Three Comox Valley jewellers carry on the tradition of handmade, wearable art while applying distinct creative visions.
The wearable art of jewelry has been a form of self-expression for millennia. These adornments have been seen as sacred spiritual defences with magical properties, religious talismans, or wearable reminders of the deceased. Jewelry has also marked the status of aristocrats and royalty.
In the final years of the 19th century the arts and crafts movement rejected a newly industrialized factory system. Those artisans believed pieces should be designed and produced in a way that improves the soul of the workman as well as the wearer. Handmade with heart, the tradition of jewelry as fashioned by stalwart makers lives on. This labour of love and creative endurance can be found in our local jewellers.
TIM HALEY: SIMPLY TIMELESS
Most days Tim Haley can be found stewarding a long established skill set in his studio and storefront in downtown Courtenay. He found a penchant for polishing stone and shaping metals some fifty years ago.
“In 1964 my wife and I were living on the Minas Basin and Bay of Fundy near a place called Blomidon [Nova Scotia]. There’s a lot of agates and other stones on the beaches there. I started getting silver from Halifax, built a lapidary wheel and started going at it. I cut and polished stones and made settings for them. That’s how I got started.”
Haley has a deep well of knowledge and experience. American born, he trained at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and his creativity cannot be limited to a single medium. He’s painter and printmaker, and his sculptural work has been celebrated internationally. This work decorates the studio where he currently focuses on custom-made jewelry.
“I like to work with my clients, not dictate to them what they should have made. I think they enjoy the process. It’s very collaborative, and the end result is that the piece feels like a part of them.”
The intrinsic value that individuals have for a piece after having it personally designed has surprised Haley over the years. He describes it as an emotional journey for clients to have their desire manifested in gold and precious stone. He does repairs and often re-designs antique jewelry into new iterations. “People come through the door with pieces they’ve had in the family for generations and I remake it to fit their personal style. People come with the feeling that piece of jewelry is part of the soul of that family member… they don’t want to destroy what it represents but transpose it into something they can wear. It’s like reincarnation, and it’s bloody strong.”
Haley also hosts students in his studio, offering to mentor emergent jewelers in a beginners’ curriculum. “I love to teach. I’m at an age where I want to give back to others what I have gained. That’s one of my joys. In teaching I learn so much from my students and it’s very much a give and take situation… the skill of using your hands to make things is an important life skill; the ability to sit down and create something from nothing.”
MADISON ETHERIDGE: MLKANHNY (MILK AND HONEY)
An innate decorator and designer from a young age, Madison Etheridge’s effervescent creativity developed early and never relented. Both resourceful and regal, her pieces combine brass and copper elements with semi-precious stones to form anything from outstandingly intricate statement pieces to simple, elegant pendants.
“As a self-taught designer my inspiration mostly comes from alternative resources,” says Etheridge. “I’m inspired by the juxtaposition between nature and architecture, taking shapes from each and joining aspects together in each piece.” Her clients describe her work as elegant, edgy, and unique, words that could be used to describe her personally. “My pieces are somewhat a reflection of who I am.”
Etheridge grew up in northern Idaho before transplanting to beautiful Merville. “Growing up my parents instilled the value of working with our hands as we would work on the land and take care of our animals. I really enjoyed the labour, standing back to see the results after the process was complete. That sense of resourcefulness and putting your heart into something has always been a part of who I am and jewelry design has allowed me to explore that even further.”
SHERYL MISKENACK: MISKWILL
Soulful silversmith and intrepid craftswoman Sheryl Miskenack is known for burning the midnight oil. Bending silver and stone to her will, she finds solace in her craft. With a gritty work ethic and overwhelming abundance of inspiration, she conjures contemporary designs from her home studio in Comox.
Miskenack found her niche in the jewelry trade as both a necessary creative outlet and a realization of the increasing public demand for quality, handmade, intelligently priced goods. “I was led to jewelry design by the feeling there wasn’t anyone out there who was reasonably priced and fit my aesthetic taste,” she says. When asked how she stays inspired, she explains that motivation and passion is a constant for her. “Sometimes it’s overwhelming because I want to make everything. But nature always grounds me. Music and fashion help too.”
Honouring her partial Cree background, Miskenack is drawn to aboriginal cultures and historical references to help her creative process. She describes First Nations artwork and jewelry in particular as having “raw precision and perfect flaws,” and these cues are evident in her work. “I just love working with fire and metal… I love that it makes my hands dirty while I transform it into something beautiful.”