Meet the carver - Hannah Sheehan
Even as a young child, it was clear Hannah Sheehan shared the same passion for the stone as her family. A self-taught silversmith, Hannah now creates a limited number of unique carvings from her small home studio and is passionate about making pieces which hold meaning and connect people to something beautiful.
Her work combines stunning pieces of jade with precious metals to complement and enhance the beauty of the stone further, and Hannah's designs are constantly evolving as she draws inspiration from her surroundings …
How did your journey as a carver begin?
For as long as I can remember, greenstone has been part of my life. My family are carvers, so I grew up with the stone and my first job was at our family jade store in Rotorua. I started as a retail assistant for Mountain Jade, but I was always intrigued by the workshop. I was drawn to the offcuts of stone, the small pieces left behind by carvers once they had completed their design – I saw those as tiny treasures.
Even though I always loved the traditional carvings in the store and adored the stone, I could never find anything that I wanted to wear, or that felt right on me. So, I never really had a great desire to carve traditional pieces. Instead, from the very beginning, I wanted to make contemporary pounamu jewellery. I would look at precious gems and gemstone jewellery for inspiration and dream about how I could bring that style to pounamu.
I wanted to bring the two worlds of traditional and contemporary together, to craft pieces which could be worn every day and connect people to something beautiful!
What was the first piece you ever carved?
I can’t remember my very first carving, but I started experimenting with drop earrings by taking small offcuts and forming organic shapes. However, the more I worked, the more naturals forms just didn’t feel right for me. My attention instead moved towards sharp edges and geometric shapes; not necessarily things you’d see in nature.
For me, one of the most difficult parts of the learning process was building the confidence to take the stone away. The thought that I might ruin the stone during the carving process, was a real fear that I had to overcome. But now I understand that's the beauty about this work – that every broken piece, every mistake, every unexecuted vision can become something else, something that it was always meant to be.
Where does your passion for carving come from?
My passion for carving started with my family. My dad would always say that I had carving in my blood and that I had an innate ability to read and work the stone. I moved out of home pretty young, and my dad gifted me a workshop for my 21st Birthday which I set up in my basement. But, even when I stepped out on my own, my family were always there. Carving was how we’d communicate, every time we’d hang out we’d carve together and ask each other a million questions – I picked things up from all of them. We are still immersed together in our love for the craft, and my family continuously challenge me to grow as an artist.
Carving is 100% a part of me, I can't imagine not ever doing this.
Where does the inspiration for your designs come from?
I’ve always lived in the city. My first workshop was in central Wellington and now I carve from central Auckland. When I look at my work, I can see how it’s inspired by my urban environment. Everything about my surroundings influences me, not just one thing - pop culture, architecture, fashion, things I see in magazines. Everything feeds everything else and my work is just constantly evolving, I’m always looking for new and different things to do with the stone.
Most of my work is one-off, I don’t tend to replicate many pieces. However, I do have a dot range which I just love to keep making because it’s so beautifully simple. The range is full of pieces that people can wear every day and truly treasure. I love creating pounamu jewellery that holds meaning and that I can imagine people wearing for a lifetime.
How do you continue to grow as an artist?
I grow through not being afraid of trial and error. Working with stone means I am always going to be learning, I’m constantly brought to my knees by the material. There seems to be no end game, you think you know how to do something then you realise you don’t - there’s always a new lesson to be learned! Combining stones with precious metals is a lifelong task - the different combinations and possibilities just don't end.
That’s what excites me, the constant search for beauty. I hope it never ends, its what pushes me to do new things.
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