Interview for Apt613 - Jewellery and the Pandemic

Interview: Andrea Mueller crafts jewellery to help carry people’s memories

By Victoria Solan on April 14, 2021

Andrea Mueller makes small, important jewelry. From her workbench, she creates engagement rings, redesigns heirloom gems, and fabricates earrings that brighten and bring meaning to their wearer’s daily lives. Mueller’s clients have given her a unique perspective into Ottawa’s changing relationship with gold and silver: she is frequently called upon to remake old or inherited pieces into new works. Whether original or reworked, all of Mueller’s jewelry has a smooth, tactile satisfaction: the rings may glint and gleam, but they are also comfortable and reassuring against the body.

Mueller was trained in metal craft, but she sometimes finds herself in the role of interpreter of person-object relationships: she helps clients create new narratives about small objects. These objects might have complex histories. Mueller makes fresh, meaningful, delightful objects that their owners love to wear and display.

Apt613: The past 12 months have been exhausting for everyone. What has it been like in your studio?

Andrea Mueller: The daily ritual of creating something helped me get through the year. Even though I had no idea what the future would hold, I felt a sense of purpose by keeping my hands busy. There are other artists in my building and as a small group, we managed to continue to work safely and also support one another through the dark days. I consider myself lucky because I have a private workspace, so once my kids were settled into their new routines, I was able to work with relatively few distractions.

Tools of the trade. Hand tools and soldering with torch. Photo: Elizabeth Raymer Griffin.

Last spring, many people had to defer weddings and special events. Does jewelry play a different role in a private ceremony than a public one?

I had several clients who postponed their wedding more than once. Eventually, many decided to go ahead with a very small ceremony. When the time is right, they will host a big party. The wedding ring itself carries the same meaning of commitment even when additional loved ones cannot be at the ceremony.

Some small businesses have faced particular hardships as a result of public health restrictions. Has the growth of online shopping affected your business?

People have been very supportive of small and local businesses. The ease and safety of online shopping and buying local were a perfect combination for people during the pandemic. Instagram is such an easy way to look for inspiration, but I find searching on an artist’s webpage that you like helps to narrow the choices.

A significant share of your business consists of remaking old pieces of jewelry. Has that increased in the past 12 months? Have some people used their time at home to rethink the meaning of their jewelry collections?

I would say that there has been an increase in people wanting to redesign heirloom pieces. I think the pandemic forced people to think more deeply about their priorities. And yes, people have had more time to comb through old boxes and head down memory lane. A client told me with a sense of urgency, “I have been thinking about doing this for so long, and now I’m [really] doing it.” We’ve all been reflecting on the past. Recreating a piece of jewelry is a meaningful way to carry the memories of the past into the future.

Jewellers workbench. This is where the magic happens. Hands-on sawing, filing, sanding and polishing. Photo: Elizabeth Raymer Griffin.

Jewelry doesn’t have to be for a wedding or partnership ceremony. What other kinds of occasions or life-cycle events do you design pieces for?

We have all had more time to think about ways to create special events to spice up our days. It’s been an honour to help people mark milestones and celebrate the good stuff. I recently made a birthday pendant for a grandmother honouring her nine grandchildren. That’s something to celebrate. Also, people have been wanting to treat themselves and others to gifts to get through the hard times. Jewelry is for so many occasions.

You have now been working in the Rectory Art Building for quite a long time, and you are currently the only jeweler. What is it like to work surrounded by painters and photographers?

I have been at the Rectory for 10 years. There have been a core group of artists that have been together since its inception almost 11 years ago. I’m truly grateful to work with other inspiring and creative people across many media. Ultimately, it’s the shared commitment to a creative life that connects us. We talk about art, life and everything in between. Elizabeth Raymer Griffin, who has a studio upstairs from mine, took the photographs for this article.

All the little bits and pieces. Silver castings and rubber molds. Photo: Elizabeth Raymer Griffin.

While many of us are still lounging around in sweatpants, some people are decorating themselves for appearances on social media. Have you found that the demand for jewelry has changed?

Clearly we don’t have the same need right now for dressing up, but wearing jewelry and other accessories that make you feel good is so important. We need it more than ever!

Andrea Mueller’s work can be seen on her website. Her jewelry can be purchased at her studio, at the OAG shop  and Wall Space Gallery on Richmond Road. Farther afield, her work is available at General Fine Craft in Almonte and Cornerstone Canadian Art and Craft in Kingston. Mueller’s studio and most stores are offering curbside and online service; check websites for hours and details.