Family Portrait, 2021

Family Portrait 2021 by Toni-Maree Savage


Toni-Maree Savage
Necklace: Family Portrait, 2021
Sterling silver, found Eucalyptus wood

Artist Statement

Last trimester I saw a necklace by the Italian designer Marisa Angelucci that incited my creative impulse. Shimmering silver forms, predominantly hearts and human shapes, begged me to investigate further. I found that the work was founded in traditional symbolic Italian ex-voto and Mexican milagros thought to ward off evil, show gratitude or bring about positive change.[1] The primary techniques used in its creation was the ancient practices of repousse and chasing. The work is highly symbolic and this, along with the beautiful artistry, intrigued me. In particular, I adored how the metal, a naturally stalwart material, appeared soft and subtle in its conversion through the hands of skilled artists. I was also excited by the possibilities for narrative storytelling created in the necklace’s layered ‘charms’.[2] I wanted to create a work inspired by what I observed and sensed.

Angelucci’s stunning silver necklace invaded my thoughts and dreams for many weeks. It gradually became clear to me that what I wanted to create was a stylistically similar family portrait necklace that told the story of my immediate family using symbolism and portrayals of family members. Like a family portrait oil painting by an Old Master, my work would hold the fundamental essence of my family. [3] However, instead of hanging on a gallery wall, my necklace would be a wearable work of art held intimately against the body, heightening the connection with family.[4] It would also be displayed in the public exhibition space, inviting interaction with viewers whenever worn.[5] At its core, my necklace would embody the love, support, joy and affection that forms the foundation of my family unit. While not a mainstream activist concept, I believe rejoicing in positive family relationships and strong emotional connections in a world fraught with unhappiness and discontent is equally important and compelling.

My research unveiled so many extraordinary exemplars technically, visually and conceptually. Visually, Italian designer Marisa Angelucci and Mexican jeweller Federico Jimenez were strong influences with works grounded in Italian ex-voto and Mexican milagros, respectively. Technically, the breath-taking skills of American metalsmiths Victoria Lansford, Nancy Megan Corwin, Linda Kindler Priest, Sue Urquhart, David Huang and Italian jeweller Fabrizio Acquafresca encouraged me to be ambitious and determined with my project. I studied the works and techniques of each artist in meticulous detail in the hope that I would absorb something of the magic for transforming flat sheets of metal into beautiful works of art.

Conceptually, my family portrait necklace is influenced primarily by symbolism and narrative jewellery. Specific jewellers who have been critical to the conceptual development of my work include American Sally Bass, who creates individualistic pieces rich in character that tell a unique story through an unconventional mix of different eras, different cultures and seemingly disparate materials. Bass’s Charming Treasures, 2017 is an inspiring example of jewellery that creates narrative through symbolism and “abundant charms [that] draw the eye and the ear, and begin a conversation before a word has been spoken.”[6] American jeweller Nancy Worden also continues to be a conceptual inspiration. Her work is dense with symbols that carry social meaning and demand attention through their grandeur.[7] Worden’s work The Revenants, 2011 exemplifies her conversation starter style, which depicts a family history in gold-plated sterling silver, brass, copper, acrylic, and photographic prints.

My family portrait necklace also aligns conceptually with my belief that jewellery is more than simple adornment but is a vessel for keeping our emotional connections close and storing our memories. The idea of memory trace as the phenomenon of remembering is fast becoming a central principle in my artistic practice.[8] Exploring this concept through jewellery is exciting and fulfilling. Jewellers who have inspired me in this endeavour include American Peggy Johnson, known for her HouseWearables Jewellery Collection of house and food-inspired works that evoke positive memories of hearth and home.[9] Johnson’s Great Cook, 2001, is a delightful example of her work. Australian jeweller Marion Marshall with her exploration of personal and public space, has also stimulated the discursive impetus for my current work.[10] Marshall’s Ceremonial Marriage Ring, 2007 uses traditional Jewish symbolism to create a contemporary object embued with sentiment and familial promise.

The learning curve in the creation of my family portrait necklace was steep. As a means of support, I have often returned to the wise counsel of Japanese jeweller Hiroko Sato Pijanowski who expounds a philosophy of spiritual expression in working with metal. Pijanowski encourages the artist to approach metal with an attitude of honesty and obedience, rejoice in traces of the artist’s hand, and remember that art is an interpretation, not an imitation of life.[11] Her encouraging words urged me to persist and muster the determination required to reach my goal of conquering repousse and chasing. When I felt my skills were reasonable, I started to practice in silver and made a pair of earrings reminiscent of my proposed family portrait necklace. I was pleased with the outcome, and this provided the necessary boost to start my major work.

Family Portrait, 2021 is a sterling silver statement necklace with found Eucalyptus wood chain. The work is highly symbolic, with each element contributing to its narrative. Figurative charms represent me, my husband and my sons. The house charm embellished with the family flower of hydrangeas embodies home as a place of comfort and support. The chicken charm denotes motherhood and nurturing. Heart charms signify love, devotion and adoration. The Eucalyptus wood was gathered on family walks in our local environment, suggesting shared memories of togetherness, warmth, and joy. My work is presented within a simple home-shaped scaffold to enhance the familial relationships central to the work.

I am proud to be continuing a tradition of the centuries-old techniques of chasing and repousse. I also delight in working primarily with my hands in the spiritual manner described by Pijanowski to draw the expressive qualities of metal. Through the creation and wearing of this work, I hope to carry a positive sentiment beyond my family unit to a world that often seems overwhelmingly pessimistic. It is a sparkle of hope in the dark.


[1] “Special Pictorial: Milagros,” Ornament 8, no. 4 (1985): 22-23, ProQuest.

[2] Cynthia Unninayar, “So Charming, “ JQ 119 (2005): 66-69, ProQuest.

[3] Emma Barker, “No Picture More Charming: The Family Portrait in Eighteenth-Century France,” Art History 40, no. 3 (2017), ProQuest.

[4] Jennifer Downs & Mike Press, “Heartfelt: The Possibilities for Physical Objects to Act as Mediators in Emotional Exchange and Implications for the Design Process,” in 6th Asian Design Conference, Tsukuba, Japan, 14-17 October 2003,

[5] Roberta Bernabei, “Jewellery Can Be Worn Too,” in Exhibiting Craft and Design: Transgressing the White Cube Paradigm, 1930-Present, ed. Alla Myzelev (London: Routledge, 2017), 108-125, ProQuest.

[6] Morgan Pearce, “Wearable Art: An Interview with Arizona-Based Jewelry Designer Sally Bass,” The Met Store Magazine, accessed October 8, 2021,

[7] Matthew Kangas, “Dark Victory: The Oracular Ornament of Nancy Worden,” Art Jewelry Forum, accessed August 30, 2021,

[8] Felipe De Brigard, “The Nature of Memory Traces,” Philosophy Compass 9, no. 6 (2014): 402-414, ProQuest.

[9] Kelly Kim, “Personal Memories: The Jewellery of Peggy Johnson,” Ornament 14, no. 1 (1990): 44-47, 75, ProQuest.

[10] Helmut Lueckenhausen, “Marion Marshall: Jewellery, Myth and Memory,” Craft Arts International 81, (2011): 70-74, ProQuest.

[11] Hiroko Sato Pijanowski, “Artistic Research into Spiritual Expression,” Ganoksin, accessed August 30, 2021,

⭐This artwork is available for sale. For further information please contact me