I’ve fallen in love with new artists at each and every Festival Fete show over the past year but I have a particular thing for jewelers. New to us is Lianna Slater of Lianna Michelle Designs. She’s one of those artists whose work, both artistically and professionally, is the essence of what Festival Fete strives to deliver to it’s guests. Culled mainly from Rhode Island shores but also collected from Utah and Florida as well as Mexico, Brazil and Russia, the stones she uses in her necklaces, bracelets and earrings remain unadulterated. Whether semi-precious or simply a unique pick from a beach walk, Lianna wraps them in various treatments of copper wire, with a subtle hand, letting the natural curves and original shape of her finds stand out and define the overall piece. The results remain earthen and chunky but still so delicate and fluid.
Both in and out of her studio, Lianna is busy. She divides her tireless commitment to her own creativity with a demanding job at Looking Upwards, a Middletown, RI-based non profit which provides a wide array of services to adults and children with developmental challenges striving to live to their fullest potential. Through their vocational day program, Lianna supports four young artisans in their aspiring business, Downtown Designs, a gallery in Newport where their work is proudly displayed. There she teaches and together they “sell and share art, share space, and share community.” She was so gracious to take time to answer my questions. Her work is best spoken through her own words:
Festival Fete: What have you been up to over this particularly long winter?
Lianna Slater: Cold winter days made it easy for me to stay cozied up in my studio, enhancing my brand and business and keeping my creations flowing. It was the perfect time for me to be highly productive. As an artist, it’s easy to get lost in the creative process and lose sight of the branding, so it was especially important to me to set the intention of, and to put attention into, revamping my website, which will relaunch this Spring. I’ve also been building my inventory for the 9+ shows I have lined up for 2014.
FF: What has inspired your most recent work?
LS: Scale. My designs have tended to be larger, and I will always carry these signature pieces; however it’s important to me to be more accessible to my customers. Over the years, I’ve paid closer attention to what the majority are looking for. More often, it’s ornate, smaller scale pieces. I’m a self-taught jewelry artist with a B.A. in Fine Art. Painting, actually. Some customers have compared my pieces to wearable works of art, which is the ultimate compliment. In playing with the scale of my most recent collection, I have realized I’m still able to create aesthetic statements that are now even more affordable! So, this year it’s all about dialing down the scale and proportions of my work. It’s been a challenge, but the end results surpassed even my own expectations.
FF: Your beautiful stones and gemstones are set in copper, mostly?
Lianna: Yes, that’s right! They all start off in copper foil. The process I’ve implemented is similar to that of stained-glass making. I begin by wrapping each stone in copper foil and solder each piece individually. Laying the stones into artful, organic, and balanced composition is my forté. Once I fabricate an assortment of pieces, I send them out to be plated in .925% sterling silver or copper. At this point, it becomes a fairly repetitive, but quite therapeutic, process. This year I’ve been experimenting and created a new, diamond-like texture that I’m really excited about.
FF: Have you collected stones on your travels outside of Rhode Island?
LS: Oh, of course! Just like a photographer doesn’t go anywhere without their camera, I don’t go anywhere without my eyes wide open for inspiration for a new piece or collection. I’ve traveled to bead expos and antique shows over the years for supplies. My favorite is the International Bead Expo in Tucson, Arizona. It’s exciting to meet the rock hounders and miners themselves – the folks that really unleash these historic gems. It’s a dream of mine to travel to Russia or Brazil to discover their natural origins for myself.
“Just like a photographer doesn’t go anywhere without their camera, I don’t go anywhere without my eyes wide open for inspiration for a new piece or collection.”
FF: Where do you find the most inspiration?
LS: Nature has always been my blank canvas and such a source of inspiration. I’m often left in awe and wonderment at the science and origin behind each selection I make — whether it be from geodes and crystals from ancient volcanoes dating back millions of years, or to local rocks and shells found combing the shorelines of New England and Florida. I feel honored to bring these selections to life, as though I’m a conduit merging unique and vast materials of yesteryear together. Europe meets Newport, or East meets West — not sure the best way to describe it — but it all works for me, and my customers seem to agree.
Yes, Lianna, we do!
You’ll find Lianna at every Festival Fete show this upcoming season as well as a few other great events. Find her schedule on her website, liannamichelledesigns.com or follow her on Facebook for regular updates.