Storytelling Piece By Piece
Written by: Colleen Thompson
From her studio in Wilmington N.C. artist and metalsmith Jessie Yeager creates delicate, understated handcrafted pieces, all of them inspired by people and places in her life.
With delicate precision and heritage craft skills, Yeager creates pieces of jewelry under her label I Like It Here Club. Named in honor of her grandfather Fredrick Yeager, who was captured by Japanese forces and held captive as a prisoner of war during WWII. He remained as a POW for over three years and during this time started a club of sorts – which they named the I Like It Here Club.
“The I Like It Here Club is named after my grandfather Fred Yeager or Super Fred as he was known. Even in captivity, his positive attitude and his belief in education made him boundless and in that way, he protected himself and those around him,” said Yeager. “He continued his own education in the POW camp by learning to speak Russian fluently from another POW and he went on to become a military attaché in Russia after the war and then a Professor of Russian at Rider College.”
Small quirks from grandfather Super Fred, her grandmother’s collection of art and design books throughout her life (the 70s design book is her favorite) to travels and adventures in everyday have inspired her storytelling through simple pieces of handcrafted jewelry. Pieces that can be worn everyday and passed on from generation to generation, the stories and characters inextricably linked.
“For my newest collection, I took many memories from Super Fred and turned them into motifs and patterns etched into different designs. Fred wrote my family letters every day and the Highlights Ring is a motif that he would use while highlighting a certain word in a letter, usually squiggling around the word GRITS, since he loved grits,” said Yeager.
She learned her craft at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she majored in metals and jewelry. After graduating she returned to Wilmington and gained experience at Edge of Urge before launching her own jewelry collection. Yeager wanted each of her handcrafted pieces to radiate positivity and creativity, with the hopes of inspiring the wearer to stay positive, keep an open mind and take a glance at life from a different point of view.
Of all the metals Yeager works with, she is most comfortable with brass, silver and gold. “While in school, I had a professor that would always claim “it’s just metal” which really made me realize that metal is extremely forgiving. You can hammer it, file it, sand it and mold it into whatever your heart desires,” she said. “Sometimes it’s important to realize that if something isn’t turning out the way you envisioned it, you can keep working with it over and over again until you get it right and sometimes you find some happy mistakes along the way. I constantly find myself saying, “it’s just metal” before I take a big step in a project.”
Wearable, simple and classic is the design aesthetic that drives the I Like It Here collection. From the delicate Cleopatra Earrings inspired by the line drawings of Matisse and Picasso –particularly their deconstructed drawings of the human form. “I loved how they would give so much information from just one line. These statement earrings have a similar line quality, then as you get closer you realize they are actually snakes biting the ear.”
Her favorite piece in the collection is a classic wearable band with a pastel rainbow of stones, gypsy set along the front with a tiny rainbow moonstone in the back called The Artists Ring and named after her grandmother. “Grandmommy June was an amazing painter and she had a glass prism hanging in the window of her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It created an explosion of rainbows throughout their adobe brick home.The Artist’s Ring feels like it can evoke emotions and memories like this for anyone who chooses to wear it,” said Yeager.
This summer Yeager will be collaborating with Wilmington artist and illustrator, Emily Caulfield on the Anywhere, Anywhere Medallion Necklace. The two-sided talisman is meant to inspire travel, in the physical or psychic realm. “The hand-drawn design signifies joy in the present moment, whether that be on a beautiful adventure or in the simple motions of a routine day,” said Yeager. “It protects and exhilarates, reminds the wearer that she is part of a network of lovers and travelers and that people can go places larger than themselves.”