One of the best things about living in a big city like Chicago is how it draws people from all over the country, let alone the world. Each bringing their own breath of creativity drawn from their unique experiences. I was able to chat with Rebecca Mir Grady, a local Chicago-dweller who creates contemporary fine jewelry here in the city. Rebecca spent most of her childhood in the small town of Kennebunk, Maine. Throughout the years, she has utilized her extensive art background to create pieces of jewelry that reflect her coastal roots. Before moving to Chicago to study sculpture at the the School of the Art Institute. She earned a BFA in Sculpture and Ceramics from SAIC and an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of Illinois at Chicago. What is so fascinating about Rebecca – whether it is installations, painting, drawing or photography – she’s able to find inspiration in her surroundings. After spending many years in metalsmith the transition to handmade jewelry only seemed natural. Rebecca has made it her mission to create handmade jewelry from reclaimed precious metals – primarily Sterling Silver and 14k Gold – and ethically-sourced stones. Rebecca Mir Grady jewelry seamlessly combines passion with purpose, while also highlighting the world around her.
How did you know that jewelry design was your calling?
There was a jewelry making class in my high school, which I was lucky enough to take. I loved it, and from there got an apprenticeship with some jewelry designers. I learned a lot about metalsmithing early on and I’ve been making jewelry since then. I also worked for a number of years doing production for a handmade jewelry company, which taught me so much about construction and running a business. When I started turning some of my larger drawings and sculptures into pieces of jewelry, I knew I had to start my own jewelry line, and launched in 2013.
What challenges did you face when setting up your business?
It is very much a labor of love! When I first started my jewelry line, I also had a full-time day job. It was a lot of work, but relatively low stakes in the beginning. I worked a lot of early mornings, nights, and weekends to grow the business slowly over the first couple of years. For me, what’s worked is growing the business one customer at a time, through word of mouth, local craft fairs, blogs, and through social media.
What are your goals for your business?
To keep it fun, interesting, and to keep learning new things and skills! I’m planning to introduce more engagement ring and wedding band styles to the collection over the next year or so. My goal is to expand that side of the business. Also, I’m excited to be working with a new store in LA – Garde. We’re getting ready to ship their first order this month. My goal over the next few years is to do more business with great stores around the country.
What’s your market?
The local market very much drives my business. I often do the Chicago Renegade Craft Fair, and I do a lot of custom projects with folks that live in the city. I love working on custom projects – each project is a little bit different and I get to learn something new each time. Overall most of my business is here in Chicago, and in the US. I do get international orders – and they’re fun to make – I love shipping pieces to places that I’d like to visit one day!
How does your collection stand out from a crowd?
My jewelry is handmade in Chicago, with recycled 14k Gold and Sterling Silver, using ethically-source stones. The pieces are influenced by my background in sculpture and frequently inspired by travel. This latest collection was made after a visit home to Maine, to the beaches and mountains, and to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I incorporated some of the shapes and textures I saw from my travels into the pieces.
What was your favorite part about growing up in Maine?
The ocean! Being so close to the ocean meant that we spent weekends and summers at the beach. My dad had a small wooden sailboat, and we would go camp out on it, or take it to Cape Porpoise Harbor, or up to Portland. I really miss the salty after-sun feeling at the end of the day spent on the water.
Thankfully, I live quite close to the lake in Chicago, so I can get my water fix in almost daily, though the waves aren’t quite the same.
How has Chicago inspired your work?
I moved here right out of high school to go to the School of the Art Institute. Chicago has been an inspiring place for me to live and create as an artist over the years. Chicago has a very welcoming creative community and I’ve met so many wonderful, talented, and supportive folks here. It’s been a great place to develop my creative practice and start a business.
Do you have any hip spots to recommend for visitors?
There are so many good spots! I’ll try to keep this brief…
The lakefront – Hollywood beach is my favorite – and I like to run and bike on the lake front path. Also, while I don’t do this that often – biking from my neighborhood (Andersonville) down to Hyde Park or further is a beautiful bike ride – you can see so much of the city. Asrai Garden – amazing flowers – beautiful things – and a great apothecary selection, Lost Lake – Tiki drinks! The Hop Leaf – all kinds of amazing beers, and wine on tap – my neighborhood go-to for dinner and a drink, Ba Le (bahn mi), Tank Noodle – best pho! Women and Children First (for books), Sector 2337: my favorite gallery space in the city – Edra Soto’s show right now is excellent, and Chicago Botanic Gardens: a good get-out-of-the-city adventure – the Japanese gardens are the best.
A quote you live by?
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
– Mary Oliver
Be sure to check out Rebecca’s newest collection over at www.rebeccamirgrady.com!