Guest lecturer stresses importance of sustainability in jewelry production

Kellie Nock

As the final artist in Kent State’s College of the Arts First Friday Lecture Series, Christina Miller spoke to students about the different aspects of material-sourcing, as well as the ethical and moral dilemmas that go along with it.

She emphasized that ethical resourcing was applicable to all forms of creation and production including cottons, fabrics, metals, etc., but her main focus was on jewelry.

“We’ve underestimated the power of jewelry to provide (lasting) benefits for the global community,” Miller said. She talked about the use of jewelry as a source of change and connection.

“We often see it as, you know, an extra thing — a nonessential. And yet humans have been making jewelry out of a variety of different materials for nearly 100,000 years,” Miller said. “So it’s not a trivial enterprise. It’s very significant. And as a trade we have sold jewelry very short in its ability to make a difference in the world.”

Miller, along with colleague Susan Kingsley, co-founded the group Ethical Metalsmiths, an organization that focuses on fair-trade materials and ethically sound design, production and distribution of jewelry.

In Miller’s lecture, she stressed the importance of ethics throughout all aspects of the creation process ranging from the environment, to social issues, to labor, to the community. She also detailed the different issues such as poverty, child labor and Indigenous rights along with other considerations that have affected metal-smithing throughout the course of its existence in the modern world.

“It was a real eye-opener to issues in the field,” said Taylor Steck, a senior studio arts major who attended the lecture. “I didn’t know about them before.”

During Miller’s time in graduate school, she learned more about the different mining practices and how companies attained the materials. In this she became “horrified” with what the industry was doing, and is now working to change it through Ethical Metalsmiths as a current member of its council.

“I’m really happy that the path that I took to uncover the story of mining and its impacts around the world has found actionable solutions,” Miller said. “It’s empowering.”

Miller’s lecture concluded with examples of different ethical jewelry designers and companies. Bario Neal, Alexandra Hart and Fairmined were just a few of the ones listed.

“I was amazed by how many companies they have working with Ethical Metal-smithing,” said attendee Kristina Muller, a senior fine arts major.

Miller ensured that mining needs to be balanced with the environment and moral values so as to create a sustainable future for the craft and for the world.

“If the materials are sourced from developing communities and environmental protections are in place and fairness is inserted along the entire supply chain,” Miller said, ” jewelry can really make a difference.”

Kellie Nock is the arts reporter, contact her at [email protected].