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Michele Hennessey


Michele is a jewelry maker who has been at RWS for about six years. Michele has always been a maker. “I could never draw. I could never paint, but I was always knitting or crocheting or hooking rugs. I went through a stained glass phase and a woodworking phase.” It wasn’t until she took an adult education course called “Metalsmithing and Jewelry Making” that she was introduced to and fell in love with making jewelry. She knew she had found a passion she had never known before when she saw the stones a local lapidary had brought in to sell to students. She recalls that first eureka moment, “I saw this stone and I could immediately see how I would design a cuff around it. This cuff changed my life because it was the first time I had ever used texture, oxidizing metal, blending metals. It changed everything for me.” She went back to that class four nights a week for ten years. Her recent work is Earth-inspired, with themes of the ocean, flora and fauna, and space. These themes are dictated by the qualities in the material, which inspires what the piece will be like. For example, in one stone she saw a barren tree on a hilltop that she paired with a red gemstone that acts as a lunar eclipse (pictured above). She doesn’t buy her stones in bulk from companies overseas, instead she buys from individuals who cut their own. She sources them this way because she wants to support other creators, family companies and individuals who are making the tools and the base materials for her work. The type of jewelry Michele is making is a dying art. She explains that she works with two kinds of tools that, for 100 years, were used at the industrial level to manufacture jewelry. “It’s a dead art at the commercial level, but it’s being kept alive by a small group of handmade artists like myself.” She works with impression dies that stamp an image onto metal. The dies look like a metal hockey puck with an impression in the middle, a design a master carver would carve into steel which then gets sunk into a metal hub. You set metal on top of it and push the metal down into the design using high force. Making jewelry in this way is called die casting, as opposed to a process such as wax casting. A lot of the companies that made these dies were in Providence, Rhode Island. They shut down and sent 100 years of artwork off for scrap. There is one person in Arizona that goes around the world buying all the dies he can find and makes small quantities of them and sells them to this community of die casting jewelry makers. “And then there are others that are brand new designs done by master engravers.” One of Michele’s favorite tools is her rolling mill–a tool she coveted for years and finally splurged on a few weeks ago–which involves patterns on steel plates. Like in die casting, you lay metal on top of the steel plate and roll the materials through the mill. The pressure transfers the design onto the metal. The plate dies Michele uses are all made by individual artists.

Michele is starting to move beyond jewelry, getting more into functional pieces. Right now she’s working on collections of ring dishes and hair forks. She makes keychains and money clips with designs on them that tell stories like skiing on a mountain. One customer gifted a money clip to her partner that depicts sailing under the stars. Her partner is a fisherman and she knew it would be in his pocket every day that he was out at sea. “They’re simple items that people put a lot of significance onto, and I love that. And they’re things that people use every day.” Contact Michele via email at mainejewelry@yahoo.com, or at her handle @mainejewelry on one of the many social media platforms for which she snagged the same username: Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, and Twitter! Visit her website here.

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