Laura Treloar, the jeweler behind the successful shop Specimental, talks raw minerals and contemporary collaboration in this edition of Featured Seller.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
Specimental keeps me as busy as a full-time job. I am a single mother to three small children, who are now 4, 6 and 7. I am also a full-time high school art teacher here in Vancouver, Canada. I live in a 100-year-old house which is nearing the end of a five-and-a-half-year complete restoration of the interior and exterior. When I am not busy with any of these pursuits, I am often found vacuuming. It’s how I relax.
What would be the title of your memoir?
I would have to borrow the title from Nico, who said she if she ever wrote an autobiography, she would entitle it Moving Target. This sums up my life and my method of functioning. I am constantly mothering, working in the studio and at school, and doing all manner of other things that propel me through my day, regardless of what is thrown at me. It can’t hit you if you just keep moving!
Where does your inspiration come from?
In my jewelry design, my inspiration comes mainly from the specimens I work with. I have a collection of hundreds of raw minerals and rough gemstone specimens, most of which will likely never be turned into pieces of jewelry. Of course, that does not stop me from collecting them obsessively.
What does handmade mean to you?
To me, handmade means a level of humanity, obsessive focus and careful consideration that does not occur with the mass produced. There is a dose of comfort in a handmade object. I greatly admire craftsmanship, and surround myself with objects that bear the human touch. These include my old house, my antique furniture, much of my clothing and my art collection. Etsy has been a fantastic venue in which to find the makers of the handmade objects I want to live with.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
This person was my husband, David, whom I met in 1997. He was the one who first encouraged me to take up metalsmithing. He was always so excited and proud of my work, and was the first person to see each of my new designs. Every time, without fail, he would tell me that it was my best piece ever. He used to tell me that one day, he was certain I would be chosen as Featured Seller. He was right, here I am. I am so sorry he is missing it, as he died unexpectedly in March of 2011. He would be going absolutely mental about this if he were here.
When did you know you were an artist?
I am from a family of six children, half of whom are working artists. My parents are very creative people. My mother also makes jewelry, and my dad draws and paints in oils. My grandmother used to metalsmith, cut stones, sew, paint and carve. I have always been surrounded by people making things, and have always made things, too. I enrolled in a specialized art program in high school, and then went on to study at the Emily Carr Institute (now University) of Art and Design here in Vancouver. So, I would have to say that for as long as I can recall, I have been creating art and crafting objects.
How would you describe your creative process?
When I am designing a new piece, I will pull out the stone I want to work with, view it in a strong light from all angles, and then get to work designing a piece around the elements in its form that attract me the most. It is very seldom that I create a sketch of any of my pieces. I get a basic idea in my mind of where I want the design to go, and then see what happens along the way. I am particularly interested in surface finishes, and am always looking for new ways to texture metals in ways that I feel complement the specimen I am working around.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
I would most like to watch old artisans at work, using techniques that we no longer understand or would have difficulty replicating. I would really love to have been in the workspace of the artisan who created the Tara brooch. It is such a wonder of detailed design, technique and materials that it bends my mind. The level of technical mastery is astounding, and it was made in 700 A.D. using completely rudimentary tools and techniques. I would also want to watch over the shoulder of Denbei Shoami, who lived and worked in Japan from 1651-1728. He is credited with first creating Mokume gane, a diffusion welding technique which he used in his craft of building samurai swords. Mokume gane translates literally into “wood eye metal,” which is exactly how the different metals lie together. It looks like a cross-cut piece of a precious metal tree.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I have two. One is a handmade quilt that my grandmother created for me when I was a little girl. It is vivid pink and bright green, and is covered with little applique animals that she made out of bits of wool and cotton. I have given it to my daughter. The other is a birthday card made of Polaroid photos and a handmade wire frame. My husband took the photos and assembled the card for me the first year we were dating. I saw it, and was hooked.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I don’t think I’ve ever had one, so I can’t comment on how I would get out of them. A way I avoid them, both at school and in the studio, is collaborating with other artists. I am always writing grant applications at work so I can bring contemporary artists into my classroom, where we will collaborate along with my students on big, site-specific pieces. The latest collaboration I am working on is a three-person project. I am working with Vancouver artist Brent Clowater, who made my awesome shop banner, and NYC’s Carla Hansen (known on Etsy as My Needle Habit). Brent and I have worked together in my classroom a number of times, and Carla and I have been buying work from each other for a few years on Etsy. We decided we wanted to work on a multimedia, cross-border collaborative series. I passed Brent one of my favourite quartz specimens, which he interpreted into an abstract painting. He cut the canvas into pieces, and shipped it to Carla for her embroidery touch. She will be shipping it back to me here in Vancouver, where I will be adding some finishing touches in metal. We are not quite sure what this will look like or where it is headed, but are all pretty excited to be working together in this fashion.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I guess I would like my life to be as it is now. I want to be surrounded by my sweet children and my loving, supportive friends and family, teaching and helping kids love art, working in my studio, and still moving frenetically through my days.