Diva of the [Saw] Dust: Mana Jewelry’s Nicole Wellstein
If you took a tour of the backyards, garages, basements and studios of Pemberton, you would not doubt that it is a thriving hub of inspiring and inspired folk. Case in point? Nicole Wellstein, a graphic designer and jewelry maker who has just taken up shared space with Amy Hazeldine’s Sunna Studios. We were curious to find out how laser-cut wood design and pottery fit together, so we cornered the Diva of Dust/chaser of Exotic wood off-cuts/craftswoman who heads up Mana Jewelry Designs, for the low-down.
You’ve just moved in to share studio space with Amy at Sunna Studios. What does that involve? Why make that move? How does that help you be more productive?
Amy has been so generous with sharing her creative space with me… and my sawdust.
It is wonderful to be in a beautiful bright environment with Amy’s creative energy. She is inspiring in her love for her craft and attention to detail. It has been great to bounce new designs and business ideas off her.
As an added bonus, Kirk Becker is the newest addition to the Sunna studio! He has set up his DJ booth in there as well and we are treated to a private show more often than not now!
Up until then, where did you work out of?
I spend time in Maui in the summers. My friend Eric is a Luthier. He makes guitars and ukuleles. I got to share space in his shop and use the off cuts from his instruments.
In Pemberton, I was making a huge mess on our kitchen island, when the belt sander was becoming a more necessary piece of equipment. It became apparent that it was way too much to set up and clean up every time I went to work. When Sunna studio became available I jumped at the chance.
What does Mana mean?
In Hawaiian culture, mana is spirit or power that may be ascribed to a person, space, or inanimate object. The essence of someone or something can have “good mana” or energy.
How did you get started in this game?
When I first saw my friend Eric Devine’s box of beautiful off cuts. There was no question that I had to do something with it. Eric ordered me a Jeweller’s saw almost 3 years ago and I have continued to carve up pieces since.
What else do you do, to support yourself? Or are you 100% committed to pursuing your craft?
I am also a Graphic Designer. The 2 have worked very well together as I am super passionate about design and imagery. My graphic skills have been very useful for creating my jewelry designs and all of my promotional material and eco-packaging. Both jobs have flexible schedules, allowing me to balance a life between the mountains and the ocean.
Where did you train/develop your skills?
I have always dabbled in making jewelry. I took some courses at VCC in silversmithing, and Caroline Miller taught me classes in her home studio as well. I loved working with silver, I have always loved working with wood. I love how you can shape it and how it smells. Eric helps to teach me about all the different kinds of wood and their properties. I am always evolving my skills and knowledge, but I have to admit I tend to sand my fingertips off quite a bit.
Were you always a jewelry kind of girl? Beading and braiding and handing around friendship bracelets?
Yes, absolutely. As a child, as soon as I knew not to eat fimo modelling clay, I was making all kinds of ornate little beads and things. My girlfriend and I did hair wraps at the fringe festival in Edmonton… We were always making something.
What is it about wood that appeals to you?
I love that there is so much to know about wood. I love that every off cut I get has a story of how it’s been hand selected for the grain and density for instrument making in mind. I love that it smells so so good. I love that it’s light to wear. I love that you can wear wood jewelry with just about anything. I love that it’s naturally found and it has history.
How would you describe your style/aesthetic, in 3 words:
Simple, Natural, Functional
Mana Jewelry line features earrings, necklaces and rings. What do you like working on best?
I truly love working on all of them. I have so many different designs so it keeps it fresh for me. It is fun to tell people the story about the rings, as every one showcases one small slice of a story, whether it was from Jack Johnson’s guitar or a special part of the wood where the sap discolours a portion of it creating a nice contrast. Every piece is one of a kind.
Who do you turn to for mentoring, advice and inspiration?
Eric Devine, for sure, I always have questions about wood and natural ways to treat it, cut it, and finish it.
My husband, Tom has also been so supportive and good at pushing me to do more. He’s even helped me refine a lot of my designs. Yup I’m a lucky woman!
I also am very grateful for my girlfriends, whom I am continually having test in the surf, mountains, and the most dangerous of all… around kids.
You use exotic wood that is cast-off from a friend’s guitar-making workshop. Is this just an excuse to go to Maui every year? Do you think there’s a special energy in the wood, because of the craft of the guitar?
Koa wood is very special, and I am blessed to be able to work with it. The Koa tree is unique to only Hawaii and is one of the most sought after woods for building instruments. It’s known for it’s strength and beauty. It is a huge part of Hawaiian culture from building traditional canoes to the ukulele.
Going to Maui is definitely a bonus!!
Do you have a philosophical commitment to using “waste”?
I am definitely trying to make the line of Jewelry as “eco” as humanly possible by using the material from off cuts and renewable resources like Bamboo. The packaging is made from reusable unbleached cotton bags and I always strive to recycle as much as I can.
Have you met Eddie Vedder? If you could, what piece of jewelry would you gift him?
Have not met Eddie, but Eric has made instruments for most of the Pearl Jam crew, and I’m hoping to get some of those off cuts to do some custom pieces. I could make them all cuff links!
How long have you lived in Pemberton?
I moved to the Pemberton area in 98. (Whistler counts as a suburb of Pemberton… right?)
What brought you here?
Lifestyle, People, Horses, Mountains, and the ability to have a little more space.
What do you like about it, as a place to live, practice art and base your business?
We have an amazing community here. The girls at One Earth were the first store that carried my work. They have been so supportive and encouraging. Especially through my disorganized inventory beginnings ;).
What’s challenging, particularly from a professional/craft point of view?
So far so good. I really look forward to my studio time. It’s a perfect getaway from the other profession I have… working on my monitor tan.
I will have my online store posted soon.
At the moment you can buy Mana Jewelry at: