Jewelry artist loves making old trinkets shine again
After a trying year in her life, Nancy Brown wasn’t sure what would come next.
“My mom passed away after having a lot of health issues and my daughter graduated from college all in one month,” explained Brown.
The Ellijay artist said she sat down and talked to God during that time. Eventually, she heard back three words in response – “wait and create.”
“I’d been running and running and not having a lot of time for anything else. Suddenly, I had fallen in a hole and I prayed a lot,” Brown said.
Turning jewelry into art
Almost a year after taking the otherworldly suggestion to heart, Brown’s creativity is branching out into new directions.
Her handmade jewelry, which Brown describes as an “upcycled” style that combines existing components to make new pieces, is at the forefront of a new studio shop in the Trolley Depot plaza near the intersection of Old Highway 5 and Highway 515.
“I like to take things that are discarded or broken, like a key or an old button or shoe clip, put them together and turn them into something different,” she said while showing a silver necklace and earring set that marries pieces of a broken bracelet with other vintage parts. Another piece on display uses a rifle shell casing for its center charm.
Two of Brown’s necklaces will be featured in the January issue of Jewelry Affaire Magazine. She described the full-color publication as a magazine geared toward “those who make jewelry and those who want to make jewelry.”
“One necklace (that’s in the magazine) I call ‘Buckle Up.’ It’s made from an old buckle and a few other components,” said Brown. “They’ve actually asked me to submit another piece for consideration in the next issue.”
Brown’s knack for creating offbeat, eye-catching accessories dates back to her childhood in Boston.
“The first jewelry I made was when I was 13. My dad brought home some of the old telephone wire that was coated in different colors with funky dots and lines all over it. I made rings, necklaces and all kinds of stuff out of that wire,” she remembered.
Bending and forming copper wire has stayed with Brown, who makes sculptures out of the malleable textile.
“I also use it to do jewelery wraps, but usually it goes into making trees or mobiles. I once did a big piece (using copper wire) that was two seven-foot mermaids,” she said.
Brown stressed she is not a jeweler, but rather a craftsperson who makes “jewelry art.”
“Whether it’s jewelry, wire or fabric art, I like to dabble and play with a lot of different things,” she said. “I don’t do fine jewelry like gold. But if somebody wants to bring in a broach that was their grandmother’s or they want to make a multi-generational piece out of several parts, I can do that.”
Brown considers herself a forerunner of the trendy “thrift chic” style. For years, she’s frequented flea markets, resale shops and even scrapyards in search of the hidden treasure curios that appear in her work.
“My best friend of over 40 years and I like to say we were ‘shabby before it was chic.’ We’ve been doing this since we were kids,” Brown said while pondering how she’ll soon transform a steel wire mannequin frame into a birdcage needed for another piece of artwork.
Artistry runs in the family, confirmed Brown. Her husband is a painter and one of her sons makes chainmail wear and chain link jewelry.
“He used a drill and jig. He would wrap the wire, then cut every ring,” she said about how the chain rings on display at her studio were made. “Needless to say, he’s a very patient man.”
Not just balloons
Brown has become a fixture at downtown Ellijay’s annual Apple Arts on the Square fall festival and other local events where she can be found seamlessly twisting and tying inflated balloons into new creations.
She began perfecting the
unconventional skill 33 years ago as a way to work and be social while raising a family.
“I’d just had my first son and there was an ad in this newspaper where someone was selling a balloon business,” Brown remembered. “It was one bag of balloons, a nozzle for helium and the most pitiful rag wig you’d ever seen. I started out doing singing costume telegrams and Valentine’s Day 1984 was my first delivery.”
Known to many around Gilmer County as “the balloon lady,” Brown can’t imagine her life without that facet of her artistic oeuvre.
“I love that you can take a piece of latex and air and make it into anything you could imagine. I do pieces as small as balloon animals and as big as seven-foot birthday candles, picture frames and huge dragons and castles,” said Brown. “The limits are endless.”
The busiest season for the balloon business will be over in the next few months, giving Brown more time to develop her lines of jewelry and other accessories available under the labels Nancyfangles, Funkyfangles and Shabby Shreds.
“I didn’t want to use ‘upcycled’ (in those names) because it’s used so much, or recycled because sometimes that gives a bad connotation,” she said. “I was going to be Newfangled Nancy, but my sister suggested Nancyfangles. That stuck and I’ve been Nancyfangles (in one way or another) for 19 years.”
The issue of Jewelry Affaire that features Brown’s necklaces will be out in December.
“This is my dream,” she said about running the studio shop. “That’s why I set it up the way I did. I wanted it to be not just a storefront, but a studio where I can create stuff and sit down and talk to people as they come in. One compliment I’ve heard is that (the design) ‘just feels good.’ People come in and I feel like I make new friends, not just customers.”