Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How Travel Has Affected My Jewelry Designs (The Italian Edition)

Tomorrow I leave to exhibit at Intergem, and if you are near the Dulles Expo Center in the DC Metro Area, I hope you'll come see me!  Today is my last day to get my act together, so I'm reposting an article I wrote for Softflex, who makes excellent beading wire, my favorite wire cutters, and other wonderful things.  Some of you may have already seen it, but here it is again.


A lot of my blog readers have been fascinated that I wasn't brought up in a creative home.  My first eighteen years were predominantly spent with my head buried in a library book or trying to stay unnoticed in school hallways.  To say I dreamed of packing up and moving out would be an understatement.  Life in southwestern Virginia held little for me, and after my hard scholastic work meant nothing in the face of a non-existent college fund, I joined the military.

this post, I wrote about my experiences in Korea and how all the different things I did there shaped my eclectic approach to jewelry design.  Today, I'm going to take you on another journey -- my journey to Venice, Italy.

Once upon a time, when I was 23 and out of the military, I ran away from home.  The circumstances why aren't so important as the fact that I did.  I sold everything I owned except for what would fit in two suitcases, a few boxes, and a 5x10 storage unit, and bought a one-way ticket to Venice, Italy.  I knew one person in Italy, an old friend from my years in Korea, and with a credit card, the promise of a job teaching aerobics around the cities and towns, and a couch to crash on, I made the leap from misery to happiness.

Ironically, I lived in the birthplace of handmade glass beads, but at the time, I had yet to make a single piece of jewelry.  I had no idea I'd end up living a creative life.  All I knew was I had a love for beautiful surroundings and a devotion to soaking in as many memories as I could. 

That was nearly twenty years ago.  Recently, I started scanning photographs in preparation for writing memoirs about my travels, and I realized that my many journeys to countries around the world have shaped my jewelry designs far more than I knew.  

On my first excursion into Venice, I happened to glance down a side street and noticed this little flower market.  With my cheap point-and-shoot camera (this was way before digital cameras!) I snapped a quick shot.  I love flowers, and the house I lived in at the time had massive rose hedges, but I loved all the different colors this vendor offered. 

Color has become incredibly important to my work.  Not only is my jewelry colorful:

But my studio is colorful as well.

I spent a lot of time in Venice-proper, but I lived in a small town in a more pastoral part of  northern Italy named Marsure.  Marsure is a lovely, quaint little village on the outskirts of a military base.  Even though it's close to an air strip, it didn't take very long to get lost in the quiet, old-world feel of simpler times.  

One of my favorite past-times was exploring the countryside's roads, wandering the narrow streets with my camera and journal.  Everything was a verdant green in my neighborhood, with grape arbors and houses nestled against the base of the Italian Alps.  Here's a photo of a street near my home, complete with a natural fresh-water spring and a grape arbor:


The influence of being surrounded by all this glorious vegetation and clusters of grapes and ivy can be seen in the lush charm bracelets and necklaces I love to make.

Finally, a trip to Italy wouldn't be complete without a tour of a castle.  This particular castle looked like your standard fairy tale palace with turrets and impossibly high walls, but when I climbed to the very top and looked down, I discovered a beautiful Escher-esque pattern that seemed almost modern -- clean lines, sharp angles, and an architectural purity.

While I love whimsy in my jewelry, I do make an occasional foray into classic lines with geometrically repetitive patterns.

Not only is this bracelet representative of clean lines and distinct patterns, but it's made via chain maille techniques, a method of making armor back in the time when this castle was actively protecting its city.  (Although this particular pattern is an Asian style rather than a European Style).

It's interesting how things in our lives -- whether they're travels, books we've read, or even people we've met -- can stick with us and make a home in our brain until something triggers a reaction and there's an "a-ha!" moment.  While traveling Europe, I never thought about making beads or jewelry, but nearly twenty years later, I can definitely see the influence of my experiences.  Even without a single Venetian bead, I've managed to add a taste of Italy to pieces in my current adventure in life -- making pretty things.

Lori Anderson creates jewelry for her web site, Lori Anderson Designs, and writes the blog Pretty Things.  She's a contributor to Art Bead Scene and is also the creator of the Bead Soup Blog Party.


  1. Oh, your wonderful post made me realize that I have get back to Italy - soon! It's been over two year since my last travel to my fav country. Way to long:-) And you are absolutly right about all the influences in your work, I can clearly see them, that was fun to see.

  2. Lovely! Italy is on my list of European countries I would most like to visit. Have a good show this weekend!

  3. Thank you for sharing your travel experiences with us! I would love to hear more. I was just writing to someone this morning that I am amazed at how much the places I travel influence my designs. The experience of being in beautiful, unique, peaceful, quaint places, familiar or new, translates into my designs.

  4. Lori, I enjoy reading about your travels old and new and look forward to one day reading all about them in your book. You have had an adveturous life so far.

  5. Thank you for sharing your life's stories with us! Great post, and wonderful pictures!

  6. Gorgeous, Lori!

    I had a chance to study art in Florence (Florence!!) in college, but I couldn't afford it, and me being in another country made my mom wildly uncomfortable. So, I never went, and that is one of the few regrets I've ever had in my life. I would have loved to wander through the Italian countryside.

    My family's been talking about going to Italy next year. Still don't know if I can afford it, nor do I know where everyone's planning on going, but I'm going to try to make it.

  7. I am surprised you ever wanted to leave and go back it sounds wonderful.
    Hope you have a great show at Intergem.

  8. it is really amazing isn't it, when you can look back and see things that must have made a great impression (unknown to you at the time)... i love your studio!
    seeing degas' 'little 14 yr. old dancer' recently when i took em to a museum i had frequented as a child literally blew me away... he had added silk and tulle to a bronze sculpture... i remembered loving it, but had not known how much it would influence me... the unexpected, the balance... all there... this was a beautiful article... thank you -

  9. You are sweet Lori. Thanks for another great article.

  10. Your pictures are awesome! The flower market is my fav. I too did not grow up in a creative home. It is just in the last few months I realized I needed to pursue what I love and take it to a higher level. I have thought alot lately what my life would have been like today had I let myself pursue what I loved instead of doing what I thought was "the expected".

  11. I read this article when you gave us a link to it and even then I admired how superbly it was written and the selection of the pictures is really captivating.
    I think that by now you thoroughly know your style.

  12. Wow, you were incredibly brave to leap like that! Even if you didn't think so at the time! Beautiful post, beautiful pictures, and your grape and ivy piece was one of my favorites in the wire magazine!

  13. What a great post! Love to see how your earlier experiences have influenced your work. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: "I am a part of all that I have met." Tennyson (Ulysses)

  14. What a great trip down memory lane, Miss Lori! I can see all those influences in your work. Have fun at the gem show.
    Enjoy the day.

  15. Great post Lori. I love Italy. I was thinking that may be the enetian beads or the little island of Murano inspired you to making your lamp work beads. I am so waiting to read your memoire book one day.

    I am right now in DC ( I do live in CA). Came to see my daughter. Have a great show.

  16. Thanks for sharing, Italy is a country with so much charm, I love it too. Travelling is so inspiring, so much to see, feel, smell, love .... how couldn´t it be inspiring?

    Have a wonderful show with lots of nice and creative people.

  17. Anonymous7:53 AM

    Great post. The pictures of Italy are gorgeous, and I can easily see the connection between your creations and these images which had such an effect on your life. I look forward to reading your memoirs someday!!

  18. You've had some really amazing experiences in travel! I love color too! Those were great pictures, and yes you can absolutely see the influence.

    I don't use a lot of wire, but I went through I 3 or 4 pair of cutters before I finally invested in a nice pair from Soft Flex. They are my best tool!

  19. What a wonderful post Lori! Love the pictures of the scenery and your jewelry. I would love to visit Italy, I'd come back with suitcases of glass to lampwork.

  20. It is very evident that your travels influence your work!


I appreciate comments! Thank you for contributing to the conversation.