We wanted to tell you about jeweler Katherine Helm of Silver Bramble Jewelry (https://www.silverbramblejewelry.com/), of which we’d like to own every piece.
I mean… look at this sweet unicorn hanging out on a mirror and then magically appearing on a finger at the same time:
And this narwhal ring (!)
And this tiered woodland animal burrow necklace which might be the sweetest and coziest necklace in all existence:
What inspires your work?
Nature and mythology inspire me. Myths and fairytales have fascinated me since I was tiny, and I could sculpt for 100 lifetimes and never run out of inspiring shapes from nature. I love studying the structures in the natural world. I am inspired by beautiful shapes in nature that are passed over for more conventionally popular motifs. How a shelf mushroom blooms from a tree trunk, the armor of a snapping turtle, the drooping of ripe berry bramble. I love adapting those shapes and themes into jewelry that may delight people. There’s such a warm kinship felt when I find someone who gets just as excited about my mouse ring or shelf fungus pendant as I do. It keeps me sculpting when that nagging voice tells me lies like, “no one would want a wasp nest necklace.”
You’ve sculpted for museums — can you talk about that?
I was approached by a state park that wanted an exhibit of their endangered water bird the Marbled Murrelet for their visitors museum. I sculpted two life size models of the bird to show its different plumage, and a nest for one of the birds to be displayed on. I remember my designs being checked over by biologists to make sure every feather was in the right spot. It was a thrill to think that my pieces are used to educate people about this rare bird, but it was a lot of work.
Why did you start making jewelry?
As a teenager, I had four rings I wore every day, took them off every night, put them on every morning on the same fingers. A simple amber ring, a tiger’s eye ring I snagged at a yard sale, a garnet ring from the Tower of London, and a moonstone ring from the Native American reservation my brother lived and performed on for several years. I was a shy, insecure youth, but putting those rings on everyday felt powerful and magical. They were armor and reminders of great parts of my life. They were all sterling silver. When the opportunity to learn to make my own silver jewelry presented itself, I leapt at the chance. I didn’t realize how many ideas I had waiting to be realized! Strange oversized rings of old-fashioned sea monsters, every kind of mushroom piece, tiny woodland creatures and mythological beasties flooded my workbench. That’s when I knew I had to stick with this and set up my own shop.
And why an emphasis on woodland and woodland creatures? Any favorite subjects?
I was a desperately shy child, and spent most of my time playing in the woods and creeks around my home in Virginia. I loved frogs, turtles and rabbits and any other creature I could see. I had a dozen favorite trees and a hundred made-up stories about the woods behind my neighborhood. I remember the absolute wonder of stumbling upon an animal living its life. I like to use woodland animals in my pieces to remind myself how many wonderful tiny creatures live hidden in the brush.
What about unicorns moves you (since we just did a unicorn handbook and you have some gorgeous ones)?
All mythological creatures have fascinated me my entire life, dragons and unicorns in particular. I love to study ancient bestiaries to look for clues about what the naturalist actually saw, what cultural influence shaped the regional nursery bogeys, and how I would sculpt or draw the creature from the description given. Unicorns are a stunning contradiction in terms, they seem so powerful yet fragile, timeless yet fleeting. They are such an instinctual truth to us that every region has their own version of the magical horned creature. The only constants seem to be their horn and their otherworldly beauty. There’s something wondrous about that peaceful creature that hides just beyond our sight.
Can you tell us about your process?
My muse can be quite demanding and untamable. I have learned to have supplies ready in case inspiration hits, but to ignore the creative process if I’m not feeling it. The tiny unicorn was sculpted in less than an hour with a flurry of inspiration, but I have other pieces I have tried to force that sit unfinished for years. If I’m lucky I can coax my muse out with a nature walk or a trip to the museum.
I sculpt in beeswax with warm tools, either with an electronic wax pen, or metal sculpting tools warmed over a candle. I have various wax sheets or specialty rods of wax at my disposal but I keep coming back to regular organic beeswax from my father-in-law’s hives. I’m near-sighted, so sculpting in miniature comes naturally to me. After I sculpt an original, I make a silicone mold of it. That silicone mold is specially designed for a wax injection machine. I use this machine and the mold to make wax copies of my original. The injectable wax is bright red so my workspace looks particularly gory! Each wax copy gets cleaned up, edges get smoothed away, air bubbles get filled, any errors I missed in the original get corrected with more wax. The wax copies are mailed off to a foundry that handles all of the dangerous parts of the process. Considering that I have ruined two different floors with a regular kitchen stove, this is the safest option for everyone! At the foundry, the wax copies are all set up in specialized plaster molds, then heated up so the waxes melt, leaving a hole in the plaster the shape of my sculptures (this is why it’s called the lost wax process.) Molten sterling silver is then poured into the plaster molds, the plaster molds are dunked in water and they explode off of the silver. The silver copies are then cleaned up, oxidized to darken the details, and then polished and shipped back to me. I keep all of my pieces in my house and ship from here.
In your everyday life, how do you stay enchanted?
A strong respect and fascination for the natural world keeps me enchanted. I have a five-year-old daughter and delight in showing her tiny natural wonders. We have bunnies in the backyard, lizards on the front steps, bluebirds in our trees, flowers and vegetables everywhere, and she just learned how to find cicada shells. It’s very easy to appreciate the beauty of the outdoors when you witness someone discovering it for the first time.