Interview with Alaya Vautier

Alaya Vautier ring

In the spotlight is Alaya Vautier, an outstanding metal artist who lives and works in Santa Cruz. Alaya’s artisan jewelry reflects vibrant elements of nature and experiments with diverse textures, a collage of metals, and a mix of gems and stones. She creates unique pieces that are one-of-a-kind and never mass-produced. As well as showing skilled dexterity and craftsmanship, Alaya’s jewelry is bold, imaginative, and playful.

When she’s not in her studio crafting jewelry, Alaya manages the Restorative Justice Program at the Santa Cruz Conflict Resolution Center and is a mediator and dialogue facilitator who works with youth, families, and workplaces in the community. 

We recently caught up to Alaya to learn more about her metalwork and what inspires her jewelry designs. Read on for words from this inspiring artist!

Local Santa Cruz: What led you to become an artist and start working with jewelry?

Alaya: I grew up in an artistic family and my dad always supported and encouraged my sister and I to do art, starting with finger painting and macaroni stringing to beading, collage, sewing, film making and more. We always had art materials around and my sister and I are always crafting and creating something, from ridiculous handsewn bikinis to surfboard bags and built-in wooden beds in the back of our trucks. We also have a dear family friend who we would spend time with and she would indulge our every art wish. She taught us oil painting, beading, sewing and more and always supported our creativity. My older sister, talented in numerous mediums, took up jewelry about 20 years ago and she has been a big influence on me. I would visit her in New Mexico, where she was living at the time, and always ask to make something in her studio. Inspired by the process of working with metal, I took the metalsmithing class at Cabrillo and loved it. I started collecting hand-me-down tools from my sister and started making things on my own around 2002 or 2003. I was just commiserating today with my sister that after all these years, I still make so many mistakes and create so many disasters (like soldering a bezel on upside down!)! 🙂 Luckily I can call my sister and she always offers sage advice on how to fix my latest disasters.

Alaya Vautier in her studio

Tell us about your artistic process — What is involved in creating a piece of jewelry? 

Sometimes I start with a stone that I really like or maybe a texture I really want to use and go from there. I make each piece from scratch, starting with sheet silver which I cut, then often I roller mill with some unique pattern and then shape into a ring or earrings or maybe a bold cuff. I am all about texture. I might use scraps of jeans, window screen, paper – whatever looks interesting – to add texture to metal. I like to used mixed metals and will add either copper or brass or sometimes gold. I oxidize all my pieces to give it an antiqued or blackened look. Shiny is not my thing – I am more into organic and rustic yet elegant and surprising. I rarely make something more than twice. I really enjoy the process, even when I have found a “winning” design that sells a lot, I often forgo it for the sake of enjoying the creative process on something new. This is art first, business second.

What inspires your artwork and why do you enjoy working with metal?

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I am definitely inspired by nature. Nature is so truly amazing in its vast display of beauty, textures, patterns, and intricacies. The other night I was geeking out on Google earth and I was “cruising” around Libya and noticed that from way up in space, the mountains make an amazing, intricate pattern. Just how do I transfer that to metal? That awaits to be seen!

I enjoy working with metal because it can be manipulated in different ways, changed around so as to make people wonder how I did that. It endures and holds shape and is strong yet you can imprint a pattern from lace or a leaf onto it, add stones and make this seemingly dull thing come to life with myriad shapes, textures, designs – metal is really infinite in possibilities. It can curl and bend, flow, conform, be surprising, hold textures, melt, stretch, tell a story….it’s just endless what you can do with metal!

How does living in SC and being immersed in the local culture, community, and environment influence your creative work?

There are many artists here and folks who support art that makes Santa Cruz a pretty great place to be an artist (excluding the outrageous cost of living). The ocean definitely influences me, as does the lagoon behind my house where I see (or hear) egrets, herons, hummingbirds, ducks and owls from my workbench. Also, we have the MAH which feels like they really walk their talk and support art and community on a really wide scale. They have done two shows where they opened submissions to everyone and anyone in the community and beyond. I love that! I submitted a piece to their “Everyone’s Ocean” show and really felt like I was a part of something bigger and it inspired me to work in metal on a large scale. That experience is a real highlight and I look forward to what else the MAH brings in 2020. They inspire me to stay involved and use art as a form of communication.

How can people connect with you and experience more of your art?

I am doing only one holiday show this year! The Makers Market Pop-Up show, Dec 14, 11-6, Downtown Santa Cruz in the storefront that was previously occupied by Bhody – a few doors down from Bookshop Santa Cruz. Otherwise, I am findable on Instagram (Alaya_Maitri_Jewelry), Etsy (Alaya Vautier Jewelry) and Loc Art (Alaya Vautier Jewelry). I have fantasies about teaching classes in copper etching and making journal covers…so maybe one day that will materialize!

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