I'm happy to feature a wonderful jewelry artisan whose eco-friendly practices have been an intimate part of creating since the very beginning. Working with antique and vintage pieces, reclaimed metals and some very interesting textured brass cutouts.
I've invited Lux and Love's eloquent creator Carola Del Mese to talk about herself, her art and what it means to be eco-friendly.
"Carola Del Mese has gone from humble sandblaster at a decorative glass company at age 16 to student glass blower, from set builder, to cabaret hostess, from retail display designer to traveler and in between has been prop maker extraordinaire, fun seeker and part time lapsed Catholic. I finally settled on prop maker (for cash), jewelery designer (for the love of ornament) and sculptor by dint of the love of the history behind an object, and as an excuse to collect junk. It has been a very long, and for me, rich journey to where I am now.
I live in Brighton on the South coast of the UK, a historic town known for its artist’s community and have lived here for 15 years enjoying the creative environment and the support and opportunities Brighton gives.
I studied 3D glass design in the north of England then went straight into a career as a prop maker, working for the English National Opera, then training as an apprentice prop maker at the world famous Glyndebourne Opera House in Sussex. I then went on to produce work for many and varied shows, operas, theaters, films, adverts, museums, theme parks, you name it...
My background in theater and props has laid the groundwork for the work that I do now. What I love about props is that each day is different, each job requires different design and making skills, different materials and endless problem solving skills. My main love in prop making is polystyrene carving, clay model-making and sculpture – i love the quiet focus on a single job and the final perfect result. I love the way that you can fake anything, how you can create an entire environment – and my environment is so important to me, whether its my home, my studio, my garden or my workplace. I want to be able to shape it.
I had a short holiday from making things, as a project manager for a successful retail display company. Among my clients were major companies like Harrods, Liberty and Selfridges (London), and international chains like Top Shop, however the constant high pressure to keep the client satisfied at any cost, and the gradual realization that I was just a cog in the consumer machine, the never ending downward spiral of debt, gave me but 1 choice....One evening, unhappy and at odds with my life and the continuous stress, I opened my laptop and clicked ‘buy’.
1 month later i was on a 1-way trip to the Caribbean with all my belongings in storage back in the UK. This was an absolute turning point in my creative life. I knew that I needed to make stuff, its the key to making me happy, it gives my life purpose and i need to do it..
After returning home a few months later I went to stay with my father for a month in an isolated farmhouse in the woods in Tuscany and tried to work out some kind of plan and re-connect with myself. I enrolled into a silversmithing course and learned the basics of small metalworks, and moved into a house in Brighton with friends where my studio is in the basement – a hobbit hole where I can shut the door, put on radio 4 and get lost in my ideas.
British masonic medal, old Czech glass flower charm, Chinese luck charm and acrylic button set in deep brass setting.
I enrolled in a course last year on making simple automata, I became fascinated with the idea of creating little shrines of my own and the possibilities of automating tiny worlds based on the reliquaries I saw as a child. I wanted to make my own, super intricate automated shrines to my own gods and goddesses, and started researching reliquaries, devotional art and saints.
Designing and making jewelery came naturally for me as I’ve always made my own clothes and adorned myself in, let's say, unusual ways. So using the things that I loved and incorporating the style and the kinds of items I had collected over the years into my adornments seemed natural. In fact I felt that suddenly a light had been turned on! I started by making things for myself and my friends, and then gradually for craft fairs and art festivals, and I was lucky enough to be able to still make props to support myself.
For the first time I was making my own autonomously creative pieces. These are my passion: creating heavily adorned and decorative items that carry or represent something of significance, whether it's a shrine, a musical teapot, a clock, they don’t even need to be teapots, in fact I have a friend who owns a ranch in California who regularly sends me bones of animals who have died of natural causes on his land – a snake skull, a tortoise shell, a bear jaw..... I have big plans for the tortoise shell.
I LOVE collecting junk – or vintage items. One of my favorite things is to go round all the boot fairs and flea markets finding little gems. I can’t resist searching the trunks for old letters, rifling through the black and white photos and looking into the eyes of the families who sat rigidly for the camera, trying to understand who they were. It always seems such a shame to leave these memories of someone’s life in a suitcase on the floor of a carpark, waiting for someone to buy them, so I do.
Vintage charms and stones.
I love taking these snapshots of someone else's life back to my home and incorporating them into a new life. I’ve always lived with vintage and antique things around me, objects with histories, unique items treasured previously by someone else. I love being around the dusty shelves of antique shops, poring over the curiosities and oddities, the old books............
I was brought up in a fairly religious family, but it was the trips to Italy (my father is Italian) and the over-the-top baroque and rococo Catholic churches we got dragged around to when I was a kid that really had a lasting effect on my sense of aesthetics. I love the gold and jeweled monstrances, the pearl and stone encrusted reliquaries, the glorious embellishments, the tiny details, the votives and offerings, body parts, photographs, drawings, the hope entrusted in all of these things laid at an altar.
Apart from the influence that Catholic iconography has had on my work I’ve been very influenced recently by Victorian style, particularly the mourning jewelry. These pieces work on the same premise as reliquaries, usually being very ornate and valuable items with gold, pearls and jewels which carry something of significance, whether it's a tiny painting of the beloved, someone who has passed away, a lock of hair or sometimes very intricate weaved pictures using the beloved’s hair. The hair itself has no financial value but the jewelry item – the tiny reliquary – can be priceless. I like the idea of the veneration of objects which have a purely emotional value, so the ‘box’ which is supposed to keep it safe, to preserve it for the future, is actually priceless. Eventually, as time passes, the item it carries has no value or significance to anyone, but the ‘box’ becomes sought after. I like the elements of secrecy in these objects too, the locket, the hidden compartment at the back, the words spelled out by using the 1st letter of various stones.
Massive chunks of beautiful iridescent labradorite, ametrine and rainbow fluorite along with lockets, swallow charms, vintage Lucite cylinders and smaller semi-precious stones. Gold plated and rosary chain.
Another jewelry influence quite opposite to the somber Victorian mourning jewelery is the joyous over-ornamented color burst of incredibly skillfully crafted Byzantine jewelry, the anything-goes richness mixed with religious icons in everything from their jewelry to their clothes to their paintings – more is more!
Salvaged chandelier crystals, tiny vintage mother of pearl and cut crystal buttons, luminescent moonstone beads, antique freshwater pearls, white Aventurine beads, silver colored Milagros from Mexico, rainbow fluorite beads and a huge chunky faceted moonstone nugget.
Faceted garnet and freshwater pearls.
The long and rich process of becoming a (kind of) practicing artist has been helped along by many amazing established artists. Among them are:
I’ve been incredibly and consistently wowed by her work to the point of despondency!
For his incredibly detailed, precise and thought-through automata. He has been a real inspiration.
When I discovered Jessica Joslin’s work I almost cried – it's almost exactly where I wanted to be!
Art Chantry graphic designer extraordinaire with a brilliant raw cut and paste style
Mark Ryden's insane and beautifully detailed fantasy worlds.
Junko Mizuno for her insane eyeball cupcakes, evil babies and sugary sweet voodoo dolls
Jewelry is an accessory, an adornment. It could come in any shape or form, be made of any material, and I want to push the boundary: I feel there are no strict boundaries between accessories, clothes and jewelry, and there are projects I plan to work on in the future which bring together all of these things - the tiny worlds, the found objects, the moving automata and my urge to accessorize madly (which is, of course the only instinct that separates us from the animals!). I’m also very lucky to be able to use the myriad of skills I’ve learned from my career in prop making to make these one off pieces really beautiful and unique.
Future jewelry projects include huge brooches from old machine parts which cover the whole front of the shoulder, to look like crazy spiders and insects. I’d like to automate them so their legs move. I want to make smaller ones which look as if insects are climbing out of a shirt pocket and can be clipped onto the inside of a lapel so they are climbing out of your jacket. I’d even like to automate hats – think ghoulish merry go rounds with vintage doll heads going round.
I’d like to hone my skills, I want to become a much more accomplished artist in order to make my pieces beautiful rather than just interesting. I’m toying with the idea of applying for a masters in mixed metal sculpture, but would definitely need to save up first!
Reclaimed brass lucky horseshoe necklace.
Commissioned bridesmaids gifts: cute brass swallow pin brooches.
The jewelry I currently sell is recycled in the sense that the metal (mainly brass) I use is from the scrap metal center - I don’t buy new metal, I think that all the dints and marks add to the interest of an object. I also try to use stones, charms and other bits from reclaimed or broken jewelry and other objects which I find whilst scouring the flea markets. If a customer asks for something in particular then sometimes I do need to find a commercial source, but most clients understand my ethic and were initially drawn to the vintage styling, so they are happy that a red bead may not always be a particular type of red bead, and a heart locket may not always be that particular style.
Mixed vintage charm necklaces
Rocks range - rough cut Fools gold nuggets with mother of pearl and Rhodonite (pink) on gold plated chains.
One of the other reasons I started using reclaimed materials was out of necessity – I wanted to experiment and knew I would make mistakes, so brass rather than gold, vintage stones rather than newly mined ones. Also, the process of mining really began to bother me once I started to look into it.
I hesitate to use the word eco-friendly, simply because using reclaimed objects and materials happened as a result of my sense of style, my love of the history of objects and financial restrictions. Over the last couple of years as I’ve found out more about - among other things - mining techniques, I’ve gone out of my way to select pre-used materials. There's quite a bit of info on the net but here’s one for starters: http://www.greenkarat.com/about/issuesanswers/gem.asp
Another one of my reasons for wanting to use reclaimed materials is that even though I live in a town and rely on gas, electricity, supermarket supplies and all the rest of it, I have more or less retreated from super-consumerism. I make all presents and cards, I buy most of my food from local producers, and make and repair clothes, or buy vintage, I don’t own a car.... So whenever I can, I will use something that has history – it's the thought of all those factories churning out millions of tons of plastic that worries me, it does not bode well for future generations! So in my small way I’m trying to live a simpler life by using less of the planet’s resources."