Ellen Chappelle - Limelight Designs - Studio #10
Handcrafted jewelry in sterling silver, copper, gemstones, Swarovski crystals and dichroic glass
By Lynette Hensley
LH: Did you grow up in an artistic family?
EC: Yes. I was a third-generation theatre major in college; both my mother and my grandmother were talented actors who became teachers. My mom also sang and played the piano, usually with my sister and me harmonizing along! My sister is now a photographer, as well as a talented painter who dabbles in theatrical scenery and interior design. My dad would occasionally create beautifully detailed pencil drawings of animals.
LH: What do we need to know about your story?
EC: I’m somewhat of a late bloomer and didn’t even start making jewelry until later in life. I started to realize in my late 30s that I was no longer the ingénue, theatrically speaking, and the roles I was being offered began to change – and to shrink! So I began to look for a new creative pursuit where I didn’t have to rely on someone else to grant me the ability to create something. After trying a number of art forms, I took a jewelry making class on my 40th birthday and it opened up a whole new world to me! I loved learning something completely different from than anything I’d ever tried. All that to say: it’s never too late to pursue a new passion!
LH: What’s on your jewelry bench right now?
EC: If you entered my studio today, you’d find 10 strands of big, beautiful pearls that I’m making into jewelry to benefit Threads of Hope, a livelihood ministry serving the poor in the Philippines. (Check out my Limelight Designs Facebook page for in-process photos!) You’d also find some sparkly Swarovski crystals I plan to capture in chain maille for pendants. These will be available during the Tour, (unless they’re all sold out!) as well as on my website.
LH: Describe one of your current projects.
EC: As I said above, I’m busily making oodles of pearls into jewelry to benefit Threads of Hope, a nonprofit organization started by my sister and brother-in-law. In the Philippines, children in poverty sometimes find themselves in desperate situations. Parents are forced to travel long distances to find work, leaving kids alone and vulnerable to exploitation. By helping them start stay-at-home businesses, Threads of Hope has all but ended that risk for over 300 families, while providing them with a thriving community that includes a school, a birthing clinic, and a church/community center. It’s so satisfying and heartwarming to be able to turn a simple piece of jewelry into something so important that can help so many!
LH: What is your dream project? If there were no restrictions on time or money what would you create?
EC: I’d love more opportunities to combine my passions by creating one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces to be worn onstage in theatre productions, films and concerts. I’ve done this twice so far. Last fall, I created two wire-wrapped angel ornaments that were a key part of the story for a world premiere of a musical written by some dear friends. One angel was bright, shiny and new and the other one, an exact duplicate, was antiqued so that it looked tarnished when pulled out of a storage trunk at the end of the play 100 years later. I also once made a large, ornate gold and silver cross encrusted with Swarovski crystals for a production of The Sound of Music. It looked so much better on the Mother Abbess than the brown plastic cross with fake wood grain that came with the rented costume!
LH: Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?
EC: I’ve always loved elegant, scrolling patterns, such as those found in ornate ironwork and architectural stonework. I also love chandeliers; the juxtaposition of the sparkling crystals and the matte curves of the framework creates such a beautiful look. I often try to replicate that feeling with my more intricate wire pieces. My pet memorial pendants are inspired by colorful glass mosaics that I used to make before I discovered jewelry design.
LH: What have you learned about yourself through your explorations in art?
EC: When I was growing up, I never thought of myself as an artist, because I couldn’t draw or paint. And as a straight-A student with perfectionist tendencies, it was humbling to find something that didn’t come easily! Despite my life-long love of performing, I felt I wasn’t artistic, creative or sensitive like a “real” artist. I think I threw myself into school instead, because I excelled there. It wasn’t until decades later that I discovered my true wiring. Once I began to realize that I truly was sensitive and creative and artsy, I started to feel more whole as a person and see much more color in the world. I’m also not quite as much of a perfectionist any more, which is freeing! I love the stories of Native American artists who would intentionally add an imperfection to their beadwork or weaving believing that only God could create perfection. Sometimes it’s those marks of handcrafting that make a piece so interesting and beautiful.
LH: What book would you recommend to our readers?
EC: Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. I read this book for the first time last year with my artists’ group. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.
LH: Do you collect anything?
EC: I don’t collect anything tangible, but last Thanksgiving Day I started a gratitude journal. I guess you could say that I’m collecting grateful memories of God’s gifts to me. Counting your blessings rather than your needs and wants really reorients your mind to be more positive, peaceful and trusting.
LH: What is the biggest obstacle in your art life that you have overcome? Or are overcoming?
EC: My biggest obstacle, whether in my jewelry making, my performing or my writing, has always been marketing. It’s an extremely uncomfortable task for me. I’m not sure whether I’d say I’m overcoming it yet, but I’m sure working on it!
LH: Can you describe a single habit that you strongly believe contributes to your success?
EC: Showing up at the bench! As Woody Allen once said, 80 percent of life is just showing up. I used to wait to be inspired to start creating, but inspiration is a flighty and unpredictable little sprite! I find that if I schedule time and just sit down and start working, inspiration will show herself eventually! Ernest Hemingway also touted the “just do it” philosophy, saying, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part and creativity will flow once you begin.
LH: Who is your biggest supporter? How does that support show up?
EC: My husband is my biggest supporter and fan. I wouldn’t have the courage to pursue any of my creative passions without his belief in my abilities. As a musician, he understands the value of the creative process – and he never complains about my growing collection of beads, metals, glass and tools! (Thank you, Honey!)
LH: How do you keep your creative spark? What keeps you fascinated?
EC: Overcoming a creative block can be hard – it’s so easy to get stuck and fear that you’ll never have another creative thought! Sometimes getting away from my studio and the creative process completely is helpful. Walking the dog, visiting with friends, or going out for dinner with my husband gives my mind a break from trying to make something or solve a design problem. Another practice that can spark my creativity is to enjoy the work of others by attending an art show or a play, listening to music or taking a class in another medium.
LH: What aspect of making art excites you the most right now?
EC: I think what excites me most is the endless nature of creativity and the many ways to create. It’s a bit like being Alice falling into Wonderland – there’s something new and exciting around every corner. Even just within the discipline of jewelry making, there are so many techniques to learn and materials to discover. I’m sure I’ll never be bored!