Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Broken Plate

The most meaningful part of my journey
as a jeweler and metalsmith are the pieces I make that reflect a period in time that represent someone else's journey.  These are pieces that incorporate history, memories, and emotions.  These opportunities are the gift of my work and I am constantly amazed what I learn about people and what I am blessed to creatively express.

When my friend Cherie approached me about making a brooch from a broken plate, I had not idea about the backstory of this broken plate.  Here is her story:




Friday, February 26, 2021


 I don't know why I've always been obsessed with Tiaras.  Perhaps being a princess is every little girl's dream.  Often I found myself gazing at Jesus's crown of thorns or an angel's halo.  The first Tiaras I made were in 2002 when I was invited by Fragments to premier my wedding band collection in their Madison Ave. store.  I thought if I put some awesome tiaras in their windows, it would generate business.  I created The Glenda tiara from the good witch on Wizard of Oz, the Athena Tiara which represented the Greek Warrior Princess,and the Gabrielle Tiara inspired by Xena Warrior Princess.  

When I recently read M.J. Rose's new book, entitled "The Last Tiara", I pulled out the photos of my Tiaras and realized I was yearning to be a part of the "Tiara Tradition" since long ago.  If you love historical fiction as much as I do, I urge you to read her book which is based on a lost tiara from the gems of the Romanoff Russian jewels.  

                                                                          "Glenda" tiara, 

                                                            vermeil, moonstones and cz's                               


"Athena" Tiara, pearls and 14k pink gold vermeill

"Gabrielle" Tiara, sterling, 14ky and CZ

AND THEN:      How could I resist the temptation to make stainless crowns for my dog CoCo and my cat Jessie?  They were my Queens!


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Journey of the Balangandan Necklace

During the Covid-19 Lockdown, I was talking with a fellow jewelry designer, and she began telling me about an amazing piece of history, the Balangandan Necklace. (Read more). The Balangandan originated in 17th century, and was worn generally in 18th and 19th century by Brazilian women of African descent.  It can be worn at the waist, as a necklace, a bracelet, an amulet, or used as a door hanging.  The Balangandan are primarily made of copper, gold or silver, with hanging charms that are meaningful in the wearer's life.  Some charms are spiritual, representing African Orishas or Christian dieties.  Others are meant to impart good fortune, or to commemorate important life events.  As I bean researching the Balangandan, I found the images below, and was struck by the pride and power of these women.  I'm not sure if they were enslaved.  Had they been born in Africa?  Did they have children, husbands?  What were their lives like, what were their hopes and dreams?  Had they been transported 3000 miles against their will, never to see home and family again?  That very prospect sent chills up my spine and I spent the evening looking out the back window of my house at the trees and starlight and COVID darkness.  I held the Mother of Pearl Charm that I'd purchased 25 years ago at a flea market in my hand.  I'm not sure of its age or origin, but it's always felt like a tranformational piece for me.  And at that moment I was inspired to begin work on a Balangandan of my own.  I've always been intrigued by charms, their beauty and meaning.  I wondered at passages and changes in my own life and the significant things, both physical and emotional that I've accumulated over the years. 

I created my 2020 version of a Blangandan to exemplify an eternal reverence to the hopes and dreams of women everywhere. I built the piece around the central Mother of Pearl charm and made the chain links to represent barbed wire, the horrors of chattel slavery, and the extraordinary perseverance and strength of the women who survived.  I chose opals and moonstones to honor our hopes and dreams:  the things we wish for and the reality of our everyday lives.  I adorned the corners of the silver plate with Aladdin's lamps to inspire magic.

All the charms represent a woman's journey:  children, growth and daily tasks, emotional and physical strength, love, and loss on a life's path well-traveled.   Some of the charms are vintage and some of them I made.  Each individual charm has a meaning to the concept of the piece.

The Balangandan can be worn on the neck or at the waist.  It can also hang on a wall by the front door, as it often did in 19th century Brazil.  It is my intent that the owner adds their own charms to commemorate their individual soul's journey.  

Above:  Vintage Photos of women wearing their Balangandans
Above:  Photo by Man Ray, with his wife Julia wearing a vintage Balangandan Necklace


The Charms on my Balangandan Necklace:

I mimicked the original shape of the silver plate from which the charms hang to give reference to the ships in which the enslaved Africans traveled to the New World.  This shape, to me, also represents the sea of life and the Orisha Yemaya.  The opals and moonstones represent the dreams we hold as individuals on our journey.  The Aladdin's Lamps on either side of the holder represent spirits that watch over us. 

Top Row: (left to right)

1.) The articulated mermaid.Vintage Silver Charm.Because I
always wanted to see, if not be, a mermaid. 

2.) Vintage Silver Chalet charm. We all deserve the home of our

3.) Motorcycle Boot. To kick some ass when we need to.

4.) Baby Shoe. The hope of a new life.

5.) Vintage dice charm. Silver and Acrylic. Because sometimes a
little luck is involved.

6.) Vintage silver pickaxe.  Because sometimes you have to keep
chipping away on something until it gives way.

7.) Vintage Silver Hope Chest. Because we collect things and store
them in our hearts.

8.) My wisdom tooth from bone loss. Silver.  One of the things I’ve
lost along my journey.

Bottom Row (left to right)

1.) Vintage Sewing scissors in a leather worn sheath. Because there
are things we need to mend or cut out of our lives.

2.) Silver Chicken Foot Charm. A nod to Santeria, religious beliefs
and magic.

3.) Vintage lenses holding a silver screen with which I’ve embroidered a cracked heart.
Because sometimes our hearts break.

4.) Vintage Mother Of Pearl Charm. (see above)

5.) Vintage Silver and Mother or Pearl Baby Rattle. Because
sometimes we need to entertain and distract our children, or
even ourselves.

6.) Vintage Silver Knight in Shining Amor. Because we all want to
be saved or find “the one”

7.) Vintage Painting on glass set in Silver. Because I have dreams
of a city under the sea where I can live peacefully.

8.) Vintage carved wooden Shoe Charm. Because everyone needs to walk a mile in another persons shoes.

Above:  My Balangandan Necklace as worn by my talented friend, musician, and writer, @felice_rosser

Balangandan as worn by Maria.

Afro-brazilian Amulet
March, 2016
From the Museum of Ethnology,

As the indigenous peoples who worked on the Portuguese colonial plantations in
Brazil died out or fled, they were replaced by African slaves, who brought with
them elements of their home cultures. The African territories they came from, a
number boasted fairly advanced metallurgical industries.

The balangandan is a religious object typical of Brazil, and particularly of the state
of Bahia, that represents the encounter between African and European cultures. In Portuguese, it is called a penca, or bouquet, while the name balangandan is an onomatopoetic word meant to recall the sound made by the object's dangling metal baubles

Consisting of a number of charms strung on a common fastener hung from a
chain, the balangandan traces its roots back to the 17th century, though its more
general use dates to the 18th-19th centuries. Worn by women of African descent,
the balangandan most frequently adorned the thick chain belts that hung about
slaves' waists, though on special occasions, it might be attached to the
wrist. When not in use, it hung in the house near the door. Originally made of
silver, the balangandan represented significant monetary value and was not
infrequently presented by plantation owners to favored slaves. Each
balangandan was unique, having been composed to reflect the specific life path of
its wearer. Its charms included religious symbols that could be interpreted
simultaneously as Christian in origin, or as representing certain African
gods. Other charms were intended to impart good fortune, happiness, prosperity,
or good health, while a third type was selected out of gratitude for - and in
commemoration of - having survived some misfortune, such as an accident or
illness. The function of the balangandan was in some respects similar to that of a
modern charm bracelet.

The charms of the balangandan frequently depicted plants or fruits such as the
pomegranate, symbolizing wealth or fertility. One common motif was that of the
gourd vessel or dipper, which a number of African cultures used as a symbol for
the female womb. Another was that of a hand posed in what is known as the 'fig'
gesture, or figas, with the thumb protruding from between the curled index and
middle fingers. Originally a Mediterranean symbol used to impart fertility and
ward off evil spirits, the figas is still a very popular symbol in Brazil today. The
fastener on which the charms were strung was representative of the ships that
brought the slaves to the New World, the birds that sat on either side symbolizing
the continents of Africa and the Americas.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

This is my studio mascot
Mr. Don’t Panic.  I bought hin from a street artist on 8th St. in NYC in 1988.  He’s been in every studio I’ve had since then.  I always say that it takes about seven years for a jeweler to develop a vocabulary of skills:  the things you know to fix when you tend to f*ck up a project.  He holds that space for me and reminds me not to panic.  He is especially valuable to me now during the challenging times we are facing now on earth.  Do you have a personal talisman or mascot that gives you strength and stability?  I’d love to know…

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Are you old enough to remember the commercial that ended with the tag line:  “Only your hairdresser knows for sure?”  I’d like to change that to:  “Only your jeweler knows for sure”.  Here is a lovely secret I recently shared with a couple on their 20th wedding anniversary.

  Blair Breard was a friend in the early days of my first store, Clear Metals, in the East Village of NYC.  She would come in, hang out and share her stories about her experiences in NYC as a young actress.  She met Robert Leaver and they married.  They are both incredible talents and human beings.  (Blair now has her own production company, “Bossy Boots” and Robert is an artist, musician and performance artist

 I made their wedding bands.  They had a son, Mason (now a teenager). Twenty years later, they are still my friends and loyal customers.  Twenty years is a long time.  What does 20 years mean in a relationship?  If you search for traditional gift ideas on google, it will say China, white porcelain.  More to my liking it is represented by the color green or by the emerald.  Think of growth and creation.

Robert came to me early on, perplexed by the idea of what to gift Blair for this big milestone.  He was struck by the idea of going back to the altar in the woods where they had committed their vows, to see if there were any remnants underfoot he could repurpose into a gift.  He came to me and showed me a handful of stones where they had been standing.  Pepples, dirt and broken china.  One pebble, not beautiful, came to represent how they had turned dirt and stone into a lasting, creative relationship.  I put this pebble into a prong setting, melted some silver into a metal pebble and set an emerald into this blob of creation.

Together Blair and Robert created Mason.  Blair had secretly kept all of Mason’s baby teeth because she had an inside relationship with the Tooth Fairy.  She came to me and showed me a little tin filled with Mason’s teeth.  Some were large, some were tiny.  I created a “tooth charm” for Robbie.  It is organic and strong, a symbol that is representative of creating something from nothing.  How we all bloom.  I hand carved the charm in wax and added gold to represent preciousness. I held my breath as I sent two UPS packages to the same address to each of them on the same day.  I wondered how this would play out.

One of the perks of my chosen profession is that I receive the gift of sharing in these meaningful moments of life with people.  Friends who become patrons.  The most valuable lessons I’ve learned in all of this is how to keep secrets.  And patience:  the patience to wait until I hear from both, simultaneously, elated and filled with joy.  I have such gratitude that I get to share in these special moments.  

Monday, May 14, 2018


I work in relative obscurity in the middle of woods.   
The wild turkeys roam and call out to me through the sun streaming upon my workbench.  It is quiet. It is serene and I have time to contemplate.  This is right for me at this time in my life. I am no longer pulled by my dreams that
wilt in daylight.

Am I lonely?  No, because I have contact: Just the right amount of contact that I choose and which I value.  I feel such gratitude now when I sit eating a sandwich at the local diner and watch the old man next to me sitting alone and staring at his gold watch.  He looks peaceful.  I can see that he’s lived a life that has been full.  I love him silently and admire him.  What were his choices and where did he stumble or astound?

My life is much smaller than it used to be and I like it that way.  I moved to my cottage in the woods almost 2 years ago and it’s taken me that long to find the moonlight on the path when it’s dusk.  It’s taken me that long to reach out and wander the perimeters of my town.  That’s when I found the Repair Café.

The Repair Café is an old concept.  It happens in many incarnations in many communities.  I remember when I was a child how I sat by my father’s elbows and watched him closely when he fixed a broken chair or metal shelving.  When he drilled through the metal and attached nuts and bolts for stability it seemed almost painful, like a stay in the hospital.  The drill through the metal screamed when it was mended. It sighed as it was sanded and repainted.  We laughed when he was stumped by an engineering challenge and we wondered why the piece didn’t repair itself.

I’ve been making jewelry for 45 years and I like to take my time.  I volunteered my time one afternoon several weeks ago at the Repair Café.  I was there to advise and do small repairs “on the spot” in a large room at the back of a church.  Volunteers were buzzing around, setting up tables and lamps.  I worked a double task of sewing and mending as well as wielding my pliers to fix that broken clasp on a long chain.

The Café had barely opened its doors when a couple of real Woodstockers walked up to my small jewelry station.  He was dapper and friendly.  She was tall and monumental in her fuscia fake fur coat and purple hair.  They were clutching a round cookie tin,

Putting the tin down, they slid it over the table to me and I opened it.  Resting in a square of red velvet was a silver and semi-precious stone pendant, one of the largest pendants I’d ever seen.  Immediately I knew it was modernist, from the 1950’s when many artists also made jewelry. It resembled a Paul Klee painting with fanciful and playful beaded silver wires sticking out randomly.  It was odd and intriguing and a little bit garish.

“Can you fix this?” he asked.  “It’s actually quite valuable, by an artist that used to live here in Woodstock:  Rolph Scarlett.” 

I examined the big pendant and saw that it was in need of a solder job because one of the jump rings on the main, hollow form had snapped.  Soldering a piece of jewelry is always a challenge when someone else has made the piece. Not to mention the care that is needed in preserving the original patina. Turning it over in my hands I could see that while it was somewhat primitive, it had been made with intention and humor.  I liked this odd piece of jewelry and was intrigued with the person who had been Rolph Scarlett.

I could fix it.  It would be a challenge and a bit scary but I knew I could do it.  Plus, I love the fantasy that I can be part of a bit of history in carrying on the tradition of artists that work in metal.

I carried the piece back to my studio and researched Rolph Scarlett.

“Scarlett was Canadian-born, came of age in the Midwest, and spent few important years in Hollywood, where he designed stage sets. His work from this early period echoes Klee’s use of color, his confidence in naïve, primitive forms, and his blend of abstraction and figuration. In its flat spatial qualities it prefigures the Indian Space painting of the 1940s by a decade. He moved to New York in 1933 and eventually found his first great patron at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, directed by Baroness Hilla Rebay and art patron Solomon R. Guggenheim. Guggenheim would collect over 60 works by Scarlett for his collection, more than any other artist outside of Vasily Kandinsky and Rudolf Bauer.”

It turns out that Scarlett was friends with Paul Klee and admired his work greatly.  Scarlett’s paintings are beautiful and similar but he never really gained world recognition like Klee.  He lost the support of patrons when his style changed and he retired to Woodstock where he lived in “regional obscurity” to the end of his life.  He also returned to his original passion of making jewelry.

This week on a quiet day in the studio I said a prayer while I soldered the pendant.  I had taken it apart to repair it.  The patina changed when the piece was heated but I re-oxidized it back to its aged splendor.  I reassembled the pieces and imagined Rolph stamping the piece with his nod to street graffiti.  Street Graffiti affected me tremendously when I first moved to NYC in the 80’s.  Samo and Keith Haring were my contemporaries.  Rolph and I shared that fascination. I still incorporate graffiti images into my work.

The pendant needed a “bale” from which it could hang on a chain.  I chose one of my “beaded bales” that are part of my own signature.  I thought about this choice.  I knew that ethically I should choose a plain large silver oval jump ring in keeping with Rolph’s intention but I just couldn’t do it.  On the inside of the bale is my triangle signature.

When I’m old and sitting in a diner, eating my sandwich and staring at my watch, I will hold the wish that in the future someone might discover a piece of my jewelry and bring it to a Repair Cafe. I hope my signature will be recognized. If another jeweler repairs my work and adds their moniker, it will continue upon it’s journey.  I will know that in spite of my choice of relative obscurity as a career path, I’d made a mark on the path well traveled.
(Left:  Barbara Klar's Graffiti Safety Pin, 1984)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Inspiration and Synchonicity

…when jewelry has a life of its own….

Does the idea come first like a light bulb illuminating in my brain or is there something I see which triggers a familiarity upon which I can expand? I am tempted to say that things just happen: Do they roll and stand up to get attention or spring like a sprout from the fertile ground
I tread?

I was given this Labradorite Cabochon stone from a friend. As I touched it's smooth surface, I rolled it over in my hand and put it back into my stone box, I was struck by the color and luminosity it possessed in different lighting. There was an iridescent blue that reminded me of
the pink and turquoise blue of a sunset by the ocean. I had just moved and ended a disappointing relationship that was tumultuous and mean. I was alone somewhat happily yet I could only feel the fear. I was thankful that the new place came with a bed that was not only
comfortable but enabled me to lay my head upon the pillow and gaze into the treetops and see the sky. I forced myself to breathe long deep breaths even though my heart was beating in my chest and my phone was blowing up with abominable texts from my ex.

While I laid on the bed, out of the corner of my eye I saw the brown paper wrapping with string around a small painting, waiting to be unpacked and hung. I had collected so much art over the years but now most of it sat in storage. Through the years I'd become increasingly uncommitted regarding this collection. While I loved every piece of art I owned, I didn't want anything hanging on my walls anymore. I wanted my mind to be free so I could dance with my own ideas, unhindered by someone else's.

"I should hang that painting", I whispered to myself. Three months later, the package still sat by my nightstand. It had been moved endlessly around my tiny bedroom because it seemed to be constantly in the way. I loved that painting; it had been given to me by a friend on my birthday 6 years ago. I like to look at its colors because it made me feel like I could fly into its night sky and lose myself into the cobalt blue and sherbet-colored sunset. I could lay atop that small hill and watch the sun disappear over the horizon.

I hadn't been able to work since I moved because the displacement had been so abrupt and brutal. I could only cry because I felt broken and lost. I've never been unable to work in the sanctuary of my studio, not ever. The dry period was long, until September when production for
the holidays was upon me. I felt empty and dry. Coming down the stairs from my bedroom one morning I tripped on the edge of the brown paper and the painting fell down the 5 stairs with me after it. We both arrived on the landing somewhat shaken and disheveled, but all in tact. I sat
there stunned and slowly unwrapped the painting. I ran my fingers over the gilded gold frame and let the colors wash over me. I immediately hung it at the foot of my bed where I could gaze upon the tree tops through my window and then lose myself into the colors of the sunset
painting. Or was it sunrise?

I sat in front of my stone boxes and opened them one by one, wishing that inspiration would find me like water in stream rippling over the rocks with diamond reflections. The Labradorite found its way into my hand again and I wanted to catch the clouds that reflected in the streams of my memory. That beautiful stone was the painting at the foot of my bed as much as it was a cool glass of water from the well to quench my thirst. It came from the earth and it whispered to the blue in my soul while I set it into a ring.

But the journey of this ring had just begun....

from Michele Zalopany (click on her name to access her website)

Barb and I have been dear friends since we attended the Cleveland Institute of Art. We each followed our own trajectories that began at CIA. Through the following decades we both worked hard at our lifes’ work; for Barb it was jewelry, and for me, it was painting and drawing.
A few months ago, I saw the ring in a post that Barb had put on Instagram (@barbaraklar). The elaborate silver setting held a large
oval Labradorite stone. The setting was like an exaggerated contemporary version of a Victorian gothic cocktail ring. The 19c, with its confluence of colonialism, photography and Darwin has been a source of study and fascination for me. There was just something about that ring that struck me in a profound way like no piece of jewelry ever had.For years, I have been studying and researching colonialism worldwide, but Hawai’i, in particular. The earliest ethnographic photographs of Hawai’i are the foundation of my paintings. Being part native Hawaiian, I am fascinated by some of the faces of the women before miscegenation; they were a far cry from the brown-tinted, Caucasian-featured hula hula girls, used to promote the tourist industry, especially beginning in the 1920’s.

That ring reminded me, very profoundly, of Hawai’i…the sea and the

Shortly after I purchased the ring, I attended a transcendental event with acsmall group of people. Under the guidance of a trained facilitator, various psychedelic plants are administered to each person based on their experience and intent. My intent was to be able to work through a difficult period with my partner, and to have some breakthrough in my work. After a gut-wrenching, powerful-on-many-levels night, we all got together in the morning, to talk about our experiences. The next step was to integrate our experiences with the plants, in our daily lives. This made perfect sense to me on a very rational level. Little did I know or expect some of the irrational and poignant synchronicities that would occur.

Just before the journey, I had been commissioned to make a large vertical painting for a private residence. The subject matter had been decided: two pearl divers. I had nearly finished the divers, but was having a very difficult time determining the configuration and colors of the water into which they were diving, which comprised nearly 2/3 of the entire painting.

I’ve had insomnia for a while now and wake up several times a night
completely pie-eyed. A few days after the journey, I woke up at 2:14am,
and went into the living area to have a cigarette. I had a conspicuous thought that seemingly came out of the blue…the ring, it's light and it's color would be the ground of the painting! The next day, I painted the remaining white canvas with the image of the sea, rock and sky depicted in the ring with a big brush and watercolor. It freed me up from my usual tightly controlled rendering. It offered an infinity of possibilities, and most of all, I was energized and stimulated!

I completed the commission. The client was pleased, and so was I.

*healing properties of Labradorite
A stone of transformation, Labradorite is a useful
companion through change, imparting strength and
perseverance. It balances and protects the aura, raises
consciousness and grounds spiritual energies. Excellent
for strengthening intuition - promoting psychic abilities.