KATHLEEN NOWAK TUCCI
2015 1st Place - Alternative Metals/Materials
Kathleen Nowak Tucci's recycled jewelry embraces a rebellious spirit. It defies traditional notions of what fine jewelry is supposed to be, instead inviting us to consider a new (and delightful) vision of what it can be. Her innovative use of materials (her winning piece was constructed almost entirely of recycled Nespresso™ coffee pods), the scale of her pieces, and the playful spirit behind her collections are as liberating as they are unexpected.
Kathleen's jewelry has been featured on the cover of Italian Vogue, as well as in Marie Claire, Ornament, Art Jewelry and many other magazines. We sat down with her to learn a little more about her work and her winning piece.
TELL US HOW YOU BECAME A JEWELER. WHAT DO YOU MOST LOVE ABOUT IT?
I think of myself more as an artist than a jeweler. The pieces I make are art pieces that can be worn. I can't imagine not being an artist. Even while I started my studies at university in computer science, I always had a creative project going on the side.
DO YOU SEE ANY CONNECTION BETWEEN YOUR WORK AS AN ARTIST AND YOUR BACKGROUND IN COMPUTER SCIENCE?
I believe that art and science are very close cousins. In the end they are both mostly about problem solving. I tend to approach my work very analytically. I envision the finished pieces and then figure out the steps needed to accomplish the work. Of course things don't always go as planned and either more analysis is needed or another direction is taken. I experiment often and have a studio full of failures. I usually don't throw them away because months or even years later I look at them and figure out what is needed to make them into good pieces.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ART AND JEWELRY TO YOU? WHERE DO THE TWO INTERSECT?
I feel that I make art to wear. My work is not an accent to an outfit; it is the outfit. It's the main focal point, much like a work of art on a wall. I try to elevate body art from mere decoration to the level of fine art. To do that I take in consideration color theory, design, artistic expression and wearability.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR WINNING PIECE?
A friend of mine saw a photo of a fiery-throated hummingbird and sent it me with a note that said: "This reminds me of your jewelry." I saw what she saw—the colors of the hummingbird's feathers, the shape of the feathers … it all looked like pieces of the aluminum Nespresso™ coffee capsule that I was experimenting with in my studio. Arranging the crimped, colored aluminum into a necklace that would have pieces overlap was an engineering challenge I enjoyed.
YOU WORK WITH A LOT OF UNEXPECTED MATERIALS. DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE?
I like working in recycled bicycle and motorcycle inner tubes because of the rubber's properties of flexibility, strength, and being so lightweight. But I also have really enjoyed working with the bright metallic colors of the Nespresso coffee capsules. It's nice to work with color after only working in black for so long.
WHERE DOES YOUR DESIRE TO WORK WITH RECYCLED MATERIALS STEM FROM?
The inner tubes have great properties and they are readily available. They are, however, quite labor intensive to prepare, from gathering them at the bike shops to sorting, cleaning, and buffing. But it is so nice to work in a medium that I feel I can freely experiment in and not worry about the cost of wasting materials.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE BENCH TOOL?
I don't have a traditional jeweler's bench; I have a motley assortment of tables and workbenches. I prefer to have my work at a comfortable level and my materials and tools within reach.
As for tools, it's hard to pick just one, but I guess I'd have to say nothing beats a really good pair of pliers. I particularly like Swanstrom pliers because they fit my hands so well and I can work all day with them and not have hand fatigue. I've learned you get what you pay for when it comes to tools, and that it is best to invest in good ones.
WHO HAS HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON YOUR WORK?
I think growing up in a house with a mother who was very creative was impactful. She is one of the most creative people I know. Growing up she made all of the clothing, including my father's suits, for a family of seven. My favorite article of clothing she made was a dress with long silky white fringe for the sleeves. My mother truly can make something beautiful out of nothing. Both my mother and father instilled a very strong work ethic. It doesn't matter how artistically talented you are, to be a successful artist you have to put in endless hours into your pieces.
WHAT DOES "DESIGN" MEAN TO YOU? WHAT DEFINES GREAT DESIGN?
I work with materials that are not usually found in jewelry and that pushes my designs. I love it when people are trying to figure out what my piece is made from or how I did something.
My pieces are designed from the inside out, which means I know what the general finished shape will be, but then I set about designing the interior structure and working my way out to the edges of the piece.
I think pieces of jewelry with great design have all sides thought out, all components work perfecting, and they wear well. I make art jewelry that excites me and is fun, but I always also think about the weight of the piece, how it will drape on the body, what it will sound like when it moves and whether it is comfortable.
DESCRIBE YOUR BENCH OR STUDIO.
My entire house is my studio, much to my husband's chagrin. Slowly over time, each room gets converted into something new. What was a dining room is now the shipping department. The formal living room is my main working room, the spare bedroom houses inventory and supplies—I think you get the idea.
I like having my studio in my home. I work very long hours, and I tend to work late into the evening. It is also nice to check on my work throughout the day. I would not get near as much work done in a remote studio.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?
Right now I'm experimenting with salt etching on aluminum. I'm also working on my new recycled rubber jewelry and Nespresso™ collection. I show my work twice a year in NYC during Fashion Market Week at the Atelier Designer's Show. Because I work in many mediums, including metal clay, there are always many projects in different stages of completion.
You can see more of Kathleen's work at kathleennowaktucci.com