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Making Wearable Art with Found Objects, Recycled and Repurposed Materials

Three Jewelspan members find inspiration in a eco-friendly art.

Alice Sprintzen
Alice Sprintzen, Diane


From re-imaging second hand store finds, to giving new life to ancient beads, these three Jewelspan artists have transformed found objects and recycled materials into whimsical wearable art. In this informative article, they share the stories and motivation behind their unique pieces and processes.


Lani T. Miller of The Ancient Link, creates unique designs using a variety of repurposed materials, from ancient artifacts to metal detector finds. Miller, who has always had a keen interest in history, began using ancient objects early on in her jewelry making career. Her husband, an antiques dealer, fostered her interest by buying her strands of ancient beads, which ended up gathering dust on the shelves. “One day the light bulb went off in my head,” said Miller, “I realized that these beads could have new life if they were repurposed into modern jewelry designs. Now I use recycled metals whenever possible.”


The Ancient Link
The Ancient Link, Steam Punk Necklace


Miller’s Steam Punk necklace incorporates a dazzling array of antique metal detector finds, uncovered by antique dealers in the U.K and sent to her directly. “The necklace uses two coins dating from the time of the Roman occupation, two pewter toy soldiers (either late 18th or early 19th century), and a bronze furniture escutcheon” Miller explained. “The finds arrive in terrible condition and require weeks of soaking in baking soda to remove corrosion” she said. “The fun part is brushing the metal bits to see what treasures we might have. Most are worthless scrap, but we frequently find coins, buckles and thimbles.”


Some of Miller's most interesting pieces are rings, which feature ancient coins. “We recently acquired an exquisite ancient silver Roman coin known as a denarius. It displays the image of General Porcius Cato's victory in Biga—a beautifully sculpted chariot scene” she said. “A coin like that required special treatment, and was painstakingly mounted in three layers of metal, copper "clad" in the center, with sterling silver "sandwiched" on either side. Truthfully, I like it so much that part of me hopes it won’t sell.” Miller’s work has been featured in gift shops and catalogs. It has been exhibited at museums nationwide, such as Uno Alla Volta, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Princeton University Art Museum.


When asked about her penchant for using found objects in her fantastic pieces, Long Island-based jewelry artist Alice Sprintzen replied: “Jewelry is, by implication, pro-reuse, and anti-consumption. It elevates ordinary materials to diamond status—at least, that's the challenge.” Sprintzen considers herself primarily a found object jewelry artist. She shows her work widely, and has authored three books on jewelry making. “Found materials have often ignored qualities, and a past life that can be brought to light when they are juxtaposed with other materials and used in a new context” she explained.


 Alice Sprintzen
Alice Sprintzen, Redness


Sprintzen’s career with found object jewelry began the moment she picked up a small domino and set it in place of a stone. “I just went on from there” she explained. “Now anything and everything is fair game for my work.” Indeed, her playful necklaces featuring car parts, including salvaged pieces of tail lights and license plates, display her willingness to explore a variety of atypical materials. “I am attracted to the strength, color, transparency, texture and patterns of these materials” explained Sprintzen. “I also wonder how they came to be at a particular place.”


One piece that has a particularly special meaning to the artist is her Diane necklace, which incorporates found wire, a key, and the inner-workings of a clock. “Diane contains a flattened piece of wire found in the street by my friend, Diane, just before she died” explained Sprintzen. “We had been recently reunited after many years of having lost touch and she began her own search for objects for me. People who know of my jewelry regularly hand me baggies of objects they have found. They are partners in my work.”


For the past six years, Susan Richards has been creating jewelry out of recycled materials. She is the owner of Studio 410 located in Vernon, British Columbia. Richards' passion for creating repurposed jewelry stems from her youth. “As long as I can remember, I have always loved to take objects and turn them into something other than what they were intended for” said the self-taught artist. “When I was very young I took an old drawer and turned it into a cat bed, which also doubled as a cat carrier for my bike. My cat never really appreciated the bike carrier, but he did love his bed.”


Susan Richards
Susan Richards, Large Dog Tag


Richards began making jewelry from old copper wire, a practice she continues today. As an avid recycler, Richards continues to focus on using primarily recycled items, such as copper pipe and old cutlery that she finds at second hand shops. One of the most meaningful items Richards has created is an adaptation of a souvenir spoon with an outline of the New York City skyline, including the Twin Towers, on the handle. Richards transformed the spoon into a sleek necklace, and hand-stamped it with the word “courage.” The person who purchased the piece sent Richards an email afterward, explaining that she had been in Manhattan on 9/11. “To her this piece was not only jewelry, but epitomized the resilience of the human spirit. I was very touched” said Richards.


Currently, Richards is working with old chunks of barbed wire that she found on a beach in Hawaii. “The wire has been worn away so much, that it is now in small pieces and is very smooth” explained Richards. “I’m not sure what will come of it, but they are very unusual.”


Richards' exploratory attitude is exactly what makes each piece of found object and recycled jewelry completely unique unto itself. As Alice Sprintzen said, “I think that most artists are collectors of one sort or another. We like to find new homes for our materials.”


The Ancient Link:

Alice Sprintzen:

Susan Richards:

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