Local jewelry makers Annette Doreng-Stearns and Adam Neeley find inspiration from nature and architecture to tell personal stories through their work.
By Ashley Ryan
From Architecture to Art
Annette Doreng-Stearns’ stunning handcrafted jewelry tells a unique story—one that is shaped by both her past and her present. Though she has lived in Laguna Beach for nearly 20 years, Doreng-Stearns is originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, where she studied architecture at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. While her focus switched from architecture to art, Doreng-Stearns still uses the discipline of design in her current work.
Her traditional jewelry-making process lends itself to whimsical pieces crafted from silver and a variety of gemstones. One such stone is the colorful jasper, the patterns in which reveal pictures that spark ideas or stories in her mind. After drawing her designs and determining the appropriate balance, Doreng-Stearns—working mainly with silver—hand-saws, files, solders, polishes and patinates the piece before setting the stones.
“I’m not the best with words so my way of communicating with the world as well as understanding myself is through art,” Doreng-Stearns says. “I think my style can best be described as storytelling jewelry. I work a lot with old stories, mythology and the archetypal, and that gives me either a better understanding or a place to hide when looking at what goes on around me. If I create something with some thought behind it, then other people can find their own story to connect with when they look at and wear my work.”
Aside from jewelry making, Doreng-Stearns produces flowing sculptures and colorful paintings. She has also taken an active role in the local community, serving as an artist and board member for the annual Sawdust Art Festival and teaching classes year-round at the festival grounds on topics like how to use a jeweler’s saw, the art of connecting metals and how to bezel set a gemstone. In an effort to preserve art education, she even works to extend art programs into communities that don’t currently have any.
“Art is not just about drawing and painting, but a way to understand the world around us,” Doreng-Stearns says. “We all start out creating art. Look at the children around you—they all draw and make things. It’s just that some of us never grow out of it.” (Annette Doreng-Stearns Jewelry, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Local artist Adam Neeley has been creating jewelry since he was child, though he had no idea that it would expand into a prolific career. Growing up in Colorado, Neeley and his father would often collect rocks and gemstones from the nearby backcountry. At only 12 years old, after spending a few years trying to determine what he should do with the treasures he found, Neeley began to teach himself several different jewelry-making techniques, including gemstone-cutting and silversmithing.
Three years later, his Southwest-inspired jewelry was exhibited at the sold-out Telluride Art Festival in Colorado. After selling a piece to a celebrity, Neeley began to create his own more modern style, entertaining thoughts of a jewelry-making career during and after high school.
His studies led him first to the Gemological Institute of America Inc. in Carlsbad, California and then to Le Arti Orafe in Florence, Italy, where Neeley studied jewelry design and art history while apprenticing for master goldsmith Gio Carbone. In 2006, he returned to Southern California, settling in Laguna Beach, where he opened his flagship gallery.
Neeley’s jewelry is defined by originality and innovative technique. One such technique is a color gradient gold, which shifts from yellow to white gold in seven different shades. As the only goldsmith who does it, the method is entirely unique to his pieces. “I want to continue pushing the envelope,” Neeley says.
Using precious metals like gold, silver and platinum, as well as a variety of rare gemstones, Neeley is able to create jewelry that he says is modern and clean with a strong use of lines and curves. He accomplishes this through a variety of ancient and modern techniques, including wax casting, hand forging and computer-aided design (CAD). “I want to be able to use any technique,” Neeley says. “Most of my work is hand fabricated—a more Old World style.”
His elegant collection consists of everything from pendants and earrings to rings and cufflinks. Each piece is inspired by stunning displays of nature or incredible architecture—with a twist. In celebration of his 10 years in Laguna, Neeley released a new couture collection in the fall, which is showcased during gallery hours from Tuesday through Saturday. Neeley also exhibits his jewelry at the annual Festival of the Arts. (Adam Neeley Fine Art Jewelry, 352 N. Coast Hwy., 949-715-0953, adamneeley.com)