Many artists find inspiration in nature, painting flowers, trees, and other organic elements as they appear to the naked eye. Jeweler and sculptor Elysha Roberts, on the other hand, tends to take the micro view — finding beauty in the tiny things that others often overlook or, sometimes, things that are invisible without the aid of magnification.
“I like to play with scale,” she says. “A lot of my designs are based on cell formations or growth patterns in nature — things that mostly go unnoticed. I like bringing those minute details into scale so that the viewer can see them.”
Roberts’ contemporary jewelry can be found on her website, elyshajoymetals.com, and at the Workshop Gallery in Vineyard Haven. Her online store is divided into categories such as land, sea, and microcosmos. The land designs include a series of necklaces and earrings in a pattern she calls “Ipomoea” — the Latin word for the genus that includes morning glories. For these pieces, as with all of her work, Roberts uses multiple materials and employs numerous painstakingly exact techniques.
She starts with handmade paper, which she makes and dyes herself, shaped over a steel screen. She then hand-sews tiny bits of thread to emulate the ridges on the flowers. She sometimes adds tiny, hand-sculpted silver twigs topped with gemstones. While not intended as an exact replica of a flower, the one-of-a-kind pieces certainly bring to mind the organic elements they were inspired by, as well as other forms in nature. “My designs are taken from a variety of things that mimic each other in nature that combine to tell a story,” she says.
For example, her fish fin earrings could also be seen as representing leaves or bat wings. Her barnacle necklace somewhat resembles a crater-encrusted moon. The latter is created through a meticulous process involving copper and glass enamel.
One of her most popular designs is based on cell structure. Lightweight polymer clay earrings in a variety of colors were inspired by research that the artist conducted during her mother’s bout with breast cancer.
Roberts really enjoys combining various processes and materials in her designs. “It’s fun to be able to use my skills in a variety of different ways,” she says. “I work very experimentally. I really like playing with a variety of materials and found objects. I’m as driven by process as I am inspired by nature.” The jeweler and artist teaches a variety of classes at Featherstone, and works part-time as a bench jeweler at CB Stark. She also creates engagement and wedding rings on commission.
Born and raised on the Island, Roberts earned a bachelors of fine arts 3D/jewelry and metalsmithing from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2011. From there she went on to complete a residency with the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts. Although she enjoys jewelrymaking, her real passion is for creating large-scale sculptural pieces. Roberts is one of four artists who share studio and exhibit space at the Workshop Gallery on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. There she shows her wall and ceiling-mounted sculptures, which, like her jewelry, draw from organic forms. Roberts has won numerous awards for her sculptural pieces, as well as for some of her larger, statement jewelry designs. In 2019 her work was included in an international traveling show that toured throughout Europe.
Some recurring images in her sculptural work are spheres encased in wire mesh and podlike structures that are reminiscent of egg cases or seed pods. These same sort of images reoccur, in smaller scale, in her jewelry. Roberts keeps her designs intentionally vague. In her artists’ statement she writes, “My work conveys ambiguity in form, material, and experience because while nothing is implicit, it remains inherently familiar. By embracing patterns, textures, and forms drawn from personal collections, microphotography, and biological studies, I create the obscure while emulating the familiar. My work celebrates both the adorned and the viewers’ individual experiences, allowing them to develop intimate perspectives to the work or appreciate its beauty in a passing moment.”
Roberts has two Instagram accounts — one featuring her jewelry and sculptural designs, the other dedicated to photos of things she finds during walks around the Island. “I’m always collecting things,” she says. “Bits of coral, sea pods, or shells, bark, and lichen. I have always loved biology and being in nature and exploring around the Island. There is so much here to be inspired by.”
Find Elysha Roberts jewelry designs at elyshajoymetals.com or on Instagram, @elyshajoymetals. She sells one-of-a-kind pieces and does commission work, including engagement and wedding rings. Roberts is also a member of the Workshop Gallery at 32 Beach Road, Vineyard Haven. You can view her work there in person by appointment.