Metalsmith, sculptor, textile designer, jewelry maker?
It’s an “all of the above” for Amy Pilkington, whose studio at The Lofts at Beacon* invites you to gaze up at the indigo textiles on the walls while also taking note of the sculptural driftwood on the floor and the jewelry in between. The studio itself is an installation.
* We visited Pilkington’s studio at The Lofts at Beacon before it was damaged by flooding during Tropical Depression Ida. “It’s still upside down, with its contents largely scattered,” she said this week. “It took me three years to build out and was destroyed in one day.”
Pilkington has had the space for more than two years, and within it she creates, socializes with artist neighbors and ponders what she’ll do next while working on commissions and custom orders. Her repeat customers include an Idaho hotel that requested 122 works of textile art.
Pilkington calls herself a happy Beacon transplant from Long Island. “Every day goes by and I see four people I know,” she says. “There are creative people working in all sorts of fields, from website design to woodworking. We coordinate with each other to get projects done.”
Moving comes naturally to Pilkington. When she was growing up in Australia, her family relocated every few years, although she would attend high school in Connecticut. “My parents always made sure I had a studio,” she recalls. “They’d say, ‘You can make a mess in there.’ I was always making something.”
Pilkington studied advertising and communications at Northwestern University, minoring in art, after initially considering medicine. “I was supposed to be corporate, but it didn’t take,” she says.” That was in part because of a neck injury suffered in a car crash a month before she was to start graduate school.
During her recovery, she discovered jewelry-making. “At first, I was driven by the making of it, not the results,” she recalls. “Wax cast into metal: I was hooked. My first piece was a horse’s bit, and I took a long time thinking about how to do it, including how to thread leather through it. I learned how to fabricate and make chain, using ancient methods of jewelry-smithing, learning how to fuse. This was possible back then when gold went for so much less an ounce.”
Pilkington moved to New York to make jewelry full-time. Her work began appearing in stores and magazines, and Gap hired her to make a collection.
Then came 9/11. Her downtown workshop was covered in dust, and she began to have panic attacks. “I decided to give myself the gift of going to jewelry school,” she says. “I was feeling driven by what was trending but shifted focus to what I would make if there were no one around. I looked at Pratt, Parsons and RISD [the Rhode Island School of Design], but all the programs seemed ‘disciplined.’ I wanted a think tank which would give you time and space.”
A visit to Savannah to see friends introduced Pilkington to the Savannah College of Art and Design.
“It was amazing, so advanced,” she says. “It was just right for me. One professor told me: ‘Your assignment is to go into your workshop, and break every rule, and play.’ ”
While working on her master’s degree in metals and jewelry, Pilkington also continued to make other types of art. “At the time I did high-end jewelry, using 22-karat gold and richly hued stones, sometimes incorporating nontraditional items like linen. I was also working with patinography — a word I made up — using brass and copper panels and developing images on them, using chemicals to make colors and alter textures, turning them into metal canvases.
“I also became friends with people in the fibers department — they seemed to have more fun. I thought, ‘I want to try that indigo stuff.’ The way you fold or bind the fabric creates the pattern. I learned the shibori process, in which you create shapes and the fabric becomes a sculpture, which you dye and unwrap.”
After graduating, Pilkington moved to “the quiet part of the Hamptons. I couldn’t conceive of going back to the frenetic energy of the city. Being there, and now here, has altered how I feel about the materials I use in jewelry and textiles. I don’t think of preciousness as the value of it. The driftwood is fundamentally more precious. Buckets of lint can be made into something beautiful.”
With a “good flow of clients,” Pilkington is able to choose what she pursues. That’s a good thing, she says. “I get bored easily, so clients asking me not to repeat is my favorite thing.”