovative design has been swapped for efficiently marketed private label goods.Modern technology has enabled the jettison of junk in mass quantities through all arteries of commerce with such speed and transparency that we can shop the same item online for 3 bucks or 30. 

Thankfully, more women are going negative on so-called fast fashion. They’re looking for items that show evidence of artistic expression and fine workmanship. The world of manufacturing is hovering on the brink of DIY 3-D printing of a thing-on-a-string necklace. I’m betting that true lovers of jewelry will instead print a dog toy; that they’ll continue to acquire jewelry from actual practitioners of the art such as myself and my talented staff at Sweet Romance. What’s your take?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Jewelry revolt of 1900: Entre Art Nouveau

True to the aesthetic that flourished on the eve of the 20th century, 
we present this necklace in the Art Nouveau style. Click to buy.
The industrial age blasted through the 20th century, sure to displace everything that had been once made by hand or one of a kind. Couture bowed to the sewing machine, woodworking gave way to the lathe and even jewelry became a mass produced commodity. But there was an undercurrent of rebellion forming among designers, makers and patrons of the decorative arts. Some think it was a certain Parisian art dealer, Siegfried Bing of Maison de l'Art Nouveau, who unveiled and promoted a totally new design aesthetic which included all the decorative and industrial arts,

Designers, at the turn-of- the-century intended to rise above machine made mediocrity. They shocked the senses of those accustomed to the drone of the Victorian status quo. Art Nouveau flourished in a world of rapid social change. The “new art” brought design innovations that weren’t derived from any previous art form or period style. It stressed hand fabrication over machine production. The form and beauty of an object was deemed more valuable than the intrinsic worth of its materials.
Our  botanical nouveau pendant from which a 3-D baby frog
reaches for a luscious baroque fluorite bead. 
Click to shop.

Art Nouveau abandoned Victorian excesses. Jewelry, in particular, experienced a transformation. It was sinuous and elegant. Botanical themes featured the whiplash curve, pulled, sinuous vines, natural textures and movement. Flowers and insects took on meandering lines as if shaped by wind or water. The female form was expressed in a poetic and sensual manner. There was nothing rigid or formal in the new style. It brought emotionally charged works of art to jewelry fabricated by legendary studios such as Lalique and Tiffany, Vever and Ashbee.

To suit the demands of the design, enamels and glass were often used in preference to gems. Precious stones and metals were viewed as secondary to the selection of materials and finishes for creating objects of virtue. Art glass became a primary element in Nouveau design--the artistry of glass jewels and applied coloring was as much a part of the jewelry rendering as its form and theme.
Even in its day, Nouveau jewelry was expensive and avant-garde. Women were timid about wearing it until it was embraced by Sarah Bernhardt, the most adored stage actress of her time. She commissioned jewelry and hair ornaments, causing a fashion fever for the new style.

The new aesthetic resulted in an emancipation of jewelry from being mere status symbols to a high art form. However, just 15 years into the new century, WWI broke out. The demand for munitions production to fuel the war effort broke off the love affair with Art Nouveau and brought the Machine Age soundly into place. Though it thrived for just a brief slice of time, Art Nouveau had become established as a celebrated and influential design movement.
A garden of Art Nouveau flowers and crystal bead winged dragonflies. Sensational! Shop this bracelet



It reminds me of short seasons of tremendous personal growth that have shaped my art as a jewelry designer, my life and perspectives. What are your some of your most deeply loved treasures? Is there an art style or subject or endeavor that makes your life especially more joyous, more complete? Please post a comment below...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Is it breaking away from the daily grind we yearn for?

Route 66 Jewelry for the journey
Click here to shop this necklace

He and I loved the freedom of the open road in summertime. One year, we rambled through the southwest via old Route 66 in his dad’s restored Plymouth, a boat-of-a-sedan made for comfort and luxuryThe look of that car fit right in—it completed the scenery of 66.  There was an added dimension of harmony and nostalgia seeing it parked at old gas stations, trading posts, rusted neon signs and abandoned cabins.  We cruised through Arizona with windows wide open. Scorching heat created a shimmery haze on the distant road and it bleached the desert sky a faded aqua blue. I remember his easy laugh, my shiny red fingernails, our cooler full of root beer and sandwiches. 

View the Desert Gemstone Bracelet
Maybe you’ve done the trip, too. Or want to someday. Is it breaking away from the daily grind we yearn for? What is it for you? What grabs your heart and kindles your imagination? Please post your comment...
Thunder Hill steer skull earring and ring holder.Whimsical subject; seriously beautiful sculpture. Click to shop.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Part 2: Inspiration at the Shedd

Sculptural pendant displays a snapshot of sea life
PART 2: The interior wasn’t designed with just a few sea life accents here and there. Instead, the world of the ocean was infused in the design of every surface for every purpose within the building.  It is a blending of Art Deco materials of bronze, marble, steel and glass with the curvilinear, undulating life forms of the sea. Entering the grand portal doors, there is a colossal 12 arm bronze chandelier with a sea creature etched into each glass panel. It illuminates the entry below and the coffered, oceanic themed ceiling above. Another light fixture is in a giant glass buoy held in the arms of a bronze octopus suspended from the ceiling. Art glass nautilus shells form soaring torchiere floor lamps. The bas relief of sea-foam green marble upper walls, the dados, even the bronze elevator doors express aquatic treasures in both geometric deco forms and figurative realism.  You can almost hear mermaids murmuring in the halls, the Travertine marble echoing their voices…

The Shedd Aquarium was financed by John Shedd, the second president of Marshall Field & Co. in 1924. By his lavish donation, his purpose was to construct the world’s largest indoor aquarium with “the greatest variety of sea life under one roof.” Researching leading aquariums around the globe, only the best and newest technology was planned for the Shedd.   It was to add to the building movement that Chicago city planners dubbed “Paris on the Prairie.” Architect Ernest Graham, the project leader, was masterful in designing buildings, from general elevation concepts right down to the lighting fixtures within. The budget was so generous, he proposed a grand Beaux-Arts style rotunda embraced by classical Greek architecture to match the scale and style of the neighboring museums.  

After taking in the spectacular design of the oceanarium itself, we did finally visit the sharks, jellies, piranhas and got splashed during the baby beluga show.


Sweet Romance Mermaid Box
What an inspirational day for jewelry design!  I couldn’t wait to convey some of the architectural wonderment of the Shedd Aquarium in jewelry pieces. A favorite treasure in this collection is my  "Mermaid Box." Completely hand sculptured, assembled and ornamented, each box is created one at a time. The Mermaid: In the deep waters of the tropical Pacific there’s an abundance of old sunken trading ships. Most of their precious cargo is unreachable or buried under the ocean silt. But local mermaids delight in the obscure treasure and most have at least one chest of jewelry, a silver chalice and some gold coins. Our mermaid relaxes among her treasures and contemplates a favorite pearl.

Soft glowing lacquer colors, pearls and crystal stand out against the darkened bronze metal finish; the jewelry version of peering into aquatic habitats at the Shedd.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Aquarium Fantasea: My visit to the Shedd

Click here to shop this necklace
PART 1:
When the Beluga Whale Exhibit opened at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, my Uncle Norman suggested we visit it together. What began as an outing to view baby whales became a day of other sightings just as wonderful and absorbing.  

We crawled along in summer traffic up Lake Shore Drive, and arrived only to creep down every aisle of the blazing hot parking lot hunting for a space. At the farthest end, where pavement became gravel, we finally nosed in under a tree. Even from our remote location, we noticed a huge crowd of people in the distance, too many for just the exhibit.

The starfish--traditional symbol 

of healing and regeneration. 

Dimensional and textured like
 the curly creature you’d find
 in a tide pool early in the morning,
Suspended from a hand-woven 

To get a better look, I stepped up on a cement enclosure surrounding the tree, thereby disrupting dozens of bees. Sprinting away, I was followed closely by my nimble septuagenarian uncle. We caught up to another visitor and mentioned our curiosity about the crowd. He matter-of-factly replied that it was Vice President Al Gore with an entourage of G-men and bodyguards.  It was going to be a whale of a wait to get in, so we slowed our walk, stopping in patches of bee-free shade along the path.  
1930s massive rotunda clock


We finally reached the slow surging crowd but hung to the side while it thinned down. My uncle hadn’t been to the aquarium for many years and I only remembered it from childhood. As we waited, we found ourselves awestruck by the architecture and design of the building. Once inside, our fascination grew, more for the decorative bronze, marble and terra cotta details of the building than for the whale show. This is what we saw… (read Part 2 in next week’s installment)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Oh Blue…Staying true to my calling


In designing jewelry, I’ve always been passionate to blend my ideas with vintage and antiquarian style.  When I first began, jewelry manufacturing was still an American industry. Every kind of production was available, from spot welding to chain making to injection molding. Warehouses were filled with inventories of vintage circa (1920s-1950s) metal components, beads and glass, mostly imported from European makers during and after WWII.  


It was both challenging and joyful to acquire vintage materials and design around them to create pieces which melded together the fashions of yesterday and today.  As the manufacture of almost everything went overseas, so did fashion jewelry. It became commoditized in a race to the bottom in quality. American makers folded. Inventories were closed out and I bought a hoard of vintage glass elements, enabling me to occupy a distinctive niche in jewelry design.