Alison Wonderland Jewelry · In the Studio · On History

On Life’s Transitions and Drooling and a New Jewelry Collection!

New Beginnings Collection

The first time I realized I was not quite prepared for new beginnings as an adult was when I noticed I was drooling on my lawyer’s polished oak conference table.

It was at the closing for the first home I’d ever bought, which was a new townhouse in Delaware. It wasn’t an expensive house as these things go, but when the real estate lawyer went over how much the mortgage was in total, with the interest and all the closing costs, this seemed to me to be an impossibly huge number — certainly the most money I’d ever committed to spend.

As he was talking, I hadn’t noticed that my jaw had gone slack. I’d forgotten to shut my mouth — I’d frozen with my pen halfway to my mouth to gnaw on it  — and I drooled a tiny puddle on the table. I wiped it with the sleeve of the olive green silk cardigan I was wearing, scrunched the sleeve a little to cover the dark spot. I don’t think anyone noticed.

I was in my mid-twenties at that point, and oh my God, life had yet to kick me around as much as it was going to. But I remember that moment as the one where it started to dawn on me that freed of the constraints and comforts of an academic calendar, adult life creates its own rhythms and seasons. Key Plate Necklace

You make a decision, or one is made for you, and suddenly you’re living in a new era. You start or end a significant relationship, you change jobs, you move house, and it’s hard to conceive of exactly how much your life will be shaped by these new intimate surroundings — even when the change is much desired and intentional. You want to live in a place with more light, in a better neighborhood, with less annoying neighbors — but that isn’t the only thing that changes, also the patterns of your life, of your sleep, of how you spend your money, what you’re interested in and what you’re not, and eventually who you are.

Change is relentless, even absent these big moves, even if you somehow lived in the same house, at the same job, with the same person, and in perfect health, for decades. There would be smaller moments and quieter, unnamed epochs. Heraclitus, who knew a thing or two said you cannot step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing onto you. We have unquiet bones. But moments of transition definitively alter the course of that river, and it’s often easier to see the shape of that shift in retrospect.

This is what I wanted to remember in making my New Beginnings jewelry collection.  Not the twenty-something who was drooling on her lawyer’s table, exactly, but recognition and compassion for a person who is suddenly aware that her life is changing, and yes — that it is a jaw dropping moment.

These transitions are so well marked in our younger years — academically, religiously — with gatherings of friends and family and appetizers and people telling you what it was like for them, and some discussion of what the tests will be and how to prepare for them. Then we’re left to live the rest of our life being surprised that pretty much all the significant quizzes are pop, and there aren’t any more parties or speakers who tell us that commencement is both and end and a beginning. And this is exciting, but it’s also scary and worthy of recognition.

I’m beginning to post all the pieces of this collection now.  They’re all unique or one-of-a-kind pieces, about twenty in total. (I’ve got three pictured here, with some of the weirder ones still to come.) Check out my progress here.
Alison Wonderland Jewelry · In the Studio · Inspiration · On Creativity - Art, Jewelry, Writing

Extremely Beautiful Upcycling – Scraps at the Cooper Hewitt Museum

“Zero waste” is a phrase that improbably makes my heart go pitter-patter. But as soon as I saw that phrase describing the theory behind Scraps, a new exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt, I knew I wanted to go and I knew I would get a lot out of it.

The exhibit looks at how three different textile artists make use of what is commonly thrown away in the garment industry. To me, the most inspiring work was that of Christina Kim, of dosa. She saw the intense amount of work that went into making the intricate textiles used in saris, and couldn’t bare to see it go to waste. This image shows how she literally uses every thread.
Scraps at Cooper Hewitt

Gah, I just love it so much!  I don’t know why I’m so attracted to making something precious out of what’s commonly considered garbage, but this has been so ever since I was a kid. Of course I was born in the 1970s, the dawning of the age of recycling. I grew up in a not especially generous household so I always wanted to make things and being able to do so out of something that was free, or nearly so, made sense.

In this phase of my life, my interest in making jewelry began with a trip to Dead Horse Bay. It’s a beach in Brooklyn that is covered in the contents of a landfill in use from the 1920s to the 1940s. The landfill popped its cap and glass and ceramic shards spewed forth. Some people find the place sad, I found it thrilling to my core. On my first visit there two summers ago, I gathered beautiful shards glass and immediately wanted to know how to wear them; I started taking jewelry classes and here we are.

In a real sense, this was the way jewelry got started in the first place — early humans discovering a pretty shell or stone and figuring out how to affix it to the body. I live in the city, so I don’t find so many shells or stones. Instead, my favorite pieces in my personal jewelry wardrobe are the ones I’ve made out of my urban discoveries.  A necklace I made using a piece of a watch band I found in Washington Square Park:

  A cocktail ring I made out of a melted plastic shopping bag:
Please don’t tell anyone my secret: I  just don’t feel terribly compelled by making jewelry out of only materials that are new and pretty.

In addition to discovering beautiful discards, I also really like the detritus I create. (There’s so much.) From working on these knot bracelets last year, I ended up with little snippets of wire that looked to me like commas, which became these punctuation necklaces

I love the idea that the work keeps building on itself, or from itself. Recycling isn’t a chore, then, it’s just something wonderful.

Alison Wonderland Jewelry · On Herself · On Politics

Enter to Win a Free “Voter” Stick Pin That’s Good for Democracy


Fired up about this presidential election? You should really wear one of these pretty little vintage stick pins.  I make them with all sorts of phrases on them, but this week I’m giving away two, that say “Vote” or “Voter.” To enter the giveaway, just go over to Alison Wonderland’s Facebook or Instagram page and follow the easy peasy instructions.

Debate snacks

Politics have been described as sports for nerds. I fully embrace the nerd aspect of that description — my degree is in political science, people. You don’t want to get me started on Plato. And I do treat political events in much the same way other people treat football games. I get together to watch with friends. I make special snacks. I can’t resist showing you our spread at the Vice Presidential debate the other week, which was just the immediate fam.  (Note the cat paw at the top of the photo, my cats are very political.)  And while there is a sports-like aspect to it, let’s not forget that the outcome of the “game” actually amounts to something real. Lives can change. Lives can be improved. Lives can be lost.

When I was in elementary school, I was very inspired by a lesson on Susan B. Anthony, and decided that kids should also have the right to vote. I led a small charge on the school cafeteria, where the voting booths were set up for what I now believe was a school board election. I demanded access to the polling place, and I got sent to the principal’s office.

My 18th birthday very inconveniently occurred less than two weeks after the presidential election of 1992, which meant I missed that election. After which I entered a pious phase and decided to skip all the other local elections, because I didn’t want to pick a political party until I completed my degree and registered for a political party, so as to maintain my objectivity during my studies. This didn’t make a lot of sense, and I was confusing an important principle of journalism with that of citizenship, but hey,  I was 19. I made a lot of bad decisions.After graduating, however, I immediately registered and I simply don’t miss elections. In fact, I get a little misty when I enter a polling place. The franchise is a right and an honor that many people laid down their lives and reputations to secure for us. I am so grateful.

So go vote! Go win yourself one of these pins and by so wearing, encourage other people to vote too.  The fate of our Republic literally is in your hands.

Buy Defiant Sentiments Stick Pin – Vintage Stick Pin – Election 2016


Alison Wonderland Jewelry

On The Problem with Peddling Profanity

The Power of Profanity

A couple of days ago, I discovered that Etsy deactivated all of my Fuck This Shit products — and my Fuck Trump stick pin, because it didn’t meet their community standards. I reviewed their policies and I have to do a few things to get my products back on there — tag them “mature,” remove the curse words from the images — and I’ll get to it eventually.  In the meantime, the full collection is available on my independent website.

I get it, I really do — the whole reason why people want my Pretty Profanities collection is precisely because they’re not trying to be polite. If these words became totally accepted, there’d be no reason to have them on a bracelet, necklace or key chain to begin with. And the reality is that many, many people receive a lot of comfort — even if it’s just a chuckle — from these products.  Please see this week’s Fuck This Shit Award winner, a senior in high school fighting a life-threatening disease, if you doubt this.

However, I do chafe at censoring my images. I sawed out the vowels in the image you see here, and it’s hard for me to understand why that passes muster with community standard when every literate English speaker knows exactly which vowels are missing. Can I buy an I and a U?

It’s also a little challenging to communicate with potential customers given that the social media networks that I rely upon for that also have prudish policies. For example, when I submitted my first Facebook ad last year, it was rejected because “the image used in the ad has profane language. Such ads may offend users and lead to high negative sentiment.” (That was from the Facebook Ad Team.) Pinterest also rejected making my pins “buyable” because the image contained a “prohibited word.” Again, I get it. These are private companies that are perfectly entitled to make the rules to their own parties. But the more that social media becomes “the public square,” the more I wonder whether we need to start instituting some more free speech friendly policies.

By the way: If you know someone who’s going through a serious illness  and want to give them anything from Pretty Profanities collection — or if you are, yourself — first of all, I’m so sorry, and second of all, please use the code FUCKMORTALITY and I’ll include a FREE brass Fuck This Shit key chain with your order, to keep for yourself or to give to a member of the care team.**

Alison Wonderland Jewelry · On Books · On Creativity - Art, Jewelry, Writing · On Food & Drink · On Teaching

On Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken — and a Giveaway!

Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken


My friend Monica Bhide’s novel, Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken, launches today. She’s doing a sweet giveaway to celebrate the launch, which includes two bracelets I made specifically to complement this book. Go enter! Then, what you should do is go buy the book and savor it. If you win, you can always give the extra copy to someone else as a gift. (Just think of all the good karma that will create! Although I’m sort of kidding about that, more in a moment.)

Monica is a gorgeous writer, as well as a gorgeous person. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know this, but any of students reading this will: when I teach, I always assign one of her essays. I’ve picked different ones depending on what I’m teaching at the time, but one I always return to is an essay she wrote for Bon Appetit called Save Your Recipes Before It’s Too Late, which manages to be both deeply moving and totally surprising, spanning sixty years of history and the distance between Virginia, India, and the Nazi concentration camp Terezin. If you want to know about structure, character and pacing in a personal essay, this is one to read over and over again.

Okay, back to the idea of karma. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that the conception we have in the west about karma being a kind of a hall monitor in the sky, doling out tit-for-tat isn’t quite right.

To me, karma means that all of our actions and all of our thoughts have consequences, for ourselves and others, and we’re all bouncing off of these consequences, often in unexpected ways. Generally speaking, you do a bunch of good things and it’s more likely that good things will likely bounce off others and back at you.  You do a bunch of a bad shit, and generally speaking, it’s more likely bad shit will come from it. But life isn’t some kind of karma slot machine, okay? We’ve all seen people who do all kinds of good and get crapped on, and people who do all kinds of deep evil, and seem to keep chugging down the road in the Mercedes he should have never bought and doesn’t deserve. The point is, karma is complicated and the idea that we can somehow control it strikes me as both total folly and not at all related to the Buddhist tradition from whence karma came.

Anyway, if you want to read a good novel that talks about karma — and butter chicken —  go check out Monica’s book. I can’t promise you good karma from it, but definitely you won’t be generating anything bad.




Inspiration · On Creativity - Art, Jewelry, Writing · On New York City

On The Word on The Street

Here’s a form of traditional publishing that isn’t in trouble. 

While I confess to writing on my wooden desk in junior high and high school, I’ve never felt the urge to grafitti on bathroom stalls. But I do appreciate the reading material I’ve observed, as I go about my daily life.

I don’t have a photo of my favorite, a piece of grafitti that says “shitfuck,” because I only see it from the window of the subway, as it crosses over the East River.

But I like visiting this one:    

I realize these are technically defacements, quality-of-life diminishing property crimes, but I really appreciate these writers and their urge to communicate. That’s such an innate need. It really hasn’t changed very much since humans started writing on cave walls. 

In the Studio · On Creativity - Art, Jewelry, Writing · On Design & Art

On Giving Up on Creativity in Small Fragments of Time

This week is only slightly less frantic than last — as I write, I’m heading to the studio for what will be my longest stint in the past couple of weeks.

Some of what’s been in my way is personal life bullshit, and some of it is a time-sucking-but-hopefully-good-investment-professional-project, but in any event: not much concentrated creative productivity has been happening here.

As I discussed last week, I’ve been thinking about ways to work against my preferences, and to be more creative in the fragments of time that I do have.

My first thought was that I could do some of the “thinking work” of jewelry design outside of the studio. Like, say, on the subway.

I tried this the other day by writing a series of questions and answers in my Evernote journal:  

Finalize design for tiny stacking bracelets.  (But what does this mean? How do I do that?) 

Well, I have to decide if I am making them as stacking bracelets or as an ambivalence necklace. (And/or should I make and stamp more tiny copper strips to have options on hand for both?) 

Both, but I’ll complete the bracelets first, so next steps are cutting chain, attaching the strips via wire wrapping. Deciding on a clasp. Fabricating clasp if necessary. Soldering. 

Efficiency gold star for me, right? I felt great about this clarity, and resolved I would forevermore maintain a list of questions about current projects to consider in odd times.

Except for that I didn’t actually didn’t do any of the things I decided on in advance, because when I got to the studio, and looked at everything, I realized I didn’t like the chain or the crystal I had on hand. Thinking about the project wasn’t the same as handling the materials. I’m a tactile designer, decisions made in the abstract aren’t so useful to me. (I finished them this week instead, ta da.)

So I changed the terms of my experiment. Instead of trying to be more creative in short periods of time, I now plan to lengthen my small creative fragments of time as much as possible. In other words, I need to minimize what is getting in between me and my studio time.

Reality, an inventory

The first step to increased efficiency is figuring out the exact current situation. A lot of my time is going into the administrative end of my business right now, so I’ve been tracking how long these tasks take. And let me tell you: it all takes much longer than I’d have guessed. 

For example, today I planned to pop a couple of new pieces up on my new site and Etsy. I’d already written a draft of the copy yesterday – I need different text for both sites – so I figured this would take about a half hour, tops.
Well. It took a little over an hour, because for one thing, I’d failed to draft all of the info I needed and I had to write it on the spot. And for another, it just plain took me longer to fill in all the fields correctly, especially on my new site. 

So, I made a checklist for myself of info I need for these listings — some of which I can jot down in the studio– and created a couple of templates, which will make the whole thing move faster in the future. 

Also, I’ll budget more time for this in the future. For me, lot of this is about expectations. I’m frustrated that I’m not in the studio RIGHT NOW, since I planned to be there a half hour ago. I feel like this time is stolen from me, when of course I basically stole it from myself.

Streamline set up and clean up as much as possible. 

The visual arts, in general, require more set up and break down time. They don’t lend themselves as well to creativity in stolen fragments of time as writing does. For example, when I’m making enamels, it takes time for the kiln to heat up, to wash the enamels, to prepare the metal–  and none of this can be done in advance. And since  I have a shared studio space, I can’t leave a mess at the end of the day. Which I wouldn’t want to do anyway.

I’ve been working on minimizing my set-up and clean-up for a while now. One very low-tech tool I’ve found helpful is a studio map.

It’s not much to look at, but it indicates exactly where, in each cabinet and on each shelf, I keep my supplies. This minimizes the time I spend on mad supply searches, and makes clean up at the end of the day a snap. (Before I made this map, I was just shoving things into cabinets and hoping they’d stay shut. Which they often wouldn’t. Avalanches are not efficient.)

Also, I clean my workspace in a certain order, so I don’t forget important things, like turning offthe torch for the night — which involves bleeding the lines. It was a real time waster to return to the studio on the freezing cold night I forgot to do this.

Finally, I’ve come up with ways to keep supplies together for projects AND put them away. I use a tray that initially came into my life from the supermarket, where it originally held grapes. It’s the right size, things don’t slide around on its foam surface, and it nests very well.

Finishing isn’t the goal necessarily 

Although I do want to minimize my short studio stints in favor of longer ones, I do have to concede that good comes from those shorter work bursts. On the day I realized I couldn’t work on my tiny stacking bracelets, I ended up working on something else — brass pendants I started in the Fall and left fallow . I completed three necklaces rather quickly.

Cheerful conclusion: maybe it’s moving the ball forward that counts, not the length of the work session. String enough short work sessions together, and at some point, projects will get completed. It’s Van Gogh’s quote that I mentioned last week — great things happening from small things brought together over time.

The trick, it seems to me, is not to let the slow pace of progress drive you insane.