Exterior Decorator

Exterior Decorator

Kate Stephen grew up in rural Bethlehem, Connecticut, where she liked to pass the time “in the dirt, digging around, collecting rocks.” That habit was tempered by her father, a sheet metal mechanic, who offered Stephens “hammers and spools of wire” to play with.

You can see those influences in Stephen’s eponymous handmade jewelry line. Her Westville studio is brightly lit, decorated with thrift store finds—she’s especially fond of a heavy, powder blue fan—and natural inspirations she’s collected: feathers, plants, lacy hunks of dried kelp and, of course, rocks. Across her work desk is an appealing maelstrom of crystals, semi-precious stones, hoops of wire and metalworking tools.

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“I work on about a million things at once,” she confirms. “My inspiration comes from the process, first and foremost. It’s an intuitive practice. I sit at the bench, and I’m inspired by the metals and the crystals.” Stephen’s designs are minimalist and striking, from a necklace that wraps a turquoise fang in fine swoops of coppery wire, to small pendants of silver etched to look like miniature birch tree trunks, to the item she’s wearing: a wedge of textured brass inspired by the sun. She describes her pieces as “earthy, yet refined. There’s a lot of duality in my work.”

Stephen says she doesn’t work on collections so much as she goes through phases of being especially interested in specific materials or techniques. Right now, she’s using a lot of quartz, agate, jasper and kyanite. Of the last, she says it’s supposed to “align the chakras the moment you put it on.”

Intrigued by the historical or spiritual uses of stones and crystals in cultures across the world, she takes an inclusive view of their purported powers. “‘Why not?’ That’s what I say. You don’t have to believe in these things, but if you want to have another tool in your toolbox to live in the moment… why not?”

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Stephen hopes her designs can do exactly that for her customers. “I’m all about the moment,” she says, so she makes pendants stamped with phrases like “Be Here” and “Be Love.” Other messages include “Herbivore,” for proud vegans like herself, and the hyper-concise “Om.”

Her pieces are constructed mostly via cold-connection techniques—meaning she rarely uses soldering irons or other heat sources—which helps each final result feel organic. “I would definitely say my jewelry’s not perfect. There’s a human, hand-formed element to it,” she says.

Self-taught as a jeweler, Stephen is also an autodidact when it comes to business. She says she “just dove in” when she founded Kate Stephen Jewelry five years ago. Today, she sells through her website as well as farmers’ markets and pop-up shows. She also welcomes studio appointments, where shoppers can browse or discuss custom work.

She finds it challenging to balance two essential sides of herself: “I think it’s a struggle when you’re an artist trying to start a business… Sometimes your artist brain takes over. Your business side will say, ‘Let’s make a really honed, beautiful collection and market it,’ and your artist side says, ‘I just want to play and make new stuff everyday.’”

But that artistic impulse is what keeps the work so close to Stephen’s heart. “I feel like it’s in my blood, metalworking,” she says, gesturing to her sun-soaked workbench. “I can sit here for hours and hours and hours. I can just get lost in it.”

Kate Stephen Jewelry
West River Arts – 909 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Visits by appointment.
Website | Instagram

Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.

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