Seattle might be notorious for niche coffee shops and scenic waterways, but locals know it's also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is chock-full of artists who we love to feature weekly on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you're wondering just what constitutes art, that's the beauty of it; it's up to you! See all of our past Artists of the Week in our dedicated section.
Seattle Refined: What do fashion and style mean to you in terms of art?
Kirra Lien Steinbrueck: I actually don't consider myself a fashion person! I'm deeply curious about the process and practice of adorning our bodies. For me personally, adorning is an act of resistance — it's one way I claim and own my body, practice connection to myself and commitment to my wellbeing, all while challenging a consumerist and capitalist system. When I'm designing jewelry, I don't necessarily think of how things will look on a body. I normally think of how things will feel on a body. Creating art for the body gives me the opportunity to explore this question: What do we value as a society?
I'm interested in authenticity and truth, values based on earth care and connectedness. I don't work with faceted diamonds as they don't align with my value system — they have value because they've been marketed so heavily to us for the last hundred years as part of the picture-perfect American dream. I use jade because it connects me to my Chinese heritage and belief system. I use copper because it holds value in the Indigenous culture of the land I am settled on; I honor that and uplift that. What are our aesthetic values as a society? Do we choose to wear small sparkly delicate jewelry, echoes of conditioning to be demure and compliant people? How do we give ourselves permission to take up more space, to be loud, to be present, to demand equal voice in shaping and steering this life?
What we put on our bodies trickles out into all aspects of our life — how we move through the world, how we show up for ourselves in private spaces, how we take up space in a room, how others view us. I have no desire to be a walking billboard for fast fashion, which is hurting both our planet and our spirits. I want the things on my body and in my surroundings to be connective: created slowly, carefully, in joyful process, by the loving human hands of people who I know, people who are receiving care and support in return. I want the things on my body to be filled with stories, with heart, with compassion, with deep knowing.
How long have you been designing? What mediums do you work with?
I've been making and designing jewelry for a living for ten years, and I started my company, Unfettered Adornment, in 2018. Right now, I work with silver, copper, brass, natural stones. I come from a dance background, so another medium I work with is moving bodies paired with soundscapes and spatial setting! Jewelry work is small, specific, focused, and detailed; balancing it with painting murals and dancing allows me to experience fluid, big, out and open energy.
Tell us about your business.
My business is an extension of my lifestyle and worldview. It encompasses a way of living that I practice, of living organically, honoring the cyclical nature of life and time. It has been my intention from UA's inception to grow slowly, organically, a strong root system so that we may be sustainable in the long run. I'm learning as I go. I'm not here to quickly produce unnecessary accessories into the world and have quick turnover. I'm really here to honor a slower way of living and to not create in excess. I spend time examining where my materials come from and all the people involved in the jewelry production process, including mining of stones and metals and honoring the work and lives of the small-scale jewelry artists I partner with.
Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
My process is very organic and always changing! There are limitations within the world of metal fabrication for what is and isn't possible, so I'm always thinking of my order of operations while designing so I don't come up with some crazy idea that's too labor-intensive or impossible to make. Sometimes design visions come to me randomly or when I'm going to sleep, and I'll sketch them onto paper before they dissipate. Other times I'll sit down with metals and stones in front of me and see if my imagination takes me somewhere. Other times, I start with a basic structure of a necklace or earrings and pair it with a feeling/idea that has been showing up in my world. Recently I've been enjoying taking the basic hoop earring and finding unusual ways to play with it.
I bring my original work with me to Bali every year and have been building relationships there with artisans and small family-run businesses in the silver working village. My work is unusual, so finding artists that are excited to make unusual jewelry hasn't been easy! It can be overwhelming or challenging with the language differences, but is also a process that I enjoy — finding mutuality and connection across cultures, with metal as the commonality. Both parties get to learn and expand. My designs always have personal or universal meaning imbued into them — they're never empty without heart and soul. To me, they often have ties to places or lived experiences. Sometimes those correlations are clear from inception. Other times they become clear later in the design process, while I'm naming or polishing/finishing a piece. And the most beautiful part is that we all have our own correlations and personal meanings when viewing and wearing this art.
Tell us about where the inspiration for your styling/designs comes from.|
I am inspired by the incredible metalwork of ancient and earth-based cultures, lately specifically that of Indonesia, where I work with artisans to actualize my designs, as well as the metalwork of peoples from my heritage roots of SE China.
What fashion icons do you have/who's inspired you?
Beyond music, I don't stay super looped in on popular culture or trends. I enjoy staying on the fringe and a bit closer to nature so I can hear my own artistic impulses. That being said, I'm inspired by a few avant-garde artists, including FKA Twigs and Alexander McQueen, tons of femme powerhouses including Beyonce, sculptural artists like Ruth Asawa. Alexander Calder's metalwork. Mostly people not following societal rules and expectations. People living outside of lines. I'm inspired by so many living artists and designers I've had the pleasure to cross paths with who value quality craftsmanship and unusual design, including my big brother Aleph Geddis, jewelry artist Mariella Pilato, Spencer Hansen of Blamo. I grew up in proximity to the masterful and rich art of the Indigenous people of the PNW Coast and am constantly inspired by the refined beauty and connectedness of this art and the living people who breathe and birth it.
What experiences in your life have affected your design/business?
I grew up on stages. I was a ballet dancer as a child and teen and performed aerial dance throughout my 20s. Movement art has been my core expressive medium for most of my life, and it's greatly informed my work as a jewelry designer. Many of my first designs for Unfettered Adornment were big show-stopping pieces, meant to be brought alive on the body through movement expression and personal/collective storytelling. Spending time in SE Asia throughout the last decade greatly affects my work. It connects me to my heritage homelands and other ways of living outside of American norms. Spending time in Asia helps me see life more clearly and objectively, brings me to understand that there is more than one “right way” to live, that our newly constructed American values are not the absolute. It has shaped my definition of what success is. All of this influences how I choose to conduct my business, how I am in relationship with those that I work with and instructs me on conducting my business in as non-hierarchical and non-linear a manner as I can get away with within a capitalist framework.
If we want to see more of your work, where should we go to find it?
My work is available at few stores here in Seattle. The Raven's Nest in Pike Place Market, which is owned by my family and where much of the roots of UA was birthed. Ghost Gallery, who just moved to Pacific Place Mall. Virago Gallery in West Seattle. My online store. Also, a few stores in Portland, California, Illinois, Virginia, New Mexico. You can see the list of stockists on my website to see all of the boutiques that carry UA!
What is next for you? Anything you're working on right now that you're really excited about?
Next for me is an upcoming trip to Bali! I am so excited to work on new designs and to make some old favorites available again. I am excited to continue studying traditional Balinese dance with my teacher Linda while there, and hopefully, soon be knowledgeable enough to perform with her. Outside of UA, I'm interested in medicinal and wild plants, being in relationship with them, nourished by them, and learning from them. Food as medicine, and how to be in direct reciprocal relationship with the earth. I am curious to see how these deep passions will continue to influence my work with UA. I also hope for more collaborative projects that get me out of the small, detailed, and precise work I do with jewelry. Dance projects, mural painting, and public art — artists in these fields — get at me for collaboration!
Lastly, how do you take your coffee? We ask everyone!
I make my coffee on the stove in a percolator, mix it together with some foamed oat milk, a little coconut oil and coconut sugar. Sprinkle rose petals or blue lotus petals on top.. Seriously!