Jenny Nunnelee of Lakestone Jewelry crafts beautiful pieces with stones and driftwood collected from the Great Lakes Minnesota area. She has been making jewelry professionally since 1999. The act of collecting the stones and pieces of driftwood is integral to her craft, and reminds the buyer of the meditative experience of being on the beach, gathering objects of interest. We are lucky to host a Trunk Show of her pieces in our shop this week, so stop by and check it out in our shop or online!
COVID-19 has certainly put a strain on our lives, and it’s no different for artists. Like many who are struggling to find work or make money right now, artists are having a tough go of it. We really hope you take the opportunity to shop at our store and support independent artists no matter what’s going on in the world, but especially now when we all have to help each other out a bit more to stay afloat!
I asked Jenny how her business and creative process has been affected by the pandemic, and she responded: “In a normal year I travel all around the country full time, doing art shows. They were all cancelled this year. I decided to take advantage of the situation and spend the summer at Lake Superior. I worked on other creative projects, made masks, enjoyed the outdoors, but didn’t make jewelry. My husband who works with me is immuno-compromised so it was good to keep him away from people. We were lucky enough to get unemployment which helped. Now we are focusing on selling online. Hopefully we will be able to do art shows again someday.” It’s nice to know that COVID-19 has still provided Jenny with a creative space to move through this difficult time, even if it’s a departure from her normal work. I hope for Jenny and all other independent artists some new semblance of normal can be found soon, and that they can find new ways to connect with communities interested in their work. That’s what we hope to achieve here at Dovetail!
Jenny is from Minneapolis, Minnesota and frequently visited Lake Superior as a child, so the place and the stones hold special meaning for her. “I’ve always been a fan of found object art and always made jewelry, so when I found rocks small enough to make jewelry with, I couldn’t help myself.” I asked her what particular attributes attract her to the stones she finds on the beach, and she told me: “I look for small, smooth, flat rocks. They need to be fairly thin, as weight is an issue. An ideal skipping stone is good. I like ones with lines or layers. Almost all are used as is. They might get drilled or cut in half but I rarely manipulate the shape. I try not to be too literal or too figurative, I prefer to just use the lines and leave them a bit abstract.”
Next, I asked her about her material process--what she does with the stones and wood after they’ve been collected. “I only work with sterling silver as a metal. I manipulate sheet metal and wire using heat and force depending on what is necessary. I’m a bit of a tool junky, they have overgrown my studio into my living room area. We have a diamond-blade rock saw, a diamond drill bit, and a drill press used to cut the rocks, though I prefer to work with the natural shape of my materials. Sometimes I start with an idea and sometimes I get my idea from the found item. Sometimes I will drill the rocks and sometimes set them depending on the design and on how fragile they are. I’ve also been using a lot of driftwood lately but rarely alter that either. ” I love the care and attention given to the objects she finds, leaving them as she found them. There’s a profound sense of collaboration with nature in this act, and I love that Jenny wants to work with nature so closely.
I’m always curious about what lights the creative fire under artists to get going and start making, so I asked Jenny what motivated her to start making jewelry in the first place. “I’ve always made jewelry, but my junior high school had a wonderful art program that had a large jewelry section. When I was older and trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I decided I’d like to make more jewelry and see how that went. I went to Minneapolis Technical College and have a diploma in jewelry manufacture and repair. I owned a bead store briefly but that didn’t work out, and I figured if I was going to make a real go at jewelry I better get on it. I love found object art and found some rocks I could use and had a good source for many. Plus, my husband was also into it, so it was something we could do together. He works for me-- drilling rocks and helping with other things. I decided to see how far I could take it, and 10 years later I’m still going!”
Lastly, I asked her about her motivation for making these pieces -- what they mean to her and what she hopes they mean for others. “I’ve always made jewelry, from when I was in grade school, it’s always appealed to me. I prefer functional art, even though jewelry doesn’t provide a practical function other than adornment. Wearing items of adornment that appeal to you seems to be something that people have enjoyed since our cave dwelling beginnings.”
“I don’t have a deep meaning I convey with my work. I prefer the owners to attach their own meaning to the piece as they are the ones who live with it. I just hope people find it beautiful and interesting and calming.”
I certainly feel calmed by her stone pieces! As someone who is also from Minnesota and has visited Lake Superior a number of times, I appreciate the nostalgia the pieces provide as well as a translation of the experience of walking on a beach and collecting stones. There is a very particular sense of calm that comes with the beach and objects associated with it, a much needed calm during this very crazy time.
If you’d like to check out more of Jenny’s work, you can visit her website here.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to Jenny for this wonderful interview!