The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

    Jewelry inspired by sculptural design and nature

    Rebecca Zemans’ studio is a medieval world unto itself. At one end, a medium-sized anvil sits ready for use, on the right a wooden table with countless drawers, all filled with intricate tools. Out of one drawer, Zemans pulls out a coiled metal wire. “This is what I start with,” she said.

    Located in the Lillstreet Art Center, Zemans’ has been making jewelry in her studio for five years. She makes an assortment of things – everything from wedding rings to necklaces.

    Oftentimes she meets with clients in person to come up with custom designs, especially for wedding rings. “Some grooms come in too,” said Zemans. “And for many of them it’s the first time they’re buying any kind of jewelry.”

    Zemans, a self-confessed tomboy, is ironically wearing matching pink-purple Converse sneakers and a similarly colored flannel shirt. As a mother-to-be, she is also five months pregnant.

    She jokes that it’s most likely a girl, saying that would explain today’s matching pink outfit. Zemans gives a short tour of her studio and points out the various materials and tools she often works with, some looking like they belong in a dentist’s office. Looking around, one would think they had woken up in the home of a medieval blacksmith if it weren’t for the shiny modern iMac sitting on the left side of the room.

    The iMac is occupied by Zemans’ assistant, Lisa Gut, who is busy building a new website for Zemans’ jewelry. Zemans looks over and nods with approval.

    “It looks really good Lisa!” said Zemans.

    Zemans originally studied sculpture while attending the University of Michigan where she earned a degree in metalsmithing and anthropology. During her studies, she took an interest in jewelry after being introduced to the art through a class.

    “Jewelry-making wasn’t exactly what they were trying to steer our focus towards especially for a career,” said Zemans. “But I ended up making jewelry and it became the focus of my studio five years ago.”

    Since opening her studio, her work has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Chicagoist, American Craft and other news sites and magazines. Initially, word of Zemans’ jewelry spread by word of mouth alone. Now a number of boutiques in the Chicago area stock her work.

    Despite being made out of gold and silver like most jewelry, what sets Zemans’ creations apart is their unique look. Much of her jewelry looks organic, and upon closer inspection her work exhibits the kind of curvature often found in nature. This design is intentional, and should be familiar to anyone who’s taken a biology class.

    “Much of my work is inspired by the microscopic world, especially the single cell organism. I’ve always been fascinated by how these cells have to band together to ‘make the machine work,” she said. “I’ve always liked to explore the idea of where the machine begins and the human ends in my work.”

    This kind of influence makes a direct influence on some of her jewelry. Zemans explained that a circular piece of metal can represent a cell while its gemstone symbolizes the “perfect nucleus.” Among other things, her jewelry is inspired by quantum physics.

    Other times, Zemans is inspired by the precious stones that adorn some of the pieces. Before making a piece, she will put a good deal of thought as to what kind of design and metal might work best with the intended stone.

    Zemans considers herself, first and foremost, a sculpture designer, but she has not let that specialization confine her. She instead bridges her intended art medium over to jewelry.

    Zemans employs a few different methods depending on the kind of jewelry she’s making. These methods range from wax carving to fire soldering, and forging – physically shaping a piece of metal with hammer and anvil.

    When making a necklace, Zemans starts with coiled metal wiring, either silver or gold. She then hammers wiring into a desired shape. This is then followed soldering during which a protective mask is worn. After that is done, the piece is placed in a jar that contains a mix of sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide that cleans the metal. Sandpaper may also be used to clean the piece but might take longer.

    Further hammering or pressing with different tools may then be done to further the design. For example, if a piece may require a seat for a precious stone. After the stone is placed the seat is tightened and closed, setting the gemstone in place.

    “I’ve had people come in with only a precious stone that might have been kept in the family, looking to use it in a new jewelry design,” said Zemans. “My overall goal is to make art that is accessible to everyone, something beautiful that I can offer to people.”

    Watch how Zemans employs the method of wax carving to create a rink in the video below. See more videos on her blog, and more examples of her work on her website.