Craft Contexts

Statement Jewelry, Then and Now

Arts and Crafts hair comb by Archibald Knox

comb by Archibald Knox }

If you haven’t noticed already, I’ve been eyeballs-deep in the Arts and Crafts movement, reading about the historical origins of today’s crafts styles and philosophies in Makers: A History of American Studio Craft. Most recently, I learned something truly fascinating (though not too surprising) about Arts and Crafts jewelers in the early 20th century. Their jewelry, crafted rather laboriously by hand using more inexpensive and easily attainable materials, was associated with progressive culture and politics. Handmade jewelry made a social statement.

Arts and Crafts necklace by Murrle Bennett

{ necklace by Murrle Bennett }

These jewelers “rejected both costume jewelry and social jewelry, the two professional types of their day.” Costume jewelry is made from inexpensive substitute materials, such as tin alloys and fake stones, rather than gold and precious stones, and is “produced in the least labor-intensive, most mechanized way possible.” Like the cheap jewelry you find at Forever 21 and Target, and even more expensive pieces you can find in more “high end” retail outlets that are still made in bulk from cheap materials in factories overseas. Costume jewelry is imitation social jewelry, pieces made from the real materials–gold, platinum, diamonds, emeralds, etc. Social jewelry is a sign of wealth and status. Beyonce’s 18-carat diamond engagement ring, anyone?

Arts and Crafts necklace by Brainerd Bliss Thresher

{ necklace by Brainerd Bliss Thresher }

“Arts and Crafts jewelers,” on the other hand, “proposed a hierarchy of taste instead of a hierarchy of wealth,” and their works were associated with “reform clothing,” which advocated for more casual, practical clothing, especially for women of the time. Their pieces were commonly made from sterling silver or copper and included glass beads, carved bone, enameling, and semi-precious stones. Their works also featured nature-inspired motifs, including a variety of flora and fauna. This was a common feature of Arts and Crafts works, as the movement often praised more rural ways of life.

Arts and Crafts necklace by Maurice Daurat

{ pendant by Maurice Daurat }

Arts and Crafts brooch by George Pierre

{ brooch by George Pierre }

Arts and Crafts necklace by Arthur and George Gaskin

{ necklace by Arthur & Georgie Gaskin }

While reading about this, I immediately thought of the “statement necklaces” that were everywhere a couple years ago or so (and are still pretty popular?). Sadly, the only statement most of these necklaces were making was just a “fashion statement,” as they were only large pieces of costume jewelry. However, there were and still are quite a few craftspeople and artisans creating jewelry that make both a fashion statement and a social statement—bold, colorful, original pieces of art that are handcrafted, often from affordable materials, like embroidery thread and wooden beads, as well as recycled metals and stones.

handmade necklace by Edith Robertson

{ necklace by Edith Robertson }

 handmade necklace by Tamara Bavdek

{ necklace by Tamara Bavdek }

handmade earrings by Heejin Hwang

{ earrings by Heejin Hwang }

handmade bracelet by Karen Konzuk

{ bracelet by Karen Konzuk }

handmade necklace by Arlie Trowbridge

{ necklace by Arlie Trowbridge }

handmade rings by Polly van der Glas

{ rings by Polly van der Glas }

necklace by Orly Genger

{ necklace by Orly Genger }

handmade ring by Elke Kramer

ring by Elke Kramer }

handmade necklace by Pauli Ochi

necklace by Pauli Ochi }

handmade necklace by Viktoria Luftensteiner

necklace by Viktoria Luftensteiner }

The next time I purchase a piece of jewelry, I’ll try to be more conscious of the statement I’m making….

Maker's Remarks

Arlie Trowbridge of Urban Revisions

Oh man. I’m excited. Why? Because I’m about to share my mini interview with Arlie Trowbridge, the stupidly talented woman behind Urban Revisions. I’ve loved her work for ages now! Arlie was sweet enough to answer a few questions — some silly, some serious — for the latest installment of my Maker’s Remarks series. And the timing couldn’t be better, because she’s just released her Spring/Summer 2012 collection. Oh how these sherbet colored pieces make me wanna run outside and chase an ice cream truck!

handmade glass and leather purses by Urban Revisions

How did Urban Revisions start? Did you have a “quit your day job to start an Etsy shop” sort of moment?

Urban Revisions started in early 2009 by accident. I had just started getting into reading fashion blogs and the DIY shredded t-shirt craze was in full effect. I gave it a try and was immediately addicted to the process of “revising” the most basic article of clothing – a tee. My friend started modeling them in “urban” settings around Richmond, and the Etsy shop was born. Shortly after my first couple of sales, I was awarded a fellowship by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Couldn’t have been better timing. This allowed me to “quit my day job” and really pursue selling my work.

Arlie Trowbridge of Urban Revisions

Your shredded T-shirts are so unique, and it seems like your beautiful glass jewelry requires a lot of skill to create. What’s the inspiration for your pieces and the process for making them?

There’s no doubt that I love things with an organic feel to them. Almost anything that I’ve ever created and really loved came about by accident… there’s something really special about working with glass and distressed fiber. You can melt and shred forever until something amazing comes about. In the end, everything always has this delicate look but in actuality, cotton and glass have really strong qualities.

shredded cotton scarf in orange sherbet

Would you say you’re more of an urbanite or a nature-lover? Or a perfect mixture of both?

Both! I’ve lived in or very close to a city the majority of my life. I need to be near the sound of people’s hustle and bustle but I also need our long camping trips in the middle of no where and our afternoons hanging down by the James River.

shredded cotton t-shirt from Urban Revisions

What’s a typical day in the life of Arlie Trowbridge? Take us through a brief snapshot of your day, from morning to night?

Wake up, stumble to the coffee pot, fill the largest mug available, stumble to the studio and slowly open my eyes over emails and blogs.
Thats the first step, and then it’s either …

a. start shredding
b. start torch working
c. start dyeing
< or >
d. start day dreaming

I’m really all over the place, and it feels awesome.

handmade glass cluster rings from Urban Revisions

Would you rather have the ability to breathe underwater or the ability to fly? Explain.

Breathe underwater!!! In fact, this is something I’ve dreamt about many times. I spent many days at our local pool pretending to be Ariel from The Little Mermaid when I was little. Some people have commented on my cluster rings and leaf earrings, saying they remind them of coral. I love that. Marine life is fascinating.

handmade shredded t-shirt from Urban Revisions

What’s your favorite part of creating & selling your handicrafts?

The people I have had the pleasure to “meet”! The internet is such a powerful tool. Knowing that there are ladies all over the world wearing Urban Revisions is incredible to me.

handmade glass cluster ring from Urban Revisions

BTDubs, if you’ve read through this interview, you’ve got a special treat coming. You can enter Arlie’s giveaway on Facebook to win the spectacular glass cluster ring pictured above. Get on over there and enter!