Brenda Schweder is the author of the newly released Steel Wire Jewelry, a book of 30 fun, inspiring jewelry designs that riffs on jewelry made of steel. Want to get a sampling of the book? Click here for a PDF of the book’s instructions for the Butter(Really?)Fly Ring, and click here for a PDF of the instructions for the Zulu in Teal Necklace. Want to get a sampling of Brenda? Read the interview below, and then visit her website to see more of this teacher, author, and designer’s work at www.brendaschweder.com.
How do you describe your jewelry, Brenda? In what ways has it evolved over the course of your career, and where are you headed with it now?
Oh, boy! I’m interested in designing with objects that are unexpected, and I choose to highlight the mundane or overlooked. I enjoy creating jewelry scenarios that illustrate irony or whimsy or works that tell a story.
That’s really been the underlying current of my work, and it’s evident when you view my published work over the past few years—especially my three books together. You can see how I’ve evolved in (three) nutshells.
My next direction is considering narrative works, exploring the pairing of recognizable found objects and weaving contemporary fables.
Then again, I’ve applied for graduate study in jewelry and metalsmithing, so all bets are off when I start to explore my jewelry making on an even deeper level.
Steel Wire Jewelry may seem like a bit of a departure from my first two books, but when you know me and see the direction of the book’s projects, it makes perfect sense.
Working with a lot of found objects—and only cold connections—means you have to get creative with how your components are captured and physically relate to each other. While Junk to Jewelry and Vintage Redux both showcase up-cycling, Steel Wire Jewelry takes the leap to the next level of art jewelry.
The works utilize no manufactured components or findings—actually, I believe there is one (hee!), so here’s a call-out to those who may be interested in a Steel Wire Jewelry scavenger hunt—other than the found pieces and wire. The finished wire, then, both advances and recedes depending on what I need to communicate with the piece.
I’m also more interested in the beauty of a thing for its history and origin than its intrinsic value, so along with loving steel for its many user-friendly characteristics and its economy, it’s also more befitting my style and the style of my work.
How has the high cost of metals impacted jewelers? What about the state of the economy vis a vis jewelers selling their pieces? And, speaking in the broadest terms, do you think together that’s having an effect on the kind of jewelry being made today and even the aesthetic of that jewelry?
I read somewhere—and I completely agree—that the inflation of metal prices will force designers to amp up their problem solving around this dilemma and therefore produce more creative works.
The economy has and will continue to shake things up. Some designers won’t know how to manage working around it, but others will benefit and flourish. The problem solvers—those who “push through”—will prevail. I plan to be part of the latter group!
Regarding the kind of jewelry being made as a result of the economy (and the choices made due to it), I believe common metals and materials are indeed now more heartily embraced and used more frequently.
For me, it goes back to that intrinsic value thing. I appreciate designers whose work is valued for its creativity and inventiveness, not for the monetary value attached to its elements. That’s not to say that the finest gems aren’t used in the most creative settings, but in my mind, there’s more of a challenge in designing with the humblest of things.
I’m sure it’s changed over time, but what’s your favorite tool to work with right now? Material?
This probably isn’t the answer you were looking for, but with my aging sight I’m really digging my magnifying visor and glasses. Once you get a taste of being able to see really clearly up close, there’s no going back!
My favorite material?!? Really?!? Steel wire!!!
Who are some artists — jewelers or otherwise — who inspire you? What makes their work special?
My top three artists are: Calder, Calder, and Calder again! I just love the directness of his jewelry. Each hammer blow shows the work of his hand and each bend with a pliers has meaning and purpose.
I’m also a big fan of Art Smith and the post-modern era. Simply yummy!
And, my newest heart-throb is Sally Bass, who takes found-object jewelry to its most flamboyant. I may ask her to adopt me during the Tucson shows this year!
Who was your best teacher — again jewelry or otherwise? What did he or she teach you?
I took screen-printing from Sister Mary Remy Revor (first semester, freshman year) at Mount Mary College. She was a wise soul who somehow knew that this bewildered 18-year-old from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula needed a little time to “catch-up to college.”
Besides her extremely adorable nun-liness (and her rolly-bottom ’80s comfort shoes), she taught me to see the beauty of the ordinary. I can picture her now in heaven with her viewfinder and squeegee debating color and design principles with Miro and Picasso!
How does teaching in a book differ from teaching a class in person? What do you think about teaching via videos or Podcasts? And what does the book form offer specifically, and what does it limit?
I’ve got to say that I prefer in-person learning. There’s nothing like seeing a teacher move and shape their work right in front of you. Just the way they hold their tools or relate to their materials tells a story a mile long.
That being said, books are a close second. They’re tactile, beautiful, and resource-full.
I think as makers, we love our things—the things we can hold, smell, see, hear, and touch. We’re all about our senses, all of them at once.
I do see a place for all forms of teaching and have participated in most. Everyone learns differently, and each medium speaks to a different learner.
You’re a Crystallized Swarovski Elements Ambassador. What does that mean?
I could go all formal on you with the “correct” answer, but in a Brenda nutshell: Swarovski has assembled 20-something ambassadors world-wide to “spread the crystal love” to do-it-yourself jewelry designers.
We are kept abreast of Swarovski’s latest innovations—the new cuts, colors, finishes, inventions—and how to use them. But, basically we hand-select the best crystal products in the world, cook up our own beautiful jewelry concoctions, and feed the crystal-hungry.
Besides it being an honor to have this designation and to work with some of the most talented jewelry designers around, it’s a total no-brainer. Who doesn’t like crystal?
Brenda, what do you do for fun?
My work is my fun. I’m lucky to be able to do what I love and have the support of family and friends to pursue my “heart’s content.”
My very favorite thing to do is linger at the dinner table with family and friends and talk and laugh and love!
Sorry: It’s corny, but true!
Steel Wire Jewelry is filled with your humor—all sorts of puns and wittiness. What role does humor play in your work and life? And how would your family describe your personality?
I married my husband because he’s one of the funniest people I know (although if Adam Sandler came a-callin’ … you get the picture!). My Dad is also funny in an obscure kind of way—can the weird-taste-in-what’s-comical gene be passed down?—and he’s the cat’s meow to me!
Some people laugh at my jokes, but mostly I’m my own best audience. I’m super funny to me, which makes for good company when I’m alone in my studio!
My family embraces me for all my foibles and quirks, and my in-laws think I’m certifiable. What matters to me is that I follow my own lead, and I hope that people see that doing so is what each person’s life mission is all about.
What’s your favorite piece of jewelry, and what makes it special for you?
Let’s talk about my second favorite piece of jewelry—the obvious top spot going to my wedding ring (sentimental sniff!)—which is my very first published project. A pair of huge filigree chandelier and vintage crystal earrings (BeadStyle, January 2004) marks my entry into the only job that has kept my interest, the one that continues to fill me up each and every day!
*We invite you to read other recent Lark Jewelry & Beading interviews with leading beaders, jewelers, and metalsmiths — please click “Like,” leave comments, and let us know what you think about the artists and their work:
Laura McCabe (with project PDF)
Jamie Cloud Eakin (with project PDF)
Nathalie Mornu (with two project PDFs)