While the United States might have Michelle Obama as its First Lady, we at The Irish Workshop have our own first lady in Tracy Gilbert. Tracy was one of the first makers to partner with us. When we met, her enthusiasm, kindness and generosity in insight made us want to immediately work with her. And her work is equally as impressive. Her meticulous attention to detail in her jewellery range is perhaps related to her career as an actuary (she is something of a double-agent!). She combines precious metals and translucent materials, to create contemporary Celtic jewellery with meaning. As a Gaelgóir (someone who can speak the Irish language), it is no wonder that she loves to explore the symbolism of traditional Irish and Celtic mythology in her collections. We now hand you over the The First Lady herself…
Why do you do what you do?
I first started designing/making jewelry down to pure chance and I now believe it was what I was destined to do! I was on maternity leave with my second child and I decided to do a course. I tossed a coin to choose between a jewelry and an astronomy course. The coin chose astronomy but it only took me a second to realise that was the wrong answer, so I enrolled in a jewelry course! Once I started to learn the skills, the love of design and making took over and I must admit that for the first time in my life, I found a wonderful balance.
I was educated through the Irish language and have always been a massive fan of all things Celtic, so the designs to date have very much been an extension of myself. In many ways, I believe they were inside me, waiting to get out and just had to be made.
So in short, I do what I do because I absolutely love it and would be lost without it.
Where do you find inspiration?
My main source of inspiration has been my interest in Irish history, culture and heritage. As a child, I was intrigued by Newgrange and how on the shortest day of the year, everything aligned so that the sunlight could illuminate the millennia-old burial chamber. I found it absolutely fascinating and love the idea of light playing a part in jewelry design. And so that inspired me to create jewelry that allows the light to shine through translucent materials.
I was reading Celtic Twilight by Yeats well before I had any plan to set up a jewelry business and my mind could not shake the lines “I have desired like every artist to create a little world out of the beautiful, pleasant, and significant things of this marred and clumsy world…….”. These words have inspired me greatly.
I constantly get ideas and inspiration from nature and things around me. My phone is overflowing with pictures and words that resonate with me and I’m sure will result in some new designs in the future.
Best thing a customer has said to you?
When I was only starting out, I made a Celtic Trinity Heart pendant for a lovely customer in Wales. He got back to me thanking me so much for playing a part in him capturing the heart of the girl he believed he was destined to be with. This really spurred me on to continue to create pieces that had a meaning attaching to them. I have since made a couple of other pieces for this happy couple.
Only very recently, a lady in Dublin bought five Growing Home pendants for her young granddaughters. Three of the girls live in Chicago and the other two girls are in London. She sent me a picture of all of her grandchildren together with the girls wearing their pendants – it was a gorgeous picture! The children have promised each other that they will all wear their pendants anytime they meet over their lifetime. I was hugely touched by this.
Any famous customers?!
No! not yet – but I’m waiting on George Clooney to buy a pair of Growing Home cufflinks for his dad!
Although, I did send the President and the First Lady a gift from my Growing Home collection for St. Patrick’s Day 2014 and was absolutely delighted (and shocked) to get a lovely thank you letter back!
Any unusual customer requests?
The most unusual and challenging request was for an 18ct gold toe ring with my Celtic Trinity Heart design engraved at the front and a personalised inscription on the back in Arabic! It was quite difficult but enjoyable, and I was very pleased with how it turned out and the customer now treasures it!
Favourite piece out of your collection? Why?
One of my favourite pieces is one of my most recent designs – the Children of Lir pendant. I was inspired by the story of the Children of Lir, who were turned into swans by their jealous stepmother but who stayed together for centuries in a poignant tale of love and loyalty. In my design, two swans entwine to form a heart symbolising this everlasting devotion. Even without the Children of Lir story, the design reflects the fact that swans are known to mate for life.