Cat, tell us how growing up on a poultry farm in New York State influence your jewelry designs?
The first pieces of jewelry that I sold were made using feathers from birds on the farm I grew up on. I had started creating jewelry with cheap dyed feathers from Michaels just before this (for myself and for friends), and I believe it was my mom who suggested I use the feathers from our birds. I don’t know how I could have possibly missed that connection on my own. All I know is that after I began using the natural feathers, my designs became more minimal because I wanted to let the feathers be the main focus of the pieces.
What inspired you to start making jewelry?
I have memories of taking apart and reassembling my own jewelry as a kid. In middle school and high school I became more interested in fashion rather than jewelry specifically. I took both fashion and jewelry classes in high school and definitely found the jewelry class more gratifying. I think the root of the reason why I make jewelry is because it is satisfying to make something that can be worn and physically experienced. I’m not sure why I didn’t decide on some other category of wearable objects, like clothes or shoes or bags, but I think it has to do with the scale. I enjoy making small things.
You chose the Maine College of Art (MECA) for an art education over technical school. Tell us about your MECA experience, which was a bit different than you thought it would be, and if you think it was the correct choice.
There was definitely a chunk of time while I was at MECA when I would have said, “This school is not the right place for me.” The reason for this has nothing to do with MECA specifically, I was simply not prepared for an art education. When I began applying to art schools I was attending community college in my hometown. I did a quick search for schools that had a jewelry and metalsmithing program, applied to a handful of them and visited the ones I got accepted to. Even after visiting I still thought that what I was going to get would be a technical education in jewelry making (think fine jewelry / traditional gold, silver, gemstones, etc.). It took me a little more than a year at MECA to realize that I actually did make the right choice. If I had gotten a strictly technical education in jewelry I’m not sure I would have had the freedom to explore materials and ideas like I did at MECA. And I certainly would not have ended up with a series of mold sculptures as my thesis.
You’ve created quite a few jewelry pieces in rubber, which have wonderful color textures. Why rubber?
I was a teaching assistant for a weekend workshop and the rubber that I use was given to me by a student in the class. This rubber was part of a sample pack of flooring material, which consisted of many colorful rubber squares—it looks like cork and is made from pre- and post-consumer rubber. The rubber is easy to manipulate, it’s lightweight and I am continuously finding new ways to design with it.
What other materials do you use in your jewelry work?
I always use some metal in my jewelry. If metal is not the predominant material then I consider it a support material. I am willing to try any other material that I find aesthetically interesting or pleasing to touch. I jump around a lot and divide my work into collections based on the materials used. I have used enamel, various plastics, wood, fabric/fiber, human hair, clay, repurposed pieces of other objects, etc. At this point in time I am focusing on making jewelry pieces using all metal. Although I love playing with non-metal materials, I go through spurts of productivity where I stray from the unusual materials and keep my hands occupied with metal.
>Above: Follows Necklace and Chunk Rings, both in sterling silver.
You also mentioned recycling old jewelry for people and doing custom work.
I have had the pleasure of working on custom jewelry pieces for some wonderful people and in many of these cases my customer has had old jewelry that they asked if I could physically reuse or at least use as a credit to the cost of their custom piece. I prefer to physically use their old jewelry, which means I get to melt it and make it into something new. Melting and reusing metal is a science and I’m definitely no expert, but it is a process that is very satisfying and can be used to yield metal sheet or wire if necessary. My favorite way to recycle someone’s old jewelry is to melt it into a nugget (jewelry term: ingot) and hammer or forge a ring from the melted mass.
And the mobiles … They are so charming, often witty. When did you start making them?
I began making mobiles almost four years ago, when a cousin of mine had her first baby. Another cousin had a baby and so I made another mobile, and another. I did not start selling them until 2018, when I first had them on display at the MECA Holiday Sale.
The mobile objects, like the kitties, pigs, stars and planets, are made by your good friend and roommate, Elizabeth Conlin. How do you work together to create the finished mobiles?
We actually don’t need to work together physically. We have adopted each other as siblings and therefore communicate telepathically…
Elizabeth and I met at MECA (she graduated from the ceramics department in 2017). I’ve always found her work interesting and admired her ability to create both very large and very small objects. Our first mobile collaboration was made using her Tiny Cats, which are literally tiny cat figurines sculpted in clay. She had already been making them for a handful of years and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a tiny cat?
In all seriousness, though, when it comes to making the mobiles, we mostly just discuss items that we think would make interesting and fun mobiles. I tell her the general weight and size that I can manage for the objects and she consults me on colors and detail work. After the objects are made, it’s up to me to create a physically and visually balanced mobile.
Do any of the mobiles have stories about how they came to be or their meaning for you?
Some of the early mobiles (which I neglected to photograph) were sort of an assemblage, if you will. I had sorted through trinkets I’d accumulated and curated them into groups based on aesthetic similarities. Each object was one-of-a-kind—some found, some bought, some made by me. I chose to use these objects for mobiles because I wanted a way to put them on display rather than inserting them into a piece of jewelry.
The first mobile I made with fake fruit was the Berry Mobile and is still one of my favorites. I had acquired these juicy-looking plastic blackberries and happened to have some dyed rabbit fur of the same color. I combined the materials and ended up with a sort of surreal fruit mobile.
What do you hope the mobiles will give people?
I find them humorous and playful and genuinely have fun making them, so I hope that they make people smile. I like that they hang from the ceiling, which forces people to look up. I hope that they make people curious and more aware of the spaces we all occupy.
When I met you, about four years ago, I was captivated by your mold sculptures, titled “Specimens” under “Sculptures” on your website. Are they actual molds or re-creations?
The Specimens (Eye Candy) are not real mold but instead are modeled after and inspired by it. I used vitreous enamel in various ways to mimic the physical characteristics of the mold that we so often find in our kitchens. There is one mold growth that I cultivated, which will always be the most beautiful to me. I had a purple cabbage in the crisper drawer of my fridge for a couple of months. It did not go bad in the fridge but it did sprout these long tendrils, which had bright yellow flower buds on them. I moved the cabbage from the fridge onto my counter, hoping the flowers would bloom, but it was summer and mold started to grow in between the outer leaves. The mold colors were amazing—the same bright yellow of the flowers, along with white and a greyish-blue-green. Honestly, it looked like a painting to me, and that’s how I began to approach the Specimens as I continued to make them.
> Above: Actual cabbage mold.
What are the qualities/characteristics of molds that you find interesting?
I enjoy looking at mold because the colors, textures and formations are beautiful and often surprising. I have spent a lot of time observing and photographing the changes that occur when mold has the opportunity to grow freely. I’ve definitely used the word “cute” to describe mold and continue to see it that way. I’ve often thought about how similar it is to patches of moss growing in the woods.
> Above: Actual juice mold.
Another fascinating collection are the wood pieces, which appear to be necklaces. They have a wonderful abstract quality together with the grounding of wood. Are they wearable and what inspired you to create this collection?
The pieces in this collection were made with the intent to bring attention to the weathered wood. To put it bluntly, what I wanted to do was put the wood on a pedestal—to elevate a material which has little intrinsic value. All of the wood was combed from the beach, then manipulated by me in one way or another. These pieces are all technically wearable, but were not intended to actually be put on the body—they’re too delicate. While making these pieces, I tried my best to let the physical characteristics of each piece of wood guide me in the design process. What you see as the final product is a series of my reactions to whatever the wood happened to do as it was being manipulated.
You love to cook. What type of cooking do you like best?
I do enjoy cooking, and I enjoy eating even more. I can’t say that I have a favorite type of cooking. I do love to bake and find it more satisfying when I’m successful because it is more challenging than cooking. I come from an Italian family and have always spent a lot of time in kitchens, so cooking feels really natural to me.
Does your cooking bear any resemblance to your artwork?
This is a very interesting question, and one that I imagine I will revisit from time to time.
I’d say yes. I often take an intuitive approach when I cook. I experiment a lot and don’t strictly stick to recipes. This leaves a lot of room for chance occurrences to happen, which I definitely embrace. I try to take this approach with my art practice as well, especially when playing with new materials. I like to let things happen and roll with it. Sometimes I end up with a disaster that I need to find a way to camouflage as an intentional detail, and sometimes I actually have to start over. Destroying something can be just as satisfying as creating something.
What’s next for you?
The goal that I’m currently working towards is opening a small shop where I can sell my goods alongside the goods of other makers. I am still building my own business with the hope of being self-employed. Luckily this is possible without having a brick-and-mortar location, but I would really like to have a physical store.
I enjoy talking to people about what I make (and the interesting things that my peers make) and I also like meeting the people who want to buy my work. I would like to build a relationship with every one of my customers and that is something that I just can’t do through a screen.
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See what Cat is offering (exclusively) on her CREATIVE MAINE Shop Page!