CIRCLES OF LIFE

written + photographed by LISA GENT, jeweler

definitions of Environmental Education (EE) place emphasis on different aspects. One definition says, “Environmental education refers to organized efforts to teach how natural environments function, and particularly, how human beings can manage behavior and ecosystems to live sustainably.” Another goes deeper explaining, “Environmental education is a process that allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem solving, and take action to improve the environment. As a result, individuals develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues and have the skills to make informed and responsible decisions.”

For me it is so much simpler. Environmental education is all about connections and being present.

I have always found happiness, excitement, peacefulness, solace and wonder in the outdoors. Spending time outdoors, in any capacity, has been a very important part of my well-being. Early on I figured out that sharing that love of the outdoors and all the creatures and living things that call this place home came easy to me. I was that kind of annoying person who was always stopping and saying, “Did you see that?” “Did you just hear that?” “Do you know what that is called?” And always sharing what I thought were interesting facts about everything around us!

I left undergrad with a degree in early childhood education and a minor in environmental studies. Over the years I have worked for and with many environmental non-profits to teach environmental education. Today, all of my environmental education work is done on a volunteer basis, as I have shifted my professional life to making jewelry and being an independent studio jeweler.

For me, EE means introducing, sharing and strengthening our connection to the natural world. I believe the necessity and power of this is vital in today’s world; and that need continues to grow as our lives move farther away from the rhythms and wonders of the natural world.

The air we breathe, the food we eat and our sense of well-being all rely on the natural world and the health and connections of all living things. Having an appreciation and understanding of these connections helps us better understand who we are and where we fit in.

EE can change the way we see just about everything in the natural world. It gives us the tools we can choose to bring into the future, helping us make better informed decisions about how we live and how those decisions impact all living things.

It’s as simple as stepping outside. Be present. This is the first step in connecting with your surroundings. What do you see around you? Take the time to identify at least one thing that you find beautiful. How many different colors can you see? You’ll be surprised that even in winter the world has color. What sounds do you hear? How does the air smell and feel? Do you see many different textures? Can you describe them? Do you see any animals moving about, what are they doing? Find something that is new to you, maybe a plant species you are not familiar with.

Wonder … What does that tree depend on for survival? How about those squirrels, what do they need to survive? Those tiniest of insects, and you, yourself, how do we fit into the ecosystem?

Eventually you might begin to imagine a giant web connecting all the members of a particular habitat or ecosystem because they do actually, us included, all depend on each other for survival.

Being able to experience the wonders and beauty, the grandeur and mundane, the strength and resilience, and the sheer amazingness of the natural world can help us find calm and tranquility. It is centering, balancing and provides us with a better sense of place, allowing us to connect to something bigger than ourselves. There are countless studies showing that having a connection to the natural world and spending time outside keeps us mentally and physically healthy. Our kids do better academically and grow to be more conscientious citizens with this connection as a natural part of them.

Environmental education provides fantastic resources for helping people of every age become aware of their surroundings and the natural world. Once you develop awareness, you can begin to understand. From understanding comes appreciation and once you appreciate something, your ability to protect or conserve it is strong.

Awareness
Understanding
Appreciation
Stewardship/conservation

In so many ways this cognitive progression can apply to nearly everything in our lives … It helps us learn about things we are not familiar with.

I often think of this progression when I am talking with people about my jewelry and craft.

. . .

ON JEWELRY interview NANCY GORDON
North Star
Pebbles
Amethyst Jackets
Elegant Earrings
Earring Jackets
Wander
Golden Cocoons
Black & Gold Earrings
Pearl Clusters
Rainbow Sapphire
Delicate Necklace

Why jewelry?

Well, jewelry allows us to distinguish ourselves, to become individuals and create a sense of self in an outward way. We can wear pieces that make us feel bold and powerful, or pieces that make us feel attractive. Jewelry can also conjure and convey emotions both to the wearer and to those around them. Jewelry of course can also have so much symbolism.

I really like working with my hands. Even after all these years, the amazement that my hands created something that can be used and worn and is hopefully aesthetically pleasing is still really exciting!

How did you learn your craft?

I am mostly self-taught. I had been making simple jewelry pieces when I was a kid. As I got older and with a lot of trial and error, I was making items that friends liked and wanted to wear, but I never saw myself as an artist and certainly not as a jeweler. It was something I did for my own personal enjoyment. I had been an environmental educator from many years but left my full-time job when our third son was born.

Around the same time, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time with a dear friend’s mother, who was an amazing and supportive person—a true creative soul. She encouraged me to pursue my love of making jewelry. From there I took some classes at MECA, Haystack and from a couple of independent jewelers in the Portland area. Honestly, I am still learning my craft ... Still trying out new ways of texturing metal and new ways of moving and forming metal. There are certainly metal-smithing applications that I would love to learn and perfect one of these days!

When did you start crafting jewelry professionally?

I began the business about 22 years ago. It was perfect as I stated very slow and small.  I have always had a home studio which worked perfectly for us as I was able to be a stay-home mom for our three boys but could grow the business as they grew and needed me less day to day. All the boys are very familiar with craft shows throughout the state so I often had helpers, which added a special dimension to the shows. They and their friends loaded up the truck for shows and helped to unload after shows. As they got older they have done post office runs for me and even been put to work in the studio with simple production tasks.

How does your environmental knowledge and love of nature impact your designs?

I feel that my love of the outdoors and nature comes through in my overall aesthetic. I am not one to do truly representational pieces so I don’t actually make flowers and animals in my work. Some of the textures and patterns found in nature will appear in many of my pieces. I think the overall feel of my work is very organic. Like in nature there are irregularities and inconsistencies in my pieces, a uniqueness, but they work together and have a common flow.

All of your pieces seem to have their own power and wisdom … Can you comment?

Hmmmmm, I had not thought about that myself but I am very pleased that that is projected, or that is what you feel when you look at them. For the most part all the work I make are pieces that I would wear myself. They come from my aesthetic and my inner sense of strength. I’m glad that comes through. I also strive to create work that is wearable and that has meaning to the person who makes it their own.

What is it about circles?

I have just always loved circles! They look good, they feel good and they project a feeling of completeness and renewal. Like the circle of life, or my absolute favorite, the Ouroboros snake.

They are also fun and make you happy and smile when you see one!

Creating jewelry for people is so personal … Please tell us the story behind the “Bettys” pieces and the “Perfect” necklace.

The story behind the "Betty" earrings (above) is an amazing one that words cannot do justice to. I am beyond honored to be part of this story. The "Bettys" are named after the wife of a very wonderful man and dear client, who had been purchasing pieces from me for several years. He would often purchase “in bulk” for the holidays giving many of the woman in his family matching pieces. When his wife became very ill and was hospitalized, their daughters and other family members would wear the necklace that was the predecessor to the Betty earrings in solidarity and support for their mom. At some point my client asked me to make earrings that matched the necklace, hence the Bettys were created. To this day, when a new female comes into the family I am sometimes asked to create a necklace for her.

The "Perfect" necklace (above) gets its name from its sheer simplicity and it can be worn with everything! I had a client come to me with some jewelry that she had inherited from her mother and father upon their passing. They were pieces that she and her sisters kept but would not wear although they still felt a connection to those pieces, especially the wedding rings. I was able to sort through the pieces and melt them down to create three unique pebbles that were then made into necklaces for each sister. Each pebble contained pieces of jewelry that were sentimental to each sister.

The way you twist the wires, does that represent something special?

The wire twisting is a very controlled chaos! At first it was used as a functional way of connecting, but quickly grew into more of a design aesthetic. Now the wire twisting can serve as solely aesthetic, as a function, or as a way to create contrasting textures on a piece.

Is there any significance to the stones you choose or their colors? They’re wonderfully elegant.

Thank you! There is not really any significance that I am conscious of. You can probably tell my color pallet and favorite colors by looking at what stones I choose. I love blues and purples, and deep greens and all the variations in between. My favorites right now are these amazing blue/green tourmalines from Maine. I also love tanzanite and sapphires. Sometimes I have to remind myself to work in other colors!

What do you hope to give people with your jewelry and your EE work?

People have been wearing jewelry since the beginning of time and I hope that people will feel good about themselves when they wear a piece of jewelry that I’ve made. I hope it will give them that feeling of individualism, distinction and confidence in who they are.

I am incredibly grateful to be able to pursue my passions on a daily basis. I have a job I love, creating handcrafted jewelry, and I get to spend time sharing my love and admiration of the outdoors and all the wonders of the natural world. My hope is that both of these passions will live on, in some capacity, in everyone I meet.

. . .

lisagent.com

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