Artist Melanie Brauner has established a jewelry collection to offer some COVID-19 relief.
Brauner, 37, is a metalsmith and papermaker who lives in Everett. Her latest collection of metal-and-paper jewelry is titled Lockdown Love because it’s inspired by the COVID-19 emergency — the governor’s stay-home order, social distancing, etc.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland, Oregon, where she studied book arts and metals. After graduation, she worked as a bookbinder and letterpress printer, until she decided to combine her skills to launch a jewelry line.
“That was a whole journey of figuring out how to make paper into wearable (art),” Brauner said. “Because it’s different and unusual, it took off really fast for me.”
Her business, VERSO, features jewelry made from metal forms cast in paper. She makes both the forms and the paper by hand. Each piece is dipped into a pulp of water and finely beaten paper fibers from the bark of a banana tree grown in the Philippines. The fibers cling to the metal and shrink as they dry.
A tight paper skin is built up on the metal with each successive dip. Brauner likens it to the way you’d make a sheet of handmade paper — except she’s making paper around a 3-D form, and building it up in thin layers over time.
“It’s about a dozen drying phases,” she said. “I can get a couple of phases in a day if the weather is warm, but in the winter it can (take) up to two weeks because things take longer to dry.”
After the paper dries on racks, the forms are hand-dyed, and then sealed with resin to make them wearable.
“I want you to be able to wear it just like you would (any other) piece of jewelry,” she said. “I don’t want you to worry about getting it wet or breaking it. In the end, it’s a pretty tough piece of jewelry.”
Brauner has two VERSO studios at home — one for each of her specializations. Her metalsmithing studio is in the back of her and her husband Kevin’s garden, while her papermaking workshop is in the basement of their Tudor cottage built in 1928.
She makes necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, hairpins and crowns. She named the line VERSO — which recently marked its fifth birthday — after the papermaking term that refers to the underside of a piece of paper.
Her work is influenced by ancient Nordic, Roman and Greek jewelry, as well as the Art Nouveau and Rococo styles. The designs she dips in paper are inspired by the intricate details found in the oceans and forests of the Pacific Northwest: seeds, petals, dewdrops, flowers, rivers, ferns, leaves and tide pools.
The Lockdown Love jewelry wasn’t her first idea inspired by the pandemic. It was her second.
She first decided to start a YouTube channel to as a way to keep herself engaged in the community when the coronavirus put a stop to art fairs and festivals. With each video blog, or vlog, she shares the artist’s experience during the quarantine.
One of those videos served as a call to artists to also create Lockdown Love collections. So far Brauner has inspired about 15 local artists to make their own collections. They feature a variety of mediums, including jewelry, ceramics, leather work, perfume and letterpress prints. They’re linked by the hashtag #LockdownLove.
“I realized if my income was shut down, then a lot of my friends’ incomes were shut down as well,” Brauner said. “We were going to have to come up with a different way to network.”
All collections are priced on a sliding scale — so you can pay what you’re able to in these uncertain times. A percentage of the profits go to COVID relief.
Brauner’s Lockdown Love collection features nine pieces, but she also rotates in jewelry from her regular line each week. She is donating 10% of her jewelry sales to the COVID-19 Artist Trust Relief Fund.
“It’s the fastest I’ve ever designed a collection in my life,” Brauner said. “Once I had the idea, I worked 15 hours a day and just made it happen really fast.”
Her favorite Lockdown Love pieces? Those would be the friendship necklaces, with which you keep half of an infinity symbol or a heart and give the other half to someone you miss.
One of her closest friends, Twyla Dill, of Edmonds, is one of the artists inspired to make a Lockdown Love collection. Dill, who is donating 10% of her sales to the Pike Place Market Foundation, also makes jewelry, but hers is made from metals and crocheted lace. However her collection is solely metal — the crocheting is time-consuming.
Her jewelry collection, which explores themes of love, luck and connection, is made with sterling silver and nickel-free brass. One metal serves as the base of the piece, the other adorns the jewelry as spaced-out dots. The metal balls represent sparks of joy or the connections between family and friends.
“I was really inspired by the connections we have with people, even when we’re not together,” Dill said. “I’ve had people send gifts to loved ones who they’re not able to see and I’ve had some people send pieces to strangers who need a pick-me-up.
“It’s a way to pass it forward to people who are on the frontlines, working in grocery stores and in the ER.”
Go to www.versojewelry.com/lockdown-love-collection.html, or find #LockdownLove on Facebook for more information.