Artist Interview: Rebecca Perea-Kane, Jewelry Designer and Poet

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Charlottesville based jewelry designer Rebecca Perea-Kane. Rebecca crafts delicate jewelry inspired by nature, casting many of her pieces directly from found botanical objects (see her “Hollowed Red Oak Acorn” necklace). In addition to jewelry design, she also harbors a passion for writing, having earned an MFA in Poetry from the University of Virginia.  Without further ado, here’s our conversation:

What first sparked your love of nature? Was it a singular event or did it develop over time?

I grew up in New Hampshire and spent much of my childhood outdoors. I’ve always loved animals and that filtered into much of my time growing up – from catching frogs and salamanders to later at my first job, working on a farm, caring for horses and goats. I don’t know that there was ever a point that I decided I loved nature, more just that throughout my life noticing closely my surroundings and spending time with plants and animals and water have all helped me to feel more myself.

Natural and botanical objects inspire and even appear to be cast inside some of the jewelry you make. What are your favorite places to forage?

So they’re not actually inside! I make a mold of the natural object and then it’s a process from there called lost wax casting so they’re fine metal all the way through, just in the exact size and shape thanks to the original mold. I don’t know that I have a favorite place to forage; part of what’s exciting about it is that I find things all over the place — when I’m here in Virginia, when I’m traveling, often friends and family find things and give them to me.

"Hollow Red Oak Acorn" by Rebecca Perea-Kane
“Hollow Red Oak Acorn” by Rebecca Perea-Kane

Why do you work primarily with reclaimed metal?

New gold mining is terrible for the environment and, the way it’s typically happening, endangers the lives of the workers and harms the surrounding communities. Gold mining has been tied to child labor and human trafficking. Mercury and cyanide are often used in the extraction process, which literally poisons the workers and neighboring communities. Much of gold mining is happening in incredibly bio-diverse regions and the deforestation involved is enormous. I learned a staggering fact a little while ago that to mine enough gold for one, single wedding ring, more than 20 tons of rock and soil are moved. There is such an enormous disconnect between the beautiful, finished gold object and where it has come from. There are efforts, such as the Fairmined initiative, to make small scale, responsible mining happen in a way that benefits the communities whose jobs and economies are tied to mining and make sure the mining happens in a more ethical and sustainable way. Recycled gold means that you’re taking gold that we already have (and we already have a lot!) and avoiding new mining. Personally I think the idea of recycled metal is special — the metal has had a whole life (or maybe lives) and meant all kinds of things. It has a history to it.

"Lemon Seed Necklace" by Rebecca Perea-Kane
“Lemon Seed Necklace” by Rebecca Perea-Kane

What’s the jewelry recycling program you offer?

I started a jewelry recycling program last fall because I’ve found so many of us have things we don’t truly love but we’re not sure how to shed responsibly. I wanted to give people an opportunity to clear a cluttered jewelry box and replace the clutter with one or two pieces they will wear constantly. Customers can send me fine jewelry or costume jewelry and depending on the jewelry I’ll send a coupon for them to use toward Thicket jewelry. The fine jewelry can be melted down and made into new things, and the costume jewelry I use in the Jewelry Repair and Reinvention Workshops that I run here in Charlottesville.

Some may know that you are a writer in addition to a jewelry designer. In your experience, how does poetry differ from jewelry design as a vehicle for expression? How is it similar?

In both my poetry and my jewelry I deal a lot with the details of the natural world. I especially love the poetry of Louise Gluck, Elizabeth Bishop, Mark Doty and Theodore Roethke who all deal with these details so beautifully. For me, the practice of the two is very different in that with poetry so much of it happens in my head, whereas with jewelry it’s all so embodied and tactile. They’re a good complement to each other.

If you could have one story from your life turned into a work of art for yourself, which would it be?

If I could have a story told through art I think it would be about my early connections with animals, because so much of those relationships are not verbal in the usual human way, I think it would make sense to capture them in a non word-based way.

What did you think of our interview with Rebecca Perea-Kane? Leave your response in the comments and check out more of Rebecca’s jewelry art on StoriesToArt.