Artists We Love: Maura Lenahan

Posted by Nora McCarthy on


Each month, we welcome a new artist into the spotlight at Lillstreet Gallery. For the month of March, we turned our eyes and ears to Chicago-native Maura Lenahan. As March comes to a close, we want to reflect on our Featured Artist and highlight all of the amazing work still available by Maura. We are proud to present March's Featured Jewelry Artist: Maura Lenahan. 

View our special collection of Maura's work in our Gallery and online. Read on for 10 questions with the artist in her studio, and learn what inspires the work and world of Maura Lenahan. 

10 Questions for Maura Lenahan

What was the impetus for becoming a jewelry artist?

I’ve had a lifelong jewelry obsession; There’s an infamous family home video of me wearing a disproportionately large pair of clip earrings at my 4th birthday party. In high school, I started editing and then making my own jewelry and soon realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life.

What inspires your forms and surface finishes?

I’m very inspired by historic jewelry, which tends to be very ornate and embellished, as it was traditionally an item enjoyed only by the rich and the royal. My forms are usually based around a stone or gem, and the high polish, patina-free surface finishes I employ are grounded in long term wearability.

Who are your favorite artists?

I love the work of Alexander Calder; I was lucky enough to visit Atelier Calder in Sache, France, and this event was very influential in my decision to attend art school following a gap year. The lapidary work of Jean-Noel Soni, or Top Notch Faceting, has also been a constant inspiration to me, and meeting him at Brooklyn Metal Works was another turning point in my life as an artist. Concerning non-jewelry or metal related art, I have always loved the landscapes of Tom Thomson and the portraits of William Adolphe Bougereau.

How did your current aesthetic style come to be?

My current aesthetic style is almost a continuation of the ornate, historically grounded fabrication work I was executing in my senior collection at SCAD, but with a newfound perspective on the ethics of modern wearables that I gained working as an assistant designer for a fashion jewelry brand based in New York City. My newest collection features silver links meant to mimic bones as a sort of modern “Memento Mori” that comments on the moral dilemma faced by the metals and jewelry industry in a time where the demand for cheap fashion jewelry is at direct odds with the sustainability of our survival on this planet.

Maura Lenahan Contemporary Jewelry

What is your favorite type of object to make? (i.e. vessel, brooch, necklace, big earrings, small earrings…)?

My favorite object to make is definitely rings. They’re my favorite object to wear because they offer constant visibility for the wearer, and the root of my practice has always been making jewelry that I myself want to wear and look at.

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

My advice for aspiring artists is to allow yourself time to develop and to force yourself to make and release work even and especially if you don’t feel ready. I have a tendency to not want to show work until I believe it will be well received, but a very smart and talented former classmate, Corrina Goutos, once said that “every piece you’ll ever make is a prototype”, and I try to remind myself of that constantly.

Do you have other creative outlets/practices?

I really love to draw, and I try to practice yoga as often as possible.

If you weren’t an artist, what would your dream job be?

If I weren’t an artist, my dream job would be a travel writer. I’ve always thought that traveling is one of the best things you can do for yourself, and I love the idea of that kind of self-development as financially sustainable.

Any favorite meal/food?

My favorite food is probably Indian. Growing up, my mother made an amazing chicken curry and as an adult and now vegetarian, I still love the complicated flavor profiles and variety of dishes you can find as a vegetarian or meat eater.

What has been your most memorable trip/vacation/residency?

My most memorable vacation was a trip to London that almost wasn’t because of the 2010 volcanic eruptions in Eyafjallajokull, Iceland. I was a live in au-pair in Tours, France and had planned a weekend trip with a friend on a small European budget airline. Because of the eruptions, all European flights were grounded for our exact timeline, and so instead of a cheap and convenient 45 minute flight, we decided to take two slow and expensive trains across France and a ferry across the English Channel to spend a significantly shorter stay. London is fantastic, but taking the train across the French countryside and crossing the English channel by boat were some of the best memories of my whole year abroad and changed the way that I travel forever.

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