I love contradiction. Something that appears one way, but is actually quite another. A little tension with the beauty.
So imagine my intrigue with Anna Ruth Henriques‘ jewelry. On the surface, a little abrasive: spiders, insects, rough-textured metal in matte finishes. But also sparkle, a peek of shiny yellow gold, paintings winking beneath faceted gemstones.
It’s like a little web of dreams, drawing me in…
At seven years old, growing up in Jamaica, Anna knew she wanted to be an artist. It just took her a little while to find jewelry. A wax carving class illustrated the analogy of jewelry as a three dimensional art form, and she was hooked.
New York City is where Anna lives, and all of her jewelry designs are made. Although it may not be so obvious that her natural forms are inspired or created in the city, it does figure into her designs. The energy, and the incredible skill of New York City artisans that help her cast and create definitely contribute to her art.
Anna has been painting for a long time (see her paintings here), and her artwork figures very literally into some of her designs: small paintings are sealed with mother-of-pearl or silver, with her metalwork as frames, creating wearable art. Anna is also a poet (and her blog is definitely worth reading). You can add philanthropist to her description, too. She has become very involved with Future Brilliance, a pilot program sponsored by the Department of Defense, that teaches jewelry design and manufacturing skills to Afghan women as a means of self sufficiency.
Interview with Anna Ruth Henriques
I had a chance to speak with Anna recently. The following is an excerpt of an interview I did for the Contemporary Jewelry Design Group, where Anna is a member and I am an editor. You can read the full interview here.
idazzle.com: You launched your collection in 2008, correct?
Anna Ruth Henriques: Yes.
I’m a little curious about your timing: that was kind of a tough time to launch a luxury jewelry business, wasn’t it?
Well, it took a while to put together, and I had already created it all, I couldn’t just pull the plug.
You were committed, I guess!
Yes! People would ask, “How’s business?” I would just laugh and say “I’m too small to shrink!” My small business just stayed small. At least I wasn’t over extending.
So why jewelry in 2008?
I paint and make things with my hands. So for a long time, I couldn’t wear much because I would destroy it. Jewelry just didn’t register as an adornment for a while. But I had a friend who was a model, and she was getting older (ok, she was nearing 40), and needed to figure out her next career. She had registered for a wax carving class, and sold me on taking it with her. So we went and took the class. A month into it, she quit. It turns out that her hands were made for being beautiful, but my hands–after working with them for years on other art projects–were perfectly suited for wax carving.
I started making pieces of jewelry and selling it myself. Friends and acquaintances were requesting it and I made one-offs custom for them. But at some point I realized that way wasn’t working for me. It was random, and didn’t necessarily reflect my artistic tendencies.
I created a cohesive collection, a series of pendants. Once I had them assembled, I sent images of them to Barney’s NY. I got a call from their buyer within about 15 minutes, and they bought the entire collection.
Wow! Were the pieces similar or different from your current collections?
They were insects of different kinds, with stories of spiritual empowerment behind each one, symbolism in each piece. At the time, it was pretty original: no one had seen anything like it before.
For me, fashion has not been a big interest. My jewelry was different because I wasn’t approaching it as traditional jewelry, with an intrinsic value in the gemstones or metal.
Why are spiders your muse?
Spiders were a natural part of life growing up in Jamaica. Houses are just not as hermetically sealed as they are in the US, and you learn to share your space. You get comfortable with co-existence.
I guess I’m not afraid of them, and think of them as being quite beautiful. But I have seen other reactions to my work: I’ve seen people actually back away from a counter filled with my jewelry! So it’s definitely polarizing: people either like it or are afraid of it. But it’s funny, sometimes people open up and become more comfortable once I tell them the stories behind the jewelry, and especially the spiders.
What kind of stories?
Spiders, with their characteristics of resilience, independence, and creativity, embody strengths that I would love to see embodied in women.
I have a fourteen year old daughter. I see the message that society and the media sends to women through her eyes: it seems to be about looking good and attracting men. Pleasing other people in a superficial way. I don’t particularly like that message. I like having jewelry with a subtle message of self-empowerment.
Who are your collectors?
It’s not by accident that I make jewelry for women. All of my collectors are self purchasers. Don’t get me wrong—aesthetics are important. But for my collectors it’s not about decorating themselves. It’s about connecting herself to nature and expression.
Do you ever get to connect with your collectors?
Sometimes I am invited to trunk shows, so I get to meet the people who have purchased my jewelry. There is one retailer that tells my story really well, and has always believed in my aesthetic. Collectors come in wearing my pieces—it is so delightful to see them, to meet them. I get to understand why they bought the piece. That is magic to me. I had one collector who bought a lovely moth piece called “Night Becomes Her,” about the transformation from day to night, and that change and night is not necessarily something to fear. She told me that she had worn the piece as an amulet through a difficult time in her life, and that looking at it and wearing it gave her peace and strength. A story like that makes everything worth it.
Are you still inspired by spiders, or do you have a new muse?
I have recently launched a new collection in silver and bronze, and I’m exploring new themes. Some abstract, some leaning more into flora. I’ve done some things with a Buddha-like face with a gem in the third eye. I have also done some pieces around the “Eye of Intuition.” I would like for people to trust their gut: intuition is powerful and should be listened to.
When you say “paint” as it applies to your jewelry, what do you mean?
I mean that I actually paint the stone, then seal it in mother-of-pearl or silver so that it is waterproof. They are very durable, unless the stone gets cracked for some reason. I paint on the back with color or black and white: they are one-of-a-kind by the nature of it. My technique has been perfected over time and I consider it proprietary.
You are also a poet, correct?
I write. I’ve written poetry and prose. I had one book published a few years ago, and poetry published in various books and publications.
Does one discipline inform the other: jewelry inform the poetry, or vice versa?
I have someone who says there is a connection between my painting, my poetry, and my jewelry. All three express something unique: some things are better said in one form or another.
Why not wear the art, read the art, have the art be part of your life, your home, your body?
What do you find most challenging about running your own company?
My skill set is sitting in the studio, creating the sculptures and working with other artisans for casting, stone setting, etc. My skill set is not necessarily the business side of things…
What is your favorite part of being a jewelry designer?
My favorite part is definitely making it. The creation gives me absolute joy. When I see a piece that I’ve made from the past, it catches my breath. The beauty of the object speaks to something in my spirit.
Thank you, Anna! You can read more of the interview here. Take a look at Anna’s one-of-a-kind, silver, gold, and bronze jewelry at her website, www.annaruthhenriques.com, read her excellent blog here, and check out her paintings here.