Recently I had the pleasure of being introduced to the work of Liz Tylecki-Kuniej. She has fallen into her art, metalsmithing, through a wonderful twist of fate and the source of her inspiration. If every individual could be so blessed as to find their true passion in a similar way.
As I sat down to recount Liz's story for you, I found myself returning to her words and descriptions. Her passion for her work simply leaps off the page, so I'd like to share with you here her journey in her own words. I'm sure you'll find as I did that any attempt to tell the story differently would have been a poor man's version!
What is the piece or series of work you feel most connected to?
Liz: Most definitely my sea turtle designs. The first two pieces I ever created were the swirl turtle necklace: www.etsy.com/listing/58644411/necklace-sea-turtle-totem-sterling and the bezel set turtle: www.etsy.com/listing/60312919/necklace-sea-turtle-larimar-sterling. Both carved out of wax, and it took me months to do each piece but it was worth it. I had no idea at the time that I would become a fulltime metalsmith when I carved those two little turtles. I was just so inspired by the history,beauty and grace of sea turtles and wanted to create something tangible from that feeling.
What was your inspiration for this piece or series?
Liz: Sea turtles have been around for over 150 million years. The first sea turtle was literally a dinosaur! But because of human interference their numbers have dwindled to where they've become critically endangered. A few years before I decided to move to the island of St. Croix and work in conservation, I swam with a beautiful green turtle in Hawaii. She taught me something that day. The way she moved with the current instead of trying to fight it. She was so peaceful and yet so powerful, and the whole experience had a huge impact on me. It actually changed the way I viewed life and it was that experience that started a snowball effect which brought me out of my cubicle in NY City and to the caribbean islands with a newfound passion and purpose in life. Since then I have been volunteering every year with various sea turtle conservation programs, trying to at least do a small part to hopefully put back a little bit of what we have destroyed. Being out on the beach working wi th these goreous, ancient creatures has fed my soul more than I could ever express.
They inspire not only my art, but my existence as a whole.
How did you get started on creating your art?
Liz: The whole jewelry endevour started with beading for me. I used to make beaded and braided hemp turtle necklaces. I purchased the "focal" turtle beads and I would make various designs of weaved and braided hemp styles~chokers, necklaces, anklets~ very earthy stuff. I had an awesome boss who let me sell some of my work out of his shop, which I was working at part time. One day a friend of his (who is a full time metalsmith) walked into the shop and asked who made the turtle jewelry. When he found out it was me he approached me and literally dared me to try to make my own turtle carvings. He told me where to buy a wax kit and what tools I needed and said he'd come back in a month to see what I'd come up with! Well, I was never one to turn down a dare so I did it! Granted, it took me a lot longer than a month, but when he came back he was so impressed he invited me to come watch him work at his bench. He taught me some of the basics of metalsmithing and casting, and I was immediately hooked!
My wonderful boss allowed me to start selling my metal creations in the shop, and it did so well that I ended up picking up several more wholesale and consignment accounts all over the island. I started doing the local art shows, and eventually began to set up my shop along the pier where the cruiseships pulled in. After working the cruiseship circuit for about 6 months I realized that this was becoming a full time job, and I quit my day job! I am forever grateful to my boss, and his friend for getting me started. Without them, I know I would not be here.
My bosses friend, the metalsmith, is now one of my best friends. He was the one who suggested I come check out Etsy, as he thought my work would fit right in. And that's how I ended up here.~
I feel so blessed to be where I am at, and try to remember to be thankful every single day. And for me, that means stepping outside of myself to help others whenever I can.~
Liz regularly donates her work to various charities to support fundraising efforts. Most recently she has been invovled with the American Cancer Society, SUDS (Soliders Undertaking Disabled SCUBA) and the Queen Louise Home for Children in addition to ocean conservation programs.
To see all of Liz's work online please visit her Etsy Shop at http://www.etsy.com/shop/fantaseajewelry