Rackk and Ruin: Vintage Metal // Published in Thread Magazine // December 14, 2014
Molly Conant may be the daughter of Steve Conant, founder and owner of Conant Metal & Light on Pine Street. And she may be the successful one-woman force behind Rackk & Ruin, a jewelry collection made from vintage metals and other materials. But she did not break into the metalworking world in the linear, familial fashion that one might expect.
Conant’s journey to jewelry was circular and gradual, much like the rediscovered and resurrected nature of the pieces she creates. While it’s true that her father taught her a few basics as a child, she never experimented with metalworking until after college. She double majored in studio art and sociology, and graduated from University of Vermont in 2006 without ever taking a metalworking or jewelry class. She instead focused on photography and drawing.
Several years later, Conant was bouncing around different jobs, including waitressing and working at a photography program for children. Searching for artistic motivation, she began browsing the street style blog scene, and — inspired by a feathered necklace that she came across — began toying with basic metalworking.
“I started with that and I wore a version of it to work, and enough of my coworkers and customers were excited about it that I was like ‘oh, you would want me to make you one of these for money?’” she says. “When I discovered how much I loved working with my hands and making jewelry, it just clicked. It’s a pretty easy world to break into and learn as you go.”
Beginning in 2009, she slowly amassed a collection of pieces, selling them individually or in small batches. Her initial process did not use heat or complex fabrication methods.
“Very much in the beginning it was more feathers and leather and zipper teeth. No fire was involved,” she explains. “It was riveting; just assembly, cold connections and all that.”
Soon enough, she was asked to make wedding bands, a request that inspired her to learn more about soldering and using heat to manipulate metal.
“When I first got back into soldering I took a few classes from Jane Frank [of Alchemy Studio, Howard Street, Burlington] just to kind of remind myself,” she recalls. “As I realized I wanted to learn more and become more skilled, I realized I would need a new space and that’s when I moved into Conant, to have access to their soldering station and then ultimately build my own.”
She made the move to the Conant space in the South End Soda Plant a few years ago, and into a new studio within the building this April. She is open for business five days a week.
“Since becoming full time I’m here Monday through Friday, sometimes Saturdays,” she says. “I’m here every day but I don’t necessarily have open studio hours. I think going into 2015 I’ll set a schedule of two or three days a week. “
Her tasks vary each day. Some days are devoted to completing, packaging or shipping online orders, or filling in backstock of popular items. Other times she takes advantage of the daylight and photographs her work or updates her website with new merchandise.
And, as is the case with all creative endeavors, “some days I’ll get distracted and start designing something new, which is all I want to be doing anyway. But that’s not really a successful business model, to just make stuff and then put it to the side.”
The time it takes to complete a piece is also unpredictable.
“Sometimes I’ll get an idea of something I want to make and within 25 minutes I’ve made a mock up of it,” she explains. “Other times if something doesn’t hang right or the proportions are off, I could spend four hours just trying to figure out that first piece.”
She does not get frequent visitors to the studio, but when someone does come in, Conant is careful to note his or her preferences.
“It’s great to have people come in and watch and listen to their reactions. That’s way different than being off by myself in a corner and only doing sales online,” she says. “When people get something in the mail it’s not often that you hear feedback.”
Conant has sold pieces to buyers all over the world, including in Australia, France and South Korea. She said Rackk & Ruin does not have a specific customer demographic.
“I would say age range, it completely varies. Eighteen to 75? Mostly probably 20- to 40-year-olds,” she guesses.
The Rackk & Ruin line is reasonably priced, considering that Conant works almost exclusively in expensive metals or one-of-a-kind artifacts. At the lower end are $22 sterling silver faux septum rings or tiny diamond-patterned ear cuffs for $38. At the higher end are elegant thin drop-chain necklaces or clutched crystal pendants, with her highest piece priced at $172.
Conant’s aesthetic is simple and clean, favoring long necklace lines or graceful earrings with antique typeface numbers. The effect is vintage but not stuffy, making her pieces wearable but still inimitable, a hard balance to strike in a world saturated with Etsy crafters and DIY tutorials. For example, her latest material obsession is with antique French meter sticks.
“I hope to cast them in narrow wedding band-type rings,” she says.
Conant is careful to explain that since her pieces use metals like silver or brass, as opposed to gems or stones, their appearances may change with time.
“With anything that has a living finish, if it’s exposed to air — which they pretty much all are — and will tarnish. So anytime somebody orders something I might have made a couple weeks ago I’ll make sure to polish it up, and let them know it’s a living finish,” she explains.
That slightly worn look is parallel to the collection’s name, Rackk & Ruin, which is drawn from a Henry Bull quote. Bull, an English theologian, wrote in his 1577 translation of Martin Luther’s Commentary Upon the Fifteenth Psalms: “While all things seem to fall to wracke and ruine.” The expression means, “to fall into a state of disrepair.”
“I wanted a name that was catchy and really liked alliteration, so I just remembered hearing the expression ‘wrack and ruin’ and it means that something’s been left to fall apart,” Conant explains. “A lot of the materials I am using in the jewelry had been left behind and gone to wrack and ruin and I’ve breathed new life into them.”
Four years into Rackk & Ruin, Conant’s education is ongoing. She recently took an introductory jewelry class at the Generator maker space on Main Street.
“A lot of people were like ‘why are you taking that’?” she laughs. “But for me never having taken a full class, I still have some insecurities about even the way I’m holding my saw, for example. I knew I wanted to have a couple of experts there so I could say ‘hey what technique do you think this person used on this piece of jewelry I found?’
In that vein, Conant dismisses the idea that another artist can be too influential. While she acknowledges the fine line between inspiration and outright copying, she always seeks to learn from others.
“Nothing is new under the sun,” she muses. Nothing except a modern take on forgotten or abandoned relics. ‡
Visit www.rackkandruin.com. Pieces from Conant’s jewelry line are also available at Common Deer in Shelburne and at Free People’s online store. In addition to her own jewelry, Conant sells an assortment of vintage clothes, bags, shoes, and decorative items at her studio, 270 Pine St, 2nd Floor, Burlington.