Coins and jewelry have long been bedfellows, dating back to the early days of coin minting. According to Rayner W. Hesse’s book, Jewelrymaking Through History: An Encyclopedia, Roman men and women first began adorning their necks with coin pendants and amulets as early as the first- to third-century C.E. Through the ages, other cultures, like the Vikings and Rai women of Nepal, incorporated coins into their daily fashion. Coin jewelry became popular in the United States in the 1880s when male soldiers and travelers turned foreign coins into “sweetheart jewelry” for their girlfriends and mothers.
One of Koolkat’s artists follows in this long tradition of coin jewelry making—Susan Fiori of CHA-CHING Coin Jewelry.
This Saturday, November 9th, from 10am to 5pm, Koolkat will be hosting a Trunk Show of Suzy’s beautiful bracelets, necklaces and earrings made with coins from all over the world.
As Kate McGrady, Koolkat’s owner, says, “Suzy gives the beautiful designs of coins a second life. For many people, this connects them to their heritage or a place they’ve traveled in a unique and interesting way.” Koolkat customers can special order jewelry that incorporate coins with meaningful countries of origin or significant years (popular for birthday and anniversary gifts).
Suzy is the subject of our first ever blog interview! Grab a cup of tea, and enjoy learning more about Suzy and her work.
* * * * *
Tell us about your neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Does your neighborhood or community support the arts?
I live in Brookline when my elderly mother doesn’t need me to be with her. There is a summer sidewalk festival they do in conjunction with the Brookline Breeze, a 5k race.
Describe your studio / working space for us.
I work at home and I’m surrounded by money! Coins are everywhere, always waiting to be sorted or drilled or something! My biggest challenge is keeping all the parts organized.
How did you come about using coins in your work?
I bought my first pair of coin earrings at the National Apple Harvest Festival in Gettysburg. They were Mercury dimes. The vendor was a silversmith and they were the only coins that he had. I wore them constantly and always got comments on them. I was in the Bahamas when it occurred to me that my piggy bank full of foreign change would also make some nice earrings. I was shopping in the Straw Market when the clerk handed me pennies with starfish on them. The lightbulb went off and I am now completely obsessed.
Working with coins from around the world, are any coins in particular your favorite? Why?
Like most of my customers, I’m partial to the coins from my family’s proud heritage. But I am always looking for new and interesting coins and manage to have a new favorite all the time. Sometimes, it’s the image on the coin that gets me like the Egyptian 5 millièmes commemoratives of the International Women’s Year that have Nefertiti and the women’s sign of peace. Or it could be some Vatican coin with the Blessed Mother on it, I have a thing for her. Or it could be the Czech bi-metal coin that’s brass and copper, so rich looking! Do I have to pick just one?
What is your favorite part of your arts process?
I like imagining. How will a piece look, what coins to use, should beads be added, what colors to use?
How do your values impact your process?
My mother taught me from a young age to “do things right or don’t do them at all.” She made me rip out a zipper in a dress I was making 5 times because it wasn’t right. I was 12. It’s as if she’s standing over my shoulder when I work. I also try to recycle or repurpose and reuse anything I can. It adds to that challenge of keeping things organized.
If people could only take away 3 things from your work, what would they be?
The world is small and we are all related. Money is not the root of all evil. It’s all about context.
What was the first work you ever sold?
When I decided to pursue the idea of making jewelry from coins, I raided my piggy bank and bought some parts and started making prototypes to show my friends. They were my market research! One of them had a thing for copper and bought a pair of Canadian penny earrings.
Why are handcrafted objects important?
Handcrafted objects are an expression of someone’s creativity. Humans are healthier when they express their creativity which makes society in general healthier.
What does it mean to you to have someone buy your work?
To me it means that I’ve touched on some relationship they have with someone or something. It also means I get to eat this week; I do make my living from this. In essence, it means that I get to make a contribution as I am contributed to.
How did you first become involved with Koolkat Designs?
A friend of a friend told me I should have my work at Koolkat.
How long have you been selling at Koolkat Designs?
I’m artist number 033, it’s been a few years!
What is your favorite thing about Koolkat Designs?
Kate McGrady! You didn’t think it would be some thing did you?!
One last question. Favorite local artist. What do you love about his/her work?
Only 1 pick? I’ll tell you my new favorite. I just love the way [Thea Okonak of] John the Craftist incorporates Pittsburghese into her work. My brother loved her “Happy Birthday ya jagoff” card!