Rebecca Mir Grady, Jeweler, Painter & Book Maker
We came across Rebecca Mir Grady on Instagram (of course) a few months ago, and were immediately drawn to her work. Her delicate, contemporary jewelry designs were refreshingly simple and we were intrigued to see that she was based in Santa Fe. Her designs seemed so different than any other jeweler's we came across in town, so we knew we wanted to chat with her about her inspiration and vision. Rebecca invited us to her studio, where she paints and makes books in addition to designing jewelry, and shared her story with us.
SFF: How long have you been in Santa Fe, and where are you originally from?
RMG: I grew up in Maine, but just moved here from Chicago six months ago. I had lived in Chicago for 16 years, so I was ready to get out. My wife is an anthropologist and we moved to Santa Fe for her work. She’s doing research in the San Juan Basin area.
SFF: So many people here in Santa Fe are transplants. It seems like a place people move when they’re looking for a change of pace.
RMG: Yeah, totally. My mom’s asking me to get a bigger house here so she can move in! I like that it’s a lot easier to get people to visit me here than it was in Chicago. My whole family has already been to visit - it’s amazing.
SFF: How did you get started making jewelry?
RMG: I was always making jewelry as a kid, but I really started as a teenager. There was a jewelry making class at my high school and one of the teachers set up a little metal room in one of the art rooms. She also connected me with some jewelers in town as an apprenticeship through the school, so I worked for them a couple summers. After high school, I went to college at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago for ceramics and sculpture. I kept doing jewelry on the side and worked for a few jewelers here and there.
SFF: What made you launch your own brand?
RMG: Five years ago I launched my brand because all my friends started getting married and wanted me to make their rings! I really wanted to work with recycled metals and good quality materials, which is much easier to get if you have a business, so I started my own company. I do some metal recycling in-house - it’s nice to be able to recycle scraps. Any piece of jewelry in my line that has a little ball, that is scrap that I’ve melted down. But I also work with a company in Virginia to get recycled metals.
SFF: I noticed there’s no turquoise...
RMG: Well I actually do offer some pieces with turquoise in them, but it’s true - there aren’t very many. That’s the one question I got when I was moving here, if I was going to start using more turquoise. When I was making ceramics I didn’t use color, and when I started making jewelry, it was similar. I was interested in recreating some of my drawings, so it was more about line and less about color. I didn’t use stones at first, just metal shapes. But over time I’ve started adding more and more stones. My favorite is the faceted opal.
SFF: Do you still do sculpture work?
RMG: Not so much any more. I mostly make jewelry, paintings, and books now. I made a lot of giant sculptures in undergrad and grad school and then I didn’t know what to do with any of them, so I started making books. I have these tiny ones that I make, like this mini series that folds out. I make two or three books a year based on climate change events.
SFF: Would you say you’re an artist-activist?
RMG: Yeah, and the jewelry also makes sense with my practice, because it’s always been about landscape and climate change and how to interact with the world. Lately, I’ve been working on a series of paintings which depict these giant boulders on this island in the Bahamas that are precariously sitting on a cliff. They’re said to have been moved there by the last climate change, during the giant storms. And then there’s another painting from a more recent storm in 2014 in Ireland. It’s supposed to be one of the rocks moved during the storm. I’ve been thinking a lot about how storms have been impacting the environment, and how they are influenced by climate change. They are getting a lot bigger, stronger, and the waves are getting taller.
SFF: As a one-woman business and multidisciplinary artist, you really seem to have your plate full. Are you also a photographer?
RMG: Yes, I take all of my own photos for my business and also take some for artist books. Most of my studio time is focused on jewelry, because it’s easier to have steady income from that. I feel like all of it sort of overlaps and I get a little stir crazy if I don’t have enough time to carve out a day for painting every so often. I try to paint at least one half day a week. But also, I’m more inspired to make jewelry if I’ve spent a day painting. It’s nice to think about how the different mediums interact. They all sort of inform each other. I also read a lot, so I’ll take some inspiration from what I’m reading or where I’m traveling. I did a residency in Montana last year and I made some pieces that were inspired by that trip. I made some stud earrings called the Teton studs, because of the mountains we saw at Grand Teton National Park. The mountain necklace Sierra Madre was inspired by a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico.
SFF: Have your parents been supportive of your artistic endeavors?
RMG: Yes, my mom is really big on watercolors and she does a lot of painting. My dad had a sailboat when we were growing up, so I’ve spent a lot of time on the water with him. I’d say that’s why I have a connection to these places and have a focus on sustainability in my work - both in the themes present in my work and in choices of materials - the recycled metals and ethically sourced stones.
SFF: Do you really miss the water, living here in the desert?
RMG: I do, but I missed it in Chicago, even though there’s the lake. But the lake is just not the same as the ocean! Here in Santa Fe, I can go see the mountains and the trees and desert which make up for it. We moved around a bunch when I was a kid and lived in Arizona for a bit, so I’m used to the desert. We lived in Alaska at one point too, so I feel like as long as there’s mountains or ocean nearby, I’m good. And it’s so much easier to get out of the city here, which I find super refreshing.
SFF: How do people find out about your jewelry?
RMG: I sell most of my jewelry online and I’m in a handful of stores around the country. I have a number of pieces in Cupcake Clothing on Montezuma Ave in Santa Fe. I’m working to bring a larger collection to her store so there are more sizes and variety available. But a lot of people find me through Instagram, I’ve had some press, and I’ve partnered with a couple blogs here and there, and I also get business through word of mouth. I like having my own website because I can control the visuals and it’s easier to update. I’m also going to be part of a pop-up store at SITE Santa Fe in July with a bunch of other makers. I haven’t done any events here so it will be nice to meet other makers.
SFF: Have you found it hard to meet people here in Santa Fe?
RMG: Thankfully, a handful of people I know moved to Santa Fe also, so that has been nice. I’ve been trying to attend gallery openings and I’ve met a few people that way. My old college roommate lives here, and a couple of other friends from Chicago.
SFF: How do you stay motivated and focused throughout the day?
RMG: I listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks. I like mysteries that I can tune in and out of that I don’t have to listen too closely to. And podcasts too - I listen to NPR, The Daily, some Girlboss interviews, and Raw Milk.
SFF: Did anyone inspire you when you were setting up your business, or was there anyone you looked to as a model?
RMG: When I first started, not so much. I just thought I’d try it out because it felt like something I needed to do. I wasn’t really actively looking at other businesses to model myself after. But now, I try to follow a lot of people on Instagram and listen to a lot of interviews with people about how they keep their businesses going.
SFF: You seem like a person who teaches yourself the skill to do something when it’s gotta get done.
RMG: Lately, I’ve been trying to teach myself how to get engagement on Instagram and improve my feed. My photographs when I first started were so bad. I’ve deleted some of the early photographs at the beginning of my feed so it looks better, but you can still see the difference if you go way back!
SFF: Has there been any advice someone has given you that changed the way you approach your business and/or art?
RMG: When I first started, my sister had a fashion blog and I decided to do a design focused guest column for her. I interviewed a bunch of clothing and jewelry designers and asked if they had advice for someone just starting out. Fashion designer Gretchen Jones gave me some great advice on when to do trade shows, how to approach stores I want to get my product into, and what to expect for business growth.
SFF: What is your favorite piece in your line?
RMG: My wedding rings - but also all of the rings. I really like rings so you’ll notice there’s way more rings than anything else in the line. I also like to mix silver and gold up, I think they look good together!
SFF: Do you only wear your own jewelry?
RMG: Every day, yes. But I do have wear some heirloom pieces passed down through my family. My sisters definitely have a big collection of my jewelry. I’m like “Oh, it’s your birthday, I’ll make you something!”
SFF: Where are your favorite places in Santa Fe to go?
RMG: I live by Tune Up, so I go there a lot and it’s really nice that I can walk there. Opuntia is really nice too, and I like that new bar at El Rey. They have good cocktails. I go to Cowgirl sometimes, and Vinaigrette for when I want something healthier. When I have out of town guests, Ojo Caliente is the place to take them because the drive out there is so pretty and they have so many different pools. And Ten Thousand Waves is so peaceful and it’s just 15 minutes away.
SFF: What would you change about Santa Fe?
RMG: I’m still getting to know it, but I need to find a good place to go swimming. I read that there are some good community pools, and I heard the El Rey pool is opening up. But overall, I love it here. I feel really great. It’s really inspiring and it’s a great place to work. I think it will be fun to make collections here and find inspiration for designs and paintings in this environment!