Maker Stories

Natural Beauty: Nancy Nelson’s Forest-Inspired Jewelry

December 10, 2012

Take one look at Nancy Nelson’s jewelry and it’s obvious that she’s deeply inspired by nature. The organic shapes, earthy feel, and, in some cases, the actual natural elements used—such as the raw semi-precious stones in her Aquamarine Branch Ring –all celebrate Nancy’s love of the outdoors.

The ring, and her beautiful Blue Pinecone Necklace, were both featured in our community voting app, where they received some fantastic feedback from our online community. But before the designs made their way to our buying team, and even before the first pieces of brass and silver used were cast, these creations started as found objects in the forests near Nancy’s West Virginia home.

“I live in a small town 2.5 hours west of Washington DC,” Nancy told us. “It is an area filled with nature trails, state parks, and adventurous outdoor activities. Our family spends much of our time exploring the outdoors. It was during one of our adventures in the Appalachian Mountains that I spotted the twig for the Aquamarine Branch Ring.”

While the ring doesn’t actually contain this original twig, it does feature the exact likeness of it, because the sterling silver band is hand-cast by Nancy from a mold made of that very piece of wood.

Like that perfect twig, the pine cone that became the model for the Blue Pinecone Necklace was also selected on a family outing, while visiting the place Nancy’s children like to call the “Magic Forest,” Swallow Falls.

“We collected tiny pine cones from the forest floor as we hiked,” said Nancy. “With our pockets full, we took the pine cones back to my studio where we examined each one. I then selected the one I felt was the most beautiful in form, shape, and texture. When choosing the perfect pine cone, I took into consideration [its] size and weight. Since all my castings are solid, this is one of the most important aspects in choosing a good model. The pine cone had to be lightweight enough to hang comfortably from a necklace.”

Once cast, the brass incarnation of the pine cone is given a blue patina, which Nancy hand-paints. Nancy explained why she chose to add this hint of blue, “It stems from my love of lichen that grows on the trees, rocks, and fallen pine cones throughout the moist forest which is dominated by tall Hemlocks. I wanted to transform the pine cone and add color but I wanted it to be a little more controlled, which is why I decided to patina the edges.”


While these majestic hemlocks, fallen pine cones, and the other wonders of nature that surround her definitely influence Nancy’s work, she does have other muses. “Being a mom, I usually do not have to look far for inspiration,” she said. “My young children’s growing imagination and quest for exploration inspires me to think outside of the box and challenge myself to create something timeless yet interesting in form—something uncommon.”

Gift Guides

Uncommon Gifts for the Gadgeteer

December 7, 2012

To lovers of techie toys, the latest gizmo is one part puzzle and one part solution. The thought of figuring out its new features and functions fills them with happiness, and the notion that mastering its mysteries might lead to an easier existence keeps them on the hunt for the next incredible invention. Sure, some folks don’t understand their obsession with digital devices; but when called a geek, these collectors of computerized contraptions just smile proudly and say “thank you.” Unfortunately for eager gifters, the die-hard tech-thusiast often already owns the latest and greatest big-ticket electronic item before the holiday season even starts downloading. But never fear, our uncommon gift guide features iThing accessories, new takes on old favorites, and unexpected innovations sure to get your gadgeteer powered up.


Nerd Herder Gadget Wallet / New Decider Watch / Computer iPhone Art Case / USB Typewriter / Silver USB Cufflinks / Portable Magnetic Speaker / Stop Motion Camera / ReFleece iPad Sleeve

The Uncommon Life

Pin The Halls Contest – Part 2

December 7, 2012

We loved hosting our Pin The Halls Contest and spreading holiday cheer on Pinterest so much that we couldn’t wait until next December to host it again. Here is another chance to enter to win a $250 gift card to UncommonGoods. Enter the Pin the Halls contest by creating a winter wonderland board, or adding new pins featuring the above prompts to your existing board from our first contest.

Leave the link to your Pin the Halls board in the comments below or on the original pin in our It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like… board and you’ll be entered to win.

We’ll announce the winner on December 21 on this blog post. The winnings start at $50 and increase with every 50 entries we get until the grand prize reaches $250. So tell your friends to enter too!

Follow us on Pinterest for more updates, and leave a link to your profile in the comments.

You must be 18 years of age to enter. Deadline is December 21, 2012 11:59AM EST. Sorry, this contest is only open to those living in the US.

Update, 12/21/2012 – Congrats Jessica L., winner of the Pin the Halls Contest Part 2. Stay tuned for a post about why we loved her board!

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Audrey Heller

December 6, 2012

I remember the sample meeting (where each week our buyers present uncommon products they’re considering for our line-up) when Audrey Heller’s fantastical photographs were first introduced. The team was immediately captivated by the whimsical scenes, and not a buyer could wait to add her work to our collection.

Remembering the excitement around her creative pieces like End Well, Ripened, and my personal favorite, Bound, I couldn’t wait to get a tour of the studio where Audrey brings her miniature models to life. Since Audrey is in San Francisco, I couldn’t visit her workspace in person; but being a photographer and all, Audrey was happy to snap some photos of her own to provide virtual tour of her studio.

What are your most essential tools?
Eyes. Light. Focus. Patience. NPR. Coffee. And then a bunch of tech stuff.

I was a lighting designer and director for theater, and I use those skills all the time. I create and light my little scenarios, using many of the same design theories that I used on a big stage, but adjusting my tools to tiny scale. So what I would do with a 400 pound follow spot in the theater, I might do with a flashlight in my studio.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I love to be surrounded by evidence of creative thinking, reminders of unique places I have been, and objects with histories.

I’ve spent the last twelve years traveling to art shows across the country. That connects me to a huge variety of artists, people who present and support the arts, and arts educators. All of those connections, combined with the array of sublime and ridiculous experiences I have on the road, remind me that there are always new things to explore.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
I’ve started to learn to play the ukulele. I have absolutely no musical training or aptitude, so I’m just dreadful. But I’m slowly getting less dreadful, and that’s really amazing. It is hard, it takes a lot of focus, progress is slow…but it is such a sweet and silly little sound that I can’t get too worked up about how bad I am. Working on a three chord song is a great way to reset my brain.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Ha. I usually set goals by committing to an external deadline. Deadlines are great for me, because without them, I would never consider anything finished. So I look for things that will stretch me, maybe scare me and then I say yes. From there, it’s the calendar and lists!

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Theater is the ultimate collaborative art, and I struggle with working alone. I really love working with people, incubating and nurturing ideas.

In this series my collaborators are silent, but essential. The figures I use are made for model train sets, and they all come from the same manufacturer. They are crafted with incredible precision and care, and have made it possible for me to create work with much more depth than if they were not, in themselves, so fascinating.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Victory is its own reward, right? When it’s not, ice cream!*

* San Francisco is the home of some mighty fine purveyors of frozen treats, but I travel a lot, so I’m always interested to hear of new places to try..feel free to offer your suggestions!

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“You are here.”

It is simple, and profound. Sometimes it’s just a locational fact, sometimes it is great ponderable wisdom of the ages. It is a reminder that I often need. My curiosity can become a liability and lead to distraction. When I remind myself to be present just where I am, I get a lot more out of what is in front of me and who I’m with. It’s delightful that the phrase appears in the world, unlooked for. When I see it, even on a map in a subway station, it reminds me to stop and look around.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Serious play is the best recharger for me. Learning, experimenting, trying out new things, can put me in that childlike state of mind where I’m open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. I don’t mean “childlike” to sound simple, or superficial. I mean REAL child-like: when the world is fresh and full of wonder, and a little scary and mystifying and out of control.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Don’t be so afraid of making mistakes. I don’t get better by figuring out how to do things right; I get better by doing things. Jump in.

Gift Guides

Uncommon Gifts for The Runaway

December 5, 2012

There’s no cure for The Runaway’s serious case of wanderlust. No matter how many roads they trek, sights they see, and adventures they embark upon, their craving to see lands unknown cannot be sated. With a longing to observe the places, meet the people, and delight in the nuances of the world, this curious voyager is happiest when discovering a new destination. Given the joy they take from the journey, we can’t guarantee they’ll be home for the holidays; but we do have a good feeling they’ll love these travel-inspired gifts.

Single Wine Tote–Regions / QR Code Luggage Tag / Buildings–Denise Fiedler–Eiffel Tower / Places in America–Oliver Jeffers / Crumpled City Map / San Francisco Neighborhood Map Wooden Routing / Portable iPhone Charger / Scratch Travel Journal