Octopus Finder Stuff: An Interview with Paige Taggart
A conversation with poet and jeweler to poets Paige Taggart of Mactaggart Jewelry
Green mossy and marbled agate. Hot pink and smoky quartz. Carnelian, topaz, hematite, abalone, lapis lazuli, chalcedony, and black onyx. Wearable incantations. Beads made from fossilized sea sponge. Body Armor. Semi-precious stones substantial enough to swing over your head for a different type of protection. Vintage rings sans rocks, their naked settings filed into “window” frames, transforming the wearer’s finger skin itself into the thing to be flashed and admired, even better if an old tattoo peaks through. Stones that evoke planets, arranged like planets. Hitchcock’s theory that an icicle is the best murder weapon (no evidence after melting) reincarnated as a necklace. A soothing kind of heaviness, of weight. Vintage chains that clasp in the front. An ornate stem of an antique spoon with flowers creeping up it brought back as a pendant. I want them all. I settle for two new pieces, for now: a spike of black tourmaline shaped like an upside-down skyscraper on a slick brick chain, for balance, and a chainmail-like choker with a casting of a shark’s tooth big enough to feel like a heart shield that warms from the heat of my clavicle when I wear it, still dreaming and scheming of the cast brass acorns and glowing moonstones I hope will fill my future. It’s crystal as the druzies hanging in Paige Taggart’s studio why so many of her customers soon become collectors of her well-priced jewelry (most items are between $30 and $100). How could they resist? Post-chat, I join Paige and some friends in the garden of a nearby bar. All except one of us are wearing her creations, including the men (the outlier had just arrived in town). For a minute, I feel like a member of an otherworldly order of priests and priestesses of art and letters. Which, I realized, is exactly how I want my jewelry to make me feel. Don’t we all?
Your jewelry doesn’t look like other jewelry.
It is way more Northern California, and based on being from there. I’m drawn to organic shapes. I really like to combine soft and hard elements, and I use a lot of aging techniques on metals to make them look old, as well as already naturally tarnished metals. I like to have sleek, modern aspects that remind me of architecture, of buildings, and to mix that with more earthy vibes. My dad’s from Wyoming, and I used to travel there a lot growing up, so sometimes my jewelry reminds me of certain canyons and terrains that have their own natural patterns, colors, and stones.
There’s this market for delicate jewelry that’s going on right now as a trend, and that bores me. If something’s too small, it can get lost. My stuff is more statement pieces. I want it to be like: that’s what you’re wearing. You know, you can put on a basic outfit because you’re wearing the jewelry, and the jewelry is doing more of the work. You can dress it up and it can feel fancy, but it can also be awesome just with a T-shirt. Like you’re kind of casual, and you just throw this necklace on, and then you have the whole outfit.
How is your poetry related to your jewelry making?
A lot of ways, especially in combining and stacking elements. I think there’s a conversation in the pieces that I’m combining kind of like there’s a conversation in the way my lines move on the page where it’s sort of surprising or it’s not quite telling a narrative, but it can be telling a loose narrative. I used to do it together, where I would make jewelry and write poems at the same time. But, I don’t really do that anymore. Now, I make my jewelry in my room while I listen to podcasts, and I write my poems in my notebook on the subway or in a bar. I like to be in a really busy or active space when I’m writing, because I feed off of the energy of a lively environment beyond myself. Jewelry making is more of a solitude act.
Have any of the poets who wear your jewelry talked to you about why they love it?
Not specifically, but it feels like an understanding without even having to explain it. Partly because I name pieces with poetic titles a lot of the time. This one, for example, reminds me of something blooming, so it’s just called “Blooming.” This one is called “Primavera Moonstone Fantasy,” this one is “Etched Starrider,” this one is “Rainbow Alignment.” There’s also “Jupiters Axiom Swirl,” and “Re-Inventing Animals Stripes.” This one is called “Mermaid Tail Portrayals.” It reminds me of Henry Darger. A lot of times I use color schemes that Henry Darger used.
Do you think one of the reasons poets and writers like these pieces is because they have a narrative?
Because they have a narrative, because they’re playful, because they’re a little bit unexpected and not mainstream. My jewelry is not mainstream, and I don’t think poetry is mainstream, so there is this secret world that I’ve tapped into, and if you’re lucky enough to be a part of it then you’ll get to experience it. I mean, I think a lot of times people aren’t as open to something being wildly different whether or not they’re an artistic-minded person or just in their own lives, they just see things in a really linear fashion or they’re not going to understand it.
Is there power in making objects others covet?
Definitely. I want to share the love of it and also to make other people feel powerful. I know that when I put my jewelry on, it makes me feel secure, protected, and ready to face the challenges of world in a way where if I’m not wearing it, I feel like something’s missing, and more vulnerable. In another sense, I would say yes, because I know that my jewelry makes its wearers happy.
You mentioned that your cast pieces, such as your necklaces made of cast acorns and pinecones, are some of your favorites. What do you like about them?
Somehow they feel like less of me, like, I just found this, in nature, out in the world and as if anyone could have done it, but I happened to have come up with the idea to do it, and then I turn it into something permanent. An acorn, for example, someone will just step on it and crush it as they’re walking down the street, you know, and now it’s a metal form of it, and so it’s an interesting kind of archiving of the natural world. It’s fun, and it’s also flirty in this way too.
What’s flirty about it?
I don’t know, it just feels to me like really not overly cutesy. A lot of jewelry is of hearts and stuff, and that’s not really my vibe. But a casting of an acorn or a pinecone still feels like a nod to nature and a gesture of influence in this way I like.
How long have you been making jewelry?
I started making jewelry pretty young, just messing around with beads. In high school I got really into going into the bead shop and making stuff, and then I went and did study abroad in Paris. While I was there, I went to the Louvre museum almost every day, because I had it included in my pass for being there, and I started looking at a lot of the people’s jewelry in Renaissance paintings, and then I started getting more and more obsessed with it. When I came back to the States, I was like, “I want to do this, and I’m going to school for it.” That’s when I started at California College of the Arts, for jewelry and metal arts.
Tell me about your body armor pieces.
My friend sent me a link to someone else making body chains and she was like, “Will you make me a body chain?” and then I got really into it after that and came up with my own new kind of ideas interpreting it. Then I was like, “It’s not a body chain, it’s body armor. It protects you.”
Do you enjoy thinking of your pieces out there in the world and who is wearing them?
Sometimes I think about that and it’s really exciting, since I have customers all over the United States. There’s a whole posse of other poets who wear my jewelry. I have family members in Wyoming who buy it a lot too. My aunt in Massachusetts — in her neighborhood a bunch of people buy my jewelry. It’s this kind of thing where once the husband or somebody knows that his wife likes it, then they can just get it for birthdays and holidays — I think that’s really cool. I try to make stuff that is affordable, and I think a lot of my customers are collectors of my stuff, so they often have like twenty of their own that they kind of rotate. I think it’s really cool to do that, you know, be their main jeweler.
Why do you use found objects?
In some ways, there is only so much that I can do to it, and so I know if I already like it as it is, I can only add to it and make it better. When I start with something really, really raw, a lot of times I just don’t have as many ideas. Like if I start with a flat piece of metal or something, it’s a lot harder to envision the directions that it can go. Whereas when I get to work with preexisting things, it just feels more destined to be great.
You know how octopuses collect stuff? In the ocean, they store it underneath where their base tentacle system is. They have a lot of things, but they can only have a certain amount of objects at a certain time, so if something isn’t serving them, they’ll get rid of it, and put something else there. I was just fascinated by that. I wrote about some of my pieces, “This collection is made up of octopus finder stuff that’s been collecting in a deep space that’s then been customized and turned, enhanced, reattributed value, ringing in a new year, sea-creaturing itself into your arms where it lives above sea level, taking on a new life. Revitalize yourself. Look back inside yourself, then recapitulate. Make yourself the queen above sea. Walk on land and flood the world with a new wave.”
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