Sara Nelson: Jewels Of Navigation

By Bernadette Bernon

Sarah Nelson's unique jewelry creations are inspired and influenced by objects and scenes she experiences on the water.

Sarah Nelson at the helm

Sarah Nelson and her husband Wayne Rocheleau from Jefferson, Massachusetts, have been boat owners for 25 years. They began sailing a 16-foot daysailer, chartered bareboats in the Caribbean, owned a 36-foot Catalina, then restored a 38-foot Shannon ketch that they sailed up and down the New England coast — until they lost her in a marina fire en route to the Bahamas. After the fire short-circuited their cruising dreams, the couple regrouped and recalibrated, bought an Airstream travel trailer, drove all over North America, having adventures not unlike from their sailing days.

Eventually, though, the water and boats beckoned once more. This time they knew they wanted a boat that would be easy to get on and off for them and for their dogs. "We now have a Ranger Tug 27," says Sarah, a metalsmith and jeweler, "and we hope to do the Great Loop aboard Luna Rossa one day."

Sarah received her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and before retirement was head of the metals department at the Worcester Center for Crafts in Worcester, Massachusetts, one of the oldest craft schools in the country. Inspired by her life on the water, Sarah interprets aids to navigation, bridges, and forms she encounters as they cruise, and does sketching and photography onboard. Upon bringing these images back to her studio, she creates one-of-a-kind representations in gold, silver, semiprecious stones, and stainless-steel rigging wire.

Nautical-inspired jewelry

Translating ideas into pieces of jewelry and sculpture is a contemplative process. Sarah considers issues of scale, best materials to convey her idea, and finally the engineering of the piece. She works out all these things by creating a paper or wooden model before cutting the metals and beginning construction of each piece.

"There is a wonderful railroad bridge that spans the Cape Cod Canal that I have shot photos of it each time we sail beneath it," she says. "I'm constructing a piece that is inspired by it."

Visit artistjewelrybysarah.com to see her beautiful work. 

— Published: April/May 2018


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