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Anatomy of a Brooch: The Halstead Challenge

The evolution of a piece of fine jewelry, from inspiration and design to construction and presentation. 
Perrino Elusive Illusive 2
DC graphic
A jewelry designer purchases a kit to participate, and receives a 50-piece selection of materials—sterling silver, copper, and brass—that they must incorporate into a piece of fine jewelry. Shown is the contents of the 2017 kit; each participant received the same materials.

The Halstead Challenge is a design competition for jewelry makers, sponsored by Halstead Bead. The final jurying takes place at the annual conference of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG), but for the participating artists, the design process began months ago. 

This year's piece needs to be a brooch, and it must be made primarily from the selection of materials provided by Halstead. There is an annual theme, and for 2017, that theme is MEMENTO. 

A picture is worth 1000 words. What does your image reveal? Part of your family history, a treasured memory, or an object you want to immortalize? Whatever image you choose, it will be deeply personal and tell your story. 

Learn more about the Challenge in this interview with Hilary Halstead Scott, originally published on the SNAG website. 

After the designer finishes their piece, they submit it, along with an artist's statement, to the competition, and a selection of the submissions are chosen to be shown in a gallery during the annual conference. This year's exhibition will be shown at the RHINO Contemporary Arts Gallery in New Orleans (also the location of the conference). The work is juried, and winners are announced during the conference. The brooches will remain for sale at the gallery, with a percentage of sales (and also the kit fees) benefitting the Society. 


Racine jewelry designer and teacher Leslie Perrino participated in the 2017 Halstead Challenge, and we were lucky enough to follow her and her piece through the design process, from conception to completion. Her piece, Illusive Elusive, pictured above, is among the finalists on display at RHINO, and we are rooting for it to win!

Leslie's design process began with the kit from Halstead. It contained an interesting assortment of metal components, and she immediately identified the silver screen as her starting point. For her, though, the photo selection was much more difficult. She estimates having spent ten hours or more going through photos, learning new ways to manipulate them in Photoshop, and waiting for inspiration to strike.

Perrino Halstead Challenge test images
Perrino original photo

She pulled any images that evoked an emotional response—happy or not. She explored some natural themes, playing with images of trees and birds' nests, then tested an image from a trip to Ireland, and one of herself. But it was the tiny star components included in the Halstead Challenge kit that helped her connect with the image that became her final piece. She stumbled across a long-forgotten shot taken in a museum in Italy while visiting distant relatives. 

The photo is of an ancient wooden artifact; a statue of a Madonna holding her hands to the heavens, her face full of questions. She is surrounded by a halo of stars. Leslie loves the photo. She says she was instantly drawn to the odd look on the Madonna's face, the dress that she deemed "awful;" she recalled the surge of emotion that she experiences when she saw the original statue. She was struck by the reminder that there are so many things to manage in life, and that one can never quite get caught up.

Perrino Halstead Challenge 7
Perrino Halstead Challenge 8

That led Leslie to beginnings of her Artist's Statement: When you are an artist with more ideas then time, what can you do? How can you capture your ideas when you have as many as there are stars in the sky?  You'll find her full Statement below. 

Once the question of the image was settled, work moved to the bench. Leslie has been working in (and teaching) enamel for more than 20 years, and she works often with a technique that converts images to decals. Using the sheet copper from the Halstead kit, she created the center component of the brooch by kiln-firing the image onto a white enameled background. She experimented with accent colors, but settled on a transparent blue to call to mind "the connection between the heavens and the mind; the cerebral and the celestial." 

Leslie's work is almost always two-sided, as she feels that jewelry is sculpture and thus should always be designed in three dimensions. She chose an image of an eye to represent the "artist's eye." It would later be partially hidden behind the silver screen, to represent "the obstacles that can come between you and the realization of your ideas." 

Perrino Halstead Challenge 3
Perrino Halstead Challenge 5
Perrino Halstead Challenge 9

The setting for the central component went through a few versions before she settled on a final design. Knowing she wanted to use a "starry" idea, she experimented with copper foil but she didn't think it was coming together.

Leslie shifted gears and created a deceptively simple bezel made from Rio Grande's rectangular wire, with a hidden lip soldered inside to hold the enameled circle. The pieces of silver screen and patterned copper, all from the kit, inspired the back of the piece. In fact, the two sizes of silver screen were her favorite of the materials provided for the Challenge, and she intends to incorporate more into her own work going forward.

She soldered the three components together with some additional silver wire, and cut them to fit the round bezel. She added soldered prongs that serve two purposes: some are actual prongs, holding the enameled component in the setting. Other prongs became rivets to hold the tiny disks and stars in place. The stars on the finished piece are kinetic and move —"like ideas!"

By placing the component on a lip within the bezel, she created the effect of a screen that she thought was reminiscent of southern Italy, the place where her Madonna was first photographed. She loves the idea of the back of the piece being a "secret, sacred space" with the artist's eye peeking out—looking "past the obstacles, looking beyond the place where your ideas are often cloaked, covered, fettered." She added her own pinback to complete the brooch, and named it Illusive Elusive. 

I asked Leslie what she thought she learned from this process, and whether she would do it again. She answered that she absolutely would, for she felt that the process really pushed her as an artist. She claims she never would have come up with the ideas for the back of the piece (her favorite part) without the inspiration she drew from the materials, and that while the entire process may not wind up being as financially beneficial for her as the everyday jewelry that she creates, the entire experience would "pay off in intangible ways."

She learned to "start high and distill," i.e., to start with a large, sweeping idea like MEMENTO, and to break it down into a tangible representation of herself as an artist. Personally, I think she succeeded. 

Perrino Elusive Illusive back 2

Artist Statement: Leslie Perrino

So many ideas, so little time! As an artist, I see the world around me, and long to translate what I see and feel into my art. But the real world intervenes.

This piece represents my struggle to find time, energy, focus, clarity, confidence, and resources to realize ideas which flow around me, sometimes tantalizingly just out of reach. The image I used of a Madonna, looking up at all the stars with longing, is from a photo I took while visiting family in the Abruzzo region of Italy. 

FIND MORE: metal , mixed-media , wire , enamel , brooches

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