I've been asking my great friend Ellen W. Gonchar to grant us an interview for a while now, and today's the big day! She was kind enough to send along some answers to my burning questions about her fascinating world of distinctive and unique jewelry design – so here goes –
Ellen lives in the beautiful Laurel Highland Mountains, in the Allegheny Ridge in West Central Pennsylvania. She retired after a long and varied career in the areas of business, public service, floristry, and wedding attire. She then began her journey into the jewelry field by purchasing and selling vintage jewelry both locally at antique malls, and then online. She amassed quite a collection of items – from line auctions, estate sales, and auction houses. In the larger lots she purchased, she ended up with many bits and pieces – and couldn't bring herself to discard them. She was fascinated with the quality construction of these old beauties, and wondered how she might bring them to life once again. She was fortunate to have a friend and mentor who was already doing assemblage jewelry incorporating broken vintage elements. She realized this was the answer to her question; but she still had to learn the necessary techniques. She says that B'sue Boutiques and its owner, Brenda Sue Lansdowne, were godsends. Brenda Sue had put a series of detailed videos on jewelry construction and design on You-Tube – and when she found them, she felt like she had won the lottery! At last, she had found a source to help her learn the techniques she needed.
Ellen's 'staples' are filigree and figural stampings. She says the design possibilities are endless when working with the brass base metal, which may be plated in gold or silver. Often she can use dyes, patinas, acrylic paints, and even a 'torched effect' to bring out the colors within the metal. From a single broken piece of vintage jewelry or brass stamping/filigree, she begins to build a theme. Every piece she designs has a story or inspiration behind it. She fondly calls the actual process 'organized chaos', as she pulls materials – bead caps, chains, headpins, rhinestones, and more -- from a variety of storage cases – and keeps going until the final design 'clicks in her head'.
I love it that another key source is the hardware store, which Ellen says can be helpful with items such as washers for an overall 'foundation' for a piece. As she lives in a very rural area, she also has to rely on online sellers for many of her supplies. Some of you may have read my previous post on 'toxic jewelry', so you'll be pleased to know that Ellen is very careful to use non-toxic materials. Her particular style might be characterized by names such as 'collage jewelry', 'assemblage', 'repurposing', 'upcycling/recycling', and 'found jewelry design'. But she isn't easily labeled, as she isn't locked into any specific type of jewelry – she enjoys the creative process too much!
Her personal favorite descriptor is 'assemblage jewelry design with a vintage twist'. She enjoys mixing the old with the new, and her one-of-a-kind creations are never duplicated. She normally focuses on statement pieces – large, 'high style' jewelry for clients who enjoy going over the top in what they wear, and who appreciate original, creative, and high quality work. She also has a beautiful selection of original, unaltered vintage jewelry pieces on her web site, something for every discriminating shopper!
Ellen also specializes in pieces which transition easily from day to evening wear, and items that are just plain fun to wear on a casual basis. Her advice for anyone in the jewelry design business is to: "Have infinite patience and the ability to adjust to changes in your design; learn all the new techniques and processes you can; and above all – believe in the path you are following. You can find more of Ellen's gorgeous work at these sites:
Until Next Time,