Karin Best: Local Metal Artist and Jewelry Smith
Casting organic material (from crabs to barnacles and everything in between) into silver jewelry, Annapolis-based artist Karin Best makes some of the city’s most unique, personalized, head-turning pieces – most of which are inspired by the things she sees every day in Annapolis. Drawing from nature, the Scandinavian-born jewelry sculptor merges traditional jewelry-making techniques and a free-flowing creative process to produce sterling silver jewelry accented with uncut and faceted gems. Best loves the free- flowing process of making jewelry, describing her work as a contrast between polished, smooth, sleek lines and rough, uncut, organic textures, her inspiration coming from what she sees and encounters in nature.
Originally from Sweden, the Annapolis-based artist attended middle school in South Africa where she first developed an interest in art. She then went to Central Michigan University where she studied dietetics, later giving up her profession as a dietitian to pursue her creative passion. She found her home here in Annapolis, where she met her husband Chris, a local plein air artist.
We caught up with Karin in her home studio to discuss her techniques, her passions, and her love for Annapolis.
Describe your process for jewelry-making.
There are lots of different processes depending on what kind of piece I make. But a lot of what I do will begin with something organic found in nature – say a leaf for example. I’ll take a mold off the leaf, then inject wax into the mold to capture its impressions. That leaves me with a wax casting, which I’ll cover with plaster, burning the wax out in a kiln then filling the plaster casing with molten metal. That will give me a pretty accurate metal replica of the leaf. After polishing, I’ll create whatever it was I had in mind.
Art is built around inspiration. From where do you draw yours?
Ever since I was a kid I loved creating things. It’s been fascinating seeing the steps along the way that led to metal becoming an expression of that. I’ve always made little things out of wax or played with beads making jewelry, so this kind of incorporates a lot of facets of experimenting as a kid, but I’ve always loved nature, which has remained my main source of inspiration for the pieces. It’s been a great way to express the things I find beautiful in a slightly different way.
What is it about metal that inspires your expression of nature versus something like painting?
I think it’s an interesting, tactile element where you’re taking something that is usually very fragile and temporal and turning it into something that is durable, usable, and beautiful. Metal is more interesting to me because it’s more than something beautiful to stare at like a painting, but something that is beautiful to wear and use. It always fascinated me knowing I can take something that would otherwise deteriorate and create art that will last who knows how long. We all experience and enjoy nature daily, but nature isn’t permanent. So, working with metal is a great way to almost freeze the beauty of nature in place so it can be enjoyed year-round.
People will bring me shells they found on their honeymoon, or stones from a creek behind their childhood homes and this allows me to create a memory that they can wear and enjoy. whether it’s a ring, necklace, earring.
Why have you decided to pursue your art here in Annapolis?
I chose Annapolis specifically because I love the town: the water, the scenery, the history of downtown. A lot of the elements of Annapolis reminded me of growing up on the water in Sweden. So, merging the nautical aspects and history was a big draw for me. It has the brick streets, wooden houses, boats floating in the harbor. It’s also great to be in a city where there is so much great art being made and appreciated. There are a ton of galleries and even restaurants that show a lot of art. Like many of the artists in town, I think I’m inspired just being in Annapolis. It’s nice living in a beautiful place.
Where can people find your work?
Right now I’m mainly operating off my website, Kajsjewelry.com, taking a lot of custom orders from there. A lot of times people will see something on the website and ask that I customize something similar for them. Other times people have a family heirloom that they’d like replicated as a piece of jewelry. Engagement rings are another order I receive a lot.
In Annapolis, a lot of my work can be found in Sparrow on West Street (in the Arts & Entertainment District); I’ve collaborated with the store to make some custom pieces just for them. It’s nice to have somewhere to offer my work in Annapolis. I try and do a lot of the festivals around Annapolis as well. Creating relationships with the people you live with and create jewelry for is awesome.
Photos courtesy of Darren Heater.