In the Studio with Anne Jenkins of Ten Pounds of Feathers

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The first thing that hits me when I walk into Anne Jenkins’s Middletown, RI studio is a delicious, comforting smell. It’s warm and and cozy, like a hug. But it’s not cookies or freshly baked pie – it’s wood. Mahogany to be exact – the dust from a bowl Anne had been carving, its minuscule particles still fresh in the air.

Anne, who sells her wooden bowls and jewelry under the name Ten Pounds of Feathers, is a precision artist. Watching her work on the lathe is mesmerizing, as shapes and forms pulse in and out on her fast spinning wheel. Dust and curly wood chips fly everywhere. She’s covered in flecks of the auburn-colored mahogany, a smile beaming from her face. This is her happy place.

After leaving The New School Parsons School of Design (where she studied fashion) Anne found her way to the prestigious North Bennet School in Boston, where her focus was preservation woodworking. It turned out to be a much better fit, even if she was the only woman among her peers. “I took a bowl carving class, and that was it!” says the designer, who graduated in 2010. “I was hooked.”

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Photo by Meaghan O’Neill.

After an apprenticeship with a master carver, Anne followed her heart back home to Newport and set up a studio in Middletown. Though she dabbled with different types of projects, she quickly found that making jewelry was a good fit for her style and for business. “People only need so many bowls!” she jokes.

Today, in addition to tabletop pieces, Ten Pounds of Feathers specializes in edgy but wearable jewelry made from wood and hand-cut leather. Long fringe necklaces and tassels are a signature, as are pops of color, which she hand paints into grooves in the wood. Favorite materials to work with include black walnut and quilted maple, but mahogany is tops. “It’s smooth and easy to work with,” says Anne, “and when you oil it, it’s like aaaah!”

Working with wood, as it turns out, runs in the family. Anne’s dad, David, is the owner of Jenkins Construction, and much of the wood she uses is left over from his high-end construction projects. Other pieces were collected from lumberyards, friends, and occasionally the outdoors. “I don’t know when I’m gonna use all of it, but I can’t help collecting it!” she says of the lumber and stumps piled in the studio.

Family is a big inspiration for Anne, who talks about her dad’s work with admiration and works next door to his office. “I’m one of four girls,” she says, “so my dad is stoked I’m doing this!”

Likewise, “Ten Pounds of Feathers” is a reference to her heritage. The name is a disambiguation of an idiom – “10 pounds of sh*t in a 5 pound bag.” It was a saying her grandfather picked up as a veteran of World War II. The war ended, but Pop’s catch phrase – used to describe a messy, absurd, and annoying situation – had become a permanent fixture in his manner of speech. He couldn’t quit the saying, but to clean it up around his grandchildren, he swapped in a gentler word.

“Feathers” lightens up the language, but it also elevates the mood by taking an indelicate turn of phrase and making it funny and approachable, even embraceable. It also makes a perfect metaphor for Anne’s work – which takes blocky, leftover chunks of wood and turns them into something elegant and beautiful. “My grandfather was the man,” says Anne, with welling emotion. “He didn’t get to see me do any of this.” Bet he’d be pretty proud, though, to see these feathers take flight.

All photos by Nikole Wohlmacher, except where noted.

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Photo by Meaghan O’Neill.

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Meaghan O'Neill is a writer, editor, blogger wrangler, and the founder of Puddingstone Post. She was formerly editor-in-chief of TreeHugger, Discovery Channel online, and TLC's Parentables. Her writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her book, Ready, Set, Green: 8 Weeks to Modern Eco-Living (Villard/Random House) was published in 2008. She lives in Newport, RI with her family.

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