You didn’t think I’d feature the southwest without featuring some gorgeous turquoise, did you? I first spotted Sierra Keylin‘s striking pieces on the hands of some lovely folks I met at the Desert & Denim trade show earlier this year. What I love about them is that the stones truly sing at the heart of each piece. The mark of the hand is unmistakable in her creations that combine natural stones with sterling silver.
I had the good fortune of visiting her cozy studio nestled in the hills of the High Desert, allowing for an epic view of the landscape. Sierra’s the kind of person you consider an instant friend, as we easily segued from hello to a warm conversation about art, business and nature while lounging in her backyard hammock during “magic hour”. It was the perfect close to another fulfilling day in the desert. Check out her stunning pieces and listen in on our convo below.
Can you tell me more about your background? Where were you born, and what were you doing prior to making jewelry?
I grew up in Seattle and lived there until my late 20's when I had the good luck to have a friend living in Honolulu that needed a roommate. I was working as a Massage Therapist at that time and I guessed that it would be easy enough to get a job there, so I just made up my mind to go for it!
I met my wife six months later and ended up living in Hawaii for almost 8 years. The move to Yucca Valley was a big adventure for us; my parents are in Palm Springs and we wanted to be closer to them. I’ve never lived in a small town before this, and I’m totally amazed by how much I love it… The cost of living here allows me to focus on my jewelry work more than I’d ever been able to in Hawaii, and I’m so grateful for all those extra hours I get to spend in my studio making.
Both Hawaii and Yucca Valley have such strong ties to nature. How do you think these places have influenced your artistry?
I’m not sure how the influences have crept in but I know they have… Something about the calm and quiet out here in the desert, and the open space has crept into the way I work maybe more than influencing the work itself. I think I’m more focused, and intentional with each step of the process, and I feel like my ideas have flowed here more organically.
You mentioned your love for jewelry began with your grandfather’s collection of Native American jewelry. Do you remember any particular pieces that were special, and did you keep any of them?
I have a ring that was his. It’s a Hopi Inlay ring, built with really thick silver for the ring band and an inlay design with coral, turquoise, onyx and mother of pearl. I remember looking at it and wondering how the hell something like that is put together! He loved jewelry of all kinds; he had a big gold and diamond pinky ring that seemed so huge to me when I was little. He let me try it on my little kid fingers and it felt so heavy!! I have memories of sitting on the bed with him and my grandmother going through her jewelry box, and she would tell me the stories of when she got a certain piece and where it came from. Most of them he picked out for her… he loved to shop!
What was the tipping point that made you officially decide to become a jewelry designer?
Well, I do have a part time gig that I love, working a few days a week at Kime's shop, The End. It’s the perfect combo because it allows me to have a reliable income and not stress out as much about my own jewelry sales as I work toward building my business and getting my work seen by more people. Kime is a huge supporter of artists of all kinds, and showing my work at the shop has been such a big part of the growth I’ve experienced in the last year. The social aspect is huge for me, too. I love talking with all the people who come into the store, meeting other local artists and people in the community, and feeling like a part of this small town.
Tell me about your most recent creations. What inspired them?
My inspiration usually comes from the materials I work with, mostly from the stones I’ve chosen to use. Since each one is unique, the shapes, colors, and patterns in them tend to inform what the final piece becomes. I’m working on a series of pieces based on the idea of the “evil eye” or Protective Eye as I prefer to call it. They’re built from multiple layers of silver in graduating sizes to accentuate the shape of the eye. More than protecting the wearer from outside evil, I think of them as something to remind us to look inwards — that we can watch over ourselves, keeping an eye on who we want to be, who we really are, or a reminder to trust our inner eye. Actually, if we really want to take it back to the beginning of the eye pieces, I originally made two of them — one for me and one for my mom. The one I made for her had a green turquoise set at the center of the eye, mine had a blue turquoise…Her eyes are blue and mine are green. It was a way for me to connect us from afar while I was living in Hawaii. She wore the green one, as my eyes looking out for her, and I wore the blue one as her eyes looking out for me.
I love that, it’s so beautiful. You mentioned that you don’t necessarily do things the “right way” when designing, which I appreciate. Can you describe your typical creative process?
First of all, I’m terrible at drawing. Sometimes I’ll jot an idea down, but it looks like a four-year-old drew it. I guess I just don’t think about making jewelry in a way that translates to me planning it all out ahead of time. Rarely do I have a specific plan mapped out when I sit down. Usually, I start by going through all my stones and picking out a handful of them to work with. I start by making the bezels (the part that will hold the stone), and then once I’ve got the bits and pieces for their settings fabricated, I start thinking about shapes and textures. The act of making is what gets the inspiration going for me. It just builds on itself once the pieces start coming together. Really, for me, it’s all about the stones and the unique shapes and colors they have. Each one is one of a kind, and they came out of the earth!!! It blows my mind every time.
You have a pretty special studio space and an interesting story behind it all. Would you mind sharing it?
We found this property through friends of my mom, and we rent a tiny little house kind of in the middle of nowhere. I’ve never lived in a small town, let alone down a 2.5 mile bumpy dirt road..its so quiet!! There are about 30 acres altogether with two other houses spread out on it, and one of the owners has a workshop that sits just up the hill from our house. A few months ago, he built out a small portion of the back of his space for me and now I have my own private studio. It has been such a blessing to have this space, and I’m so excited about the work I’m going to create in it.
Something about the calm and quiet out here in the desert, and the open space has crept into the way I work.
Well he’s not really a possession, but our dog Max.
Right now I can’t get enough of:
African Trade Beads, I’m obsessed!
My best travel souvenir was:
A beaded necklace from a crazy trip staying in a Bedouin Village in Sinai.
I’m dying to visit:
I’m happiest when:
I’m with my family.