How They Did It: Therese Kuempel

Meet: Therese Kuempel
From: Chicago, IL
What’s her talent? Metalsmithing
This is how she did it.

Where did you learn your craft?
I began metalsmithing while receiving my BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I went to the school to study sculpture, found my way into the metals department in 2009, and was immediately in love with the process. I have been making jewelry for about 5 years now.

What is the most satisfying part of your making process?
The lost wax casting process is definitely the most satisfying process for me. The metal casting process works by creating prototypes in wax and making a mold. The next step is putting the mold in the kiln and burning out the wax. Once this process is complete, I melt down my metal of choice (usually brass or bronze) and cast my designs. My favorite signature design involves taking molds of quartz crystals and casting them in brass. There is something inherently satisfying about watching metal melt, and seeing wax creations come to metal fruition. I’m extremely passionate about this process – it allows me to experiment with metal in ways I never thought possible.  

What is your biggest inspiration? 
The natural world has always been a source of inspiration for me. My jewelry is influenced by a juxtaposition of organic formations and geometric shapes. Working with metal has become the perfect catalyst for capturing these temporal organic moments. There’s something about casting crystals in brass and bronze that feels monumental; when I do so, I feel like I’m paying homage to a fleeting natural moment and object and venerating it for an eternity.

Did you have another career before starting jewelry? 
I was headed towards a career as a sculptor prior to jewelry making. While at SAIC, I studied sculpture, dabbling in moldmaking, ceramics, and large scale metal casting in the foundry. When I initially started making jewelry, my designs were heavily influenced by the natural themes that were occurring in my sculptures – I was essentially treating them as scaled-down versions of my  sculptures. My “ah-ha” moment happened in the foundry, where I was creating large crystal cluster sculptures in bronze, and realized how well they would translate into jewelry. 

How has living in Chicago influenced your work?  What do you enjoy most about living in Chicago?
Chicago is a place that oozes creativity and has a rich artistic history to prove it. I feel like it’s a city that manufactures tenacious artists. Not only is the artistic community impressively large, but there are so many opportunities available to artists. From hand-made boutiques, to pop-up galleries and craft fairs, the opportunities are seemingly endless. Chicago is also home to tons of art advocates who support local makers, so there is always that feeling of an underlying support system. The more I travel, the more I realize that Chicago is the place for me.

Do you listen to music while you work? If yes, who?
Of course! Music is an essential component to my workspace and process. I’m constantly discovering new music and bouncing around between artists, but some of my constants are Bonobo, Tame Impala, Mac DeMarco, and Stereolab. I’m also really fond of anything soulful, like Feist, Sam Smith, the XX and oldies like Frank Sinatra. Also, everything and anything jazz.

Where’s your favorite place in the world?
I’m a big fan of Colorado. As I am from a family of four girls, and two of my younger sisters live or have lived there, it’s a good excuse to go there and frequent the mountains as much as possible.

Name some of your favorite makers
Carly Waito is one of my favorites. She is a Toronto-based artist and painter who creates hyper-realistic oil paintings of crystals and rock specimens.     

I’m also a fan of French artist Mathias Kiss. He creates these wonderful faceted mirror sculptures that are extremely inspiring.

Name three things you can’t live without
My cats, a sketchbook, and at least a handful of rings.