Sum & Substance: Melanie Bilenker

Sum & Substance: Melanie Bilenker

Melanie Bilenker Pinning Brooch Series

Pinning brooch series, 2013, hair, paper, gold, mineral crystal, 1.9 x 1.2 x .3 in. each; Photo: Sienna Patti

Every hour of our lives is filled with subtle, infinitesimal moments; Melanie Bilenker fashions such moments into art. “I am drawn to Bilenker’s work because of the way she uses a historically based tradition – jewelry made out of hair – in a refreshing and painterly way,” says Emily Stoehrer. In Bilenker’s hands, fleeting gestures take on a sort of timelessness.

How she started making jewelry: I have always made things, usually small things. I have long collected keepsakes and tokens. I have been making jewelry in one form or another since childhood.

How she describes her work: I take self-portraits in order to construct miniature drawings of domestic scenes using small strands of my hair as the lines. I focus on quiet moments that only those closest to us might see.

Why she makes jewelry: As opposed to many other art forms, jewelry is worn on the body as a portable collection, always at hand. It can be readily admired by the wearer, as well as anyone else nearby, creating a dialogue that I enjoy. I also love ritual and tradition, and the idea of giving a token, as jewelry often is, as a stand-in for a person or a memory seems very basic and natural.