An interview with Bearhead Factory

North County's Lux Art Institute, one of our most coveted art spots in San Diego, is hosting their first-ever jewelry trunk show Wed., July 18th (6-8 pm).It's our pleasure to share notes from featured designer Bearhead Factory's Erin Merriman, an equally treasured recent transplant to San Diego, whose work is constantly blowing us away.

All of your pieces are handcrafted. Can you explain some of the process that goes into crafting your collection?

My pieces have always been called chunky or oversized, which is so funny to me because they are always a miniature, wearable version of something that I conceived of as huge and then scaled down to a wearable size. I begin each piece by carving a solid piece of wax. This can take up to 6 hours, but I get into kind of a trance and don't want to stop! I cast these in metal, usually sterling silver or brass. Most of my time is actually spent sitting at my work bench grinding, polishing, drilling - It's really physical! Then I get to wear new styles around, thinking about how it can be improved, which is of course my favorite part.

Some images of art that inspire you?

There is so much lately! Pinar Yolocan portraits, the French comic artist Moebius, feminist heavy hitters like Kiki Smith, and of course the art of mother nature.

(top to bottom: Pinar Yolocan, Kiki Smith, Romance Was Born)

I keep a lot of images from National Geographic in my workspace - close-ups of moon craters, aftermath of forest fires, lava rivers, that kind of thing. Right now I am really excited by contemporary photography, especially fashion photography, like Antonella Arismendi and fashion bloggers like Prism of Threads - they do these fantastic photo shoots that always make my heart race.

(Antonella Arismendi, top, & Min Kim, bottom)

A story to share about sourcing your materials?

I purchase my metal for casting from a refinery that harvests scraps from many different industries. I am an avid recycler, so it has been exciting to learn that almost all sterling silver, brass, and bronze used in jewelry casting has been recycled. Working with a refiner is satisfying because say you are filling an 18k gold ring; you can literally put a piece of paper down, collect the dust, fold it up, and bring it to the refinery, and they will pay you for it - there is this sense that nothing is wasted.

What is your most prized artifact at your studio? What's its story?

I have a deerskin smudge fun that was gifted to me by a Garifuna Medicine Woman. We were preparing for a workshop, and she pulls out this beautiful beaded fan, and my first thought was something childish like "Oooh, I really want her to give that to me!" She turned to me and informed me that it (the fan) was tired of being x-rayed and fondled by airport security and wanted to stay with me... I was ecstatic!

After leaving New York City, you lived in an Earthship in Taos, New Mexico. We have one day to spend in Taos. Where do we go?

That's easy - shopping for antique jewelry at The Plaza Gallery, a drive across the Rio Grande Gorge to the Greater World Earthship Community for photos and general inspiration, a dip in the hot springs, and dinner at The Love Apple, a sweet farm-to-table restaurant in a crumbling adobe church that sources its ingredients from over 20 local farms.

What future project (or collaboration) appears in your wildest of dreams?

I'm currently collaborating with local botanical design firm Tend Living, so stay tuned for that, but I want to collaborate with everyone! I've realized that the underlying drive behind my work is to contribute something to the cultural conversation that is this moment on planet earth, and that collaboration is the ultimate way to do that. I'd love to do runway pieces for Romance Was Born, stage pieces for Yolandi of Die Antwoord, or Karin of Fever Ray... or Bjork. (You said wildest dreams!) I've also been dying to melt down some heirlooms and make a solid gold gummy bear necklace for my son.

We have to ask... Power animal?

Mouse, Bear, Dragon.

Many thanks to Erin for the constant inspiration! Find more event details at Lux's website, and peruse more gems from Bearhead Factory here.