By Aimee Petkus
Ed. Note: Aimee Petkus used to study rocks as an environmental geologist, but now she makes stunning jewelry out of those rocks. So you might say she is another Philly “Rocky.” And she is the featured summer artist at Gravers Lane Gallery, 8405 Germantown Ave., through Aug. 20.
Nature has rules, but it’s also a paradox. The play within seemingly contradictory elements is more natural than we realize … When I look at a mineral specimen, I see the millions of years it took to create a seemingly magical object, and it reminds me what a tiny insignificant amount of time I will physically be able to experience it.
Jewelry design and metalsmithing is not my first career. For many years I worked in the world of contaminated soil as an environmental geologist. I worked first for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and then for a private consultant in Manhattan. I handled soil from the testing phase to the monitoring during digging or dredging to its disposal.
It’s not really what I imagined for myself when I was studying geology, but I thought if I could do some good in the world, then maybe it was worth it. However, after six years, I felt like it was killing me. I spent the last two years of that career scheming new ways to make a living. I was going to open a grocery store in my neighborhood in Brooklyn because there wasn’t anything nearby.
I tried creating a line of screen-printed linens. I posted ads on craigslist as an artisanal gardener. I made canvas wall planters. I partnered with a friend to start a handbag company. I had to do something else. Anything else. Finally, I convinced my boyfriend (now husband) that we should save up enough money to fully quit our jobs and do a cross-country rock hunting trip.
We bought a 1983 Mercedes Diesel Benz for $1400 from a guy in Jersey City. We set out on an adventure. I figured if I followed a path doing things I love, then all the pieces would fall into place. Along the way the pieces came together, and I decided I needed to get a second bachelor’s degree in metalsmithing.
I moved to Philadelphia two months ago. I rent studio space in Sharktown Studios, owned by a jewelry artist duo, Ford Forlano. My process begins with my first love, the stones. I have to see all my stones at all times. I love all forms of stones. I have gems, huge mineral specimens, cabochons and everything in-between. I cut, shape and drill a lot of the stones that I end up using.
Stones need to be done with diamond-coated tools and have to be wet. They heat up very quickly, and it can damage that stone. I do most of my work at my bench with a flexshaft. But I also have a trim saw that I use to break down large chunks of rock and to cut away the parts that I don’t want to use. I create three different collections so that I can diversify the different shows I do.
My wire collection is my most affordable. I use a lot of crystals and drilled rough stones to create simple, lightweight, wearable pieces while still keeping the design elements that are important to me. Many of the forms I create are inspired by crystal geometries. In general my work is geometric but with an organic twist. In nature, crystals have an orderly makeup and therefore have geometric forms, but nature being nature, they’re usually imperfect.
My second collection is limited production, which I can produce quickly for stores. I create the pieces through lost wax casting. For this collection I predominantly use traditionally cut gemstones to contrast with the forms that are created in wax. My third collection is what I produce for galleries and high-end indoor shows. It’s all fabricated by hand, and I’m using sterling silver, with 18k gold solder to give a feeling of connection to how it was made. Fabrication takes time, but it creates a finely handcrafted piece of wearable art. I use an acetylene torch to melt slightly lower temperature silver or gold into a join to bond two pieces of metal.
You can check out more finished pieces at www.aimeepetkus.com and follow me on instagram @aimeepetkus.