Paua perfect medium for comeback

23:00, Nov 06 2012
hampden art gala
BACK CREATING: Mieke van Dam put jewellery-making on hold to pursue a career as a scientist in immunology.

Sometimes an artist will start a career path, then put it aside for years, but the longing to create again will always be there.

Mieke van Dam is one such artisan. She was hooked on jewellery-making in the early 1980s, then put it on hold while living overseas and pursuing a career as a scientist with a PhD in immunology.

"It was always sitting there. I knew one day I would go back to it," says Mieke.

After 27 years overseas, she returned to New Zealand with husband Andy Hamilton and settled in Nelson in 2005.

Mieke still had a little box of basic jewellery equipment, some original pieces and her drawings and notes from her college days in London, so she thought she would try it again.

To refresh her skills, Mieke took a course on jewellery-making in 2007 at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, with tutor Ray Mitchell.


She also learned more about sourcing materials from talking with Ray or fellow students and by scouring the internet.

Mieke set herself up in a small sleepout in the garden of their rented property.

It was shared with the mice in the ceiling and she had to bundle up in winter to stay warm while working.

She says it took a couple of years to really find her own style, but she always wanted to work with paua and to make it look its best as a jewellery medium.

"Paua had some terrible things done with it. I wanted to elevate it," she says.

Her work constantly evolved, to reflect this love of paua, and she set the shell in beautiful ways, using quality silver and unique designs.

Another change for Mieke was making rings. She had never considered it until a client commissioned her to make one.

To build on her ring-making skills, she attended a summer school in Auckland with Peter Minturn, who runs a private jewellery school, and learned a great deal about gem setting.

Mieke sells her jewellery through galleries and sometimes does commissions, such as resetting old rings with new stones, or melting down old rings to remake as contemporary pieces.

She uses a variety of semi-precious stones, pearls, paua and wood - her favourite being matai - and often uses gold as an accent.

Mieke is into recycling as much of her silver offcuts and filings as possible, by melting them down and pouring the molten liquid into ingots, then extruding her own wire.

She says people really like to know she recycles and she finds it more convenient to do it herself.

Mieke has a website with an extensive photo gallery.

She has exhibited with the Klustre collective, which showcased the work of 15 Nelson jewellers, and in the local Art Expo, which she says was really worth the effort for sales and exposure.

Now, Mieke and Andy have their own house in Annesbrook, where she has a mice-free, well-lit, warm and dry studio.

The studio opens out to their beautiful garden, which is also one of her passions.

She divides her interests by working on jewellery about three days a week, and spends the rest of her time in the garden with Andy.

MIEKE'S TIPS Persevere – eventually you will get your name out there. Connect with people in your field of work, share knowledge and ask questions.