Tools & Talismans #94 — Nina Bagley

T&T 94 Nina Bagley.jpg

I've been a narrative jewelry and mixed media artist for somewhere around 35 years, professionally speaking; as a hobby, I've been creating artwork for nearly all of my life.  I'm sharing these particular items in the photo collage/vignette because they are essential to my jewelry work, as tools, and essential to my aesthetic approach towards life and how I so strongly relate to the natural world around me. I live in a small log cabin in the midst of the wooded mountains of western North Carolina; it is inevitable that the beauties of the forest — streams, rocks, wildflowers, grasses, twigs, roots, feathers, nests, all have a powerful influence over what I create.

The two hammers I've photographed are old and worn and well used; the ball peen hammer, my favorite tool of all, was a gift from a friend's husband, the day I met him at a local flea market when I was there in search of one. He smiled, said he had one in his truck, and gave it to me just like that. I use it every day. The other hammer is one that I found a couple of years ago at a flea market in the middle of a hot summer field in Alabama; its soft brass head is covered in marks and dents, which — when hammered into the surface of silver — leaves lovely weathered, distressed details.

The heavy iron anvil — if that's what it is — is also something that I unearthed for $5.00 at an NC flea market maybe ten years ago. Its surface is full of the same marks of distress, and speaks of a history that was earned long before it came into my grateful hands. 

The steel metal alphabet stamps are something that I have used in my jewelry and book work since all the way back to 1990, when I first began working in metals for my jewelry designs.  I feel very strongly that my work ought to share a story, or multiple ones, with the person who is wearing or viewing each piece. Words themselves are very powerful tools; I hammer them into metal, I clip them out of dilapidated books, I paste them into my own book pages to trigger memories and emotions. 

I'm a collector of old paper ephemera, something that surely stems from being the daughter of a man whose self-made business was architectural salvage and demolition. My father often uncovered incredible items in old houses he tore down as an interstate was constructed in the heart of our Alabama hometown. I have boxes of old postcards and letters that he found in attics and sometimes behind walls. Many of those old images are used as inspiration for my storytelling, and make wonderful props when photographing my jewelry to be sold.

Lastly, heart rocks are something I have collected since I was perhaps eight or nine years old; I'll be 60 in October, so that means most of my life I've been discovering these treasures on the banks of rivers and streams. The first one I ever saw was one that my father found and gave to me. The name of this sweet cabin and the four acres of wooded land where it sits perched on a ridge is aptly called Heart Rock Hill. The many stones in a natural heart shape are scattered throughout the cabin, and often work their way into jewelry I create — a fitting place for them to eventually wind up being, around my neck or that of someone who understands and loves the natural world as much as I always have.

Nina Bagley is a mixed media artist and jeweler.


Tools & Talismans is a personal painting project where I document {in watercolor} the tools and talismans of 100 different women — creators and healers, thinkers and makers, wordsmiths and visionaries. Join me — I'll be sharing a new painting with you every Wednesday.

Would you like to have your very own Tools & Talismans painting to inspire, support and remind you of all the things that make you “you”, as you go about your days, grow your business and create your life? Get in touch so we can talk, I'd love to hear from you!