I'm excited to share this blog from Treading Art, Pittsburgh's premier cultural resource that seeks to connect creative communities and the public.
ENCLAVES: VANESSA GADE JEWELRY DESIGN
Towards the end of summer on a blue-skied day true to the San Francisco bliss that is the approach of Indian Summer, I treated myself to an artist studio adventure in my native Bay Area.
The studio I was making my way towards is that of the lovely designer and artisan Vanessa Gade. I had admired her work in the past at The Shop in East Liberty and when I met Nicole Aquillano during her SCC residency but now I was ready to see her wisely chosen space where her designs become creations. We cheerfully introduced ourselves and then spent the next few hours exchanging stories and enthusiasm. I was blown away at the serendipitous nature of Vanessa’s story - a chain of coincidental happenstances that lead her somewhat unknowingly to undiscovered talent and career as a sought after jewelry designer.
Once up the stairs and in her studio our conversation migrated to the topic of the SF creative community. I was especially curious as I currently live in the welcoming and collaborative city of Pittsburgh. She told me that she had no complaints, “my community here is one of the best gifts of working in this area.” Vanessa talked of a lovely upbringing in San Diego, raised around books by intellectual parents - “some of the brightest people I have ever met, but never overbearing.” This stimulating environment brought out her passion for history which was a natural path that she pursued at UCSD. But Vanessa’s love for photography ultimately gave her the gentle push towards becoming a maker. This transpired when she helped construct a dark room on campus in exchange for facility use. The new space happened to be positioned next to the metalsmith studio and her continual peeking through the windows didn’t end until when she signed up for a class.
Fast forward to her junior year when Vanessa studied art history in Italy. While living abroad she regularly went on “walking meditations” to photograph her surroundings. During one of these adventures, she stumbled upon a contemporary jewelry school that prompted her to stay an additional five weeks to enroll in an intensive course that ran six days a week and was taught exclusively in Italian
She soaked in the culture of her Mediterranean home and the life of a professional jeweler but was still in the mindset that she would return home and spend her career writing books, getting a Ph.D. and becoming a professor. As most great stories go, the originally intended track was completely changed as her passion turned to undeniable talent and her fellow schoolmates encouraged her to take her artistry full time because of her skill. Until now, that thought had never crossed her mind.
Now back on homeland soil, Vanessa found work at a San Diego jewelry shop that designed and made everything in house that was available on the shop floor. Slowly but surely through the enticement of beer and tasty subs Vanessa got the head designer to help strengthen her skills until she had free design reign herself. By the time Vanessa landed in San Francisco she was already designing her own line. In the desire of more structured training, she continued her studies at the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in addition to months of courses at the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center. During this time she wrote her business plan and launched her company.
As her personal line continued Vanessa played with an array of materials to even out her style understanding the reality that she would need to differentiate herself. She reached the bold yet minimal style you now see in shops at the Getty, SF MoMA, and the Guggenheim. From the beginning, she knew the circle was an important component of her designs because of its symbolism of strength, continuity, and mythology (circling back to history!). This vein also runs strong in the continued success of her company and her powerful yet humble and kind personality. Perhaps this is best revealed by the fact that her first designed piece is still her bestseller.
Vanessa’s love of architecture is a primary source of inspiration as is her talent for engineering and balancing her precisely planned pieces. This combination creates unique jewelry that is fragile and ethereal yet daring and eye-catching. Hopefully one day we will get to witness the work of her big dream to create a comprehensive history of jewelry. I can only imagine what this kind of artistry and sculpture would look like in a form limited for wearability from an artist who truly encapsulates the spirit of blindly yet confidently following their true adventure, personally forged and uniquely influenced.
Vanessa has a fantastic website that beautifully showcases her designs. I encourage you to peruse it for the sake of inspiration or to collect wearable art.
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