Thinking inside the locket

JK WattsWorth creates wearable mixed-media art.


When Jhenn Watts and Kenneth Pillsworth got married, they ran into a conundrum many newlyweds face. Should she change her name? This isn’t the old days — marriages are equal partnerships — so they decided they should merge their names. Jhenn Watts and Kenneth Pillsworth, or JK WattsWorth.


While this idea didn’t make the cut for the marriage certificate, it took on a new life last winter. The couple embarked on an art project together. JK WattsWorth is designing lockets that merge Jhenn’s background in photography with Kenneth’s background in jewelry design and painting. One side of the locket is a photo by Jhenn in transparency film. The other side of the locket is Kenneth’s rendition of the shot in metal. As far as process goes, these lockets are technically challenging from beginning to end.

The photos are taken with Jhenn’s 4×5 camera. “It’s the one you have to throw a sheet over your head to use,” she explained. The image is projected through the lens upside down, and one shot equals one slide of film. To buy and develop the film costs an estimated $10 per shot. With this in mind, it’s important that every picture is composed carefully before the shot is taken.

4×5 cameras have a front and rear standard. The front standard is where the lens is, and the rear standard is where the film is. To focus, the front and rear standard move together. The way in which the rear and front standard move mimic what the human eye sees, more so than what the iPhone can reproduce.

The picture is developed on a piece of film, which Jhenn cuts out for her side of the locket. This is where the photos pass a point of no return. By cutting a hole in the film copy of her photograph, Jhenn is ultimately making it unusable for the future. She admits it goes against all of her training as a photographer, but it’s a way to create something different with the medium. As photography becomes more accessible to the general public, Jhenn and other professional photographers try to think outside the box to make their work memorable. Or within a locket, as the case may be.

Once Jhenn has selected the shot she wants to use, it’s Kenneth’s turn. Kenneth cuts pieces of colored aluminum and other metals to mimic Jhenn’s shot. From there, he can scratch or score them for texture, or leave them smooth. The difficulty is laying the pieces out in such a way as to mimic the photo correctly. Then, he has to get the pieces to hold true in the locket. The pieces are held in place by the frame of the locket — there’s no glue or adhesive holding them together.

While in his Vineyard Haven home and workshop, Kenneth was trying to figure out how to replicate a fence. This is tricky, because each post is its own strip of chrome — that’s a lot of free-floating pieces that have to stay upright in their frame. Kenneth said he enjoys the technical challenge of crafting the lockets. It’s a project that goes beyond aesthetic appeal. “It’s like a puzzle,” he said.

After getting all of the pieces where they’re supposed to fit, the locket is ready to be worn. JK WattsWorth is showing at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury. A purchase, however, doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing. The pair’s work can be undone by a careless customer.

The lockets aren’t sealed shut, to allow for repairs if necessary. Should someone open it by accident, all of the free-floating pieces of metal can fall out, and so can the picture. That being said, Kenneth and Jhenn take their setbacks in stride. They were quick to share instances where certain concepts didn’t work out, whether the shot wasn’t quite right, or when other issues arose.

The two share a self-admitted perfectionism, which drives them to ensure they’re satisfied with the work. It also pushes them to keep thinking about how to make the lockets better and more interesting. Who knows how the lockets will evolve, but it’s sure to be a busy winter at the JK WattsWorth house.