Behind Every Stone is a Complex Molecular Backstory

Erica Stankwytch Bailey uses her tools to dig deep into a concept.
Photo by Tim Barnwell

Erica Stankwytch Bailey’s earliest art project was shaded by science.
“When I was probably six years old, I would take my crayons and a butter knife and create little curled shavings, put them in a Mason jar, fill it with water, and pretend it was my fish tank,” she recalls. Further on, at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, she spent weeks drawing and painting a cinched paper bag — “torturous,” she says. “But in the end, it yielded a newfound ability to really look at and see things.”

Bailey continued her education at East Carolina University, where she earned a BFA in metal design. Having taken a jewelry-making class at a community college years earlier, with her mother, Bailey says, “I naïvely thought I knew about jewelry. Wow, was I wrong … it was exasperating and challenging, and I learned so much through the blunders I experienced.” For instance: Bailey expected metal to be hard and unyielding. Instead, she discovered that silver, in particular, was “malleable and forgiving.” She kept on.

Photo by Tim Barnwell

After graduating, Bailey taught jewelry design at Fayetteville Technical Community College. “It made an indelible mark on me as a maker,” she says. “In a lot of ways, it transformed the way I looked at the processes I was teaching.”

In 2004, she founded Erica Stankwytch Bailey Jewelry and began creating her own line in a tiny studio her husband built for her. After moving to Asheville in 2014, her house again doubled as her studio, until she moved into The Refinery Creator Space.

Though details can be delicate and subtle, the pieces are marked by a hardcore earthiness.
Photos by Tim Barnwell

Bailey’s work is born out of an insatiable curiosity for detail and background. “I love to dig deep into a concept. At the core of it all, I have an intense fascination with the foundations of things. I constantly see how the smallest things can be fundamental to the success or existence of the larger … I get so inspired by understanding the ‘anatomy’ of a thing that I am interested in at the moment. I read books, make copious notes, and then begin the process of visually translating this new knowledge into my jewelry.”

She lists diverse sources of inspiration: “Women’s history and experience, refuse from the ocean [shells, algae, human artifacts], sand, nano and macro photography of organic materials, cellular biology.”

She begins with a gemstone, but doesn’t take it at face value. “I do a lot of research about the stone and ask many questions: ‘What crystalline family is it in? Does it have any interesting properties? What is the mineral’s molecular makeup?’ I take all the data and translate it into drawings in my sketchbook. I will spend several days with the component parts … deciding how they best fit together. And then the fabrication begins.”

Photos by Tim Barnwell

Erica Stankwytch Bailey, ericastankwytchbailey.com, Studio #9 in The Refinery Creator Space, 207 Coxe Ave., Asheville (ashevillearts.com/refinery). Also: Mora Contemporary Jewelry Design (9 West Walnut St., Suite 2A, Asheville, moracollection.com); The Folk Art Center (Milepost 382 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, southernhighlandguild.org); and Miya Gallery (20 North Main St., Weaverville; miyagallery.com).

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