The Atelier: it’s a phrase we use often at Fame and Partners, simply because it’s the best descriptor of what we do. Atelier, a French word, is defined by Dictionary.com (a reliable source if there ever was one) as “
Sadly, physical ateliers are almost all but obsolete these days. That’s why we want to highlight artisans all over the world who are still dedicated to hand-making their wares in their personal ateliers. Welcome to our new blog series, Inside The Atelier.
In our inaugural post we’re featuring jewelry designer Heidi Abrahamson. You may recognize her designs from some of the photos on our site–we’re big fans of her sculptural style and are so excited to introduce you to Heidi’s work.
Fame and Partners: How did you begin your career as a jewelry designer?
Heidi Abrahamson: As a kid, I always played with beads. My parents were antique dealers, aside from their full time jobs and mother specialized in jewelry and textiles. There was always plenty of good things to play around with. I learned a lot from my mother and all the other dealers at the antique shows, they were large and wonderful, back then, and quite the events. Aside from all the tradition antique jewelry of the different periods, that I still love, My Mother started collecting modern pieces, particularly those from the Georg Jensen Studio and Ed Levin from Vermont. Fast forward to about 13 years ago, I started working with beads again, but so was everyone and their mother. That and they just didn’t fulfill my need. One day, while looking at the pieces I had collected over the years, I thought to myself “Why can’t I do this?!”. I then took a $50 class at the now closed Mining Museum in Phoenix. I learn to solder and do the basics. I’ve been making jewelry for 11 years now, 5 full time.
F&P: Do you remember the first piece of jewelry you made? What was it and where is it now?
HA: Oh, absolutely! My mother was a dental lab technician and she had her own lab, which meant casting equipment and wax. I made a I little peace symbol when I was about 10, my mother cast it in gold, I finished and polished it. It’s right here in my drawer.
F&P: What are the pros of hand making every piece? The cons?
HA: Pros are that I have control and I make the piece exactly what I have in mind, or a lot of times, it goes in a different direction, which I enjoy, I can just go with it. In production, I would be at their mercy in interpreting my vision, because if I had to render each piece, it would be terrible. I can’t draw to save my life. It also means that I have to know and plan ahead of time what I’m going to make. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to make till I start.
Cons are time. I feel I can never get enough done.
F&P: What is you favorite metal to work with? Favorite stone?
HA: Sterling, Sterling just gets better the more you wear it, too. I’ve worked with gold, fabricating with gold is much more difficult and it’s much more brittle than silver. I’d rather do a wax and cast, preferably in 18kt. I like the color so much better.
I like a lot of stones, I can’t really say I have a favorite. I like solid color stones, nothing with variations in color, like agates, I like cabochon better that faceted stones, too.
F&P: How do you find/source your materials?
HA: Well, there’s nothing glamorous to report here. I do recycle my sterling and reuse it when I can. I buy my flat sheet sterling and wire at a local supplier. There are those who melt their silver and roll it through a rolling mill and extrude wire. I can’t physically unable to do that. It also takes lots of time. For stones I. Go to the Tucson Gem Show once a year, although I’ve not been for a couple years as I wanted to concentrate more on just the metal. Like making sculpture. When I use stones, and I usually use large ones, the piece then, is all about the stone with embellishments around it. Don’t get me wrong, I still love doing that work, I just need to change it up every now and then. Of late, the hardware store has been a wonderful resource! I’m in love with brass tubing!
F&P: How long does it take to make a single piece?
HA: Depending on the piece, a couple days or longer for the more complicated ones. Sometimes, a day for easier pieces. The pieces that look simple, never are. With clean, simple designs, there is no room for error or sloppiness. I sometimes get obsessive. Today, I worked all day I the studio on a ring, at the end of the day, I had to take it all apart. It wasn’t straight or squared. Tomorrow, I’ll try again. I am nothing if not tenacious.
F&P: What is your studio space like? How long have you worked there? What are the most important things to have in your space to create?
HA: I love my studio. It’s in the front of an old contractors building that was built in 1961. It’s typical modern architectural design of the time. It has the low sloped roofline, and I have clerestory windows in my studio and a ceiling that mimics the roofline. The walls are white. My workbench is an old Eames desk, that works just beautifully for me. In another corner I have an old drafting desk from the 40’s that my father gave me when I was in high school. In another corner, I have an little vintage work desk set up for the very occasional student I have. Right now, my friend Oscar Garcia, Jr. occupies the space on weekends to do beautiful leather work. He’s also an incredibly talented artist of which I’m so fortunate to own one of his drawings.
Generally, my workbench is a chaotic mess. Before I work, I tidy up a bit, just to get my tools in place. I have several paintings on my walls, portraits of people I don’t know, that I’ve collected. “My friends”. I have a book shelf with tons of books, new books, old books, my mother’s books on jewelry. On a wire Metro shelf I have textiles, another love of mine. There are handwoven and printed linens that my mother brought from Germany in the 80’s, some samplers made by German school children during the early 1900’s. A violin, that sorely needs restoration is up on the top shelf. There’s a large Calderesque mobile hanging from the ceiling. And, sometimes to rest a bit, I have an old Danish Fritz Hansen rocking chair right in the middle.
Music. I need my music even though I don’t hear it half the time.
F&P: What kind of woman do you imagine wearing your jewelry?
HA: Oh, wow. Here I’m going to be so full of myself. A woman of any age. A successful, well dressed, independent woman. A woman who loves and appreciates architecture. A cultured woman. A woman who travels. A woman who knows and collects modern art.
When a woman, who fits any or all the above, buys my jewelry, it is the highest compliment. It happens. I can’t tell you what an absolutely wonderful feeling that is. I finally feel “good enough”. As cool as my parents were, my mother was very critical and harsh. I finally feel that this is something I can do well. I’m grateful, that even at this late time in my life, to have found it.
F&P: What is your favorite book?
HA: Jim Thompson’s “The Killer Inside Me” 1952. James Ellroy’s “L.A. Confidential”. These are page turners for me. I get bored and distracted easily. I could never be an academic. Give me any good Noir, or pulp fiction or vintage crime, I’m happy.
F&P: If you choose a woman, dead or alive, to have dinner with, who would it be?
HA: This is tough. Look, I couldn’t pick one book! Ok, right now, Louise Nevelson comes to mind. Her work just slays me. Her style is fantastic. She studied with Hans Hoffman, which that last time I saw one of his huge painting, I cried. She was a pioneer, and indecent strong willed talented woman.
F&P: What were the inspirations behind the pieces you created for the Fame and Partners shoot?
HA: I worked in fashion for many years as a visual merchandiser and stylist, so I still look and study the fashion magazines. I saw that huge earrings were back on trend. Before, I had no desire to make earrings, now I’m inspired! The rings, as I said earlier, the hardware store….all that brass, and brass tubing. I wanted to be a sculpture, that’s why I want to work with metal without stones.
F&P: Which piece from your line would you pair with…a simple black dress?
HA: The Memphis style earrings in sterling and brass.
F&P: A boho maxi?
HA: The long brass and sterling earrings with onyx.
F&P: A shift dress for work?
HA: The brass tube and sterling ring. It’s lightweight and easy to wear while working. And the “sail” earrings in brass and sterling.
F&P: A ball gown?
HA: With a ball gown, you need one spectacular piece. That means either a statement ring, or statement earrings. The ring would would be this sculptural sterling, 23kt gold leaf and Tahitian pearl. Or, these ruby red druzies set in oxidized sterling with 23kt gold leaf. One or the other.
F&P: If you could wear only one piece of jewelry for the rest of your life, what would it be?
HA: An emerald ring that my father gave my mother for their 20th anniversary. I don’t remember mother ever wearing it. Daddy loved emeralds and green was his favorite color. He always gave me encouragement. When I made my first pieces, I took them home to show him, he was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s, although with still some moments of clarity. I showed him the pieces and he asked “You made these?!” I assured him I had and show him my signature. His eyes got teary. He said “I’m proud of you.”.