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Masters of Their Craft: Labor of Love

Inspired by science fiction, fairy tales, poetry and art, designer Niki Fisk creates one-of-a-kind jewelry.

Artist Niki Fisk

Cheryl Gerber Photographs

The reality of being your own boss is that you don’t have to “clock in,” but it’s difficult to really ever “clock out,” says local jewelry designer Niki Fisk.

But Fisk – who majored in religion and taught pre-kindergarten until 2005 – says her job is a labor of love, incorporating literary inspiration into her unique jewelry designs.

“I am an avid reader; my guilty pleasures are science fiction and fantasy,” she says. “I am particularly moved by Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl.”

It’s no surprise that her work crosses boundaries when it comes to creativity, as these writers are all known for their outside-the-box ways of thinking.

At her home studio on Freret Street, Fisk designs and hand-fabricates jewelry, one piece at a time. Her pieces are full of imagination and take several steps to complete.

 “I start by doing a design on paper,” she says. “The images I want to etch are transferred onto PCB paper, then transferred to the metal, which I then etch with acid. For the other layers, I glue the paper directly onto the sheet of metal, and I cut each piece out by hand with a jeweler’s saw frame – no lasers, no electric saws – just me and a saw blade, by hand. After I get the pieces etched and sawed out, I clean the surface of the metal and rivet the pieces together with spacers and wire using my torch. I make the findings (hooks and fasteners, beading pieces) out of wire and solder with my torch; then I attach the chains to the finished pieces, solder all my jump rings shut and then apply a patina to the background to darken it. When I’m finished, I run them through a tumbler and finally clean them with a brush.”

Her sterling-silver heirloom-quality accessories tell their own stories. For example, her Shadowbox collection, which features multidimensional pieces (a back piece, middle layer and frame), depicts animals or symbolism and “usually resonate[s] with people immediately,” says Fisk. Many of her clients select her jewelry not just for its physical appeal but also for what it stands for – they assign their own meanings to Fisk’s work. For example one of her friends wields a “dragon-slayer” necklace on a daily basis to remind her of a difficult battle with – and her ultimate defeat of – pancreatic cancer.

Another one of Fisk’s customers recently purchased a necklace depicting a carousel with a trio of horses for his wife. On their first date, they rode a carousel together, and now they have three children. “They are totemic by the nature of their design, and when someone sees a piece that speaks to them, it’s pretty cool,” says Fisk. “Fairy tales, fables and legends are a recurring theme I always go back to. I love to listen to audiobooks while I’m working. I have pieces inspired by musicians that range from David Bowie to June Carter Cash. Victorian illustrators, like Rackham and Doré, are always inspirational, as well as playing card backs.”

Like the literature, music and art that inspire her, Fisk wants to leave a lasting impression with her jewelry. “The not-so-obvious things that make me really love what I do is that I create something that will endure long, long after I am gone,” she says. “My jewelry is made to last. My sister in-law ran her necklace through a riding lawn mower, and she still wears it! I sometimes imagine an archaeologist digging it up a thousand years from now. The very best thing is seeing someone’s eyes light up when they find the piece that was destined for them or hearing the reason someone is gifting it to another. Then my stories begin to take on stories of their own.”

 Fisk’s jewelry can be found at Palmer Park Art Market, which is on the last Saturday of every month. She also travels to art shows and hosts trunk sales. She has a Facebook page and a Web site that will be launched soon, www.nikifisk.com. She also sells her work at Gogo Jewelry, 2036 Magazine St., and at Rocket Science Beauty Bar, 640 Elysian Fields Ave. There is also a retail location in Charleston, S.C., called One Love Design at 478 King St.

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