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July 2005

A Real Gem

Rebecca Hannon crafts artistic jewelry in Munich

It was easy to spot her when she walked into the restaurant for our interview. Rebecca Hannon was the one wearing an elaborate, deep pink necklace. A thin piece of rubber that had been intricately cut into the shapes of numerous leaves and flowers wound its way around her neck and cascaded down her front. It was both stunning and unusual.

The necklace is part of a collection of jewelry that Hannon was inspired to create following a walk along the Camino de Santiago. The 32-year-old goldsmith and jeweler flew to northeastern Spain in the summer of 2002 to make the pilgrimage on her own. It took her 40 days to walk the route, starting in the Pyrenées mountains on the French border, then working her way across Spain to Santiago de Compostela.

Hannon collected a memorable flower or a leaf on each day of the journey and pressed it in the evening in white paper. “I planted an image from each day in a visual diary,” says Hannon. She has been working with these forms for two years, “searching for a way to transform the simple outlines and the experience into a piece of jewelry.”

The highlight of the collection is the Camino de Santiago neckpiece: a six-meter-long chain cut out of a continuous piece of thin, white rubber that you can wrap around your neck. It features all the plants from her journey and took one and a half months to cut. The necklace’s flowers and leaves follow the order of those she collected along the walk. “I laid out the flowers as a map of where I had gone,” Hannon explains.

Hannon was born near Washington, DC. She studied jewelry making and goldsmithing in Rhode Island, where many of her professors were from Munich or had strong ties with Germany. “I learned more and more about Munich,” says Hannon. “All the people from the city seemed really nice.”

Hannon then worked in New York City for five years as a goldsmith. But she continued to think about Munich and about living and working abroad. She eventually decided to get in touch with Munich’s Akademie der Bildenden Künste. The Munich art academy has one of the most renowned jewelry departments in Europe. Hannon was granted an interview with Otto Künzli, the departmental head, and shortly thereafter she was offered a place. She packed up her things in New York and moved to Munich five years ago, in 2000.

Hannon studied at the academy for over four years. She was awarded a Women’s Jewelry Association scholarship for her first year. The second year, she received a Fulbright scholarship, which promotes cultural exchanges among students around the world. The Munich art academy brings together students from all over the world, who meet once a week to exchange ideas and receive feedback about their work. There isn’t any formal coursework or exams.

“The academy is very free and open, not like American schools, where you would be expected to attend a lot of classes and your work would be graded,” says Hannon. “The idea is that you have a space to work at the academy. You plan exhibitions throughout Europe with other students and learn what it’s like to be a professional artist.”

Last year, Hannon moved out of the academy and into a workshop at Galerie Biro in Zieblandstrasse with four other professional jewelers, all graduates of the academy. These include a German woman, an Australian woman, a Japanese man and a man from Switzerland. “It’s good for me, as I have less experience than some of the others,” says Hannon. “There’s also strength in numbers.”

Hannon is still elated over the success of “Souvenir,” her first solo exhibition, which was held in March and marked her introduction to the professional world of jewelers. This was followed by a show in May at the “Good Gallery of America” in Washington, DC.

Hannon finds that the Germans are particularly appreciative of her style of jewelry, more so than Americans. “America doesn’t have a great appreciation for jewelry,” says Hannon. Her view, however, is “make the pieces and they will find their audience.”

The jeweler says her style has changed since she has been in Munich. “When I was in New York, I worked in very traditional jewelry firms, where I set a lot of diamonds. Here, people had no commercial concerns and were making crazy stuff, held together with glue. I learned that everything is possible. My design now is a lot freer. I use non-traditional materials, such as fine rubber and plastics, and combine them with metal.”

Hannon’s next challenge is to create her own engagement ring. She met her fiancé at the end of the Santiago pilgrimage. The American architect left his job and, two months later, moved to Munich to be with Rebecca. And that ring won’t be for sale!


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