Les Petits Bonheurs - Robyn Parrish, The French Circus
I am so happy to share with you the vision and story of one of my favourite jewellery makers, Robyn Parrish of The French Circus. I discovered Robyn a few years ago as I went in search of fellow makers who incorporated found objects, buttons, buckles and antique jewellery findings into their work. At the time, I was completely oblivious that there was even a term for it, for those uninitiated with this glorious world, it's called 'assembly' jewellery. Over the last two years, Robyn has been someone whose vision has opened up so many ideas and possibilities for me and my work. Anyone can have a few found objects and throw them together but it usually spells utter ugly disaster. I am in awe of how Robyn uses colour and elements from very different epoques, her ability to create wonderful textures using antique chain and notions and every small detail is exquisitively executed. Her impeccable taste and incredible collection (years in the making) of antique and vintage jewellery findings feeds into a body of beautiful jewellery which is simulatenously graceful and yet a little bit cheeky (I think this is where the 'Circus' of 'French Circus' comes into play).
I was beyond thrilled when Robyn agreed to answer my many many questions and allow us a little insight into her home and creativity so without further ado I'll let Robyn lead the way:
"Bonjour! My name is Robyn and I've been in love with antiques and vintage items for as long as I can remember. Though my parents are not aficionados by any stretch of the imagination, my first taste of antiques came when I was just five years old. We had dinner at an eclectic restaurant set in a Victorian house. It had exposed brick walls, old advertising signs, mis-matched wooden chairs, and different patterns of cutlery and china, all living happily side by side. I decided right then and there that this was what my house was going to look like when I grew up!"
"I don't consider myself a 'collector' in the true sense of the word because I don't really amass any one type of thing. Rather, I like to simply live with antiques and vintage items in an organic way that imparts a unique decorating style or aesthetic to my home. I'm mostly drawn to creamy whites and neutral colours, though I'll add a bit of pink or blue when the mood strikes. My tastes have evolved over the years, and continue to do so. Right now I'm in what I call a 'Shabby French Country' phase, and am finding myself leaning more and more toward the rustic and away from the frilly fussy styles I enjoyed before."
"I try to enforce discipline on myself when shopping for furnishings or accessories because I know once I get the item home, I will only love it for a long time if it is white or cream. I have learned over time how to bypass a whim that doesn't fit my particular aesthetic, no matter how exciting it may seem at the moment. I try to ask myself the following questions: Does this item make my heart skip a beat? Is this unlike anything I already have? Will it contribute to the overall look I'm trying to achieve? If the answer is 'yes', it's a keeper!"
"My assembled jewelry business and designs are another story, however. For this, I seek out pieces that have history, fine detailing, just the right patina and a subject matter that I think will resonate with my customers, not necessarily just me. For this business, I need variety. I scour local flea markets (we're lucky to have some very good ones in California!), as well as the internet for unique pendants, rhinestone bracelets, Art Deco dress clips, old buckles, brooches, rosaries... the list goes on. French souvenirs and European religious items seem to be the most popular, but they're hard to find in the states, so that's when I turn to some trusted dealers I met through the internet."
"Once I get the pieces in my studio, I may work with some immediately if I have a good idea for a design, while others may sit in a tray on my desk for a couple of years before I'm able to part with them. If a piece is very rare, I may wait until I can find another similar example before using the first, taking comfort in knowing that I'll still have one more at my fingertips. I also tend to use certain items seasonally, according to color or theme (birds and butterflies in spring and summer, leaves or more religious imagery in fall and winter, for example), so some things simply have to wait their turn until the timing is right."
"When I'm ready to design a piece of assembled jewelry, I usually start with the pendant or focal piece first and let it kind of speak to me. Its color, scale, patina and theme all send cues as to what it wants to be paired with. I usually start laying various pieces on a bit of muslin on my desk, moving them around like a puzzle until they all just seem to 'click' into place. This can take minutes or hours, and I sometimes have to walk away overnight before coming up with the perfect combination the next day. As an assemblage artist, it's important to always have a large collection of vintage jewelry on hand from which to choose. Unlike a painter, for example, who can mix her own custom palette, we assemblage artists are limited to the pieces' static forms in terms of size, shape and color, so the more we have to draw upon, the better we can design. (An expensive endeavor!)"
"I can usually just get inspired by the vintage jewelry itself, and feel most excited to sit down at my studio desk right after a trip to the flea market or a new arrival in the mail! Other influences, however, include old architecture, colors and textures found in nature, textiles, even baking a bread! Right now I'm very interested in simple, rustic surfaces, so I imagine that will come out in my jewelry designs somehow."
"I'm happiest when I'm at home in the evening, and I can sit down with a cup of coffee and a favorite TV show! I like to just look around the room and admire some of the things I've collected over the years, particularly those that belonged to a member of my family. Some of my most prized possessions include my grandmother's ironstone, her silhouette drawings, and an old German bread board that hung over her sofa and used to frighten me as a child!"
"After years of working in boring offices and feeling trapped in a world that didn't understand me, I'm so grateful that I've finally found an art form, business and community that I love and which supports me. If I weren't making and selling vintage jewelry, I'd probably have to run off and join the circus."
A glimpse into Robyns atelier....
Jewelry supplies that Robyn sells to the public are stored in this white chest of drawers. Beads are organized by type and color. A vintage dress mannequin serves as a photo prop to showcase necklaces for sale.