Pure embodiment of a home-grown, local small business
By Clifford Hart (Recycled from December 2018, Edition 29)
Photographed by dKol Photography
It’s hard to imagine a place that feels more different from the Hudson Valley than Scandinavia. In stark contrast to the soft, verdant terrain of our region, Scandinavia features rocky fjords and precipitous waterfalls; jagged promontories jutting out into roiling seas; and cold, sunless winters abounding in ice and snow.
But as unusual as it may sound, it is just such a place that holds the roots of a talented artist who now calls the Hudson Valley her home: jewelry designer Annette Ferdinandsen.
“I’ve always been attracted to nature in all its fascinating forms,” Annette said brightly when we met at her studio one afternoon. “I see amazing things everywhere I go.”
Whether there is a specific gene for noticing small and delightful things is anybody’s guess, but without question, Annette comes by her creative sensibility honestly. Her great-great grandfather was a model maker in Denmark in the 19th century, meaning that he created the molds for sculptors’ finished bronzes. He passed his craft on to Annette’s great grandfather and ultimately her grandfather Paul Ferdinandsen, and for many decades these men assisted mightily in the creation of some of the more renowned sculptures in Scandinavia, such as Edvard Eriksen’s Little Mermaid—a bronze sculpture still perched on a rock in Copenhagen’s harbor—or Gustav Vigeland’s extraordinary sculptures in Oslo’s Vigeland Park, where notably Annette’s father, Gunnar, served as the inspiration for the famous Sinnataggan (a.k.a. the “angry little boy”) statue.
Upon emigrating to Los Angeles in the mid-20th century, Gunnar followed a similar path as his forefathers and began restoring statuary and structures in the original Getty Museum. Gradually, Gunnar lent his sculpting talents to an industry decidedly Californian (and specifically Hollywood): he became a model maker for special effects in the motion-picture industry.
While a model maker might sound a little like a fashionista, in Hollywood it actually means bringing life to sculptures. From the gruesome monster masks of many early horror films like The Thing to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now to the more fabulous flights of fancy seen in movies like E.T. and Ghostbusters, model makers and artists have been an important force in Hollywood for generations, their work only recently becoming sidelined by digitization.
That force was not lost on Gunnar Ferdinandsen’s daughter Annette, who watched her father’s work closely and knew from an early age that she wanted to do the same thing: make things with her hands.
“My parents were very supportive of me pursuing my arts,” Annette explained. “My father did say that it was going to be a tough life to choose, but he also said that I had to do what I loved to do. And I knew from early childhood that being an artist was what I loved.”
By the time Annette was ready to go to college, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) called out to her, and during her time there she honed her sculpting skills working in many forms of media—from welding metals to working with wood—sometimes creating monumental pieces.
“I was always interested in creating literal pieces—things of this world, like birds or plants. Often my representations would have an ethereal or surreal quality to them, but ultimately, depicting real, living things [was] what I was most drawn to.”
After RISD, Annette was drawn to New York City, as so many artists are, hoping to ply her sculpting craft in a way that could provide an income. It wasn’t long before she began designing jewelry, often with the same eye toward depicting living things. Interestingly but somewhat ironically, being in the city only strengthened her passion for creating art from natural things.
“There was something about living in the urban jungle that made me yearn even more for things I could only find in nature,” Annette added.
TOver time it became clear that the dichotomy between her creative life and her actual life was not sustainable, and it wasn’t too many years later, in 2001, that Annette and her husband, Stephen, moved out of the city and bought a house in the Hudson Valley. There, surrounded by the nature that she loved embodying in her jewelry, she and her small business began to grow and to thrive.
“I think nature is incredibly creative,” Annette continued. “I love looking at the world on a smaller scale, finding special and unique things that can be crafted into small pieces of art.”
Indeed, when talking to Annette, it’s hard not to think of her almost as much a natural scientist as a jewelry designer. Her atelier is filled to the brim with specimens of things she’s found in nature—from feathers to small animal skeletons to pieces of coral—suggesting that almost anything the biological world might put forth is fair game.
That made me realize that one of the key points setting apart this unique and extraordinary jewelry designer is her ability to find things. Gazing at the myriad natural objects on the walls and shelves of her studio, it was clear that Annette had a great eye—not just for designing beautiful things, but for being able to spot them in the first place.
“One of my favorite things to do is foraging,” Annette said as she and I examined a small blue feather. “Everywhere I go, I find something fascinating.”
Clear proof of that statement was displayed on the desk of her studio: what Annette calls her “scavenger” or “forager” necklaces—creations that literally show off the fruits of her journeys through nature.
And that foraging can go well beyond walks in the woods behind her house. Some of Annette’s most stunning pieces are those she finds at mineral shows throughout the country. Whether it be a glowing tourmaline, a mottled turquoise or a fiery amber—she does justice to each stone in a unique way, showing off its brilliance and beauty in one-of-a-kind pieces that are truly remarkable.
But ultimately, most of Annette’s jewelry work is founded on the many miniature sculptures she creates by hand. She begins by creating small wax forms, derived from the specimens she finds, that are cut and shaped until they are ready to be sent out and made into molds for casting. In effect, the jewelry casters she uses today are creating models for her finished metal sculptures in much the same way her ancestors did for their sculptor-clients in Scandinavia.
“My favorite thing is to just sit down at my desk and start cutting or forming. As it’s unfolding, the process of carving away the wax to get into that leaf that exists in there—that is where I’m happiest.”
Annette said her process reminds her of the magnificent blocks of marble she saw at the Michelangelo museum in Florence, where each successive stone shows a bodily form “growing” out of the rock slab.
“I always feel the same way when I am creating a form out of wax. It’s such a joy for me—I know that there is something beautiful hidden in there and that I get to make it come to life.”
And make Annette does. When she first brought her business from New York City to the Hudson Valley over 12 years ago, she was really a one-woman operation, painstakingly creating hundreds of pieces of jewelry by hand and selling them to various online and brick-and-mortar retailers.
Since that time, she has been able to access the healthy crop of local talent from nearby schools in the Hudson Valley, in particular SUNY New Paltz, and build her business slowly and sustainably. Best of all, this relationship appears to be a truly symbiotic one, as Annette is able to expand her output while the young designers in turn expand their jewelry-making skills.
“I love hiring local talent as much as possible,” Annette explained. “I like the feeling that I am giving people who want to stay and work in the Hudson Valley the chance to do just that.”
Indeed, Annette Ferdinandsen Design is the pure embodiment of a home-grown, local business. And at the end of the day, what has continued to make that business thrive is Annette’s talent for creating beautiful pieces of wearable art. Whether it be an intricate fan palm, a delicate golden snake or a tiny silver acorn, the beauty of what Annette makes lies in the sheer simplicity and authenticity of her designs.
In other words, these objects are not only strikingly beautiful in nature, but the sculptures she creates from them somehow transform them into something much more: elegant pieces of jewelry that seem to have a way of adding a heightened dimension and personality to whoever wears them.
“The challenge to pick up an acorn or a thorn, or I’ll see a feather—and turn it into something that you could wear. I love the magic of that.” To learn more about Annette Ferdinandsen’s work and where to purchase her jewelry, go to www.annetteferdinandsendesign.com. █