Heidi Weddendorf: Creating jewelry inspired by nature
by: John Lavenburg
photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger
Heidi Weddendorf came to Nantucket in the summer of 1988 to escape the heat of South Carolina and manage the Erica Wilson boutique on Main Street. She had no intention of staying once autumn rolled around.
But she did. For the past 30-plus years she’s lived on the island full-time, and worked as the manager of Erica Wilson. The only difference is now she doubles as a jeweler, selling her own creations out of the store.
The desire to create and her job at Erica Wilson kept her on the island. At the end of that summer, in 1988, she looked back at some of the jewelry designs she had drawn in the margins of a college notebook, saw that the Artists Association of Nantucket was hosting a jewelry class in the winter, and decided to sign up.
“I stayed on Nantucket because I had this job I kind of liked, and I found I liked living on Nantucket. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next so I figured I would just keep going until I figured it out,” Weddendorf said.
“Then when I saw the sketches in my notebook I decided (jewelry design) was something I wanted to try.”
The class turned out to be the launching point for her second career as a jewelry-maker. She made her first set of earrings in the class – a 14-karat gold, textured, curvy, imperfect star outline – that she wears and sells to this day.
In the years that followed she continued to learn more about the craft. She spent parts of the slow seasons studying at the Jewelry Arts Institute in New York City. There she designed one of the first pieces she sold on the island, the Nantucket Knot bracelet.
“It made me feel really good that I not only made a beautiful piece of jewelry people appreciated but that I did a good job advertising it,” Weddendorf said of selling the bracelet.
The bracelet is a series of intertwined gold or silver nautical square knots, with a grainy texture the same as the star earrings. It’s one of her most popular pieces that she still sees people wearing more than two decades later, Weddendorf said.
“I have people who I see today that still say that they never take it off. It’s something they still wear and that’s something I made more than 20 years ago,” Weddendorf said.
Seeing people wear and enjoy her pieces like the knot bracelet motivates her work as a jeweler. The job also lets her see people at their happiest, a luxury for which she’s grateful.
“I love making stuff for other people and seeing them wear it and that’s probably the best feeling of all,” Weddendorf said.
Most of her work doesn’t fit a particular style, trend or technique. She instead gets her ideas from nature.
“Anywhere you go you just step outside and you’re close to a beach, a forest. You’re close to wonderful walking trails everywhere and bike paths and I try to take advantage of that,” Weddendorf said. “I’m inspired by nature. I’m inspired by all kinds of things that are around me.”
This approach led her to create unique pieces not commonly found in a traditional jewelry store. She’s made earrings molded out of barnacles from Nantucket beaches, others in the shape of deer antlers, pendants of Italian coral and a lot of imperfect, unusual pearls.
In the arts, it’s one thing to create objects of beauty that are unusual.
It’s another thing to sustain that approach as a business model.
That’s why the stability of her job at Erica Wilson has been important for more than three decades. It alleviates the responsibility of having to maintain her own store, while leaving her the freedom to create.
“I feel like I’m super-lucky to have my job and sell my jewelry and it’s not my shop and I have a lot of freedom and creativity,” Weddendorf said. Right now, she’s working on some new designs inspired by foliage that’ll look like branches, trees and vines, and another that will be a simple necklace with a heart pendant.
“This new one is going to be a necklace. It just has a heart for people who love Nantucket,” Weddendorf said.
John Lavenburg is a staff writer for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.