Art in metal – young jewelers create unique work

Rings from Ivry Russillo's Freedom Collection, a line inspired by travel and the Year of the Horse. — Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

Going beyond bead or assemblage work, two young jewelers — both originally from Martha’s Vineyard — are making their mark as craftsmen, designing and executing hand forged works of art from metal and other materials. And while the two have moved on from the Vineyard, they are both still influenced in their designs by their home turf.

Ivry Belle Russillo graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) in 1998 and went on the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where she studied photography, painting, drawing, and jewelry making. Although she enjoyed all of these disciplines, it was jewelry making that really attracted her. “I had to narrow it down to see what I enjoyed the most,” she recalled. “I decided that jewelry making was something I would go after. I first started when I was living in Boston.”

Silver and brass are Ms. Russillo’s media. She creates unique, highly textural pieces inspired by mostly organic forms, using the lost wax casting process. “You make a wax prototype by hand and then have it cast in metal,” she explained.

Originally Ms. Russillo focused on hand engraving, an art she honed while living in Italy. She moved to Florence after college to study with metalwork masters. She studied in Italy for two years where she learned every aspect of the jewelry making process. The daughter of Vineyard clothing designer Karen Russillo, the younger Ms. Russillo also took tailoring and pattern making courses while abroad but it was clear she had already found her calling.

“I feel like jewelry making is what I was meant to do,” Ms. Russillo said. “Within that I’m able to follow my curiosity, which I think is a very powerful thing to do. With jewelry making there are so many techniques that you can forever be satisfied with exploring new things.”

Ms. Russillo is a lifelong learner. She recently attended an intensive workshop in Kansas.

Raised in West Tisbury, Ms. Russillo returned to her childhood home in 2004, but she moved to Miami in 2012, after deciding she needed a warmer climate and a bigger sphere of operations. “As a young person your exposure here is limited,” she said. “Here I meet more people in this field. I’m surrounded by other artists. There’s a very strong artist scene in Miami.”

She teaches jewelry making at the ArtCenter/South Florida and sells her work at various boutiques and shops in the Miami area. On the Vineyard, her jewelry can be found in the summer at Pandora’s Box in Menemsha. She also has a loyal Island following who purchase her work through her website,

Not surprisingly, Ms. Russillo has remained close to the ocean, a source of inspiration in her work. Her 2012 line, named Coralina, features marine elements. “The designs are inspired by compositions found in the sea,” she said. “Seaweed and types of watery, bubbly, very organic symbols that I use for rings and pendants.”

Her most recent line — Freedom — reflects the time she spent in Kansas. “I’m doing a lot of horseshoe rings and pendants,” she said. “It’s equestrian inspired. What you would find on western saddles and bits. 2014 is the year of the horse. The horse symbolizes personal drive and passion and appetite for freedom.

“I feel that jewelry reflects what you need or what you want in your life. And I love being able to create that for somebody. For me the most gratifying feeling is having someone wear what you’ve made. I like knowing that when I leave this planet I’ll leave behind something that I created that someone else can enjoy.”

New to the jewelry making scene is Sara Thompson. Although she’s only 17, Ms. Thompson is already studying metalwork in college, having graduated from MVRHS a year early, in 2013. To further her education, Ms. Thompson chose the Oregon College of Art and Craft because of its small size (only 150 students including those in the masters program) and tight-knit community, as much as for the curriculum. “Oregon College is a craft school,” she said. “It’s really focused on the way you make something and on refining your skills.”

Ms. Thompson works primarily with enamels, creating mini works of art mounted on sterling silver pendant and ring settings. “Enamel is glass,” she explained. “I melt glass on top of hand-cut pieces of copper. While the enamel is molten I manipulate it. I start painting with it giving it an abstract effect.”

She then crafts handmade sterling silver around the pieces. “I do everything by hand from sterling silver,” she said.

“Manipulating the enamel when it’s molten and seeing how it would behave is a work that absolutely fascinates me,” Ms. Thompson said. Her two-tone pieces feature intricate swirls and patterns. From some of the designs — particularly the black and white — delicate fluid figures seem to emerge like fanciful Matisse dancers. Other pieces are less detailed but highlight interesting color combinations. Some designs gain added interest from twisted wire overlays.

Ms. Thompson is an intelligent, very well-spoken young woman who clearly enjoys the science, as well as the art, of her craft. She has a strong right brain/left brain connection. “If I wasn’t dyslexic I would have liked to study particle physics,” she said.

The college freshman began seriously pursuing her passion for jewelry making at a very young age, apprenticing in metalwork with local jeweler Amy Kirkpatrick starting at age 11. After five years working with Ms. Kirkpatrick, who is known for her seaglass set in silver designs, Ms. Thompson apprenticed with fine art jeweler Kenneth Pilsworth for 10 months, up until graduating from high school.

She discovered enamel work on her own. “The high school had some enamels, but nobody knew what they were or what they would produce,” she said. “Brendan Coogan gave me a very quick introduction to the art of enameling. Afterward I explored what the numbers of the enamels meant. Each has its own unique number. Based on the numbers, you have a pretty good idea of what it will do when you fire it. I taught myself using trial and error. I tried to find the light switch in a dark room.”

Although much enamel work is done in a kiln, Ms. Thompson uses a torch. She was already familiar with that method from working in metal, as she has a full studio in her mother’s West Tisbury home.

Experimenting with various methods keeps things fresh for the young artist. She goes into each creation with an idea about colors but loves to play with the design to see what emerges, and she is fascinated by the unpredictability of the process. She plans to keep trying new things.

“Originally when I applied for college I wanted to double major in metalsmithing and glass blowing,” she said. “I would love to learn glass blowing. Even though I do two-dimensional glass work, I would love to bring that to a three-dimensional scale.”

Given her curious mind, strong work ethic, and dedication to her craft, we’re likely to see the young Ms. Thompson experimenting with other media in the future, and bringing her eye for design to further disciplines.

Her work can be found at Citrine in Vineyard Haven and at on Ms. Thompson will return to the Vineyard Artisans Festival for her second year this summer.