JEWELRY THAT lasts has a story. The centuries-old pieces in museums today were saved because they were cherished beyond their face value. Merely pretty ornaments have long since been melted into ingots and the stones reset into newer pieces. The ornaments that have survived did so because they were tokens or talismans of meaningful occasions or marks of passage -- a pledge of love, the birth of a child, a symbol of achievement. Families humble and royal cherished and protected these pieces and passed them on.
Heirlooms can be as grand as crown jewels or as simple as an iron cross, but in todays' world, a unique jewelry design for a special gift seems out of reach because the role of the jewelry maker has changed. Ancient artisans were commissioned to create personal keepsakes out of the costliest materials. Today many expensive gemstone and gold pieces are machine-made while craftsmen with creativity and vision have to work with humble materials.
Yet the world of the modern artist/craftsman is a treasury of jewelry for wear and remembrance.
One such jewelry maker is Rebecca Hanna, whose work is being shown in a group exhibit at the Tomlinson Craft Collection. Her work is suggestive with stories in the images that require a careful reading.
"I'm an assemblagist who makes narrative jewelry," says Hanna. "I use the separate elements to tell a story and every part is a chapter of the whole.
"Once I begin a story, I may work on it on and off for years, waiting for the right messages to fall into place. My house is filled with boxes of stuff -- old charms, photos, stamps, boxes of illustrations from old books and magazines. I spend a lot of time researching and looking for the right parts."
There are secrets and surprises in every one of Hanna's pieces. Beads are covered with ancient writings and pictures. In a necklace pendant inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, she incorporates symbols from his life and work. A gold bug, from the mystery tale of the same name, is superimposed on a locket turned into a bead which opens up to continue the story. Small metallic bird claws represent "The Raven" and they frame a portrait of Poe. It's a moody piece for a mystery lover.
The complex woven necklace on this page is titled "Lost at Sea." Hanna collected hundreds of bits of flotsam and jetsam -- shells, beads, sea serpent charms -- and shaped them into a miniature sunken treasure.
"I try not to be cryptic. Even though my jewelry is very personal, it contains images that trigger someone's memories. I recently sold a collage pin in which I used a woman's face from an old postcard. The buyer saw something in the face which made the pin worth having."
Area crafts boutiques that carry one-of-a-kind work are a fine places to explore for those seeking jewelry that carries a meaning beyond the pricetag. The work is as diverse as the reasons for having it. The pieces may recall a shared laugh, an image of a first meeting or a special color.
Here are some places to seek out small treasures made by area artists:
* Craft Concepts, Green Spring Station, 823-2533: Artist Laurie Flannery creates pins and pendants of animal and human forms in sterling silver. Joan Erbe's face pins attract the whimsical personality.
* Discoveries, 8055 Main Street, Ellicott City, 461-9600: Cathy Guss makes scrimshaw and mother-of-pearl jewelry. She will do custom carving of specialized requests, even a favorite pet.
* Gazelle Ltd., Village of Cross Keys, 433-3305: Mary Kay Dilli makes necklaces, rings and bracelets incorporating beads, charms and amulets. She will create custom jewelry using a sentimental object or treasured trinket.
* Tomlinson Craft Collection, 516 N.Charles St. 539-6585: The shop is currently showing "The Bead -- Contemporary Explorations," an exhibit of American bead makers and bead workers. The best of area bead artists is represented.
* Zyzyk, 1809 Reisterstown Road, 486-9785: Eva Schonfeld's beads are subtle, monochromatic works with very little color and a Victorian quality. She uses only the neutrals of gold, silver, pearl, jet and crystal.
* The Second Annual Open House and Crafts Sale: An artists collective of notable area crafts makers will show and sell their work at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 201 Homeland Ave. on Dec. 1 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jewelry will have a strong representation in a variety of wares. The artists have planned a "down home" style day with demonstrations and refreshments. Call 592-9622.