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Alex Streeter

Text by Alex Streeter
Short film by Ryan Lowry
Edited by Bernat Granados
Music by Roger Sena

Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter

The American jewellery maker Alex Streeter is featured in issue #27 of Apartamento magazine, out now! Click here to get your copy.

 

Tucson: I learnt my trade from a French goldsmith who lived around the corner from me in New York in the ’70s. I visited continuously for years and picked up his expensive habit of casting great huge gold pieces and immense stones. He had a beautiful store, and his particular way of working was very unique. I picked up a very delicate approach to making jewellery and wax that wasn’t so much about carving and hard wax, but hand-forming, repoussé, or pushing from behind low reliefs and trims of specialised wax wire and combining everything into settings.

All of this, I really learnt up on 47th Street—the Diamond District—and all the old-timers would take a moment to give me a little bit of guidance, so I learnt what was involved with pearl-stringing and diamond-setting and plating and casting and all of the rest. I acquired a great casting friend ‘uncle’, who had started out in Istanbul in the gold bazaar and then moved to New York, where he stayed with me for years and years and years and years and years. I cast with him and he would let me smile with the money a little bit and was very generous and became my kind of golden uncle.

Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter
Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter

I would pick up tool catalogues and try to work backwards from them, trying to figure out what this tool is for, or what that machinery is for. What are these buffing machines and specialty components for making everything shine beautifully? And I of course learnt other parts of the jewellery trade—packaging, branding, treating customers with the best care that I could bring to it—and I was able to do custom work for people that walked through my door. I would immediately say, ‘Certainly, I do custom work, what would you like?’ And I would do a drawing on the spot that would entrance people and bring them in, and then I would carefully guide them to tell me exactly what they wanted.

Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter
Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter
Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter
Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter

And from that I learnt what people wanted and how to guide my abilities towards the public. All in all, it was about picking it up slowly and making mistakes and really creating my own way of making things that, many times, was not the correct way to do things, but it was my own way of doing things and eventually it worked out. So I’ve developed a style that’s pretty unique; the way I make things is unheard of in the jewellery industry. I’ve been able to carry that method around the world, as I travelled in the summertime, and I’ve been able to do new collections each year in foreign countries. They may have been influenced by native carvings in India and Morocco; I worked in Germany and Sweden and travelling by train in Italy and on beautiful little islands in the Mediterranean. I spent summers carving and would come home to New York, cast them, and work to have them finished by Christmas week. And so each collection is filled with the memories of being in foreign, wonderful places and high adventure. Below are a few of those pieces and the stories behind them.

Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter

The Love Force: Flying Heart

I got my start selling hand-painted wooden jewellery featuring a winged heart motif during the 1967 Summer of Love in San Francisco. The Flying Heart was the first of my designs to be translated into silver a few years later, and then put into production. For over 50 years it has served as flight wings for young flyers and as rebellious badges for punk queens, later to be adopted by their wilful daughters. At that time, in 1971, it was entirely new, an offshoot of Rick Griffin’s flying eyeballs, the Egyptian winged solar disc, and the founding symbol of the American Sufi movement!

The heart of the NYC jewellery manufacturing district was known simply as ‘The Street’ to its stone-setters, dealers, casters, and tool-supply houses. On The Street, armoured trucks delivered gold bars and shipped out glittering goods while paper packets that were worth millions were exchanged on ‘memo’ with a smile and a handshake. The scene became my university, and sometimes it seemed that I was the first Christian boy to penetrate its secrets! ‘Uncle’ Joe Iptek became my life-long silver caster. Findings came from ‘Uncle’ Myron, who had a permanent tan from his proximity to so much gold! I learnt the protocol of buzz-through security locks and bluffed a workable knowledge of semi-precious stones. My questions were met with patient smiles as I slowly gained traction!

Alex Streeter | Apartamento Magazine
Alex Streeter | Apartamento Magazine

Lost in the Jungle: the Superfly Ring

In 1974 I travelled to the Yucatán Peninsula on a stone-sourcing trip in the early days of my fledgling jewellery company. I found myself en route to the ancient city known as Tulum. The last tourist bus pulled slowly away from the darkening Mayan temple ruins and the malevolent spirits of sacrificial victims began to emerge. It seemed safer to begin walking into the twisting density of the jungle. A big mistake! Insects appeared from every side and greeted me with ferocious hunger. Several times, as I was trying to hang my hammock, I realised they could pierce through several layers of clothes. The torment continued all night until the faint cry of a rooster and a slice of morning light announced the relief of a little Mexican village. I finally made it into town, settled into a local pension and fell into a turbulent sleep on a hotel bed, arose, and created this giant insect ring, just as it appeared in my nightmares. It seemed so outsized and outrageous that no one would ever wear it, but, instead, this Superfly Ring has appealed to the most sophisticated ladies around the world and has more than repaid me for my troubles. So began a career of adventure travelling with a jewellery-carving workshop that fit into a small corner of my luggage: an alcohol lamp, dental tools, wax sheets and shapes, and plastic cases that I used to bring each precious miniature back to New York.

Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter

Jewellery Visions in Morocco: Wing Ring, Moroccan Indian Pendant, Flying Fish

In 1974, during one of my trips to Morocco, I worked on the second storey of a lush Arabic courtyard in Marrakesh. One evening, as I sat drinking coffee and smoking hashish in the old Casbah district, I looked up and saw through a nearby window one of the most brightly shining stars I had ever seen. I reached for a paper and pen and sketched a quick outline of the scene, which I later transformed into a three-dimensional wax carving. The bright star became a pentagram, a symbol that can be found all over the art and architecture of Morocco. This piece marks my first use of the pentagram, a theme that would later appear in many of my works. So after a day’s work, the designs would tumble forth and then I would retire to the town square for lamb couscous, to watch gas-lit Nubian dancers, and to marvel at festooned pigeons parading through a fantasy stage. All was wonder.    

Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter
Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter
Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter

I finished 24 pieces after a month’s work in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 1974 and 1975. I carved the Flying Fish surrounded by the oppressive African heat. I had dreams and visions of a flying fisha surreal, almost biblical harbinger showing the way towards a mythical water oasis.

Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter

Inspiration crowded my mind, influenced by the pungent spice markets, the gloriously tiled opulent hotels, the exotic walled casbahs, and the plaintiff calls to prayer in medieval Morocco. In Tangiers, I found a spot in the mottled, darkened lobby of a notorious Hippie Trail hotel and spent three days carving a life-sized fly in jeweller’s wax. (If you look closely, you can see that the tiny fly is kneeling in prayer!) It seemed a suitable endeavour in the decadent and gloomy atmosphere of the Hotel Istanbul lobby, high in the Casbah of Tangiers. The hotel was famed for its mural of Istanbul, its wall-to-ceiling Arabic tiles, and its being home to rock legends on the Marrakesh Express. 

Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter
Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter

The Great Motorcycle Commission: Silver Motorcycle Belt Buckle

Mr Akani Thapthimthong wanted me to do a silver piece filled with stones from his native Thailand. I suggested a full-scale Dream Motorcycle, complete with a diamond headlight, citrine turn signals, a ruby tail light, spinning wheels, and steering that turned. What a challenge! The summer of 1988 I found myself on the small island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Tunisia, with all the time in the world to finish this commission. I listened to the radio blare exotic music while everyone else went to the volcanic beaches. When completed, the waxes were carried to London for approval, where we were wined and dined and taken to our patron’s private gambling club. Then we went on to New York City, where all the elements were cast and provisionally wired together. Then: disaster struck!

A week before Christmas in 1988, my store was cleaned out in a massive burglary and the silver original was entirely lost. My business barely survived, and I lost any will to start the project again. Mr Akani was full of understanding though, and 10 years later, the eight-inch model was completed and delivered. The belt buckle version remains as a memory and has been a numbered collectible for club presidents and ‘Lone Wolves’.

Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter

Summer in Delhi: Silver Bull and Lion Necklace

In the ’80s, I lived for a summer in New Delhi, India, with my fiancé at the time, Sabina. Every morning, Sabina would head off to her job in textiles and I would retire to my little corner of the beautiful French colonial apartment we had rented to light up some hashish and get to work carving. I had done some extensive exploration of the local temples and was very much inspired by the horizontal, almost hieroglyphic depictions of animals and gods lining the stone walls. It took me an entire month to finish this carving; it was beastly hot and so the wax kept melting and dripping and falling apart. In the centre you can see a bull and a lion locked in struggle; this is a reference to myself, a Taurus, and Sabina, a Leo. It is a portrait of two conflicting signs that foretold a very tumultuous relationship. Above it you can see little men struggling to tame wild horses, a depiction of the battle of man against nature. On the bottom are rows of tiny animals, domesticated and walking single file. This piece was originally intended as an ode to the wild fierceness of nature.

Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter
Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter
Apartamento Magazine - Alex Streeter
film, interview, issue 27, jewellery
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