Erwin List Sanchez and Deborah Stotzky are exactly who you would imagine when you think of partners who design Yoga Jewel Pendants for a living : peaceful, positive, and calm. After only five minutes of chatting with the couple and exploring their home, they were no longer just the “Yoga Jewels” designers in my mind, but simply Erwin and Deborah.
I knew the moment I walked down their quiet East Village street that I was about to be welcomed into one of the most charming home studios I’ve ever seen. Their street is the kind of street I wished to move to when I first thought about moving to New York City ten years ago based on all of the NYC-based movies I watched. (Just to name a few: Manhattan, You’ve Got Mail, and When Harry Met Sally.) And by no surprise, my assumption was proven correct when I stepped into their apartment and found myself gawking around as if it were a quaint museum that I just so happened to run into on a Sunday stroll.
I immediately could tell everything that they hung on their walls or displayed on their shelves carried a personal story. “We brought that back from Mexico,” “Erwin designed this, actually,” “We took that photo,” and “We found those on the ground. Can you believe it?” were some of the comments Deborah would say when I inquired on an interesting piece. I loved that their studio had a memory tucked behind every corner– with their work table stationed in the middle of their home — inspiration was always just at an arm’s length.
How did you come up with the concept of your Yoga Pose Pendants’ design?
Erwin: I’m a sculptor and work with various materials. Although I’ve always made jewelry, in terms of pure sculptures I was more accustomed to working on a much larger scale. I’m from Mexico and always had outdoor space to make art. But when I first moved to NYC and into our small, Chelsea apartment, I quickly realized that if I wanted to make art, I would have to work on a much smaller scale! That’s how the jewelry idea was born. Deborah practices yoga a lot, so I got the opportunity to see a lot of yoga positions. I started to sculpt the poses I observed.
Deborah: A friend of ours, Saya Hibino, who is a beautiful jewelry designer saw some pieces and really encouraged us to make a collection.
You were a semi-finalist for one of our Jewelry Design Challenges. How did you discover our contest?
D: Another friend and extremely talented artist named Jennifer Mahlman is a fan of UncommonGoods and saw the Jewelry Design Challenge advertised. She emailed it to me the day of the entry deadline and we dropped everything to make sure we got our entry in on time!
Tell us about your journey towards becoming an artist.
E: I’ve always made art, since I was a kid. And invented things too. I would come up with new ideas and try to figure out how to make them.
D: Like a magnetic race car set, at age 5! Art was around him and it became a way for him to express himself. He made clay animals. He loved to walk along the railroad tracks and there he collected hundreds of huge nails from which he made an amazing collection of life size animals. He studied art in Toluca, Mexico and then moved to Cozumel, Mexico to scuba dive. There he made art with found materials like coral, beach wood, horseshoe crab shells – beautiful work. Nature and animals are subjects that constantly come up in his work. I remember the first piece of jewelry he made for me was a piece of round coral dipped in sterling silver. It was inspired by a full moon. That’s when I fell in love with the guy!
What freedoms do you experience as artists?
E: You have the freedom of your mind.
What does yoga mean to you?
D: Yoga is like the foundation of my life. From there everything else grows. It hasn’t always been that way, but for about the last 12 years it has. I do yoga as often as I can, daily if possible. And I teach yoga weekly, give yoga retreats in Mexico, and I’m a part of a huge yoga community. Yoga helps me live my life more in the way I want to live it. When I fall, it helps me get back up. It’s a powerful way to spend some time daily. Also, I am not a huge technology lover but surprisingly to me, social media influences me a lot too – between Yoga Jewels and teaching yoga I am connected to so many yogis around the world. It is mostly a pretty inspiring community of people, with insightful things to say and amazing photos to share.
What different techniques and tools do you use when creating your designs at your studio?
E: I use the Lost Wax Process when creating Yoga Pose Pendants. We’re always thinking about different finishes for the pieces and we are starting to set gem stones in our designs as well.
Can you walk us through the step by step process of creating your Yoga Pose Pendants?
D: Sure. We usually discuss which poses we think would make a beautiful necklace. Then I ”strike the pose” for Erwin to see it in the flesh. We also look online for photos of beautiful examples of the pose, done correctly with proper alignment and from different angles. Our Lotus Pose was based on a lovely photo of Christie Turlington and our Bow Pose was based on a photo of yoga teacher Baron Baptiste, who was the very first person I trained with to become a Yoga Instructor.
Once we have the pose selected and great photos to work from, Erwin begins to sculpt it in wax. We then create a mold and ultimately cast it in various metals. We normally use sterling silver, 14k yellow, and rose gold. Then the pieces are polished or finished in some other way.
Were you first attempts of making these jewels a success?
D: They were a success from the beginning. The first two pieces Erwin made were the Wheel and Bow poses. When I first saw them completed, I was very moved. They truly capture the grace and strength it takes to do these poses. They have spirit and movement, it is so cool to see people try them on, because when someone finds “their pose” it just comes alive on them!
Where do you find inspiration within your home studio?
D: I find inspiration when I teach and practice yoga at home. Both Erwin and I are inspired by nature; I think it helps us return to our natural knowing. It’s very uncomplicated. It’s hard to connect to nature in NYC – but not impossible. We try hard to have a super calm environment and we try to surround ourselves with pretty things that feel organic in some way – shape, tone, texture. We love skulls and bones and flowers and pottery. And we are both really neat and clean, which goes a long way when you live and work together in a small space!
How do you create a work-life balance, not just as a couple and as business partners, but also individually?
D: That’s probably the biggest challenge for us, both as partners and individually. Erwin teaches scuba diving and is a photographer. I am studying herbs, particularly those that grow in the Northeast of the US.
The pros of being a couple and business partners is that it’s really fun and rewarding and we are an excellent team. The con is that we work a lot! Which I guess really isn’t a con, because we feel really lucky about it all. I thought technology was supposed to make things easier! And it does in some ways, but it also makes us reachable at all times. And our minds are constantly going – new ideas, looking at art, receiving new orders – there’s a lot of mind stimulation! And that is what we want, of course, but sometimes we need to stop, be present and just be. This area of life, the balance between work and the rest of life is really challenging for us.
So we go out with our dog, Ella (who fell in love with the UncommonGoods crew when you all met!), and walk along the Hudson River everyday. We try to see the sunset as often as possible. We love to be in the country with Ella as well. And Erwin and I love to travel together. We first met in Mexico and go there often, as Erwin’s family is there. But we are going to Thailand in the fall and I cannot wait! And because it’s summer, if we are in the country on Saturdays, we wake up early and drive around to all the yard sales! We get great stuff!
If you’re not a yoga fan – would you recommend Yoga Pose Pendants to someone?
D: Certain poses I would! From a distance, the Bow Pose appears to be a beautifully sculpted circle until you get up close and see it’s a person doing a Bow Pose! And that pose is really about opening our hearts so it is a great message for everyone. A non-yogi once told me that she wore Bow Pose over her heart to remind herself to live life with an open heart. I thought – YES! She has totally gotten the deeper meaning of yoga and what we are thinking about with Yoga Jewels!
Are there any major projects, collaborations, or ideas you’re working on now that you want to talk about?
E: We are constantly working on new ideas for jewelry and sculpture and ways we can use our work to raise money for causes that are important to us like animal conservation.