By Regina Connell.
It all started the year I was doing a project at one of Apple’s manufacturing facilities (yes, in those faraway days when they were in the US). I fell improbably, deeply and irrevocably in love with the art and craft of manufacturing. The process and language fascinate. The equipment and widgets fascinate. Even the detritus fascinates. Give me a factory or a facility like Walter Craven’s and I can be happily lost for hours.
Of course, this love of robots and solder didn’t quite manage to wipe out a life-long fascination with jewelry. But was there a way to bring the two together?
Yes: courtesy of Kelly Jones of Wraptillion (more on that name later). This California-born, Seattle-area transplant makes intricate earrings and necklaces out of stainless steel and discarded, reclaimed titanium aerospace industry waste.
Of course, I’d seen other other jewelry made out of industrial waste but there was something different about Kelly’s…
There’s an exotic, romantic feel to her work, reminiscent of traditional Moorish design but also somehow satisfyingly otherworldly. She employs an ancient technique: chain mail…and yet it’s all very modern, very light. Streamlined. Industrial but not.
So isn’t it quite perfect that Kelly–while most assuredly an artisan–uses the language of manufacturing to describe what she does. She peppers her speech with words like R&D and manufacturing (not making, thank you) and “efficiency” and the “value of time”. Smart. (Favorite phrase? “If I want this to be sustainable, I need to treat myself as a good boss would treat me.” Yes.)
So how did this all happen? Oh it’s such a long story. But I guess you could say that family is a huge influence on me. My family is filled with lots of artists and engineers and business people. My grandmother owned an import store in Mill Valley and carried things from within the Ring of Fire. I would work for her from time to time, and had to learn the story of every object. She also made jewelry.
Mom was a calligrapher and owned a store. My dad also made jewelry, but was an engineer. Growing up I spent half my life in Radio Shack and the other half in hardware stores. And my brother is a tattoo artist who went to CCA.
So I was always the non artistic one. (Oh really?) I went to the University of Washington in English and Anthropology, then got a Masters in Library and Information Science. It’s one of those things that trains you to never be afraid to not KNOW something. Learning how to find out more is so important!
When did the jewelry making begin? Oh I probably first started making jewelry–macaroni jewelry–at about 6, maybe? Then, while I was in college, I was in a surplus store for a couple of hours with my dad and found these strange components with holes in the end. And I started working with them.
But when did you decide you needed to make jewelry making a bigger part of your life? After I’d been working in a library after graduate school, I decided to focus on my own writing. (I’m a novelist as well.)
OK…So you started jewelry making to…procrastinate? Actually, I needed something to do with my hands that wasn’t going to use the conscious logical part of my brain while I processed things for my writing. I have a hard time sitting still and processing. I needed something to do with my hands. That movement piece of it is very critical.
Ah, OK. And interesting. Yeah. I came across some of my old hardware jewelry and thought I’d like to do that again. I’d taken chain mail classes in the meantime…the motions are repetitive but the patterns are intriguing to my brain. It was perfect.
The little rings you use from the aerospace industry are titanium. I love the way it works. It’s not a precious metal but also NOT. It’s hypoallergenic. And like stainless steel, titanium will take a heat patina. It’s an unpredictable process but it’s amazing what you can do with it.
Where does your material come from? The steel hardware I work with is primarily from American manufacturers. I buy from big hardware distributors who supply engineering firms. I always wonder what they think when I ask them whether the finish is nice…
That’s pretty funny. What form do the pieces come to you in? Do you do your own stamping? I’m not doing any stamping…no it’s just joining. It’s all about chainmail technique. The bigger components come as they are (they look like Es and Cs).
The small joining rings are titanium. My titanium is waste from the aerospace industry. It’s the only way to get affordable titanium.
What is it about chainmail that you like so much? I had tried lots of different jewelry techniques, but I love this technique in particular. I love the look and the history. I’d seen some Japanese style chain mail which uses different ring sizes in a patterned overlapping rings. I really like the feel of making it.
You can’t tell by looking at it, but the work is very flexible and jointed. It’s articulated. I love that word–it’s jointed and it is also telling you something–I like that.
Do you sketch it all out before you start? I’m not a very visual person…I can like a piece after its made. I try a lot of things, move things around before I come up with the thing that’s got the right quality of the way it takes up space, in both 2D and 3D.
When you look at it not done, it looks like a mosaic but what holds everything together is the tension of it all. So for me, the art is about finding the right diameters, spaces that hold things together.
It’s kind of a mandala approach–it has to do with how things fit together rather than what the overall look will be.
What are you drawn to visually? I’m drawn to things with clean lines, not a traditionally feminine look. I like mechanical illustration, I like metal in a lot of forms, also paper. Textural things are really inspiring.
What’s the strangest thing that’s inspired you? A friend does book binding…I would like translate part of what I see into what I do. Caterpillar binding, for example, is very textural. Otherwise I’m not as inspired by visual things, but I’m inspired by the way things fit together.
Given how much you like texture, your work is smooth. I almost consider the movement a texture. That’s why I like steel, I think: how do you get something structurally rigid at the molecular level to have that sense of conforming to your body?
What do you listen to as you work? R&D needs to be done in silence with no distractions. Manufacturing doesn’t take as much concentration. It doesn’t take as much of the conscious part of my brain and lets the back part of my brain get some work done.
Sometimes silence or it’s indie music if I’m processing something: Zoe Keating, a cello artist. It makes my back brain very happy. Otherwise it’s podcasts, audio books: we dihe whole Harry Potter series, a lot of Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and also non fiction like Oliver Sacks. I love anything to do with the brain.
And the name Wraptillion: where’d that come from? My own name is so common so I needed a company name. I wanted something that didn’t have a meaning, and I just started out trying out different things. It sounded like my jewelry, and had that segmented articulated feel, and had something not quite of this time period that I like. And it stuck.
Who would play you in the movie of your life? Grommit from Wallace and Grommit. It would have to be his first speaking role. He knows how to make things work. I deeply admire that but I’m quite a bit more talkative than Grommit.
And type of film? It would probably be a mad scientist caper. Wraptillion is a mad scientist kind of name.
What five things define you?
- Books of all kinds
- Cups of strong tea with milk (Lapsang Souchong or Irish Breakast) I love the smoke in Lapsang.
- Steel (stainless)
- Experiments of all kinds. I don’t think I could do this work if I already knew how it was going to end up
- Water….just that send of fluidity. It’s almost that sense of fluidity when it moves through your hands.
And what’s a transcendent moment? Every time I go to the ocean.
All images by Kelly Jones