Maker: Tracey Beale

Maker: Tracey Beale

Published on Wednesday, February 16, 2022. This article appears in the Winter 2022 issue of American Craft Magazine.
handmade gold necklace inlaid with fragments of a shattered car window

This Life and Times brass necklace, part of the Geist collection, includes broken windshield glass and 24k gold leaf fused in hand-poured resin. Photo by Tracey Beale.

During a downpour one night a few years ago, Baltimore artist and jewelry designer Tracey Beale discovered that her car had been broken into. “At first I was pissed,” she says, but “then, as I’m calling the insurance company, I look at the glass on the ground and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

Back then, Beale was going through a particularly rough time and was at a crossroads in her life. “In some ways, I felt like that glass on the ground; I felt a bit shattered,” she says. She knew she wanted to do something with that glass, so she scooped up as much as she could. The glass, and her resulting Geist necklace collection which features it, became a kind of metaphor. “Sometimes life breaks us in order to make us more beautiful,” she says.

portrait of jewelry artist seated at desk amid tools and works in progress

The shapes in Beale’s Geist collection have different meanings. The triangle, which Beale is wearing here, symbolizes power. Photo by Tracey Beale

Beale created the bezels for Geist pieces by shaping them by hand from copper and having them cast in brass. When making the pieces, she works across several pendants at once while listening to trip-hop or free jazz. She lays out the bezels, dumps all of the glass she has onto the same table along with sheets of 24-karat gold leaf, and mixes and pours resin into each bezel. Using tweezers, she adds the gold leaf and glass to the resin in a stream-of-consciousness process, shifting the glass and gold leaf until it feels right. “The music provides the rhythm for me to work,” says Beale, who is also a vocalist in Konjur Collective, a free jazz band and music collective. “It’s a vibe. I just go with the flow.”

Beale considers her collections, which have appeared at ACC marketplace events, “spirit designed”: the story or meaning is as important an element as the copper, gold, and brass metals she works with. The Zeit collection’s spirals, for instance, represent a kind of “spiritual imprint of our times,” and the pieces are meant to be worn as protection from erupting chaos. For Beale, “chaos comes about because some level of truth is trying to bubble up to the surface.”

close-up photo of three textured gold and copper bracelets balancing on their sides
brass necklace with spiral like pendant on a chain

LEFT: Copper and 24k gold leaf Modern Ancestor bracelets. LEFT: The spiral found in Beale’s gender-neutral Zeit collection represents the “spiritual imprint of our times” and offers protection from the chaos of the world. Photos by Tracey Beale

Much like the jewelry of ancient Egypt, a source of inspiration for Beale and where jewelry was also believed to be spiritually charged, the shapes she incorporates into her collections each have their own meaning. Circles are inspired by the cycles of nature, for example, and rectangles are for grounding. Beale was also inspired by the Maasai and Fulani women she learned about in a college anthropology class, where she came to the realization that jewelry isn’t just ornamental but also has social meaning. She felt a connection between the earrings of the Fulani women and the bamboo earrings popular among Black women in the ’80s and ’90s, which also conveyed a sense of status and self.

series of rectangule wallhangings featuring textured copper arranged on fire escape overlooking a city on a sunny day

Beale's large, rectangular wall art features hand-hammered and flame-painted copper. Photo by Tracey Beale.

In addition to adornment for the body, Beale creates what she considers jewelry for the house: custom-designed copper wall art made from wooden frames or upcycled furniture that she wraps in hand-hammered copper sheets and flame paints. To Beale, the finished large works call to mind horizons and vistas.

Knowing that her work has greater meaning is the underbelly of Beale’s jewelry practice, and she hopes her clients use her work as talismans for seeking their own truth. “I hope someone buys my work and that it gets passed down in terms of grandkids and great-grandkids, that it serves as some sort of legacy.”

traceybeale.com | @traceybealejewelry

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Cover of Winter 2022 issue of American Craft