Inspiration shines as artists bring beauty and character to custom jewelry
One shapes silver and brass. Another relishes the richness of high-karat gold. And a third creates titanium-electrifying colors. But for all their differences, Brigid Oesterling, Jessica Weiss, and Jyl Walker share a common goal: to create one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry that satisfy their own creativity and please their customers.
The three Knoxville women arrived at jewelry making along different paths and found inspiration from a variety of sources: nature, travel, ancient cultures, craft schools, a jeweler father. They sell differently, too: online, at craft shows and markets, from a local storefront. But from all their work shines beauty, satisfaction, and imagination.
These Knoxville jewelers represent just a small sample of the range of styles available from local makers. More can be found online at The Maker City’s website, www.themakercity.org, or that of the Foothills Craft Guild, www.foothillscraftguild.net. As craft markets return, many jewelers will be displaying their work there as well.
Jyl Walker | Electrifying color
Titanium and Argentium sound like materials the Man of Steel might use. But it’s Knoxville jeweler Jyl Walker who bends and shapes those precious metals to create one-of-a-kind necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.
The naturally creative Walker started years ago making designs with flowers. Then she took up beading, creating necklaces and earrings. Over time, her desire to use better materials grew, and she challenged herself to learn new techniques and create pieces that borrow their essence from nature.
“My father was a fine jeweler in Michigan and was always interested in learning new things and growing his business that way, so I guess I got that from him,” she says. “I used to shop for jewelry and couldn’t find what tickled my fancy. So I decided to make it.”
Working from her home, Walker melts and shapes titanium, using an anodizer to change its color. “I use positive and negative clamps on the titanium and turn the dial up to produce color,” she says. “As the electricity current goes up, the color changes. I love the clean look of something that’s colored all the way through. It doesn’t tarnish, it doesn’t come off, and it’s hypoallergenic.”
Argentium, a tarnish-resistant sterling silver, and pearls often complement her work.
Walker is a member of the Foothills Craft Guild and exhibits in its shows. She also creates custom pieces. “We’re so unique as individuals; I think our jewelry should be the same,” she says. She also sells from her website, jyl-walker-jewelry-designs.square.site.
Jessica Weiss | An ancient aesthetic
Jessica Weiss suspects she may have been Egyptian in a former life. The local jeweler with a West Knoxville storefront loves to work with high karat gold—18 and 22 karat—for its rich color and organic feel. “Most Americans are accustomed to 14 karat gold, but not so in other parts of the world. I’m inspired by ancient jewelry,” she says. “My pieces have a rough edge to them. Sometimes I mix the gold with silver, but nothing is too ornate.”
A fine arts major with a degree from the University of Tennessee, Weiss came out of school anxious about how she’d earn a living. Her parents didn’t share her concern; instead, they encouraged her to take a class at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. She took one in jewelry making, then another, and fell in love.
For half a dozen years or so she ran a shop that sold her work along with that of other local makers, but the 2009 recession closed it. A few years later she opened Jessica Weiss Jewelry and Studio on Kingston Pike. She’s been at that location for eight years, sharing the space with her friends Rosebud and Petunia, her rescue pit bulls.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, Weiss realized how important our dogs are to us and created a line of heavy-duty brass, jewelry-inspired dog tags, donating a portion of the sales to Young-Williams Animal Center. From there she developed a line of gold and silver necklaces for their owners that complement the dog tags.
Weiss makes a lot of custom jewelry and also attends shows and markets around the country. You can find her work at her storefront (she recommends calling before you arrive) and online at www.jessicaweissjewelry.com.
Brigid KO | Returning to travel
Before 2020, Brigid Oesterling ran a regular circuit to art events and shows—Nashville, Asheville, Chicago, and Atlanta—to sell her brass and silver pieces. Jewelry making was her full-time gig. Though COVID-19 required her to take on some freelance work, she hopes she’ll soon return to her routine of traveling and selling along the way.
A New England native, Oesterling moved to East Tennessee in 2005. An artist who’s worked in a number of media, she gravitated to jewelry because of her own love for it and a desire to work with metal. She received a grant from Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and perfected her craft.
Selling under the name of Brigid KO (her middle and last initials), Oesterling incorporates natural semi-precious stones—opal, turquoise, and quartz, to name a few—into her designs. “I use a torch and hand tools to manipulate the metals,” she says. “I like to make one-of-a-kind designs; I don’t mass-produce anything.”
East Tennessee’s mountains and lakes inspire Oesterling; she travels as often as she can and recently took a four-night canoe and camping trip on the New River in Virginia. “I love to travel, and I’ve been lucky enough to have been many places around the world.” she says. “There is still so much more to see and so many different cultures to explore.” Both her love of the outdoors and other cultures influence her work.
Brigid KO pieces are available locally at the 214 Magnolia gallery, the Knoxville Museum of Art gift shop, on Instagram, and online at www.brigidko.com.