2 Islands Gallery artist Anisa Stewart is a southwest Florida native known for her funky, contemporary jewelry that always seems to feature some sort of nature-inspired twist.
"I've lived in Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva, so I've always been near the water and that's where a lot of the influence for my jewelry comes from. It's all kind of organically water-based" she said, noting that while 2 Islands Gallery carries both her contemporary and wildlife-based lines, Stewart's affinity for water is present in both collections.
"When we go to the beaches, we find sea urchins and pieces of coral and then I turn them into jewelry," Stewart said, gesturing to a coral pendant set with sparkling gem stones.
2 Islands Gallery jewelry artist Anisa Stewart works on a beaded necklace.
"I take something from nature and then try to accentuate it."
Stewart got her start in the jewelry-making world when she started working for a jeweler in Fort Myers 15 years ago.
According to Stewart, Mark Loren, a well-known jewelry designer in Fort Myers, went around to the local high schools looking for an apprentice and Stewart just so happened to be president of the art society.
"He interviewed a couple different people but he hired me. That was my senior year and I worked for him every afternoon after school. Then I started college over at Edison, and I got a scholarship, but I was learning so much at that job that I kind of just decided to really delve into the job, which was really good because, in the time that I was there, I won four awards.
"I had an opportunity while working with him to really learn the business and learn aspects of design and production. He was my mentor. My background is contemporary, one-of-a-kind gold and platinum work. And since I've been doing this for 15 years, the contemporary work is still in me, but I try to put a twist of nature into it," she said.
Stewart is a tall, statuesque woman and she says her stature plays a big part in how she designs her pieces.
"I'm a big girl, so I wear big jewelry! I always say, my jewelry is statement stuff. I always tell my clients, 'it's not your size - it's your attitude.' My jewelry is made to make a statement - but it's also made to be comfortable and wearable," she says, showing off what she calls her "wave ring" - a sculptural piece of undulating metal that she wears on her right hand.
"As you can see by all the dings in it, I wear it every single day. It's meant to be worn to make a statement, but it's also meant to withstand a lifetime."
All of Stewart's jewelry is made with the lost-wax casting process.
"I take a big chunk of plastic wax, and I carve it with hand tools to get the piece. After you get that piece, you mold it in a plaster formation in high heat, burn the wax out, and then you pour the molten silver, gold or bronze in," she said, crediting the lost-wax process for the size and incredible detail of her pieces.
Stewart works mainly in silver because it's affordable, but she says she likes to use gold accents and gemstones in her pieces. She also does custom design work.
From October to May, Stewart attends art shows all across the state of Florida.
"The juried, fine arts and craft shows are what I do and at a lot of those shows, I'll have my larger, one-of-a-kind, contemporary, gold and diamond pieces, whereas here at 2 Islands, I focus more on the islandy style and sealife. Most people come here for nature.
"I love 2 Islands Gallery because when people come here they want to take a piece of the island back with them, so with one of my turtle or manatee pendants, it reminds them of when they were here," she says.
When she's not crafting one-of-a-kind jewelry or attending an art show, Stewart likes to spend time with her family, chartering boats and fishing.
"I try to do one fishing trip a month. I'm trying to learn all the different native fish. I know what they are, but when I'm making a piece of jewelry, I want to know how they swim and the different formations they make. I call it research," she says with a laugh.
Stewart is in the process of launching a fishing-inspired line of jewelry.
"The fishing line is going to be neat. I was at an art show in Boca Grande and a woman asked me if I had a tarpon pendant."
She didn't, but Stewart went right to work and since then, the tarpon pendant has become one of her most popular pieces.
"She got me thinking, because so many ladies are getting into fishing. There have always been little charms, but I wanted something that was more stylish for women to wear, something different," she said.
For the ladies, Stewart makes pendants, earrings, rings and bracelets, and for the men, Stewart crafts key chains, belt buckles and picture frames.
All of her pendants can be strung on interchangeable, colorful silk chords.
Stewart's husband and children have even become a part of what she refers to as "the family business." Her husband maintains the Web site and her five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son often inspire new pieces - Stewart's clown fish pendant was inspired by her children's love of the animated film "Finding Nemo."
Many of Stewart's pieces are green, made entirely from recycled refinery metals and, in addition, her fishing-trip memento picture frames that feature a bronze tarpon, are constructed out of wood from recycled lobster traps.
2 Islands Gallery is located in Chadwick Square at South Seas Island Resort and is open to the public every day from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
For more information about the gallery, call 472-5111 ext. 7633.
To see more of Anisa Stewart's work, see a list of upcoming art shows or to sign up for her mailing list, go to www.AnisaJewelry.com.