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!
Robert Villamagna is a West Virginian mixed media artist, known in our shop for his metal paintings. His bold colors and comical compositions sit proudly on our walls in the gallery space. I had a fun interview with him that I hope you enjoy reading!
As someone who has very little knowledge about metal working, I first asked Robert about his material process. “I would estimate that about 75% of my ideas start out in one of my many sketchbooks. From there I usually create a rough sketch directly on my support (wood panel, medium-density fibreboard panel, or a found support such as an old desk drawer) using a Sharpie. Then I begin searching the studio for materials...which may take a few hours or several days. [Then] I begin putting the actual piece together...I may spend days, or even weeks, on a piece. My tools primarily consist of tin snips, hammers, various fasteners (nails, rivets, industrial adhesives), and power tools...My work may be classified as 2D, but in many cases it falls into a 3D category. It all depends on what and how much material or objects I am attaching to the plane or support. At a certain point the work does become frontal sculpture.”
The metal works produce a bas or low relief effect. A bas relief is a sculptural technique in which the artist carves or chisels away at a material to create an image that is basically a sculptural painting. The piece is frontal like a painting, unlike other kinds of sculpture in which the viewer can move around the object and view the piece from all sides. I find it ironic that his pieces are relief-like and yet are created using an additive rather than reductive process--he builds up the pieces by adding material to the surface rather than carving away at the material to make the image. This relation to bas relief is further enhanced by his subject matter. Traditional Greek and Roman relief pieces depict scenes of stories and myths, and Robert’s pieces also have a narrative quality. He spoke about this narrative quality and how he views it in his work: “The “stories” you refer to come from a variety of sources. A source may be a memory from my life, a line I’ve heard in a song, a piece of a conversation I may have overheard at the grocery store, or something suggested by the materials themselves. In many cases the story that I feel I am telling in a particular piece may not be the story that a viewer might “read” into one of my pieces. In most cases, I’m OK with that.”
Robert mentioned that he normally sketches out his compositions before proceeding, though often these sketches act as more of a guide than a set plan, which is true for how he approaches narratives and stories in his pieces as well. I asked him about how much preconception goes into his pieces and how much he discovers along the way: “All of my work consists of exploring. That’s the nature of the materials I use. I may have a preconceived idea in most cases, but the actual building of the piece is based on lots of experimentation with various materials and found objects.”
Next I asked him about the visual tools he uses in his work, namely composition and color. “I usually approach value first, color second. There are certain elements in each piece that I want to get attention, so looking at value is very important here. Color plays an important role, of course, but it may be affected by the subject of the piece, the mood I wish to convey, or what material colors I have on hand.” As a viewer, I see saturation and contrast as important to his works in addition to tone. He thinks about neutrals in his pieces and how they contribute to the figure-ground relationships in the works, playing with what he wants to stand out and what sinks back.
In thinking about all these elements in his pieces -- narrative, color, composition, materials, etc. -- I asked Robert to go into detail about the creation of the two pieces we have in the shop, Drink Your Money and Of Like Mind. “Drink Your Money was created for an exhibition titled “Almost Level, West Virginia,” a reflection on environmental issues in our state. I had a vision for a glass filled with money, so the negative space was this: keep it simple, use dark values to pop the hand and glass, and keep it warm.”
“Of Like Mind is just me playing, silliness meets surreal. I had these metal tire images and wondered how I might use them. When I decided on the man and bear encounter, it just became a simple task of seeing what materials I had on hand representing “outdoors” and in appropriate colors that would not take the focus off my two main characters.”
Robert’s practice, like all of our lives, has been deeply affected by the COVID pandemic. I asked what adjustments he had to make due to the pandemic, and he told me “I probably put in even more studio time during the pandemic since we are not traveling, attending concerts, etc. While my wife and I had COVID in August, I made nothing for about three weeks. As my symptoms dissipated, I began going back into the studio. However, it was difficult at first. I could only put in 90 minutes a day and I would be exhausted. Over the next few weeks I would closely build that up to two hours, three hours, etc. Now I am back in the studio full time.”
Lastly, I asked Robert what he is working on now, now that things have settled into more of a rhythm and he is (thankfully!) COVID-free. “Right now I am drawing a simple layout of our house lot so that I can present it to our local planning board. I want to place a 12” x 16” storage shed on our property to store metal and objects. I’m trying to free up more space in my studio. And I just completed my “Gimbels Series”, a group of twelve works, each using a printing plate from the advertising department of the Pittsburgh Gimbels store. I wanted to show these as a group, but it’s tough to do during this pandemic.”
“Right now I have a bunch of things I want to pursue. A six foot Mothman figure. A piece based on an old photo of a young man holding a fiddle, his mom behind him in the doorway of a log cabin. I’m also thinking about doing some large abstract metal pieces. I love non-objective abstract painting and I’d like to see if I could pull that off in metal and found objects.”
If you want to see more of Robert’s work and what he is currently creating, check out his website here.
I’d like to thank Robert for taking the time to answer all of my questions so thoroughly and thoughtfully!
Thanks for reading,
Robert sent this picture of a piece in which he combines drawing and metal, a process he hopes to use again in other works. This one is titled "Siblings."