Alison Saville thinks in sounds and colors. She relates to inanimate objects, rearranging and doctoring them into nickel-free jewelry. She names every piece when she’s done because “I think it looks like it would be what its name would be. It’s very synaesthetic.”
Saville shows me Snuffaluffagus, a necklace comprising a brass bezel and pieces of various clocks and watches. “I named it Snuffaluffagus ... because if it were something it would be an animal, and if that animal had a name it would be Snuffalufagus, because when I was little I watched Sesame Street.”
Saville is 26. She’s short, has a round face, wears her blonde hair in an informal bun, sports jeans, sandals and a black shawl. She spends her days working at Virescent Designs, her gallery at Tremont and Jefferson avenues in Tremont. Besides her own work, she features other area artists on consignment.
Her jewelry, which she calls “what if,” is most important. She wants to take it global. For now, however, she relies on word-of-mouth and her website.
“Virescent is a part of what I do, which is recycling and repurposing, but designing is what it’s all about, and if someone can look at a piece and say ‘Wow, she’s really had to sit down and think and make and go in her own little world,’ then they get it.
"So the designing is what people should see first. Some people just don’t get it, and that’s fine, because I can’t make everyone want or love what I do." Saville is happy to politely educate customers on how a pair of silver earrings took shape from twisted fork tines, and she finds chagrin in the visitors who recognize when a spoon has been transformed into a work of jewelry art.
Saville lives above her store, with Munchkin, one of five cats she “manages” in her upstairs apartment. Casting her gaze across the big showroom, which feels like a living room, she notes: “Everything is made of something else, but it’s almost hidden and disguised as typical jewelry –unless they can see it or I tell them.”
A 2007 graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art, majoring in graphic design and minoring in enameling, the Pittsburgh native established Virescent in 2008 after first offering her wares at the Shaker Square Farmers Market and discovering “people actually like this stuff.” She fondly remembers an old man who told her: “You don’t see things like these anymore. These are just so handsome.” She gathers materials from family, her mother’s friends swamp her with stuff, and she scours flea markets, thrift stores and tree lawns.
“I go to thrift stores and try to find something preferably broken, so it’s not ready to break any second,” she says. “If it’s too beautiful for me to resist, and it’s sitting on a shelf, and it’s there for me to take apart, then I do it. But that’s rare.” She loves taking things apart and putting them back together, and has always been a problem solver. Her art lies in putting things back together a different way.
What drives Saville is the urge to be happy, she says, not money. Her jewelry starts below $20; her most expensive piece is $94. It’s an antique silver-plated spoon minus the hand, cradling a gang of parts from an old pocket watch. It’s called Rebecca [pictured]. Her jewelry seems old, kind of a wearable analogue to the assemblage art of Joseph Cornell. She collects and sells antiques, too.
“No piece is made from one specific piece,” says Saville. “What I do is have a day of sawing, then a day of sanding, or a filing day, a day of drilling through all the silverware that I cut; the motor gets so hot I have to give it a break, it’s so intense, and I get burns and cuts and stuff. But I have to love it.
"My hands are always nasty, and I’m a girl, my friends say do your nails.” No time for frippery, though. There’s jewelry to create, journal entries to write, drawing and painting, problems to solve, refashioning of specks of the past into something original, something Virescent.
“I remember very far back,” she says. “I was afraid of inanimate objects, and I would have this sense of dread.” At birth on Christmas Eve, the delivery nurse sliced her left foot with a Christmas pin. Saville shows me the scar. “I started out rough. I have a great family, but they didn’t know what was wrong with me because I was crying all the time, and it wasn’t until later in life that I understood I can and will do anything I want to do. I can achieve. If you’re going to do something, do it to the fullest."