By day, Niki Fisk (www.nikifisk.com) is at her jewelry studio's workbench. With a manual hand saw, she chisels intricate tableaus of dragons, unicorns and songbirds from sheets of sterling silver. At night, she performs as an aerialist, swinging from trapezes and aerial silks at venues like One Eyed Jacks and the Eiffel Society.
"The two things could not be more different, but what they have in common is extreme precision is required," Fisk says. "It takes an insane attention to detail, focus and creativity."
Though the Ohio native cites a lifelong obsession with jewelry, metalsmithing was only a hobby until the months following Hurricane Katrina. "I was teaching pre-K before Katrina, and when I came back in October (2005), the school was closed indefinitely. So I started doing jewelry full time then," Fisk says. She enrolled in metalsmithing classes taught by Margo Manning at Delgado Community College and worked for several local artists, including Gogo Borgerding, before branching out on her own.
From conception to execution, Fisk is in total control, even crafting her own hooks and catches for the necklace fasteners. She finds inspiration in literature and music: A necklace featuring a carousel is a nod to the enchanted circus in Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes; another features a pair of dancing gnomes and was conceived while Fisk listened to David Bowie's "The Laughing Gnome."
"I'm also inspired by Walter Potter, the Victorian taxidermist — he'll have a whole taxidermy scene of kittens wearing clothes, little top hats," Fisk says. "I take elements from playing cards and tarot cards and incorporate those into my jewelry. Mythology, fairy tales, things that are whimsical as f---," Fisk says, laughing.
The process begins when Fisk sketches a design and transfers it onto a sheet of silver. Then she begins the meticulous process of cutting it out. "People see my jewelry and say, 'Do you use a laser?' I'm like, 'No. I saw it all out with a jeweler's saw with a teeny weeny blade.'" She then files the pieces and assembles them into three-dimensional, Victorian-inspired shadow boxes. Because she makes each piece completely by hand, no two are alike.
"All of the pieces are so fabulous and beautiful. People have never seen anything like it," says Elizabeth Bowie, assistant curator for the Center for Southern Craft & Design in the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, where Fisk's jewelry is sold. "Most jewelry is flat and doesn't have movement. Her pieces have so much depth — they are their own little world. The three-dimensionality really draws you into the story within the small piece. You can see the hand of the maker so much in her work."
Whether Fisk is creating a necklace or choreography for a static trapeze duet, her charming-but-macabre aesthetic shines through. She crafts her own costumes from scratch, incorporating and altering vintage pieces.
"I enjoy coming up with a concept, conceptualizing how to make it happen and then doing it," says Fisk, who keeps track of her creative projects by writing a list on her inner arm, underneath a wrist tattoo of the Latin word facere (to do). "I like the creative process. That's the thing costume making, jewelry making and aerial work all have in common."
Niki Fisk's jewelry is available at the Center for Southern Craft & Design in the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (925 Camp St., 539-9600; www.ogdenmuseum.org), Rocket Science Beauty Bar (640 Elysian Fields Ave., 218-8982; www.rocketsciencenola.com) and Gogo Jewelry (2036 Magazine St., 529-8868; www.ilovegogojewelry.com). Prices range from $25 to $500, and Fisk also does commissioned pieces.