482A 49th St., Oakland, Calif.
The natural world is alive and well inside Lauren Wolf’s Esqueleto. The 4-year-old store, tucked in an alley in Oakland’s hip Temescal district, sells jewelry, ceramics, and art pieces that incorporate shells, bones, minerals, and other facets of nature’s wonder. Fitting, then, that Wolf named the shop with the Spanish word for skeleton. “So much of what I do is breaking down these natural forms and reinterpreting them into jewelry,” she says. “Esqueleto captures the full-circle idea that this is where my work begins.” —Matt Villano
After graduating from the University of Georgia with a journalism major and anthropology minor, Wolf moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to study jewelry-making, attending beginner silversmithing classes in a school run by William T. King. When she returned to the United States, she enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s jewelry program. “I went to Mexico to study the artistry behind jewelry, and studied in New York to understand the technical side,” Wolf says. “I’d like to think my collection always combined those two skills; my work is sophisticated but also raw and interesting.” Later, Wolf opened a studio in Brooklyn where she sold jewelry for seven years. In 2010, she and her graphic designer husband moved to Oakland to open the 450-square-foot Esqueleto in an old (and renovated) horse stable off Telegraph Avenue.
A big, 100-year-old glass case near the front door features Wolf’s jewelry—original silver pieces that incorporate natural elements with casts of seahorse skeletons, shells, and other forms of marine life. (She learned this technique at FIT.) Her signature form, a cast of stingray skin that creates the impression of randomly sized polka dots, can be found on just about every piece—in clasps, in edgework, and in details. “You look at the pattern and think, This is so unique,” she says. “I love that it occurs naturally in nature.”
One might describe the rest of the collection at Esqueleto as being full of exotic curios. Yes, there’s other jewelry—necklaces, bracelets, and rings from 16 fellow designers such as Polly Wales, Melissa Joy Manning, Satomi Kawakita, and Lou Zeldis. In addition, on any given day, customers might fi nd handmade ceramics, textiles, animal skulls, glass terrariums, or fossilized mastodon teeth. “We try to sell work from artists who have their own point of view,” Wolf says. Many smaller jewelry pieces sell for less than $50, while the larger home furnishings can go for $1,000 and more. According to Wolf, some of her recent top sellers have been giant slices of petrified wood—Frisbee-sized slabs that customers use as centerpieces.
A NATURAL FIT
With two walls of big windows, Esqueleto attracts passersby who are exploring the Temescal Alley complex, a series of old horse barns that have been converted into galleries, studios, and small eateries. Many customers are particularly intrigued by the shop’s logo: a skull with Mexican folk art flourishes that evokes the annual Day of the Dead celebration. “When you’re working with forms and objects from the natural world,” Wolf says, “simple is best.”
(Photographs by Angela DeCenzo)