Teresa Kahres grew up in Long Island, NY and began showing her artistic leanings early in life. She went on to study jewelry design and enameling at SUNY New Paltz, the Cecelia Bauer Studio in New York City and in Siena, Italy. Some friends invited her to join them in a Brooklyn studio in 2005, where, the following year, she founded t. kahres jewelry, her line of sustainable, nature-inspired, handmade, recycled metal jewelry.
Her deep love for the shapes and colors found in nature shows in the organic forms of her metalwork–often hand-cast from actual leaves, shells, etc.–and the stunning colors of her enameling. The end result is intricate jewelry art, exquisitely crafted like small sculptures.
We’re in love with her creations, and jumped at the chance to ask her some questions about herself and her work.
Were you artistic as a child or teenager? If so, what kinds of things did you create?
I was very artistic as a child. I always drew pictures and took projects for class to the next level, whether it be a science project, an art project, history, etc.
I remember one project when I was in 4th grade. We had to make a homemade usable tool/object. I made a fishing pole out of a long branch and twine, and tied a rock to the middle of the twine so it would drop down in the water to catch fish. I carried it all the way to school. I taught an art drawing class on the computer in the 4th grade as well.
I was always more interested in art class and did very well in those classes. My mind understood that process. For the other classes I really didn’t have much interest, and it always took more time for me to grasp what was going on. It was kind of boring to me.
What were your major inspirations growing up? Any role models?
My grandfather and dad were major inspirations. They are/were very handy people. They would make things, if they could, before buying them.
My grandfather was always into funky gadgets. I remember he bought a huge (by huge I mean probably a foot wide) rear view mirror for the car so he never had to look back. He was all about the design, too. He was always drawing and was an exceptional drawer.
He and my dad owned a bookstore, and they built all the shelves and many of the things they had in the shop by hand. They wallpapered my whole house and made picture frames, step stools, tables, wall units, you name it. They weren’t woodworkers, they just knew how to create things the way they wanted it.
So I was around a lot of crafty, handy people growing up.
Are there any great jewelry artists or sculptors of the past who you worship?
One of my inspirational jewelers is Art Smith. His jewelry is very sculptural, and he used a lot of found metals and materials to create his jewelry. His pieces are a true work of art to me.
When I started enameling, I was first influenced by Georgia O’Keeffe. I love her flowers and the colors she uses. Louise Bourgeois and her large metal spiders are amazing in real life. Her sculptures and what she expresses within them is a real influence.
When did you become especially interested in making jewelry?
I became interested in making jewelry when I made gifts for everyone out of whatever I could find. I would make jewelry out of beads, leather, vinyl, studs, safety pins, string, etc. I took a metalsmithing class in college and became hooked instantly! So I delved into metals and started loving what I was creating.
What are the most challenging aspects of creating your jewelry?
The most challenging part of jewelry making is the steps you take to get it to what you want it to become. Drawing it and fabricating it out of base metal, paper or wax to see scale and design before you actually make it in the metal you want. Making a model out of precious metals can get expensive if you are in the very beginning stages, so it’s always better to try and make it first from something less precious.
What are the greatest design challenges in creating jewelry?
The greatest design challenge is trying to make something unique and eye-catching and yet something that an everyday person can respond to. I understand that not everyone will like my work, but I want the work to be wearable and sellable.
Do you work alone, or with a team? If the latter, how does that work?
I currently work with an assistant, and it has made everything so much better and easier. It relieves some stress of pressing orders. She helps me make decisions and keep things organized. She is great!
How long does it take to create each piece of leaf jewelry?
When I am doing production I do a bunch at a time, but I’d say each leaf earring set takes about a full hour to complete from start to finish.
How do know when you’ve spotted something you want to make into jewelry, like a leaf, etc.?
I know when I want to make something into a piece of jewelry if it speaks to me instantly. I am always on the lookout for new things to create and colors to use so when I am feeling something I usually try to create it out of metal.
With your nature-inspired jewelry, does the change of the seasons inspire you to change what you’re making?
Most of my jewelry is beach-related, which is where I find the most peace for myself. I somewhat dislike winter. Although I did do a new collection not so long ago and based some shapes on ice, so I guess I am influenced by all seasons. I just tend to get more inspiration from the warmer ones.
When did you start becoming a “real” business woman?
I started to become a real business women when I realized that I wanted this to not be a hobby. A few friends of mine were getting studio space many years ago and asked me to join in with them. At that point it started becoming more and more like a business. I did have another job during my first years into business so that I could fund materials and such.
I was approached to do the Grand Central Holiday Fair a few years ago (at that time I was working three jobs, jewelry included). I decided to take the leap of faith and do the fair and quick my other jobs. The fair was going to be 42 days–and very long ones–so I wouldn’t be able to work all three. I was very pleased with my decision to let go and go for the business in full force. The fact that I can run my own thing now is the best. I was scared, but happy I finally got over it.
What are the biggest business lessons you’ve learned?
Big business lessons I learned are:
- It’s pretty difficult being your own boss; the structure, and keeping everything organized and on time.
- Not being scared to not be good enough and trying to get what you want is a big challenge in such a competitive field. Going for it and not standing back was a challenge. But as my business grows and I am a bit older, I am trying not to let anything stand in the way.
- Having the freedom is great, but you have to be structured in order to have a successful business. Sure, you can take off whenever you want but then things get left behind.
- Hiring someone is scary because now you have to manage someone else besides yourself. But if you get sick and need to take off and you have no one that works for you, business stops.
Those are my biggest thus far. I am sure as I grow, others will arise.