Before and After, A Treasure Necklace Story

In my haste to create, I frequently overlook the “before.” It’s not always in my nature to take a picture of starting materials. (In my enthusiasm with a project, I sometimes even forget to take a picture of completion!)

How amazing to transform back-of-the-drawer-seldom-worn jewelry to outstanding, one-of-a-kind wearable treasures. This is the story of one such project.

My friend Karen wanted to gift her daughter and two granddaughters with memorabilia from her mother and grandmother. The items had been collected during travels across the globe. A military family, they moved often and traveled for pleasure near each base.

 ©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Bracelet collage for treasure necklace 6-14


©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Bracelet collage for treasure necklace 6-14

When Karen talked about a particular charm, her voice softened and she fingered the piece lovingly. One comment sparked another recollection and then another. You may have had a similar experience as you thought of a nearly forgotten memory.

Among her mementos were coins from the ‘40’s and ’50’s, collector pieces, now that the euro has since replaced much of the local European currencies. Coins like a Finnish sixpence, a Belgium 50 centimes, Dutch coins from 1949 and 1950, Turkish coins, plus fabulous charms gathered from other countries.

I felt incredibly fortunate to create four custom pieces. The incubation period between acceptance of the commission and its completion gave me ample opportunity to consider designs, explore options and do some pre-work.

I photographed the original work, removed the charms, cleaned and tumbled the items. Originally I’d planned to use some of the chain in the finished pieces. That didn’t happen. It simply didn’t work in my design which was comprised of notes from our first meeting, vague sketches in my notebook and a few keywords capturing some of my thoughts about beads, charms and findings.

Nothing prepared me for the near-overwhelming task of generating reality from my dreams. Once I began, my workbench was a mess, covered in a disorderly array of beads, beadmats, tools, notes and sample charms.

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Creative confusion treasure necklace 6-14

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Creative confusion treasure necklace 6-14

A separate tray contained a series of “color” strands. During random trips to the studio I’d eye my pile and substitute a baggie or a strand as inspiration struck. The backbone of my design included vintage African trade beads, some of which were purchased during the early sixties.

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Color considerations treasure necklace 6-14

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Color considerations treasure necklace 6-14

My first layout felt right, but my signals must have been crossed. Although it met the criteria for “bold, colorful and ethnic,” it didn’t meet my wearable benchmarks.

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, First layout treasure necklace 6-14

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, First layout treasure necklace 6-14

What looked acceptable on the drawing board didn’t hang well on the neck. I didn’t like it on me, either.

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Trial and error, treasure necklace 6-14

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Trial and error, treasure necklace 6-14

“Start over,” I thought. The business of reworking my layout began. I raided my stash for bali-type silver separators. Then I added special touches, such as beads from the 2012 International Folk Art Festival and a strand I’d purchased during my first trip to the African Village display at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

In July 2012 I wrote a blog post about Cedi, an award winning beadmaker from Ghana. No surprise, I bought several strands of his glass beads. The International flavor and intense color seemed  a perfect fit for this necklace. Orange, electric blue, yellow and deep purple/eggplant glass beads play in the four strands that make up the finished treasure.

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, view of the redo – treasure necklace 6-14

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, view of the redo – treasure necklace 6-14

Like a child, I found myself giddy with enthusiasm, caught up in the moment. Each detail counted as one more exclamation mark. The closer to finish, the more excited I got.

The back was nearly as interesting to me as the front. Details, details, details I reminded myself. The heart-shape in the sterling silver clasp was echoed in small glass hearts throughout the necklace. Tibetan prayer beads were sprinkled throughout. Colorful shapes demanded attention. The entire piece flowed.

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, view of the back – treasure necklace 6-14

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, view of the back – treasure necklace 6-14

“Complete!”

“Done!”

“It’s fini!”

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, treasure necklace 6-14

©2014, Mary Ellen Merrigan, treasure necklace 6-14

In an extended burst of exuberance, I buckled the tall neck into the passenger seat, fastened the seat belt and prepared to explain my bead choices to Karen.

What do you think? Is this a winner?