By Regina Connell.
It’s always exciting to discover really fresh work, both in terms of finding an artisan whose work doesn’t show up in all the usual suspect places, and in terms of work that looks completely unique.
I’ve been looking for new work in the world of jewelry of late, something to add to my collection, something different, something that makes my heart beat a little faster. I’m one of those people who loves the idea of delicate jewelry and loves it on others, but doesn’t feel like it’s right on me. But I just don’t do chunky art jewelry. What I want is something substantial. Something refined, crafted—the work of an artisan.
Enter Kirsten Muenster. I first discovered her work at Heath Ceramics in San Francisco (where I also work) and was immediately smitten. It was the earrings that got me first: beautifully balanced chain, tough but airy, feminine but with that biker edge. Perfection.
A graduate of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Kirsten first moved to Los Angeles, and then to San Francisco. In person, Kirsten has a romantic, otherworldly quality: she brings to mind a Tolkein heroine, a warrior princess endowed with magical powers. In Kirsten’s case, those powers come from her artisan’s skills and a passionate commitment to what we so often don’t think about when we think about jewelry: environmental sustainability.
She comes by her craft honestly, a fourth generation metal artist: her ancestors were coppersmiths, sheet metal workers and artists, and as she makes, she often feels that connection as she goes about the laborious, painstaking, repetitive (but meditative) process of hand coiling raw spools of wire to form the links she weaves into chain.
But to this craft she brings a new, environmentally-responsible sensibility. Like Sunita de Tourreil, who understands the environmental impact of the making of chocolate, Kirsten and her tribe of studio jewelers and metalsmiths understand the environmental impact of mining. She’s committed to ethical sourcing and works with 100% recycled precious metals and purchases stones from small, family-owned mines and individuals who hand-collect, cut, and polish the materials themselves.
While it was the intricate chain work that first caught my eye, Kirsten has recently begun adding additional materials like lava, seed and stone, combining her love of raw organic elements with her handmade chains.
In addition to chain making, she’s also an expert in the rare art of lost-wax casting and uses the technique to create modern-traditional earrings and cufflinks.
I love the ancient-craft meets modern sensibility vibe of Kirsten’s work. But I also love her commitment to being so thoughtful about the entire meaning and impact of what she does, from the way her materials are sourced to her dedication to reducing waste in how she makes to her commitment to creating classic enduring designs—not throwaway trends—that stand the test of time. The world needs more artisans like Kirsten, ones whose work doesn’t just look good, but actually does good.
For more on Kirsten, see this very excellent mini-doc, produced by Agency two fifteen for Olivari Olive Oil. Gorgeous.
All images courtesy of Kirsten Muenster.