He Slunk His Way Into an Elegant Upcycling Career


Corey McNabb is wired differently than most jewelry designers.
Photo by Amos Moses

Fatherhood changed the way Corey McNabb looked at a Slinky,
the classic toy that “walks the stairs without a care,” according to one pre-color-TV commercial. He gave his own childhood version of the bouncing metal spring to his son — but the fun didn’t last.

“Shortly after, it got tangled and twisted and bent and didn’t slink anymore,” McNabb says. “I had an emotional attachment to that Slinky … I always remembered playing with it with my dad. It saddened me to think about throwing it away.”

So he did what any aspiring jewelry artist might do. “I cut it up, ground down the pieces, polished them, and worked them into a pair of earrings for my wife for Valentine’s Day.” 

Photo by Amos Moses

But the transformation didn’t end there. “The more she wore them, more and more people started to want something similar,” he says. “So I started making more, and started to explore new designs, as well as the possibility and limitations of that material. That expanded into, ‘What else can I use?’”

An Asheville native who studied architecture before he landed in Los Angeles to work on films, McNabb found that he could upcycle a variety of discarded items to make jewelry, and he turned that discovery into a passion, and now a livelihood. In California, he had worked in set design, set dressing, production design, and art direction on films such as Armageddon, The Green Mile, 15 Minutes, and Enemy of the State. But a visit to Asheville 20 years ago to see his retired father helped McNabb decide to make his own return. 

McNabb found that he could upcycle a variety of discarded options to make jewelry, and he turned that discovery into a passion, and now a livelihood.
Photo by Amos Moses

Jobs in photography and painting led to jewelry making. After finishing his successful Slinky-inspired earrings, he stopped his brother from throwing away some old guitar strings. “They were shiny, attractive, and had real texture to them. I thought, ‘There’s something there,’” recalls McNabb.

Debris from freight yards, derelict cars, and old instruments becomes delicate baubles.
Photos by Amos Moses

Now he mixes guitar strings, piston rings from his car, old piano keys, railroad parts, and other potential debris into fine-art necklaces, bracelets, and earrings that he sells in upscale galleries. 

“There were a lot of other materials that I tried, and continue to try, using,” says McNabb, who has no formal training. “Just trying to source it from wherever I can. Now that some people know what I do, they’ll mail me old strings or old wood or things they think might work as jewelry.

“As I find new materials and what the limitations are, it helps me push the boundaries a little bit and see what new designs I can come up with … it hasn’t become stagnant yet.”

Photo by Amos Moses

Corey McNabb, Rejewelenate at Hatchery Studios, 1 Roberts St., Suite 111, River Arts District, Asheville. The gallery hosts a trunk show on Saturday, Feb. 9, 6-9pm. For more information, call 828-595-4212, see rejewelenate.com, or look on Instagram and Twitter (@rejewelenate). McNabb also sells his work at Artisans on Main in Weaverville (14 North Main St., “Artisans on Main” on Facebook); Kress Emporium in Asheville (19 Patton Ave., thekressemporium.com); and The Nest Artisan Market in Tryon (13 South Trade St., “The Nest Artisan Market” on Facebook).

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