Although Kimberly Nogueira’s path to jewelry was unique, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. As a strong believer in symbols and signs, Kimberly looks back on her life and sees that her work as a narrative art jeweler and automaton maker was, in many ways, predestined. That same belief in intuition, symbols, and our interconnectedness is what influences her work today. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about what led her to become a jewelry maker, why she is inspired by ancient symbols, and why jewelry is more than just adornment for her. Read the episode transcript below.

Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, my guest is Kimberly Nogueira, who is a narrative art jeweler and an expert in automata, which few of us know about. If I’ve mispronounced that, Kim will correct me. Today, we’ll hear about her work and her own jewelry journey. Kim, welcome to the program.

Kimberly: Thank you so much for having me, Sharon.

Sharon: So glad to have you and so glad that we connected. Tell us about your jewelry journey. Did you like jewelry when you were young? Is it surprising to you that you are doing this professionally? Tell us about the path.

Kimberly: As a young child, I felt very connected to the earth, the wind, the water, snow, toads, the grass. Those were sort of my companions. I certainly didn’t think about jewelry. As a child, I was always making with paper, scissors, glue, colored pencils, sort of your average childhood. One thing I did do was transfer my intuition. I was comfortable following signs, and I did get several signs. When I was a teenager, my aunt and uncle gave me a Stanhope necklace. Are you familiar with those? It has a tiny lens.

Sharon: Why kind of necklace? I’m sorry.

Kimberly: A Stanhope necklace.

Sharon: Stanhope, no, I don’t know that.

Kimberly: They’re just magical. You hold it up to the light, and there’s a tiny hole. You look through the hole, which is maybe two millimeters, and inside you can see an image or text. In this case it was the Lord’s Prayer, and it’s a magical thing for a child to encounter. I had no idea anything like that could exist, so for me that was a clue. Many things are hidden that we don’t know; we can’t see it, but they’re amazing things. That was something that stayed with me all of these years. I actually still have the necklace, although the little Lord’s Prayer part has fallen out. 

There were other signs I would be involved in jewelry later on and living on St. John’s, too. I’m from Massachusetts originally. One of the things I used to do in high school was go to vintage shops. I would buy marcasite and brass lizard pins, and I would have a local goldsmith turn them into earrings and I would wear them around. This was pretty random. I don’t know why I did it, but I look back and I think it was a clue. It was a sign, and I always followed them; I just followed my instincts. I ended up in a place where children pick up lizards and they squeeze their jaws and attach them to their ears. That’s what I think is magical about it. It was the future embracing me. 

There was one other strange thing I always did. There was a local boutique with a beautiful display of silver jewelry, handmade and narrative too, actually, and I literally would spend hours looking at it. This was as a high school student. I’m sure they thought I was strange, but they were very tolerant and allowed me to do it. Maybe once a month I would come in and just stare at it and study it. I had no idea you could actually do this for a living. It never occurred to me. So, there were no early signs I would do this, just general strange signs that I embrace, so to speak.

Sharon: How did you come to be a professional goldsmith? Did you study metalsmithing in school? How did that come about?

Kimberly: No, I studied sociology in college. Then I moved to St. John, which was one of those came-for-vacation-and-never-went-back scenarios. It’s a very tiny island, just about 9×12 square miles, I think. I was a volunteer at a local archaeological dig, and the archaeologist recommended two local goldsmiths to me. They had a beautiful store there. They would hire somebody to sell and make the jewelry, so they trained their employees in how to make their designs. I took the job. I was so super excited. It never occurred to me that I could get paid to learn how to do that. I did that for 16 years, and that was my education in making.

Sharon: What made you segue to doing what you do now, the art jewelry and automata, the mechanical area? Please explain what that is, because I think it’s incredible but I don’t think a lot of people know what it is.

Kimberly: An automaton is a machine that seems to move by itself, a self-automating machine. When I made my first one, I was barely familiar with the word itself. It’s an interesting story; I did make jewelry on my own. While I was working at the goldsmithing store, I made gifts for my friends and family, very small, pretty things. My son’s father passed away, and that was how I segued into making what I feel like—how do I explain it? I finally found myself. I found what I was supposed to be doing, and it was a strange way to discover that. I was very close with my son’s father, although I was married to somebody else. He was very much a part of our family. He would spend holidays with us, and when he passed away suddenly, that changed everything. It galvanized me, and I ended up researching kinetic jewelry. I came upon automata and made a piece. 

I finished it about a month after he passed away—I started it right after he passed. It was large and clunky and strange. It was an adult figure with a tiny child figure. When you turn the crank, the adult lifts the child and gives it a kiss and then puts it back down. It encompassed everything about what it’s like to have the other parent pass away like that and leave you alone to parent. I feel like that was a gift from my son’s father. I think everything is energy. I think matter is compressed energy, so I completely believe in things like that happening. I think it was a gift. He allowed me to open a window or a door inside myself to be able to access deeper emotions, things that shouldn’t stay stuck inside, things that needed to get expressed. That was amazing for me, and it changed my life. It was a form of art therapy. Instead of sitting with all of these challenging emotions, strong emotions, I could get them out in a creative way into an actual object. That was the most extraordinary thing to me.

After I made the first one, which of course didn’t work—I used glue with metal and wood, and it all fell apart after about two months—I started researching how you’re actually supposed to do it and what works best. With each piece I learned so much. You make a whole lot of mistakes when you’re making these pieces. I made mistake after mistake after mistake, and I made enough to learn from each one. It’s a difficult process making these things. It’s all trial and error over and over, changing a little bit here or there. You’re repeating yourself, taking things apart and changing it and then putting it all back together again. It doesn’t work, so you do that for hours and days and months. You have to be obsessed, I think, with this sort of fulfillment. 

Sharon: I was paying attention to one particular piece on your website. It’s so elegant. It’s amazing. The mechanical action is amazing and smooth; I can’t imagine what must go into getting it to that point. Did you see one and say, “Oh, that’s really cool. That expresses everything I want to say”? What met your eye first?

Kimberly: No, I didn’t see anything. It was researching. I made a piece. There was a competition online somewhere, and the theme was motion and movement. In the course of researching—and this was happening just when my son’s father passed—I ended up—I don’t know; there wasn’t a lot of information out there back then. It was not my usual way of operating up until that point. Again, I connected to my son’s father helping me out on that end. In fact, I believe all our ancestors are sitting around helping us all the time. If you open yourself to that, it makes life pretty miraculous. So, they are jewelry, yes.

Sharon: They are jewelry. I didn’t know if they were objects or if they were jewelry. Do you consider them jewelry because they’re so beautiful, or are they meant to be worn around your neck?

Kimberly: Yes, they have a bail, most of them. I think I’ve made three that do not have a bail, but all the others have a way to wear them as a necklace.

Sharon: And your narrative art jewelry—first of all, how would you explain narrative art or narrative jewelry?

Kimberly: To me, imagery and words are so powerful. I always think back to children’s stories, fairytales. I think of hieroglyphics, if I’m saying that correctly, word games, playing word games as a child. Those images, words and symbols combine in such amazing ways and also solve mysteries. Clues are visible. There are things you see, so you can create a shadow theater with all of these symbols and words. I’ve always followed signs like bread crumbs along the way, like the lizard earrings and a lot of other things that have happened to me along the way. I’ve always followed signs. I feel like jewelry is covered with them. They’re little maps, little atlases, a way to make the invisible visible, a way to access the imaginary realms. I think they’re more real than the physical realm, in all honesty. It’s a way to navigate inward and explore the mysteries inside yourself.

Sharon: Do you tell different stories in each piece? Do you have a theme you work on for a while and then you say, “O.K., I’ve said everything I have to say here”? How does that work?

Kimberly: There are some general overarching themes that I address with everything, but yes, there are some specific ideas that jumpstart each one. Generally, they’re all about how interconnected we are, that this beautiful life we’re living is really a dream, and we get to create it with our thoughts which create our reality. Every breath we take is sacred and a miracle. Those sorts of things say everything about the work in general.

Sharon: Are you working in enamel? I don’t know enough about the making.

Kimberly: Yes, the images are enamel on copper and sometimes with color.

Sharon: I know you’re working in enamel, but are you painting the word bubble?

Kimberly: This is a whole other interesting part of the work. I spend so much time searching for images and text from the historical record. It’s all digital. It’s online. There’s so much online now. Documents, letters, pictures, imagery from the past 2,000 years are all online, and that’s what I comb through. I print out all of these little, tiny pictures on a transfer paper, and I use a printer that’s high in iron, so it’s actually an iron oxide that fuses into the enamel. That’s why it’s that color. They are little pictures from throughout history combined, and I combine them intuitively. I don’t sit and think about each one. I sort of eliminate everything from my brain and just allow what’s supposed to be combined to be combined, if you will. I feel like I can’t even take credit for making any of this, Sharon. I know it sounds really strange to say, but I feel like it’s coming through me. I work to figure out the form it can take, but I choose the imagery intuitively. I step back and feed through the pictures and pick them intuitively. When I look at the jewelry after I’ve finished it, I’m amazed at some of the connections you can make looking at it. They’re not things I could consciously create myself; I’ll just say that. Something comes through me. I have a lot of assistance, let me say.

Sharon: Do you mean physical assistance or do you mean karmic assistance?

Kimberly: Yeah, from the invisible realms, so to speak. They used to call it the muse, I think. In Shamanism, Shamans are a hollow bone, and they step back and allow the invisible realms to come through when they heal or are searching for information to help their communities. I step back when I make these things. I think each person is connected—you might call it your higher self—I think you’re connected to other realms without realizing it. It’s your voice of intuition; it’s your second sense. You can connect to it whenever you want to; I just think we forget how to use that tool. I don’t really talk about it much, so it’s a little challenging for me to try to explain it.

Sharon: Do you ever feel empty in terms of, “Everything I need to express has gone through me already, whether I’ve done it in the mechanical form or in narrative art jewelry”? Are you always filled?

Kimberly: There’s always something to say. I feel like I have so much that could come through and that I could communicate through the jewelry format, definitely. There is no shortage. It’s just a time limit you have when you’re making. I also don’t rush it.

Sharon: You were talking about iron oxide and the enamel and copper. Is that because you were a goldsmith, or did you just figure it out?

Kimberly: No, I had to research how to do that on my own on the internet. At the time, there wasn’t so much information about it. Now, there’s a lot of information about it. It was a technique borrowed from the ceramics industry. A lot of things in enameling were borrowed from the ceramics industry. It’s pretty amazing, absolutely.

Sharon: I’m amazed that you put it all together. Does the fact that you’re on St. John, I think the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, does that affect your jewelry, your stories?

Kimberly: It’s funny. You would think my jewelry would have more of a connection to the ocean, a more obvious connection, but there is no literal connection like that. I look at my work and you would never know I lived here. I think the most important thing is that living here, I do tend to walk on the beach most mornings. I am deeply connected to the land I live on and the animals and the trees and the plants, the weather, the moon. That allows me to create in the way I need to create. 

Sharon: Is there something else you’ve been thinking about? You do the automata—am I saying that right? And you do narrative art jewelry with the graphics and the little stones. I know they’re not stones, but to a person like me who doesn’t know anything, I would describe them as little stones, the neck-pieces and things you do. Do you have something else in mind that you want to figure out?

Kimberly: There are more techniques I’m interesting in learning, definitely, and I will combine those probably in new and different ways. I think more color, different forms, so I’m excited.

Sharon: Do you do the mechanical more than the narrative art jewelry? Have you said, “O.K., enough of this. Now I’m moving onto that”?

Kimberly: You know what? It’s mainly what story I feel needs to be told, and that will determine what form it takes, if it’s mechanical or not.

Sharon: So you do both.

Kimberly: Yes, I have a previously done mechanical piece sitting, waiting for me to finish it, and I have enameled things floating around separately. There’s a bunch of things floating around right now.

Sharon: What’s your next step in terms of your business? It’s what you do professionally. What’s your next step? Do you want to grow it, or is it more like, “I just want to keep making and selling these in a steady stream”? What have your thoughts been about that?

Kimberly: I don’t think about money or the business aspect of it when I make at all, and I find that works best for me. I know money’s a tool and it’s a useful tool, but if I get caught up with thinking about it, it muddles up what I make. I realize I just have to focus on what has to get made, what needs to be said, what story I want to share. I don’t think about the business aspect of it, although I have a website and I’m on social media.

Sharon: That’s the necessity in today’s world, especially when you’re geographically removed.

Kimberly: Yeah, it’s more about sharing. Actually, where I live is a very interesting place. Have you ever heard of the gift economy?

Sharon: No.

Kimberly: You’re not paying money for anything. You’re just exchanging things. 

Sharon: Like the barter economy.

Kimberly: Yes, something like that. St. John’s is really big on that. I didn’t realize we have that here, but it’s very robust. I really like that, and I want to focus my lifestyle more on things like that rather than the consumer society part of it. I know a lot of those things can be—businesses can be sustainable and earth-friendly too, but because of where I live, I really love embracing alternatives to capitalism here.

Sharon: It sounds very freeing, and you’re in the perfect place for it. What you’re talking about can’t be done in a lot of places, certainly not in California. Kim, thank you so much for talking with us today. Your work is really unusual and amazing.

Kimberly: Thank you. You’re so sweet, Sharon. It’s been fun talking to you.

Sharon: It’s been great that we connected. 

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