State of the Art Necklace by Alex & LeeAuthor:Sarah Virginia White
In crafting the new look of California Home+Design’s print magazine, we started a column, called State of The Art, that lets us work closely with California’s best creative talents. For each issue, we commission three to four designs to be featured in our pages, and offer only one rule—it has to highlight the shape of our fair state. The column debuted in our Spring 2013 issue, with pieces from public artist Cliff Garten, woodworker Danny Montoya, and heritage jewelry artists Alex & Lee. We’ll be sharing the fantastic results with you in each print edition, but read on for a little behind-the-scenes info on the stunning necklace by Alex & Lee. First, check out the original story as it appeared in our Spring 2013 issue:
“On a remote sliver of land in the Sea Ranch community—the space between Highway 1 and where Northern California tumbles into the Pacific Ocean—jewelry designers Lee Brooks and Greg Franke weave semiprecious metals, minerals and found objects into fantastical wearable art. “Lee likes things to be unrecognizable, so you don’t know how we did it,” says Franke, one half of Alex & Lee, the heritage jewelry brand that Brooks co-founded in 1970. For this richly textured pectoral necklace, the state silhouette incorporates layers of bronze wire, vintage brass trim, copper rope and spun steel, while sterling silver plates woven into the mirrored forms echo California’s fluid sky. Anchoring the medallion collage is a natural “dog-tooth” abalone pearl, a California resource so treasured “they sell it by the carat,” says Brooks.”
I’d written about Alex & Lee before, right after I first met Lee Brooks at a party (and fell immediately in love with him, his caftan, and his stories about acid flashes), so I was thrilled when they agreed to create a piece of jewelry for the magazine. Greg Franke, his partner in design—and love—began sending me ideas for a large necklace with mirror-image Callifornias, using hammered sterling, patinated copper or bronze wire, and perhaps abalone pearl, shells, or driftwood endemic to the Sonoma coast. Franke and Brooks were kind enough to let me visit their studio in Sea Ranch so I could learn more about their design process in person, but it turned out that getting there was a challenge. Despite one cancelled excursion due to closed roads and a careful checking of county web sites before my next San Francisco departure, I still got stuck on a country-road detour after Highway 1 washed out. But arriving at Sea Ranch, where I’d never been before, was a revelation of watery sunlight and ocean cliffs.
Brooks and Franke welcomed me into their shared studio, where hanks of richly-dyed passmenterie cording hung in loops along one wall. Franke showed me multiple versions of the bronze silhouette that he’d shaped by hand before getting two that he liked. I also got a peek at Alex & Lee designs from back in the day—stunning surreallist collages with feathers and bits of bone and semiprecious stones clustered together. Franke wire-wrapped in the living room as we talked, but Brooks tends to work in absolute silence in the studio.
Once the necklace was finished, I obviously tried it on immediately and sent pictures to my mother, who is a jewelry fanatic like me. Then it was on to the set with photographer Garry McLeod and some dramatic mood lighting to help the necklace’s glowing silver craftwork and abalone pearl detailing pop.
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