I Know I'm Home, 2021
Necklace: I Know I'm Home, 2021
Aluminium, eco paint, hemp cord
70 x 35 x 8 cm
I have always tried to live a life with a minimal negative impact on our earth and fellow humans. As a fledgling jeweller, I'm still finding my way to establishing an ecologically sustainable and ethical jewellery practice. This trimester, I decided to review my responsibilities as a jeweller.
Last year I became a member of Ethical Metalsmiths, and over the past months, I have been reading articles and watching documentaries suggested by the group. Combined with my belief that one person can start to make a difference, I began researching practical choices I could make towards developing an ethical and ecologically sustainable jewellery practice. When the 7th Generation Principles theme for Ethical Metalsmith's international competition and exhibition So Fresh + So Clean 2021 was announced, I wanted to join the challenge to see how far I could push the goal of making ecologically sustainable jewellery and creating a jewellery studio that supports this aim. My project is a response to this call out.
In terms of a framework, I am again and again drawn to the value of art as a psychological and emotional support. As I mature as an artist, I see this concept invades almost all my artworks. I have also observed that I am frequently drawn to nature and organic forms as an inspiration for my designs. Given that jewellery design has a long history of functioning as an aid to well-being and as a representation of the natural world, I decided to follow my instincts and create a work inspired by my beloved Australian flora that would provide calm and comfort to the wearer.
I began my journey by exploring the works of one of my favourite Australian jewellers, Julie Blyfield. Blyfield makes stunning jewellery and small objects founded in native Australian plants. In particular, I am interested in Blyfield's use of texture to create organic forms from metal. I read about her making process involving long treks in the Australian landscape collecting natural objects; sketching ideas that developed as she gazed at these pieces on her workbench; making detailed paper models of her sketches; and finally crafting her pieces from metal. I was inspired to follow a similar path for my project.
I spent several weeks collecting samples of native flora, poring over images of Australian plant life and obsessing about jewellery designs. I returned again and again to works of not only Blyfield, but also the sumptuous organic forms of Korean jeweller Seulgi Kwon, the oversized wearable artworks of UK based jeweller Alison Brown, the nature-inspired necklaces of American jeweller Maia Leppo, the exquisite paper works of Israeli jeweller Inbar Avneri, and the handmade jewellery of British jeweller Faye Hall. However, when I discovered the works of Norwegian jeweller Anna Talbot and Swedish jeweller Hanna Hedman, my design came to life.
Anna Talbot makes vibrantly coloured wearable art from aluminium, wood veneer, brass, gilding metal and silver. Her pieces involve building up layers of material to create scenes inspired by nature and fairy tales. The use of layering and her coloured metals intrigued and inspired me. Similarly, Hanna Hedman makes complex jewellery and objects from silver, copper, steel, leather, fibres and paint. Her work, which is created from many detailed patterned layers, is inspired by her interest in storytelling and fantasy worlds. I find her use of pattern and form to tell a story and evoke an emotional response in the wearer and viewer exciting.
I went through a series of design ideas, seeking something that expressed my conceptual sentiments and met my sustainability goals. To satisfy my 7th Generation Principles theme, I aimed for a project that used cold connections and 'green' materials, was easily reusable or recyclable in the future, did not use coatings that created toxic fumes in application or removal, did not use harmful chemicals, and limited use of non-renewable resources.
I discovered that aluminium is less resource-intensive and uses less energy to recycle than most other metals. For example, silver is 10,000 times more resource-intensive and ten times more energy-intensive to recycle than uncontaminated aluminium. Gold and platinum are even worse. This piqued my interest, and I conducted further research to determine if aluminium would be a suitable option for my project. I found this wasn't a straightforward decision. Although aluminium was per se a responsible recycling option, future metalsmiths were not likely to refine it in their studio. In addition, recycled aluminium can also contain impurities and alloys that make it unsuitable for wearing close to the skin.
Consequently, I agonised over whether sterling silver was a preferable option, despite its more significant environmental impact during primary and secondary refinement. In particular, sterling silver would be more likely to be refined in a future jeweller's studio, and it did not have potential toxicity issues. In the end, I made a call to focus on aluminium because of the prohibitive cost of sterling silver. I decided to use uncontaminated aluminium sheet from Capral Aluminium. Capral, although a primary producer, had chemical analysis reports available that indicated that the aluminium I could purchase was approximately 99% pure aluminium, making it optimal for secondary refining and less problematic in terms of toxic impurities and alloys.
My reading of William McDonough's Cradle to Cradle cemented my determination to produce a project with environmental sustainability as a fundamental principle. In a few words, McDonough puts forward a production framework focused on design that returns all products safely to the soil as nutrients or high-quality materials for reuse in new products. McDonough's circular economy model was entirely aligned to my 7th Generation Principles theme, but more than that, it offered life-changing principles that completely altered my view of waste and sustainability.
My final project, I Know I'm Home, 2021, is a Eucalyptus-inspired necklace made from uncontaminated aluminium combined with sterling silver wire. Happily, I achieved my goal of submitting the piece to So Fresh + So Clean 2021. Included with my submission were brief artist and responsibility statements that summarised the conceptual basis of my work and the measures I took to achieve an environmentally sustainable and ethical art practice. For example, in support of 7th Generation Principles, my work uses only cold connections in the form of flush riveting. It is also a single metal to enhance reuse and recyclability by future metalsmiths. I strived to avoid toxic chemicals and made limited use of non-renewable resources. I planned my making to be only during daylight hours, avoided using electric machinery, and predominantly made by hand. I limited the use of gas to annealing my metal in scheduled bulk sessions. I researched extensively for an eco-friendly paint option that did not produce harmful fumes either in application or removal, and I was excited to find a paint product that is water-based, 100% free of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and can be removed using non-toxic household vinegar. I also sourced my hand spun hemp cord from a sustainable, fair trade supplier.
My necklace design is inspired by one of my favourite Australian natives, the Eucalyptus. It encompasses stylistic representations of Eucalyptus flowers, leaves and bark, as well native beehives. I used a 'corrugated' texture on the leaves to highlight the Australiana theme. A monochromic green colour scheme represents the flora's organic nature, as well as symbolising calm and peacefulness. For me, the necklace is a constant reminder that in a chaotic world, there can be tranquillity.
My jewellery journey this trimester has been intensive and fulfilling. I have expanded my technical skillset to include enamelling, chasing and repousse, as well as initial attempts at raising and planishing. But perhaps most significant is a more comprehensive understanding of the issues involved in committing to an environmentally sustainable and ethical jewellery practice. Through my research and experience, I have reaffirmed the environmental sustainability and ethics of many of my existing practices, as well as adopting several new approaches to jewellery making that will stay with me for the entirety of my jewellery career.
I understand that every time we design a project, select materials and embrace a making process, there is an opportunity to make a choice that cares for our earth and fellow humans.
 “So Fresh So Clean – Call for Entry 2021,” Ethical Metalsmiths, accessed March 1, 2021, https://ethicalmetalsmiths.org/em-students-call-for-entry.
 Rock Hushka, “Holding Objects: The Psychoanalytic Mechanisms of Wearing Jewellery,” Art Jewelry Forum, accessed March 11, 2020, https://artjewelryforum.org/articles/holding-objects-psychoanalytic-mechanisms-wearing-jewelry.
 Maura C. Flannery, “For the Love of Nature,” Metalsmith 28, no. 3 (2008): 34-41.
 “Anna Talbot: Jewellery from Fairy Tales,” TLmag Norwegian Crafts, accessed March 22, 2021, https://tlmagazine.com/anna-talbot-jewellery-from-fairy-tales/.
 Bella Neyman, “Hanna Hedman: Voyage to a New World,” Metalsmith 36, no. 2 (2016): 36-43.
 Jeremy Faludi, “Choosing Greener Metals,” Instructables, accessed March 29, 2021, https://www.instructables.com/Choosing-Greener-Metals/.
 Charles Lewton-Brain, “Metals Safety Information,” Ganoskin, accessed April 3, 2021, https://www.ganoksin.com/article/metals-safety-information/.
 “Alloy Specifications,” Capral Aluminium, accessed April 5, 2021, https://www.capral.com.au/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Capral-Alloy-Brochure_Dec2020.pdf.
 William McDonough & Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (New York: North Point Press, 2002).
So Fresh So Clean 2021 online exhibition available on the Ethical Metalsmiths website.
⭐This artwork is available for sale. For further information please contact me.