Shirley Allen Boutique and Gallery has a reputation for featuring fine art, clothing and accessories — but Shirley Allen also has a penchant for fine art that also functions as clothing and accessories, and according to artist and jewelry designer Emily Mead, she can’t think of a better place to display her own collection of wearable treasures — avant garde jewelry composed of beads, crystals and precious and semi-precious stones.
“Shirley has an artistic eye and I think she collects the most incredible array of items. Going into her store is like going to a banquet for the eye — and I want it all!” Mead said.
“Over the years, we’ve sold a great many of Emily’s pieces,” said George Siconolfi of Shirley Allen Boutique and Gallery, “but before Shirley and I met her, I didn’t know much about stones or crystals, let alone the properties of each kind — the concept just didn’t really resonate with me. But the idea of using crystals — whether for healing or spirituality — goes back to ancient times.”
And while Mead wasn’t always a jewelry designer, she says she’s been an artist her whole life.
“I used to make my own clothes, and I even made clothes for my classmates because they liked my style,” she recalled.
So how did Mead, who is also an accomplished painter, go from child clothier to renowned jewelry artist?
“I used to dream about being along the coast of the Mediterranean. I would walk along the beach, and scattered amongst the rocks were all of these beautiful stones and beads,” Mead recalled. “When Shirley opened her first store, I made up my mind to make some necklaces for her, and so I went to a gem and mineral show and I bought so many beads — it was sort of like buying candy and I just couldn’t stop.”
But nobody really wants Mead to stop — even world-famous crystal artisan Marie-Claude Lalique, a former Captiva resident who carried her family’s design legacy until her death in the mid-1990s, was one of Mead’s biggest fans and would purchase several pieces every year to add to her collection.
“The stones and beads just tell me what to do with them, and my creative process for making necklaces is very much like my process for painting — like laying out all the colors and brushes side by side — I just lay all the stones and beads side by side, change the order, switch out stones, and keep changing it to see what works,” Mead said. “That’s the fun part of the whole process — immersing myself in the materials to see what they will help me create.”
And Siconolfi said that the way the stones speak to Mead as an artist is somewhat similar to the way customers respond to Mead’s work on display.
“Customers always ask me which stones they should pick, but after a while, I started to realize that the stones were actually picking the customers,” he said. “Now, I ask customers to pick the stone that appeals to them most and then we look it up in this big encyclopedia of crystals to see what their selection represents — if they need healing or balance. Whether you believe in the symbolism or not, it’s fun — and Emily’s work is just so beautiful.”
While Mead’s jewelry-making and painting processes are somewhat similar, she says it’s her non-wearable art that allows her to really explore and push the bounds of her creativity in more emotional, abstract ways.
“I care about the world around me and I have things to say, and through my paintings I get to express those feelings,” Mead said, noting that one series of paintings she’s currently working on was inspired by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. “It was a total disaster and it just enraged me so much — those feelings are what got me started on my latest series, which I’m calling ‘Oil, Fire and Water.’”
But Mead said she’s always playing with different subject matter — “From the unrest in Africa to crop circles,” she said, “my work is definitely never boring!” — and new techniques — “Things change, and I’m always looking for new ways to do things, like crocheting beads on wire and using wax in my paintings, for example.”
Emily Mead’s paintings and jewelry are on display and for sale at Shirley Allen Boutique & Gallery, located at 11528 Andy Rosse Lane. For more information, call 472-3506 or go to www.ShirleyAllen.com.
Artist Emily Mead uses precious and semi-precious stones to create works of wearable art.