San Francisco-based artist emiko oye is getting attention for her unique brand of wearable art. She specializes in turning unconventional materials into jewelry, including working with Lego products since 2006. She’ll be one of more than 50 exhibitors at the Smithsonian Craft2Wear event, taking place October 25 and 26 at the National Building Museum.
The artist says she’s always found herself drawn to used materials. “It’s kind of part of my makeup,” she says. Growing up in Ohio, oye would make dolls out of her mother’s old stockings. “It always felt good to be able to transform something that already existed,” she says. That spirit continued in college, where oye studied metalsmithing and fashion design. After graduation, she moved to San Francisco and got involved with an arts guild that had been around since the 1950s. In 2008, she had her first solo museum show.
The now 40-year-old oye admits she didn’t play with Lego as a kid. “It was mostly geared towards boys,” she says. For that reason, turning the toy into jewelry serves as a way to reclaim it for women. “It’s usually the moms who are buying or cleaning up or stepping on Lego,” she says. “I’ve got so many moms that are like, ‘Oh, finally I can take it back for me!’”
As it turns out, the products by Lego, a Danish company that introduced its famous bricks in 1958, lend themselves well to fashion design. “I saw this media that was limitless, pretty much, and always changing and evolving,” oye says. Plus, the product is more accessible than traditional jewelry. “Everybody has a connection to Lego in some way,” she says. “Their eyes light up when they see my work because it touches in them something very personal and that’s how jewelry really is.” She especially likes working with black and white Lego pieces because her customers can match them to anything.
Armed with a jeweler's drill, oye manipulates the material, but tries to maintain its original form. Some of her pieces can be “clicked” together, and customers have told her that their children have tried to take the Lego jewelry apart.
Update 10/21/14: A previous version of this post incorrectly used the term "glue gun" instead of "jeweler's drill."