Chicago Jewelry Designer Inspired by Urban Debris

Illinois jewelry designer and appraiser Elaine Luther lives by the old adage that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. 

Luther admits that she is not inspired by traditional objects found in nature; rather, she finds ideas in what she calls “urban debris.”

“I have children and spend a lot of time outdoors at playgrounds,” Luther explains. “One of the things I notice are little bits and pieces left behind at the playground when I’m there with the kids. When I see a barrette, or a pencil, or a scrap of ribbon, I wonder, Who left it?”

Luther finds spark in ordinary, everyday items, and has made jewelry and art pieces out of everything from a bread-bag tab to broken car-windshield glass. “If I were a writer of fiction, maybe I’d write a story about these bits and pieces, but since I’m a maker of things, specifically metal things, I make things inspired by this urban detritus,” she writes on her blog.

Bronze bread tab pendant; $45

Luther has been hooked on jewelry ever since she took a metalsmithing class in college. “During summers in college, I also took GIA classes,” she says. “Anyone who wants a career in jewelry should take courses.”

Today she works primarily with sterling silver and bronze clay, selling her pieces on Etsy and the Illinois Artisan Shop.

Once she is inspired, she sketches her design and then begins to create. “When I’m making a piece that’s about something, it’s very planned out. Each part of it has a meaning and it’s all drawn out,” she says. “Other times, I just dive right in and try it.”

Silver pendant

The mom of three often participates in call-for-entry contests, balancing her creativity with competition rules. “I’m attracted to the creative restraint of these contests,” she says. In 2011 she participated in the Ring-a-Week Flickr challenge, creating 52 innovative rings. More recently, she designed medals for Chicago’s Harold Washington Library Center’s display.

Three designs from Luther’s Ring-a-Week collection

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