For the latest in our series ‘Inner Life — Outer Style,’ I interviewed the lovely Esther Sullivan. Esther is a jewelry maker who has truly perfected her craft while staying true to her own unique design sensibility. I met Esther when she started selling her jewelry at our shop last spring. Her studio is just above ours, so I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her more over the past year. Her studio is such a beautiful expression of who she is and I knew if I explored that a little deeper, beautiful thoughts would emerge…
Describe a time when you felt most like yourself.
In deep uncontrollable genuine laughter.
How does your space (the things you surround yourself with) influence what you create?
The various spaces I have in my life I consider sacred, in a way. The things that I choose to fill these spaces with, I have some deep connection to, whether it’s historically, or just a simple feeling. I like to think that all of these things bring me closer to my inner self and then I feel freer to simply be.
What inspires you most these days and how does that inform your design sensibility?
I am most inspired by nature’s voice and how is speaks to me. And really, how it speaks to everyone and everything and how we are all connected, undeniably to everything. I’m not entirely sure how that feeling informs my design sensibility, but I think that knowledge and awareness allows me to trust my intuition, and that is how my work begins.
What motivated you to start your own business and what did you discover about yourself and your community through the process?
I guess I have always wanted some sort of unconventional life, and being my own boss and creating my own ways to make a living is one extension of that. I worked for two different female metalsmiths before starting out on my own, and both of them, how they lived and how they ran their businesses were such an inspiration and motivator for me to believe that I could do that for myself too. Being able to be creative as a source of income has been challenging in ways I never anticipated. It’s been so connected to my personal growth and pushes and stretches my limits constantly.
What three items do you most cherish and why?
- I have a bracelet that was given to me by my dad. It was an aunt’s of mine, my dad’s youngest sister, who died tragically before I was ever able to meet her. I have always been drawn to her artistic energy and free spirit. The bracelet is a reminder of that, as well as all of my ancestors and how I came to be who I am and where I am today.
- Someone made me a bowl that they had made out of concrete. It was a token of his gratitude for me, and how I helped spark an inspiration in him that he thought he had lost. The bowl is a reminder that you can inspire even the most unexpected things in the most unsuspecting people and have it done the same to you.
- I have a deep dark red stone of Jasper in the shape of a heart. It was given to me from a man I met by chance at a gas station. The conversation started with scrubbing windshields and ended with a heartfelt and tearful embrace. In the midst of this interaction, the man pulled a red stone out of his pocket which he had been carrying with him for quite some time for an unknown reason, and then he knew he needed to give it to me. That stone is a reminder of that interaction and the new sense of trust and connection I felt with the universe.
Describe your mobile studio and why travel has become such and integral part of your work?
I have an old vintage travel trailer that I tow with me while on the road for art shows. It is such a gift to be able to have my own space while traveling for long periods of time. I have made a nook in the front of it into a workbench, so that I can create work if I’m low on inventory or if I am feeling inspired. A large motivation for bringing this idea to life, was being able to work in the quiet of wild places… in the woods, on the beach, in the mountains… totally off the grid. While traveling and selling my work at shows all over the west, I get to meet countless people from all walks of life. People are amazing and I am always inspired by the many surprise encounters I end up having in the most unsuspecting places, and the stories that are shared. You can learn so much from others’ stories. Travel provides me a renewed awareness, understanding and openness for the world and all of the different people in it, near and far. And also, (and maybe most importantly) travel provides me an incredible appreciation for my own home, my people, my place… my self.
For Esther, metalsmithing is a boundless gateway for expression, discovery, exploration and learning. Her history with the medium is mixed with traditional learning methods in Art School and technical courses, several jeweler mentors, all leading her to be able to experiment and develop her own unique metalsmithing techniques and designs. Her work is influenced by nature, and the human experience amidst the modern world we all find ourselves in. Esther expresses these inspirations through contrasting elements in her hand fabricated designs; industrial forms built with textured material and highly oxidized metal matched with bright high karat gold. What comes about are refined, thoughtful and sophisticated designs that have a strong modern feel, yet simultaneously are everything feminine and earthy. The work calls to the resiliency of our sensitive, powerfully loving souls and our undeniable connection with the earth. Because of this core belief, Esther tries to minimize her impact of the earth by using only reclaimed metals and green studio practices. Some of her work is available for purchase here.