Along the way this year, we have sought out makers of all kinds - observing, discussing, listening to and absorbing different styles of practice, aesthetic, approach, and creation from vegetables to prints to ad campaigns to, now, jewelry. Each place and person/maker resonates with us in some way, be it process, product or, often, both. In this case, our threads of thoughts and conversations from the past were brought full circle, spanning ethical sourcing, community dynamics, process, time, and healthy capacity.
Ash Hilton came to be a jeweler in one of the less traditional ways than years of formal training and schooling - by way of instinct and, later, apprenticeship as well as consistent individual practice. Formerly a chef (once found on mega-yachts in the Mediterranean) he settled in Nelson some years back having decided on a shift in focus. Being near his hometown on the northwest coast of the South Island, it was familiar ground with the unfamiliar territory of working with fine metals. Ash returned to the landscape, figuratively, through the work he was making and from that has evolved a definitive style. There is strength in subtlety - a crisp cabbage tree (meaningful and often spied in New Zealand) or row of pines (non-native but commonly used as windbreaks on the paddocks).
What I enjoy most is the imagery of flora that could so easily be the emblem of one country becomes pared down and melds into a border (or ocean, in this matter) crossing visual. Considering my related interest in collaboration and community-based anythings, this isn't surprising - but it is what originally interested me in his work, long before we started this trip. Being able to visit a working studio space, home-based no less, half way around the world and find it is true to that gut reaction is at the very least encouraging and inspiring.
Now that the business has grown - as well as the family, with the addition of two wee and adorable boys (a two year old and a fresh baby) - Laurel, Ash's partner, has become an official part of operations. She is the client communications/orders/website/manager person extraordinaire - and this way Ash can focus on making things. At one time, a shared studio space was good, as it cultivated the strong community that is essential for skill sharing, idea swapping and the like. However, Ash realized that he enjoys a more private space - and gets more work done - so a basement room became the studio as it is.
Both he and Laurel also decided to set some official working hours for their business - this after going the other route and finding that they were working far beyond a reasonable amount, whenever/wherever. The concept (and reality) of capacity is about personal limits, as well as intentionally deciding what kind of business/artist/craftsperson/farmer you want to be. By maintaining a certain size, and becoming a family business, Ash and Laurel are able to maintain the personal element - which is part of why we got to sit in their living room on a beautiful Saturday and meander through these conversations. These are elemental lessons that seem only to come by way of exploring and experimenting with one's own process, but still so refreshing to hear about. The baseline being to pay attention to what is working, feed it where it is lacking, trim it where it has gotten unruly. All of this, of course, helps ensure that people get to keep doing what they love - continuously improving, sharing, and creating a balanced livelihood from it.
Ash and Laurel welcomed us so warmly into their beautiful cottage, openly shared their experiences and even sent us on our way with a bag full of plums and peaches from their backyard. We left feeling as if we had met them before that day and are thrilled to have had the chance to peek behind the curtain of their business and life.
For more, including a bit about their ethical sourcing, and to view more work, visit: