Jess Leigh Gholston
Jess Leigh Gholston was encouraged to become a jewelry designer by the arts community she found in New Orleans when she moved here in fall 2009.
"I started to teach myself how to work with wire, stones, leather, vintage pieces and anything else I could get my hands on," says Gholston, who launched Jess Leigh Jewels (www.jessleighjewels.com) in January 2010. "It has been the most fulfilling and exciting adventure of my life," she says.
To capture inspiration wherever she goes, she always carries a notepad.
"Ideas come from historic structures in the French Quarter, old iron fences, wandering in antique shops, the color combination in someone's balcony garden, a vintage brooch or even just a particular gemstone," she says.
Gholston is enamored with labradorite right now. "It is just so beautiful and the spectrum of colors is completely different from stone to stone," she says.
She makes all her own pieces but is researching local and U.S. production possibilities as she expands.
"I will routinely make myself a tray of random pieces, chains and stones for the day to work with," she says. "It's so much fun to see what the materials become in my hands."
Gholston says her designs range from "a refined earthy style for the raw and polished stone pieces" to a more contemporary look for her repurposed vintage jewelry, which reflects her penchant for antique items.
"In order to design anything for anyone, I had to know how to design for myself first," she says. "I have so many different facets to my own personality. I am girly, but not always. I am over-the-top, but sometimes I crave simplicity. ... I love being totally unpredictable. ... Everyone is many things. I design for everyone. My hope is that it inspires someone else in some small way."
Northern California native and Tulane University alum Ashley Porter launched Porter Lyons (www.porterlyons.com) in 2012 as an homage to Louisiana. Porter's latest collection, Category X, commemorates the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee failures.
"I wanted to acknowledge the destruction of the storm and honor the beauty that has flourished since," she says. "Barbed wire, a hammer, a safety pin earring and an X are some of the more literal elements in the collection; all of them tools used to rebuild and protect."
With names like Alligator, Coypu, Rebuild and Voodoo, each Porter Lyons collection touches on a different aspect of New Orleans culture, Porter says.
"I begin with sketching for hours upon hours and researching different subjects down to their bones to generate ideas," she says. "I carve my design into wax, similar to a mini sculpture, and then hand-cast using the lost wax method."
For her fall/winter 2015 collection, Deco Bohemia, Porter is using metals and colored stones. "I've been working with blue and black kyanite, which reminds me of the sunburst motif in the 1920s," she says.
Edgy, versatile, unusual and animalistic all are words Porter uses to describe her aesthetic. Her customers share many of these qualities.
"I design for women of all ages," Porter says. "She's a person who has a wanderlust and is enduringly curious about the world and life."
After Rachael Adamiak (www.rachaeladamiak.com) worked for a jeweler in the Caribbean one summer during college, she switched her focus from photography to jewelry making.
Adamiak moved to New Orleans in 2002 and worked with jewelry designer Dominique Giordano at art markets around town, where she gained a local following for her own designs.
"In summer 2005, I went out on my own," Adamiak says. "I opened a small studio/shop in the Riverbend on Maple Street. My grand opening was slated for Sept. 16. Well, we all know what happened. I opened in December 2005 with an extreme determination to stay in New Orleans and make the business work."
Adamiak describes her pieces as clean, simple, pretty and wearable.
"I really focus on line and shape," she says. "I think I focus on design more than conceptual ideas. My personal aesthetic is very simple, so I find that informs my work. I also love the simplicity and color of mid-century design and modern furniture and industrial design."
After working exclusively in silver, Adamiak has recently worked solid gold into special orders.
"It's a wonderful metal to work with and I'd enjoy doing it more often," she says. "I've always incorporated color in my work. ... Last year, I took a stone-setting class with David Butler at Penland School of Crafts. It really changed my work. This year I have focused primarily on incorporating set-faceted precious and semiprecious stones in my pieces."
Her current favorites are tourmaline and mixed-colored sapphires.
Adamiak makes all her jewelry in her New Orleans studio.
"All of my work starts out as sterling silver sheet and wire," she says. "I then use traditional metalsmithing techniques to create my pieces: sawing, soldering, hammering, filing ... There are ways I could mechanize or outsource certain processes, but the making is the part I enjoy most."