Christchurch jeweller Lara Hopwood of Geo Jewellery makes exquisite silver jewellery that is not just inspired by our dramatic landscape but also has a very personal connection to our local environment. A mum of two and wife of one supportive husband, Lara trained in molecular biology and conducted research on viruses that cause cancer – and alongside this she has been creating in silver for over 20 years.
What do you make?
I make jewellery using silver, inspired by the great outdoors. My jewellery takes you on a journey from the beaches of Aotearoa, through the forests, rivers and flax, to our striking mountains. My most popular pieces are the shell range which are cast from real shells I have found on some of my favourite beaches. The beach is identified on the display card, giving a real connection to our outdoor environment. My mountain pendants are inspired by the jagged silhouette of the Southern Alps. The river bangles mirror the fluid movement of rapids over rocks. The forest earrings celebrate our unique flora, while the woven range celebrates our iconic culture and traditions.
What training do you have?
My formal training is in science – I worked as a research scientist for many years and eventually retrained as a science teacher. I have always loved learning new crafts and I started making jewellery 20 years ago after doing a government subsidised evening course. (Best $40 I ever spent!) I mostly made things for myself, friends and family but while living in Scotland in the 2000s I started making tiaras and bespoke jewellery for weddings. I loved designing and fabricating the sculptural pieces and working with the brides to create something special that could become an heirloom piece. When I returned to New Zealand, and after having children, I realised that a ‘real’ job wouldn’t fit well with my life balance and I started making jewellery again. I was excited to find that the New Zealand craft market was growing enthusiastically as people cottoned on to the idea that something handmade and local has an inherent beauty to it.
What is your philosophy?
My life philosophy was instilled in me at an early age by my parents. They were born in the 1930s and were well ahead of their time in their viewpoint, and brought me and my sister up to be passionate about the environment we live in. They were anti-consumerists before it had a label, always bought as locally as they could, and believed in supporting craftspeople. In 1984 they built a ‘tiny’ house almost entirely out of reclaimed material, they had the fire surround made by a local potter and curtains woven by a local weaver and the builder lived on the property in a house truck with his family – it helped that we lived in Coromandel! Coromandel township was a great place to feed my craft habit as there were always plenty of arts and crafts courses on offer, particularly pottery and weaving. I feel very pleased that people are now embracing the ideas shared by my parents, which seemed extreme in the 1980s.
What is your favourite material to work with?
My favourite material to work with (at the moment!) is the precious metal clay. It is made from recycled silver from the silver nitrate used to develop film, and from the silver used in electronic circuits. It has a consistency like clay and can be pushed into a silicon mould. After they have been fired in a kiln the binder burns off and you are left with sterling silver. The great thing about the material is that it enables me to cast very small shapes, such as shells, without the expense of traditional casting methods, and still retaining the fine texture. By using a two-part silicone based mould I can take imprints of even soft material like leaves.
My favourite thing to make really has to be when I fossick through my bits of scrap and off cuts and become inspired by what’s available to create something beautiful. The creating of something useful from ‘nothing’ is immensely satisfying.
What are some of your other skills and interests?
Doing stuff outside with friends and family. Making things – I always have several craft projects on the go. I can milk a goat and once tickled a trout from a stream!
What is your inspiration?
I love, love, love being in the outdoors! I love tramping, mountain biking, skiing, gathering wild food and hanging at the beach with my whānau. We are so lucky here that our outdoor spaces are valued, accessible and absolutely stunning! My aim with my jewellery is to connect the wearer to their memories of being in the outdoors, whether that be with, say, a specific beach or the experience of looking for shells with their family.
Tell us about your pets
We have a very affectionate cat called Restarea who we found abandoned in a rest area in Lewis Pass; a free range bunny called Sniff; four slightly less free range chickens (unlike the bunny they are NOT allowed in the house!) called Titanium, Alloy, Rosie/Daisy/Lily (depending on my daughter’s mood) and Poppy. My daughter begs loudly for us to get a dog and my son begs even louder for us to NOT get a dog, so I’m thinking our urban menagerie is complete!
What was the last handmade item you bought?
The last handmade item I bought was a drop spindle from Whimsy Wood and Wool. I have only just learnt how to spin and I was attracted to its touchable smooth surface and the use of two different woods. I LOVE the fact that something that is beautiful in its own right is also useful – and for such an interesting ancient craft at that!
What is your favourite quote?
It is more of a proverb than a quote: “Aitia te wahine ō te pā harakeke.” It means “Marry the woman who is always at the flax bush.” I discovered the phrase in a weaving book and it hit a chord with me that people could be highly valued for being always busy making something. It is also useful to remind my husband what he let himself in for and why there are endless craft projects all around the house (and in my head)!
What was your favourite childhood book and why?
I loved the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved that if they needed something they had to make it, whether that be a house, or a dress or even soap. I always imagined what it would be like living such a basic existence – now I realise it would be phenomenally hard work – but it appeared to be such an adventure. It really sparked my love of ancient crafts and making things.
Every year, pretty much, I learn a new craft, last year it was spinning and this year it was green wood working, so one day if I am ever transported back to a time before internet, power tools, and the combustion engine I think I’ll survive!
So what’s in store for the future?
I am currently working on some stud earrings of specific mountains, namely Aoraki/Mt Cook and Tititea/Mt Aspiring. If they turn out to my liking I might try further afield – suggestions, anyone? I am also trying to create a piece to represent our iconic braided rivers, but so far haven’t been satisfied with my results, so it’s back to the drawing board as I am not ready to give up!
Special offer for Felt blog readers!
Lara would like to offer you a 15% discount on her whole range of beautiful jewellery over the whole month of November! To claim your discount make sure you enter the code MAKER15 in the voucher code field at step 4 of checkout. Thanks so much, Lara!