Jewelry Journey Podcast
Sharon: Welcome to the Jewelry Journey. Today, my guest is Raïssa Bump. She is both a talented art jeweler and a leader in the profession. She was formerly co-president of the board of directors of Art Jewelry Forum and now is carrying the mantle on her own shoulders. Today, we will hear about her own jewelry journey. Raïssa, welcome to the program.
Raïssa: Sharon, it’s wonderful to be here. Thank you.
Sharon: Tell us about your jewelry journey. Did you start out in jewelry, or did you start out with other metals? How did you get to jewelry?
Raïssa: People who have known me since I was little would say that it was straight as an arrow. It’s no surprise to them that I’m doing what I’m doing now, and yet that doesn’t mean I knew that I wanted to make jewelry as living. The story could go back to a necklace I strung when I was seven. There I was, beading extensively all the way through high school, so there was a handmade aspect of making jewelry. I had my first metalworking class in high school. I had textile classes in high school, too. In a sense, what I’d say is I’ve loved adornment in general, adornment as a broad category, for as long as I can remember. That really continues to be my why and my spark, my interest in the field, which is really a fascination with human nature, nonverbal communication, how we express ourselves and how we show up for ourselves in the world. I could give this morning as an example, because I’m having this conversation over the phone, essentially. I’m not seeing you. I’m at home. I’m not seeing anybody else, yet what did I do to get prepared to show up and feel like I could have the conversation with you and be connected to myself? It had to do with jewelry. It had to do with the rhythm of ritual and how I prepare myself for any given day. Clothes are part of that, and jewelry is absolutely a part of that. Stretches and breathing are a mindfulness practice I have, too. I feel like jewelry is super powerful for how we sense the world. It holds agency to make a big difference.
Sharon: Was it straight as an arrow, as in you knew what you wanted to do and you just followed it? Sometimes straight as an arrow means she knows she wants to go Harvard, something like that.
Raïssa: In hindsight, I did go through the steps in a direct way once I made jewelry. Since I was young, I had my first metalsmithing class in high school. Like I said, I did textiles as well. I went to art school. I went to Rhode Island School of Design, and it was either going to be textiles or jewelry, and I chose jewelry. One of the reasons was that I felt like it was more challenging as materials go. It was a harder technical process for me than with the textiles, and I needed to learn more. So I did. I went to art school for jewelry, and then got out of school and started working within the field, set up my own studio, worked at Sienna Gallery and the rest is history. I started teaching at Penland School of Crafts and have been pretty directed with my jewelry practice and different facets of that in the field. That being said, Sharon, I have pursued some other things along with the way. Although jewelry has been the mainstay, I have knit and sold knitwear. I have done yoga trainings and taught yoga. I started another business called Reset, which deals with the wellness practice and the knowledge and perspective I gained from it. I wanted to share that with other people, as I found they were asking for it. I have pursued some other things along the way, but jewelry keeps me the most sustained and grounded.
Sharon: To me, you’re pursuing other things, but they’re adjuncts in a way, as opposed to a pursuit of other things, like getting your master’s in Russian history or something.
Raïssa: That’s true. All my pursuits, in a sense, are about how we experience the world around us and can shift us. There’s a through line there.
Sharon: Right. What kind of work are you doing now? How do you describe it to other people?
Raïssa: After years of making jewelry and doing it as my profession, using words to describe my work is definitely a challenge. My preference has always been wearing something, and then I can use that as an example. I do make a wide variety of things, so I’ve never found a great way to put it in a nutshell that satisfies me. I recently had a kid, a beautiful daughter, Ravenna. Before that, I set myself up with some laser-cut pieces that I wanted to experiment with, which I could pick up and put down at any given time during this period when I knew my life would be very different. I’m also working with spirals. As far as the one-of- a-kinds go, and the pieces that I don’t really know where they’re going, I’m working with styles as concepts and direction and motivation. There’s some stitching and handwork and using different materials with that. I have no idea where that’s going, but that feels authentic and right to me at the moment. So, when you ask that, there’s that. There are definitely textiles in my jewelry, always in one way or another. It could be something that is like a shadow or a little memory, something without literally being textiles. Often enough, there’s actual silk thread or some fiber in the work, too.
Sharon: I’m amazed you have time for any of this, being a new mother.
Raïssa: Well, it’s coronavirus times, and I’m not doing much outside of the house. That’s my experience right now. It’s a lot of time with my daughter. I live and work in the same space, and my husband does as well, so we have a pretty fluid experience of our days and can get a lot done.
Sharon: I had forgotten, but now it’s coming back to me. I know I visited your studio and living space, and it is fluid. There are not many barriers to getting to your studio from where you live.
Raïssa: Nope, not at all. It’s not physical barriers. It’s more the mental barriers that are hard to navigate, perhaps.
Sharon: When people ask you what you do, what do you say?
Raïssa: I say that I make jewelry most of the time, something as direct as that. Then I try to point to something that I’ve made specifically.
Sharon: Do they automatically think you work with gemstones and diamonds and things like that?
Raïssa: That’s sort of the fascination of the field. It’s complicated, and I don’t know what goes on in their minds, probably. Saying I make art jewelry or describing it more in just a few words, I don’t think that helps the description much more. If people want to know more, they see me; they see something I’m wearing. We’ll talk about it, and it can go into more conversation. A deeper conversation seems to be adequate, but it is complicated. When you say you make jewelry, who knows what goes on in people’s minds?
Sharon: Right. When I say I love jewelry, people always think I’m looking for things dripping in diamonds.
Raïssa: Sure, but you wear fantastic jewelry. Do you find that helps you in communicating what you’re talking about?
Sharon: No, people automatically think you’re into gemstones and really, really expensive things, and that’s not it at all. I’ve never really found a way to describe it, except to say that it fascinates me because jewelry also shows history and what’s going on in a time period. What kind of jewelry do you most enjoy making?
Raïssa: I would say it depends on the day. Quite frankly, I really value flexibility, and that shows up in my life professionally and personally. I liken my studio practice to how I am in the kitchen. When you ask me what kind of pieces I like making the most, I say it depends on the day. Some days it’s precisely following recipes, and in that case, it’s my collection pieces and pieces I can make over and over again. I just want to go in the studio and feel productive, not make decisions, just go through the motions with something I’ve designed some other day, when I was in a different mood. Those are the kinds of days I can listen to podcasts and music and absorb information as I’m going through the motions. Then, some days I need a starting point, a cross-reference for inspiration. I’ll look at what I have around me and pick something that’s fascinating me or intrigues me in that moment. I have a lot of bits and pieces, scraps and things I’ve done over the years that never make it into final pieces, but prove to be helpful in my process for that kind of day. Other days, Sharon, I never look at a recipe or something for inspiration at all; I just go in and start from material or a technique or something and let it unfold. I have no idea where I’m going to end up in the end, and that’s really fun, too. So, it depends on the day. All that being said, I could sit down and stitch or sew some small, intricate piece with, say, a metal screen and some silk thread, a needle, and some vintage beads or sequins and be happy all day long. Some methodical, intricate task, I could do that forever.
Sharon: It sounds so absorbing. I can see why you say you could do it for a whole day. You’ve come up with a very novel concept with an earring subscription program. I’ve never encountered it with anybody else. Tell us about that and how it works. Are you still doing it?
Raïssa: I sure am. A handful of years ago, I found myself pondering how I could create something where I could have predictable income, connect directly with customers, not have to travel, and do it while having fun and using my energy well. The earring subscription is what I came up with, and it continues to do that. It fits the bill of all these original desires. On the flip side, my customers who buy it and participate, they’ve had a lot of fun with it, too. It’s a win/win situation that I’ve been enjoying for a handful of years.
I chose earrings because they’re a piece of jewelry that is often switched out daily. There are many earring lovers and people who have lots of pairs of earrings. I’m one of those people, so I understand that. I think they’re great gifts. They’re at a price point I thought would work well for a subscription, and they’re not something you can have too many of, as far as I and lots of other people are concerned. I’ve also designed hundreds of earrings and made, gosh, who knows how many thousands of them, so it’s something that’s fluid within the studio, and in general I enjoy making them. I did it for all those reasons, and it’s been a great part of my business for a bunch of years.
Sharon: And the people who subscribe, they get a very unusual, one-of-a-kind pair. I know you’re making them for everybody who’s subscribing, but it’s not like they’re going to find them in Nordstrom.
Raïssa: No, not at all. It really does work well. The majority of subscribers sign up for three, six or 12 months. I have a fall enrollment, so they’re looking out to the next year. For me, being such a small business, it helps with planning and expectation and follow-through. They don’t know exactly what they’re going to get, so there is an element of surprise, but they know me, most of them. They know the breadth of the work; they know that I’ll make a cohesive group for them for that three, six or 12 months. They know the pieces I’ve made for years, or sometimes it’s things I’ve never made for anybody else, and it’s only these participants who get them. I do listen to their response and what they’re interested in. I ask for it and then listen to it. If someone says, “I like these five pairs of earrings a lot,” they’ll get some of those pairs of earrings. If someone already has 10 pairs of my earrings and they’re doing the subscription, they can share with me what they already have, so there are no duplicates and I can flesh out their collection even further. It’s a pretty intimate, interactive thing.
Sharon: It’s a great way to do it without going into production. I think it makes a lot of sense.
Raïssa: Sure, and people love it because they can buy it for themselves. It’s a great gift to give. I’ve also had people get a year’s subscription, receive the earrings, and then decide who they want to give them to in their life and spread them around that way. It works in various ways for different people, and it’s just fun.
Sharon: I think it’s ingenious. It’s fabulous. You’ve been co-president of the board of directors of Art Jewelry Forum, and now you are currently president and head the board of directors on your own. I’ve seen how much work you put into it. Can you tell us about Art Jewelry Forum?
Raïssa: Sure. That’s how you and I know each other, because you’ve served on the board for the past six years as well, and I got to travel with you to different cities through Art Jewelry Forum-organized trips. It’s been a pleasure. Art Jewelry Forum is a small arts non-profit, and it has a big presence in the art jewelry field. We are a membership-based organization that’s been around for over 20 years, and the mission is essentially to advocate for the international field of contemporary jewelry. I’d say we’re all about education and community, and education takes form and shape in our programming. We have an online magazine where we publish original content. There are articles and interviews and reviews all related to the field. We have both a young and a mid-career artist grant, and we organize and host conversations and events and travel experiences. That’s how the educational part takes shape. Then, we are a community, and this comes together with different facets of the field. We connect artists, gallerists, educators, writers, curators, and enthusiastic collectors. All these people have a place within our organization. Functionally, I think we bring together those who are curious and passionate, people who want to learn more about this kind of jewelry. One of the things I really like about Art Jewelry Forum is that we ask a question, “Well, what work we can do that can be impactful in creating a robust and a healthy field into the future?” There’s this long-sided aspect of the work we do.
Sharon: How has your involvement impacted your business?
Raïssa: I’d say there are different realities as to how to answer that question. I work solo in my studio, so working with AJF as an organization, I get to be in collaboration mode and experience the magic that happens when a group of diverse minds comes together. I find that really powerful and insightful, and I get to learn more about myself and the field while doing that. It’s fascinating to me. Then, AJF and my involvement with it, as far as its membership and the community goes, has brought in my network and my comfortableness interacting with all kinds of individuals within the field. From artists I admire to gallerists and curators and collectors, I would say one’s network is key to sustain a tiny, little business like mine. That has been something very rewarding that AJF has provided. Then, you’re talking about time and energy and how you do it all, and certainly AJF has taken away countless hours from my studio practice and my business. I would never desire to know how many, but somehow I don’t dwell there. I have a lot of patience; I’m not in a rush with my career. Somehow I’m actively engaged in the moment, and that feels very good. I’m in it for the long haul. Most of the time anyway, I can say I have a calm about the time spent volunteering. I find that I like my pace and can be prolific and make in the studio ,without being crazed about the near future and what happens with that.
Sharon: I give you a lot of credit for all you do, and I appreciate all you do. Sometimes, listening to a board of directors call—and I know you’ve participated in this committee and that committee—and I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, how does she do that?” Where do you want to take your business from here?
Raïssa: I feel like it’s a lot of the same. I absolutely want to continue making one-of-a-kinds. I think that’s inevitable—the bigger, bolder, more elaborate pieces where they lead me to surprising places. They are also the guide to the simpler pieces that become collections, and the pieces I can duplicate. Together those dovetail nicely in making a sustainable business. So, certainly that. I would say with the one-of-a-kinds, I can imagine continuing to build relations with galleries outside the U.S. as part of my future. It’s not something I’ve ever clearly pursued, and I think that’s something I could do. I’ll absolutely continue with my subscription, because it checks so many of the boxes and is really enjoyable all around.
Sharon: Do gallerists approach you? I know how many jewelers pursue galleries, but do they see your work and approach you and say, “Hey, I’d love to have that stuff in my gallery”?
Raïssa: It is has happened so many ways, Sharon. I have approached and had conversations with gallerists. I’ve had gallerists suggest me to other gallerists. I’ve had gallerists come to me. It works all different ways, I guess. I’m grateful for that, because networking really works when it comes down to that kind of situation.
Sharon: That’s fabulous. Raïssa, thank you so much for taking time out of your day. It sounds like a busy day between AJF and being a new mother and trying to keep your jewelry going. Thank you very much for joining us. For everybody listening, that’s it for today’s episode of the Jewelry Journey Podcast. We’ll have images of Raïssa’s work on our website when we post the episode, and you can find it wherever you download your podcasts. Please rate us. We’ll be back next time with another jewelry industry professional who will share their experience and experience. Thank you so much for listening.
Raïssa: Thank you, Sharon.