Stephen E. Adams photo
Zip woman tin art.
Ezra Pound famously urged a generation of artists to “Make it new,” and that’s exactly what Lopez jeweler and metalsmith Jules McLeland has been doing for years. Though her first work as a jeweler employed commercially available beads, silver, and copper, an incident in Japan helped lead her into working with found or recycled objects. “While there, I picked up a broken piece of pottery and discovered I could make jewelry from it.”
McLeland’s work is as whimsical and playful as the materials she selects to use. Looking around at the pieces she has arrayed on several tables, one sees Monopoly game cards, broken measuring tape, Scrabble letters, faces from old lunch boxes, worn dice, as well as other treasures, frequently gathered from Neil’s mall, thrift stores, garage sales, and old toys and games.
“There’s something about having to search it out that makes it exciting, limitless. It’s fun to think of how to use these kinds of things. I’ve even learned to make my own beads now,” McLeland said.
Starting out in college, McLeland took workshops at the Roeder Home in Bellingham in everything from weaving to photography, but was diverted from these pursuits by her children and career. However, as her children grew older, she returned to the Roeder Home where she met and began studying under the metalsmith, Judith Gauthier. At the time, Gauthier’s class only admitted four students, so it was difficult to get into. A decade ago, when Gauthier branched out and started her own studio, McLeland became a studio member, where she learned such integral skills as enameling and etching from the visiting teachers Gauthier invited in.
In addition to Gauthier, McLeland cites tin artist Harriet Estele Berman for sparking her interest in using recycled tin.
“I saw these incredible tea cups she’d made out of tin cans,” McLeland says, adding, “There are so many tin cans out there, the supply of material is inexhaustible.”
Ramona Solberg, who has been called “The grandmother of found-art jewelry in the Northwest,” also has influenced McLeland, as has Frida Kahlo, for her vivid use of color and her exploration of Mexican themes.
McLeland’s love of Mexico matches the interest she has in the colors of the Southwest, First Nation art, figures of women, and the natural world in general.
“I love to look around, whether at books, museums, or just seeing what’s popular at Nordstrom’s. I’m so eclectic, I’m always going through different phases,” McLeland commented.
This eclectic approach and these “different phases” are demonstrated in the wide variety of work McLeland does. She not only creates bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and tin people, but she also makes ornaments, decorative watches, and purses. The latter are made from old boots and belts. Smiling, she says that she used to cut off and discard the buckles from the belts she was recycling into purses, “but now they’re my favorite part of the purse.”
McLeland has been a familiar face at the Lopez Farmer’s Market for at least three years and has made her work available at the annual Christmas Bazaar, as well. She also will be in a show in Bellevue this November and at the Bellingham Allied Arts Festival at the end of November through December 24. She does take commission work on occasion and can be reached at either her email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone (468-2123). Her husband, Steve, is currently building her a studio and McLeland hopes to have room in it not only to display finished pieces but also to allow people to watch her at work.
When asked how she envisions her future work, McLeland just nods her head.
“Who knows? I have ideas right now that I haven’t gotten to.”
“Make it new,” the poet once implored and Jules McLeland, like many artists, has taken that dictum to heart. Her excitement when she shows or talks about her art is as palpable as the work itself.
“I really have fun when I make what I make and I hope people have fun when they wear it. That’s what I’m truly after.”