Step outside of the gallery and into the world of the accessory. For many, accessories are as vital to an outfit as the finishing brush strokes on a canvas. In hopes of shedding new light on this often overlooked art, Ampersand spoke to Missy Kulik, Rhys Mays and Rachel Barnes, three local female creatives who are reclaiming the accessory as a valid and exciting art form. They divulged how laborious the jewelry making process can be in order to debunk any misconceptions around the intensive artistic nature of their craft. The artists also explained how exciting and satisfying a reward it is to watch their pieces transform depending on the wearer and discussed how the Athens community acts as an incubator to foster and support the emergence of female innovators.
In approaching the subject of the accessory, particularly jewelry, it became apparent that most accessories are unconsciously gendered female, rather than existing as a neutral addition to any person’s look.
“I do feel as though jewelry is too often overlooked as a ‘female thing.’ The whole point of wearing accessories to me is to add on to an already awesome look,"notes Rachel Barnes, owner of downtown vintage mainstay Dynamite Clothing. "That shouldn’t apply to females only, why wouldn’t a male want to improve or complete his look?”
“Necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, hats, scarves — these are all things to grab attention to oneself, and that’s not a need or want that only females innately have, all humans, or most, feel that way,” Barnes says.
When people conventionally think about accessories, they fail to realize what a labor-intensive and truly artistic process jewelry making can be. Rhys Mays, the artist behind Rhys Mays Jewelry, sold at Community, gave us a clue into her creative process.
“I handsaw, solder, file, sand and hammer my pieces, each one is going to be slightly different," Mays says. "I think that makes the pieces more precious, since they are individual for the wearer. Two people could have matching triangle necklaces with slightly different texturing, and that makes them so much more interesting and valuable than something a machine stamped out.”
Missy Kulik is best known around town as the designer and illustrator behind the comic “Tofu Baby.” For her, jewelry making is a form of self-expression, as each piece reflects different facets of her daily life.
“I draw inspiration from many places and I am always looking. I love nature, animals, miniatures and the idea of keepsakes and preserving memories," Kulik says. "Some of my pieces are based on my illustrations, and those can take some time to create, others take less time to make. I tend to spend a few hours over my weekends making jewelry, sometimes I take tools with me to work and squeeze in time at lunch to make something.”
Each piece created by Kulik and Mays has its own distinct personality; the artists look to communicate different ideas with their finished products when they are in the midst of production.
“I hope to convey a sense of wonder in my jewelry,” Kulik says. “I tend to work very small, so I think scale can play a part in how people feel. I also love hiding artwork and paper-cuts I make into lockets and charms.”
Mays followed, saying, “I love that jewelry can come to have its own meaning to the wearer, like a lucky necklace or a ring that bears significance, and I hope that my jewelry can have that kind of value. For me, putting on the jewelry that I wear everyday, or special pieces on occasion, is sort of a ritual. I’m adorning myself. I want to make my wearers feel like the jewelry is a part of them and I want them to feel beautiful wearing it.”
The artists discussed whether our town exists as a safe and encouraging space for female creatives to gain recognition or inspiration for their art.
“There’s something a little magical about Athens, so many of the women here seem to want to help each other succeed,” Barnes says. “I have almost exclusively had female bosses that own their own business and have always pushed to help me get where I am today.”
Mays shares Barnes’ sentiment. “The Athens community is the reason I’m doing what I love. When I was an undergrad in at Lamar Dodd, I had so many great female artists to look up to. I had professors like Steph Voegele and Mary Pearse, head of the Jewelry and Metals Department — badass, rock star women,” Mays says.
As affirmed by these three innovators, we are fortunate to have a collective community that opens its arms to all forms of artistic expression. "I think Athens has this great culture that supports artists by recognizing that they are a valuable part of society,” Mays says. “I never thought to question if I should do what I love, I was just encouraged to go after it full steam.”