In the world of wearable art, local jewelry designer, Christopher Carpentino, is making his mark. I can’t wear a piece of his work without getting a compliment or two or three. Having crossed paths nearly ten years ago, both artists inspired by local flora, we forged a friendship across artforms. I’ve since had the incredible opportunity to watch his work evolve, and recently sat down with him to discuss his artistic journey and what we can expect from him going forward.
Christopher moved here from North Pole, Alaska (yes really) nearly 22 years ago. He fell in love with the Georgia Coast and never left. Prior to arriving here, he was the youngest antiques dealer in Alaska, specializing in antique costume jewelry. Even though he never went to school for jewelry, he managed to get a production job with a local maker who taught him how to solder.
“In the beginning of my journey, my influences were the great designers and makers of rhinestone costume jewelry, both modern and vintage. I made a few pilgrimages to NYC and Providence, RI where I got to meet and shop with many of the ‘modern masters’ of costume jewelry. I moved past that phase in design and making, realizing that Savannah is not really a place to market such things,” he laughs.
He turned his attention to producing a line of jewelry inspired by local organics; earrings cast from real acorns and cotton pods, bracelets and necklaces electroformed from real live oak twigs. His organics were molded and cast through an American company based in North Georgia and his Copper Acorn line put him on the map in Savannah. “I found a great niche in that until EVERYONE was doing it, and you could buy mass produced cast organics from catalogs which were produced overseas. While still producing the organics line, which I did love, I turned to midcentury modernists ideas.” He looked to simpler forms and explored kinetic jewelry concepts. “Movement draws the eye and adds interest.” His Lily Pad earrings literally dance when you where them.
Designers like Ed Levin, Peter Macchiarini, and Betty Cooke who he had the pleasure of meeting at her store in Baltimore, bear strong influence. “If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Alexander Calder. The man could make something out of the most mundane materials. Brass, glass, wood, shells, he used it all, and NEVER used heat in his jewelry, ever. THAT is vision.” Christopher’s show stopping Betty necklace represents a clear nod to Calder’s work. A favorite in my collection, I once ordered 8 dresses just to find the perfect backdrop to showcase it.
Excitement over his latest Breeze Block collection is no doubt due to the resurgence of mid-century modern aesthetics. “I love the geometry of them, and that you have a wall that is not a wall, it is superfluous, yet beautiful.” The spatial patterns encapsulated in the block format make this line easy to layer and mix and match pieces. The price point is very attainable, and he can tell you the name and location of each block. There’s something about the story behind a piece of art that makes it that much more collectible. “I had only seen one building with breeze blocks before I moved here, and then they were rare to my eyes. All of the sudden, they were everywhere I looked, you just never noticed, even the historic district of downtown Savannah!” As we speak, he’s working on a pendant featuring a block from the Bnai Brith Jacob Synagogue on Abercorn Street, a block he has only found at that location. “I love it, the block’s name is ‘Dominican,’ and also uses the ‘Vista-Rama’ block. Naming of blocks is a fun bit of research, each company that produced blocks gave them names.”
Finding so much of my own inspiration in nature, I’m inclined to ask if he’ll ever revisit his organics line to which he replies “Absolutely! I’m already playing with kinetic ideas for cast sterling kudzu tendrils and the like!” Though he doesn’t see the mid-century collection going away anytime soon. In fact, he looks to expand it to areas outside of Savannah.
Currently you can find his work at the Grand Bohemian Gallery inside the Mansion on Forsyth Park, Savannah Handmade Jewelry on River Street, the Parisian Flea in Baltimore and his website www.christophercarpentino.com. The collection in each venue is varied and pieces are often one-of-a-kind. With the number of devoted collectors he’s amassed, works tend to move fast.
When asked what he enjoys most about creating jewelry, he replies, “The ability to take something new and make it into something beautiful. It is funny, we do not need adornment, but want it.” Yes, yes we do.