By Marion Ada Holland
Lisa Linhardt is a jewelry designer living and working in New York. She focuses on ethically made jewelry with interesting materials like tagua seed. Her work has been featured in New York Magazine, and has been worn by many celebrities including Giselle Budchen, Amber Rose, and Alicia Keyes; as well as ordinary mortals who like great jewelry design. Acclaim, however, doesn’t make her unapproachable. Wandering though the East Village, I walked into her shop a month after it opened and had a stimulating conversation about Scandinavian jewelry design. A year later, the conversation continues. You should stop by her store and strike up a conversation of your own. You will emerge with a stimulating view of the world and maybe some unique jewelry which will strike up new conversations every time you wear it!
WM: My mother got started in jewelry making because her high school offered it. How did you get started as a jewelry maker? Who were your early mentors?
Do you think there could be a realistic way of incorporating jewelry design into public school art curriculums?
LL: More often than not, it takes the right combination of exposure to the subject with an inspirational teacher to help discover your element. In college I interned with David Didur who was a former jeweler for Van Cleef and Arpel in Tokyo, Bulgari in Italy, and an established artist in his own right. Oddly enough he was using metals on a larger industrial scale when we worked together. Although at the time he didn’t teach me jewelry fabrication, I learned so much from him about design. He was and continues to be a mentor to this day. It wasn’t until after graduation that I took a class with a ceramic sculptor named Vera Lightstone who helped me discover the beauty of sculpting metal objects from silver clay. I continued on to traditional jewelry-making techniques at the School of Visual Arts, and then on to the Fashion Institute of Technology – where I met Steven Parker (formerly of Oscar Heymen Jewelers), Karen Bachmann (formerly of Tiffany’s) among other professors in the industry who have been very influential to me and my work. My time studying jewelry in Taos and Santa Fe also helped me see jewelry as an art rather than a fashion accessory.
I’m almost positive I would have found metal as an artistic medium earlier if classes were offered in my public school while growing up. I remember we had a shortage of classrooms that were already overflowing at sometimes 35 kids per class, so I am unsure how realistic it would be to find the room or budget for the project, but anything is possible. I can say your mom was very lucky!
WM: You are from Queens. Did any of the arts and studios in Long Island City inspire you? What about in New York?
LL: Yes, I am from Jamaica Queens – and from what I remember about Long Island City, it was the place we went to watch the fireworks and eat good Greek food. LIC did not have the art studios back then that it has now… If anything I was more inspired by the “bamboo earrings” my fellow LL-Jamaica-Queens-native rapped about in “Round-the-way Girl”… I was very inspired by the large graphic jewelry of the 80s and is probably the reason why my two-finger rings are so significant in my collections. I also remember cutting 7th and 8th grade to ride the F train into the city to hang out in the Village to just people-watch (sorry, Mom). It was a place for punks, preppies, rappers, you name it – you would catch the most interestingly-dressed people. I would always hang out on 8th street where my FAVORITE boutique was – Patricia Field’s. She had the best statement jewelry ever, and I would go catch a glimpse of it before it was worn on one of my fashion icon-idols Lady Miss Kier from the group Dee-Lite. I remember saving up money for all the huge jewelry that would match my favorite Pucci-inspired leggings. I learned if you’re going to wear it, wear it big or go home. So, yes, New York City was so influential to me at an early age as far as fashion was concerned. My parents were also big on taking my sister and I upstate New York on the weekends, specifically to Woodstock, where I spent all my time oogling over handmade silver jewelry in quaint little galleries. I’d like to think the streets of New York City influenced the bold quality, and the galleries helped me gain an eye for sophistication.
WM: What do you think about really high end jewelry institutions like Tiffany’s, how do you see them working with smaller independent designers such as yourself?
LL: I highly respect what companies like Tiffany’s has built – Tiffany’s specifically started on Broadway as a team of two who had a dream to open a shop in NYC. It is amazing to see what they have built in the past almost 170 years or so, and I especially like the fact that they are currently thinking about ethically-sourced stones. Many of these high end jewelry institutions set standards for the industry as a whole and its great to see that sustainability is being considered. It would be a mutually beneficial collaboration if these institutions would allow local independent designers to showcase their work.
WM: How long have you been making jewelry?
LL: I used to make jewelry for my Barbies a very long time ago… Does that count? I started working with the combination of fire and precious metals back in 2000 and never seemed to let go of it… There were many times where I was without the facilities to create in the traditional jewelry medium, but every time I was away I seemed to come back to it more intensely than before.
WM: What are your thoughts about using ethically produced and recycled materials in your jewelry designs?
LL: First and foremost my goal is to design unique and beautiful signature pieces of jewelry. Incorporating ethically-sourced stones and recycled metals is something that comes about more in the process of making the piece. Sourcing has probably been the most challenging aspect of incorporating ethically produced and recycled materials in my jewelry designs because a lot of suppliers don’t bother to trace the origin and labor. If all the jewelry designers in the world demand this information when sourcing materials, the industry will respond. Until then I think it will continue to be a challenge.
WM: What made you decide to use an interior designer for your store who used recycled materials and plastic planters as lamp shades?
LL: I used to work with Linda Wary (of Wary Meyers Decorative Arts) – we were both art directors for a publishing firm and promised each other that one day we would leave the world of graphic design and explore our love for working with our hands. A few years later Linda opened an interior company with husband and former Anthropologie Display-Director, John Meyers, where they scouted flea markets and repurposed the old into new for their interiors. I was going to open a jewelry boutique to be filled with materials based on a similar concept, so thought it would be a perfect partnership. I remember calling Linda and asking her to design the interior and she responded “I always thought we would be working together again.” I couldn’t be more happy with the results of the Wary Meyers team and their creative solutions to repurposing different materials for the store interior. They recently came out with a book called “Tossed and Found” which was based on their former column for Time Out New York Magazine about repurposing the old into new.
WM: What does wearable mean to you? What about enhancing? Do you think the role of jewelry is to enhance something about a person, or to be a precious object in and of itself?
LL: Jewelry has had so many functions throughout history as far as wearability and enhancement is concerned – utilitarian function (as with the ancient Romans who fastened their garb with fancified pins); status element (as with the Egyptian pharaohs who adorned themselves with jewels to exhibit their place in society); symbolic value (as with the heroic Purple Heart given to wounded and heroic soldiers); even magical significance (as with amulets, talismans and charms during the time of Charlemagne)… Today it seems most people wear my jewelry as an expression of who they are. I get so many requests for custom one-of-a-kind commissioned pieces that sometimes combine all those elements outlined above, or none at all. It seems there is more and more of a demand these days of pieces that capture the essence of their personality, energy and what is important to them as far as functionality/form is concerned. Figuring all that out from a complete stranger is always a challenge, but probably the best and most enjoyable part of what I do.
WM: You showcase the work of other designers besides yourself. What makes you want to collaborate with or sell the work of a particular designer?
LL: There is so much out there in the jewelry world. I love showcasing designers who stand out from the rest first and foremost – and also have work that I admire aesthetically and/or technically. Often times I’ll get a walk-in from a designer who has a good energy and needs an opportunity and I’ll show their work… It’s one of those things where I know it when I see it…
WM: Are there any technical aspects about jewelry design that you really enjoy?
LL: There are many technical aspects involved in designing a successful piece of jewelry. As with architecture, the fabrication needs to be considered, which can sometimes dictate material for example. Other times the design of the piece speaks from the material, and so the process starts from the other end. As a designer, you really have to explore and understand your medium. With jewelry there are so many variables – gold, platinum, silver, steel, wood, seeds, resin… The whole process requires getting to know your material and how it works. This makes each piece fresh and exciting from a both a technical and an aesthetic standpoint – and hopefully in the end, successful.
WM: You make many ethically produced wedding rings. How is making something as symbolically laden as a wedding ring different form making other types of jewelry. Any insights that designing wedding jewelry has brought?
LL: I recently attended a wedding for close friends whose engagement ring and wedding rings I made. Someone asked me that same question and before the ceremony I told them that I put the same amount of love in everything that I design, and that every piece is all wearable art… I always knew how special it is to somehow be a part of the physical representation of two people’s love for each other, but it was really during the ceremony of the rings that it really HIT me – this “wearable art” were tangible symbols of this amazing intangible bond between two people who truly were in love – they were about to solidify that love with these pieces I was a part of. It made me think how this was far beyond making any other custom jewelry! I thought about how the couple worked together to come up with something that represented them, all the times we met and the stories they shared in order to incorporate them into the ring that they were going to adorn for the rest of their lives – and how INCREDIBLE it was to be a part of their journey to the aisle and to what I was witnessing… It took what I do to a whole different spiritual level for me. I am so blessed to have designed one-of-a-kind rings that reflected their one-of-a-kind love for each other!
WM: You have lived and studied in many places around the world.Any particularly memorable places or experiences that effect your work as a designer?
LL: Living in Norway has significantly impacted my personal design aesthetic – I love the clean lines of Scandinavian design, and it was also a time in my life when I was incredibly in love and feeling inspired. Italy has also been influential, because everywhere I turned there was art and inspiration, but perhaps the most influential place hands down has been New York City, because of its diverse and ever-changing personality that serves as a constant muse. I love this city – its in my blood and in my heart, I don’t think that will ever change!
156 First Ave., New York, NY 10009
nr. 9th St.