Tamara Hill Studio’s Designs for the Spirit -- Inspirations and Process

I design one-of-a-kind contemporary necklaces composed of fine antique and vintage components. This is jewelry for the fashion-conscious woman (or even that daring man) who appreciates traditional cultures and their artifacts, and who is confident enough to wear creative adornments that will draw admiring attention to their unique expression of style.

I started designing jewelry when I first traveled to exotic places and then lovingly began to restore and re-string the intricate but often frayed ethnic pieces that I acquired during my journeys. I was trained in drawing, painting, color, graphic design and calligraphy throughout my education. For more than forty years I have also based this designing on integrating my studies and teaching of art history, anthropology, spiritual traditions and their sacred structures and monuments; as well as on the photography that I have done continuously since my early years. It is through these skills and observational filters that I’ve documented my travels and explorations of different cultures and peoples, folk arts, dramatic landscapes, hand-painted trade signs, and artisan crafts. I have always been fascinated by the universality of symbols and decorative patterns, whose energy and impact I try to infuse into my “designs for the spirit.”

My inspiration is derived from all of these varied sources, alongside of my enthusiastic interest in nature’s treasures -- shimmering, intricately shaped shells, ancient fossils and cosmically patterned, brilliantly colorful butterflies — as well from collecting and furnishing my home and work environments with an eclectic array of antiques, beaded artifacts, iridescent art glass, hand woven textiles and tribal jewelry. I somehow possess (and happily benefit from) a detailed and cumulative memory of, and a keen eye for the considerable number of beads, pendants, findings, buttons, clasps and other supplies that I have gathered, and upon which I can draw for my jewelry designing. It seems that everything I have learned and accumulated during my life and career as an artist has led me to this special creative endeavor!

I love the whole journey of dreaming, conceiving, seeking and assembling all the parts and pieces that go into devising a necklace, a bracelet, or a pair of earrings. Although I have traveled widely myself and have gleaned much from the world’s bazaars, I am also fortunate to have adventuresome friends and colleagues who have brought back an equal number of their own interesting “finds” to share, and which I have been able to purchase. The entire world marketplace is now at one’s fingertips through the miracle of the Internet, so one can also make useful connections across the continents to discover new resources, especially if one is both persistent and carefully discerning about that search.

Juxtaposing the components that derive from these many different sources points to the myriad influences that have shaped me -- which are also based on the “found object” credo that appeals to me as an inveterate and passionate collector. I relish the mysterious and unexpected aspects of the process of creating. Selecting the particular beads and findings, then contrasting or complementing their hues, creating patterns or graduating sizes and balancing the scale and visual effects of the various parts makes the effort an endless puzzle to solve, and an enjoyable treasure hunt.  

I never know exactly which final result my choice of components is going to yield. Sometimes I make a preliminary sketch, but many designs simply arise from dreams, imagined conceptions or spontaneous arrangements. A single bead, a precious pendant, or an enticing talisman can lead to a further adjustment, or to an unforeseen complementary or contrasting element. Sometimes a design will stem from specific technical challenges or will flow from the possibilities, shapes or colors of the materials themselves. I will frequently design “collections” based on similar groups of beads and parts, once I have laid them out -- so that I may then create variations on a theme and explore different formats for presenting those same materials, in order to appeal to a broad range of tastes, budgets and styles.

My creations attentively re-purpose the fragments and “found” elements that I put to use (many are antique “jewelry orphans”). This might be a rare antique artifact, intriguing old silver or glass beads, a fossilized sea creature, or a magical amulet. I contemplate and wonder about the “back story” of each piece: Where was it made (or unearthed) then traded and treasured over time? How was it originally used -- as part of a “set” of jewelry or special outfit?  Was it part of a bride’s dowry, worn and featured in a special ensemble for her wedding?  Or was it created primarily for ceremonial decoration or for daily use? -- worn by either men or women? --  and symbolic of power, wealth, or status and position in their tribal group, village, or society? Perhaps it was donned as a charm for protection from suspected threats and negative influences?  Might it have been offered as a gift in tribute to a ruler, cleric, or shamanic healer?  Or simply given as a token of personal connection or intimate affection?

I utilize a potpourri of these old and new elements from a wide variety of such sources, including minerals, gems, shells, and both organic and handmade materials; with the intention of giving them a new life and a revived role as modern accessories, yet still respecting their physical history or cultural sources.

All of my necklaces are strung with a refined hand woven macramé technique (known as “crown knotting”) or with “pearl-knotted” nylon threads in subtle, harmonizing hues.  Their closures are either hand crafted precious metal clasps with gemstone or semi-precious cabochon settings, or vintage buttons that also match and echo the main features of the design -- adding a fine finish, and even a touch of whimsy.

I fashion a unique, hand-made creation with these components while aiming to maintain their integrity and inner spirit, so that the overall look is traditional, classic and authentic. The completed design is an elegant necklace, bracelet, or fanciful earrings with a stylish contemporary look – a striking adornment that embodies and reflects the cultural or national legacy of its origins -- while it is also offers the customer a boldly eye-catching, “one-of-a-kind” and aesthetically pleasing, wearable treasure.

Tamara Hill (copyright, 2015) San Francisco



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