Local jewelers Patti Jo Kiraly and Miche McClendon create wearable art that would make ideal gifts this holiday season.
By Ashley Ryan
Conjure up an image of a pearl necklace and you’ll likely picture a string of round, lustrous white beads fastened around a woman’s neck—but looks can be deceiving.
Pearls actually come in a variety of shapes and colors, something Patti Jo Kiraly didn’t know when she started working as a lapidary, or stonecutting, apprentice. Now deemed the Mother of Pearls, Kiraly’s knowledge and experience with these stunning stones is unrivaled.
“The first time I remember seeing pearls for sale for making jewelry with them, I was completely blown away,” Kiraly recalls. “I was taken with the beauty [and] the variations in the pearls … and just kind of fell in love.”
From there, Kiraly branched out, deciding it was time to create her own collection, all centered on pearls. She had spent a few years working under John Tolle, another Laguna Beach-based jeweler, where she cut stones before also attending the Gemological Institute of America to learn how to facet and set gemstones; she also took a pearl grading class. All of her experiences led Kiraly to where she is now, showing at the Sawdust Art Festival’s Winter Fantasy—her home-away-from-home for more than 35 years (along with the festival’s summer show).
Known for their classic appeal and timeless beauty, pearls are incredibly unique, as the only type of gemstone to form within a living creature (the shell of mollusks like oysters, clams and mussels). Over the years, Kiraly has branched out as well.
“I’ve kind of gone a little bit back to my roots, where I focus a lot on stones so my pearls are now sometimes the focal point of the pieces, but a lot of times, they’re accents,” she explains. Using fine and sterling silver as well as gold fill—metals that she says are affordable—Kiraly also incorporates everything from mabe blister and South Sea pearls to larimar, variscite, Peruvian opal and amethyst.
She says that much of her inspiration comes from the stone or the pearl itself. “I just listen to the piece; there’s this kind of conversation that happens,” she notes. “… But I also draw inspiration by traveling the world looking for different stones. I go looking for mines that I can go into.” Her adventures have taken her to the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Brazil and beyond.
Her process is pretty simple. “I have a certain style that I repeat [lately], and I cut the metal that I think will make the circumference of the stone, then I shape it around the stone and emboss it with my rolling mill … to put texture on the surface,” Kiraly says. “I set the stone in a specific way, then I polish it and add the pearls—they’re sort of the icing on the cake.”
Kiraly is excited to be back at the Sawdust Art Festival grounds this year, after a year off in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that she’s missed both the guests and the other artists. “Being in an art community is really, really great.”
But her favorite part of what she does remains the work itself. “I think that, in general, the world is in black and white, and when I’m sitting there working, it’s in Technicolor,” Kiraly says. “If I can stay in that Technicolor world for as long as possible, then I’m happy.”
Patti Jo Kiraly
Winter Fantasy, Booth 112
Originally a painter and a sculptor, Laguna Beach resident Miche McClendon views her jewelry as similar to sculptures, just in tiny form. “When I was going to school, I took jewelry as a requirement and then I just realized that metal was more challenging,” she explains.
After earning a degree in metalsmithing and jewelry from Old Dominion University in Virginia, McClendon first set up shop at her home. “I started in my garage and then I was doing outdoor art shows and selling through galleries,” she explains.
Eventually, she made her way to the West Coast, where she opened up her own space in downtown Laguna in 2017. “Ever since I was little, I thought it would be cool to have my own gallery—to do that part myself,” McClendon explains. “Then I realized I could have the studio and a gallery together in the same spot and, that way, people could see me working on the pieces and they would know for sure that it was actually handmade.”
Using materials like silver and 14-karat gold, McClendon says she is inspired by the idea of a simpler time and a return to nature. Her jewelry features brilliant ancient-style gemstones and raw crystals, which makes it feel very unique. Her collection includes necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, hair pieces and more, made with rare gems such as spinel, kyanite, garnet, onyx, quartz, apatite, diamond, azurite and many others. “Most of them are one-of-a-kind,” she notes. “It’s something that, when you give it [as a gift], feels super personal, … because no one else is going to have something like it.”
McClendon has transitioned to starting each piece with an ink drawing of a design that she then replicates in her studio. “It’s funny because I didn’t plan my stuff out before,” she adds. “… Sometimes I even give the design sheet to the people who bought the pieces so it’s kind of neat.”
After creating her drawing, she does metalwork in a more primitive style: “A lot of forging—[heating] … the metal and beating it into shape with a hammer,” she says. “I do some casting as well, but mainly it’s fabricating by hammering the pieces out and soldering them together. It’s old school.”
When asked what she likes most about creating jewelry of her own, McClendon says, “Probably that I can make a piece of art that’s going to be around for a long time that’s hard to destroy. It seems to have some kind of permanence to me.” Although she doesn’t currently show at any of the local art festivals or galleries, her jewelry can be purchased at her downtown shop/studio as well as on her website; she also accepts custom orders.
384 Forest Ave., Ste. 1A
The CAP Gallery
Stop by the second-floor rotunda of the Wells Fargo building downtown before Jan. 14, 2022, to experience “Reframing Nature,” the gallery’s first show this year. The show celebrates nature through the eyes of artists Sheryl Smith Seltzer, Patricia Prescott Sueme, Laura Stickney and Vilma Mendillo. (949-533-7507; caplaguna.org)
Festival of Arts exhibitor Kate Cohen is the centerpoint of this one-woman show. “Kate Cohen: Explanation of the Doodle” features a series of colorful, layered drawings created by the artist while she was undergoing treatment for stage IV head and neck cancer. The show will be on display into the new year. (949-497-6582; foapom.com)
Inspired by the Art & Nature festival that took place at Laguna Art Museum in early November, “Celebrating Our Natural World” features creative pieces influenced by the beauty of nature. This exquisite artwork depicting the world around us will be on display through Dec. 15. (949-715-8106; thesusiq.org)
JoAnne Artman Gallery
This November, celebrate a special milestone as the gallery presents “Lucky #13: Celebrating 13 Years in Laguna Beach.” Running through Dec. 31, the exhibit honors the time and dedication both the eponymous owner and resident artists have put in over the years. Enjoy works from some of the most notable creators, including Greg Miller and America Martin. (949-510-5481; joanneartmangallery.com)
Laguna Beach City Hall
Artwork by children between the ages of 5 and 17 who live or attend a school or art program in Laguna will be showcased in the “Children’s Holiday Palette Exhibition.” An online catalog will showcase entries from both this year and last year, while some of the best will be mounted on wooden palettes that will adorn The Promenade on Forest through the month of December. Some young artists will also receive a special certificate at the City Council meeting on Dec. 14. (949-497-0722; lagunabeachcity.net)
Las Laguna Art Gallery
Available to view both online and in the gallery, “Botanical Art & Illustration” will be displayed through Dec. 31. The show features any and all botanicals, ranging from flowers and leaves to other plants, trees, succulents and cacti, each depicted in an exciting way. (949-505-0950; laslagunaartgallery.com)
In the unique exhibit “The Madness of Masters and Mentors,” faculty from Laguna College of Art & Design’s game art department portrays diverse original works that showcase creativity, genius and innovation through Jan. 23, 2022. A blend of traditional, digital and interactive art, the pieces and their creators encourage students to explore their own madness upon occasion. (949-376-6000; lcad.edu)
Pacific Edge Gallery
In the unique “Four Seasons in Provence,” view new paintings created on location in France by María Bertrán over the last year. These pieces capture the colors and light from all four seasons, showcasing changes in the landscape throughout the year. It will hang in the gallery through the end of December. (949-494-0491; pacificedgegallery.com)
Vanessa Rothe Fine Art
Extended through Jan. 12, 2022, “Americans in Paris, Art Nouveau” showcases the magic of France’s most famed city, as demonstrated by realist and impressionist artists. This exhibit, which features painters such as Adrienne Stein, C.W. Mundy and Nicolas Martin, is part of a bigger project that involves traveling to Europe to paint together, reminiscent of past Parisian art salons. (949-280-1555; vanessarothefineart.com)
Woods Cove Art Studio & Gallery
Artist-turned-activist Victoria Moore and sculptor Nicholas Hernandez partner for “Atomic Babylon: Still Glowing,” a traveling exhibit that was unveiled by UNESCO over the summer and will show in Laguna until the end of January before moving on to Mexico and Austria. The collection features pieces inspired by the effects of atomic and nuclear energy, which will be sold to benefit UNESCO and Still Glowing, an organization focused on genetic research and the effects of radiation. (949-549-4557; woodscoveart.com)