WATERBUG brooch of fabricated sterling silver with granulation, seven layers of carved and stacked titanium, and tourmaline set in a custom bezel; 8.4 centimeters wide, 2005. Collection of the artist. Photograph by Steve Meltzer.
Charles Pinckney

The Story as the Jewel

From the outside, Charles Norman Pinckney’s studio looks cold and formidable. It is housed in the Old Clarke County Jail, a historic late nineteenth-century stucco-covered building in Athens, Georgia, Pinckney’s hometown since 1985. Setting foot inside, though, visitors find a warmly lit room brought to life by Pinckney’s resonant voice, friendly laughter and generous spirit. Every inch of the studio is filled with something: sheets of copper, tiny drawers of beads, all kinds of tools, children’s drawings, handmade lamps, award ribbons, and stuff, a lot of stuff—there is no quick route through the space, physically or visually. It has the curious attraction of a tinkerer’s workshop. Pinckney welcomes visitors to this retreat with an open heart and a ready hug; the intimacy is disarming. Pinckney has an imposing physical presence, and one can easily imagine him working with metal on a monumental scale, but he has “just always loved small things.”

One quality about Pinckney that is immediately obvious is his natural inclination toward storytelling. Over the past several decades he has developed a personal lexicon of symbols that he employs in his jewelry to convey memories from his childhood, experiences related to him by others and his perspective on human nature. Pinckney is gifted at finding the nuggets of raw emotion at the core of each story and shaping them into works of art. The volume of feeling embodied in one of Charles Pinckney’s handcrafted pieces of jewelry can be overwhelming. Inevitably, his stories about patrons’ initial reactions to works they have commissioned involves them being overcome by tears, and for years after buying even a simple pair of earrings, many customers recall the story he told them about the jewelry every time they wear it. Pinckney works with silver, titanium and copper, and occasionally precious or semiprecious stones and found objects. He firmly explains, though, that he is not concerned with carats or clarity because, “The story is the jewel. The inanimate thing, it doesn’t make the heart flutter, it’s what it represents that makes the heart flutter.”


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