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Made in Dunedin

8 January 2023
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Growing up in the seaside settlement of Waitati, jewellery designer Holly Howe has lived in Dunedin all her life, and has been creating “small wearable sculptures” in silver and gold for a decade. Interview Josie Steenhart

Can you remember the first piece of jewellery you ever made?

I automatically thought about the first "serious" sellable piece I made but after reflecting on my jewellery journey it goes back further than that.

I have glimpses of memories making beaded necklaces with my nana when I was probably five. She had boxes full of all kinds of different beads, it was magical. We'd sit at the table and make all sorts of things.

When I was a little bit older, around 10, I was given a tool box full of copper scraps and wire, some snips and pliers and some old pearl necklaces.

I can remember sitting for hours making pieces from what I had. Some pretty rough earrings with sharp hooks and dirty wire, good thing I've learnt a few lessons since then!

How did your career as a jewellery designer come about?

I left school early and after doing a few courses and odd jobs I settled on a Bachelor of Product Design degree.

After graduating, I felt totally unprepared for how to move forward as a designer on my own without the comfort of being in an institution.

I moved on to do a post grad in jewellery and metal smithing at the Dunedin School of Art.

I found the cross over between a design school and art school a real challenge academically, which made the experience not overly enjoyable, but I gained some basic practical skills and insight into jewellery making, which is all I wanted.

I never intended to start a career as a jeweller, it was more that I wanted to create products, and I saw it as a way to make small wearable sculptures.

I made my first collection of work for a local fashion designer who used it for her iD Fashion Week runway show and that was when I realised this was going to be me moving forward.

How long have you lived/worked in Dunedin and what do you love about it?

I'm 34 now and have lived here my whole life, and 10 of those years I've been making jewellery. I've had a few years off recently to raise my daughter and have been back working (as much as you can with an unpredictable human to look after) for almost two years.

I've never lived anywhere else so I have nothing to compare it to, but I love how you're five minutes from a beach, cafe, restaurant, art gallery.

It's an incredibly pretty city (on a good day you can't beat it) the winter is grey and long but Dunedin's moody aesthetic pulls it off.

Do you think that has influenced your work in any way?

Subconsciously I'm sure it has. It has produced some hugely talented designers and artists. There is definitely a Dunedin aesthetic and while I stay away from making trend focused work it's hard to not be influenced by it.

Do you have a favourite piece to make?

My favourite piece to make is my Twist Bangle. Each piece is individually hand carved from a solid block of wax. It's a meditative process, slowly shaving off ribbons of wax until its form emerges. You can't rush them, the wax is soft, you can't add it back on once you've carved it away. It forces me to slow down and focus on what's in front of me.

You also take commissions…

Yes I do, but I only take on commissions where a client has come to me wanting a Holly Howe-inspired piece and is happy for me to take the lead.

I don't enjoy the pressure of trying to read someone's mind when it comes to bringing their idea to life. I am confident within my own aesthetic and I don't venture away from that. I know I can do a piece justice when I love the idea of what we are going to create.

What’s something people are often surprised to learn about you or your work/business?

I think nowadays it's that I manage to create as much work as I do, I've now got 10 galleries representing my work, while juggling the early years of motherhood.

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