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Inedible Jewelry: An Interview with Local Artisan, Jessica Partain

Written by Liz, SRNB Charlottesville
inedible jewelry jessica partain
Jessica Partain is the co-owner of Inedible Jewelry, a local company that sells jewelry in the shape of food. You can buy her unique and beautiful jewelry in person at the Charlottesville City Market or you can order online.

When did you become interested in making jewelry, and were you always fascinated by food-inspired pieces?
As a child, I had a dollhouse but it didn’t have any food in it and I thought, “there needs to be food!” The solution was to make my own. I went to the art store and bought a bunch of clay and started making miniature food. And then I turned that into jewelry. My business started in 2006. I thought it would be really fun to sell my jewelry at the City Market. I had one tiny table and a cookie sheet with jewelry on it.

What was the first piece of jewelry you made for Inedible Jewelry?
I made fruits since I thought that would be appropriate for the City Market. In terms of expanding my products, I thought about what would be fun. I’m an unapologetic foodie as it is so I looked at lots of cupcakes. I would look at fun color combinations. I definitely take requests from people. It’s been really cool to learn all about different foods that I otherwise wouldn’t have learned about. People have specific food memories and foods that are important to them because of a favorite holiday. I don’t do anything trademarked or copyrighted though. One of the more unique requests I’ve gotten was for the Japanese dessert taiyaki. It’s a mold that makes a waffle but it looks like an actual fish. It was fun and challenging to try to figure out how to do that one.

What does your jewelry-making process look like?
It’s very much like real cooking but just a whole lot smaller. Everywhere you see a different color is a different piece of clay. For example, the cheese board necklace–I make the board and then for each of the cheeses I make the entire wheel of cheese and then I slice the cheese. Each of the grapes are individual as well. You’re mixing the flavors in cooking to make it just right and it’s the same for making jewelry except I focus on colors. Polymer clay has the consistency of thick chewing gum when it’s “raw” and then I sculpt it and then bake the piece in a toaster oven. It’s like a kiln.

Do you have a favorite “food” to make?
I love the avocados and the cheese board. And I also like things that have a pun. I like things that have a bit of a sense of humor.

making inedible jewelry

You were on the Martha Stewart Show! Tell me about that experience.
My sister Susan and I wrote a book on how to make our goodies because people like us are DIY-oriented. We had a great publisher, Random House. Along with the book itself, we inherited a publicist and she put us in touch with Martha Stewart and she got us on the show to teach Martha to make lemons and lime. I had to scale up the size of the lemons and limes for TV so people could see the techniques. It was fun and I really enjoyed doing that. I love teaching people how to do things and it was an interesting experience to teach someone who is a capable crafter. It was cool to see how she got so into it.

Do you teach people how to make jewelry locally?
Yes, I teach teen programs through the Jefferson Madison Regional Library, Grades 7-12. Sometimes I’ll teach classes for adults as well. I’m also happy to do birthday parties and private classes.

What does your morning routine look like?
A lot of coffee! I’m definitely more of a night person than a morning person. My husband wakes up early. He leaves the house at 5am so if he doesn’t wake me up, my second alarm clock is my cat. I give her breakfast, make coffee, and head into my studio and start getting done whatever needs to be done. I also make one of my crazy oatmeal bowls. I do a handful of oats, coconut, milk, chopped crystallized ginger, fruits and seasonings. I love to cook. My office is just paintings of food from several artists. My favorite one right now is from Marcella Kriedel, an artist from Washington, DC. She does watercolors of all types of foods. I have one from her that is all citrus fruits.

And your evening routine?
I like to spend some time outside with my husband when it’s nice out and drink wine or Colombian hot chocolate (my husband is Colombian). We will often watch ridiculous shows on Netflix too. My husband works at a coffee shop and he says “I make people happy all day.” I kind of do the same thing too because I get to see how interested and excited people are at the market. I like bringing something to the market that is a little different.

And finally, what comes to mind when you think “organic?”
“Organic” is something that is focused on making or trading things in a way that my great-grandmother would have recognized. We think about immediate results and sometimes don’t think of long-term effects.

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