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We think every merchant we work with in our shop is special -- but when we find one with a great story, we'll be featuring them here. Because we want to tell the world about our favorite makers.
Today: Hyun Yu of Hyjewelry shares the inspiration behind her delicate, natural necklaces.
Hyun Yu never intended to open up a jewelry business, until three years ago when she walked into her first jewelry-making class. At the time, she had been working as a graphic designer in Los Angeles for over eight years and wanted to do something different, as she was growing increasingly dissatisfied with her work. She explained to me over the phone, "I had reached the point where I was itching to do my own thing. I had a lot of ideas I wanted to express but no outlet."
Hyun Yu creates our exclusive wood bead and brass necklaces in her home studio in Los Angeles
While always interested in pursuing sculptural and material-based art, Hyun waited years to fully embrace her passion. After immigrating from South Korea to the United States, she studied liberal arts at University of Massachusetts, Boston. "I chose a Psychology major even though my heart wasn't in it," she said. "While I took at least one art class every semester, I felt like Fine Arts wasn't a practical major." At home, Hyun had worked alongside her parents to build their family business, and she longed for the satisfaction that came with making something of her own.
Finally, she gave in. Enrolling in a Fine Arts graduate program at the University of Texas, Austin, Hyun reailzed the value of pursuing a career in art. She focused on printmaking, but was able to explore a variety of other mediums while pursuing her degree. "It was the first time where I felt like I could do anything with my life," she remembers. "Up to that point I was so insecure, but that year built up my confidence."
Hyun's exclusive necklaces for Food52 are made with wood beads on brass chains.
After graduate school, Hyun moved to Los Angeles where she pursued graphic design for years. One day, on a whim, Hyun signed up for a jewelry-making class. After years away from the tactile arts, the class came as something of a revelation to her. "I immediately got excited," she remembered, "because I saw the potential for so many types of designs." By the end of the year, Hyun had launched Hyjewelry, specializing in simple everyday jewelry made from natural materials.
While most of Hyun's pieces are made out of organic materials, she draws much of her inspiration from the vibrant urban character of her current city, Los Angeles. "I'm a very visually-oriented person, so every time I go outside, the colors and images excite me." Lately, she's been drawn towards downtown. "It's amazing," she says, "I go there and walk around for hours, looking at the murals and visiting creative shops run by independent makers, coffee shops, and of course, the museums." By the time she gets home, it's just a matter of putting all of the images and textures together.
Hyun's display at a local craft fair in Los Angeles
Rather than sketch or plan out her jewelry designs ahead of time, Hyun prefers to work directly from the materials she sources in LA from woodworkers and metalworkers, letting her inspiration guide her. "It's like a puzzle to me," she said, "I have to feel it and see the shapes as I'm doing it -- the ideas come through naturally." For the wood and brass hanging necklaces she created exclusively for Food52, she worked with our Shop team on the design.
"I was already working with brass chains when the Shop team suggested a wood bead," she remembers, "I said, 'yes, of course!' It was a natural transition." The end results are four variations of a delicate wood and brass necklace: a ladder design and a strand design both in natural or dark walnut stains. Hyun sources each material, then painstakingly builds each necklace bead by bead. "It’s a lesson in patience," she said, "because each piece takes such a long time to make." Wearing the necklaces, on the other hand, is easy, as they are so versatile.
"Wearing them over a simple T-shirt," Hyun said, "provides a blank canvas for the pieces, but they can also go from casual to dressy by switching out the T-shirt for a linen blouse. They're very easy to incorporate into everday wear."
However, it isn't the versatility that Hyun wants these necklaces to convey, but the sense of contentness they represent. "I feel so fulfilled making something directly from my own vision. My hope is to deliver that liberating feeling from the design process to the people who wear my jewelry."
Shop for Hyun's new wood and brass layering necklaces, here.
Photos of Hyun provided by herself; All other photos by James Ransom