Elizabeth Strugatz Transforms Odds and Ends into Wearable Art

Elizabeth Strugatz, or should I say Dr. Strugatz because she has her Ph.D., has a unique line of jewelry, Wired Twisted and Stoned, all made out of items found in vintage stores, wire, metals, various beads, semi-precious stones and even items she finds on the sidewalk outside! Strugatz is self-taught, and also teaches the art in jewelry making workshops which are offered to the public via her website. Talking to Elizabeth Strugatz for just a a couple of hours, deep, eccentric passion for wire and bead making as well as being a metalsmith is truly incredible.

Elizabeth, along with her new line inspired by Vintage Finds, will be among the designers featured at the upcoming Redress Raleigh Spring Fashion show as a part of their annual Eco-Fashion and Textiles Conference May 29-30th.

Aleena:  When did you decide to become a jewelry designer?

Elizabeth:  About ten years ago jewelry making was a hobby for me and after ten years, and me being in graduate school, I purchased a week project book and few materials (which I had no idea how to use or what I was actually purchasing). Finally, after completing my Ph.D. and I started earning a salary, I could afford the not so cheap beads I always wanted to work with, made a pair of earrings at a local bead store, and signed up for a beading bootcamp where I learned three techniques in one day. I participated in a metal and wire class, which I immediately got hooked on, and my passion for metalsmithing was born--specifically cold connecting which is connecting without using heat. Eventually I began taking photos of my jewelry which I used to create a portfolio of my work, I learned more and more techniques, and finally I realized perceived MY work as wearable art and I could definitely turn this passion into a business. While I was teaching full time I opened my first online store. In 2013, I learned of the Count Me in organization and attended a conference here in Raleigh, N.C. that was all about helping women achieve financial independence. By the end of the conference I was among the 37 finalist selected out of almost 50 women to pitch my business idea to a panel of judges and it all made me realize that I can establish a successful, sustainable business with my wearable art! 

Aleena:  What do you enjoy the most about the design process?

Elizabeth:  I love my creative design process. When I begin a new project, I love to look through my stash of beads to determine what beads, sizes of beads, colors, or color schemes of beads that speak to me in that moment, but the creative process is so much more than to me than just choosing beads. It's also about determining the techniques I want to use to design my next piece. I make decisions about whether I want to combine different techniques and I also have to decide on the wire wrapping technique or techniques that I want to use for a piece. The design possibilities are infinite and one is only limited to his or her imagination! I think one of the reasons why I may "get stuck" sometimes with design is because the possibilities are infinite, but at the same time, once I make all of these decisions, the possibilities no longer exist. By designing a piece a certain way, I remove all other design possibilities. I love to challenge myself in various ways by learning new techniques and constantly trying to think outside the box. For instance, I love to use materials in ways that they were not designed to be used. I love to incorporate found objects, hardware, and other materials that were not meant to be incorporated into jewelry. I love to repurpose antique/vintage jewelry and/or materials, and I love to recycle/upcycle objects like, aluminum, can lids, and light bulbs, in ways completely unexpected, but still no longer recognizable as aluminum can lids or light bulbs because they have modified and incorporated into breathtaking pieces of wearable art. 

Aleena: What do you enjoy most about the production process?

Elizabeth:  The production process helps to increase the sense of joy, happiness, and contentment because working with on'e hands in general in both therapeutic and spiritual! When I use my hands to create beautiful pieces of wearable art, it significantly enhances my spiritual experience! One aspect of spirituality is living in the moment or being present in the moment. Designing and making beautiful pieces of wearable art increases one's sense of being in the moment because it entails a focus on one bead at a time, or concentrating on aspect or technique or design at a time--which increases one's ability to live 'in the now' throughout life. 

Aleena:  Which of the two do you find to be more challenging? Why?

Elizabeth: I think I would have to say that the design process is more challenging for the same reason that I love it so much! The design possibilities are infinite so there is so much creative freedom in the design process, but at the same time, it is more challenging to make all of the decisions that need to be made to design wearable art.  

Aleena: What was your inspiration for this upcoming collection?

Elizabeth: The inspiration for my collection comes from all the ways that I love to challenge myself, including again learning new techniques, enhancing my skills, and thinking outside the box! 

Aleena:  How did you go about selecting materials for your upcoming collection?

Elizabeth: I love to challenge myself in various ways and one of the ways I love to challenge myself is by learning new techniques from other artists and being inspired to incorporate unexpected materials into my wearable art designs. 

Aleena: What do you hope people will take away from your collection?

Elizabeth: I hope that people will perceive my wearable art to be breathtaking, unique, whimsical, bold, fun, creative, and progressive!

Aleena:  How do you incorporate sustainable design practices into your process?

Elizabeth: I incorporate sustainable design practices into my process by repurposing vintage materials, using leftover wire in my designs, recycling/upcycling materials and found objects that were not meant for jewelry, and using jewelry materials in unexpected ways or ways that they were not meant to be used in jewelry, etc. 

Aleena: Who are the designers and makers you look up to?

Elizabeth: I aspire to designers who include Susan Lenart Kasmer, Mary Hettmansperger, Sharilyn Miller, Lisa Niven Kelly, and Thomas Mann!

Aleena:  What kind of impact do you hope to make within the design world?

Elizabeth: I hope to become a well known and well respected artist. I hope to be perceived as an expert in wire wrapping and metalsmithing. Most importantly, I hope to help empower women, help them tell their stories, and bring people joy with my wearable art. 

Aleena:  How long have you been collecting vintage jewelry items?

Elizabeth: I think the first time it occurred to me to purchase inexpensive finished pieces of antique jewelry and individual pieces, and repurpose the materials was on vacation in Mt. Airy and I walked into an antique store where there were a lot of estate pieces of jewelry for sale. When I saw many pieces that had beads in them that I loved, it occurred to me that I could repurpose them. Thereafter, I began to look for antique/vintage pieces in other antique stores, thrift stores, and even in the flea market! 

Aleena: What's your favorite jewelry making technique?

Elizabeth: Speaking broadly, I would have to say that wire working, metalsmithing are my overall favorite techniques. Within the world of metalsmithing, my favorite techniques are cold connecting which means that there is no heat, like a torch, being used to connect charms or other objects to metal and fold forming. 

Aleena: What inspired you to show your jewelry on the runway?

Elizabeth: It had not occurred to me to to show my jewelry on the runway until I met Beth at a book launch party where I was purchasing as a vendor. She came to my table, looked at my jewelry, I greeted her, and we began talking. She asked me if I would be interested in participating as a designer in the fashion show that she is organizing this year and without hesitation, I said that I would be very interested. I told her I would be very interested in showing my jewelry on the runway because I am working to establish a business with it. People compliment me and others who wear my jewelry all the time. They tell me that it is unique, unusual, gorgeous, and they have not seem it anywhere else. I thought it would help me gain exposure so that ultimately I could help to empower women, one woman at a time, and help them tell their stories! 

Aleena:  What will be the overall mood and feel of your collection?

Elizabeth: I hope that the overall feel of my collection will be joy, happiness, and creativity. I also hope that it will be perceived as whimsical, bold, fun, and progressive. I hope that people will recognize the fact that I think outside the box by seeing that I use materials in ways that they were not designed to be used, I incorporate found objects, hardware, and other materials that were not meant to be incorporated into jewelry. 

Aleena:  What are some tools of the trade you swear by to create your jewelry?

Elizabeth:  The tools of the trade that I swear by are all of the basic pliers, including chain nose, round nose, flat nose, and bent nose pliers as well as an extremely good pair of wire cutters! Additional tools that I swear by is my dremel tool or any rotary tool to which one can attach a variety of types of bits for metalsmithing! As I continue to learn new techniques or enhance some of my skills, like sawing and enameling. I'm sure that I  would add more tools to this list in the future!