In a second-floor loft overlooking Main Street in Greenport, Alexa Suess creates magic with a blowtorch and a pair of pliers.
It’s there that the Greenport native, a graphic designer and silversmith, makes jewelry and other wearable pieces that infuse elements of nature with brass, silver and gold.
Looking at her one-of-a-kind adornments, which range from an oxidized sterling and labrodite necklace to concrete and gold rings, one would never know metalworking isn’t Suess’ original medium. It was only after studying graphic design at the School of Visual Arts in New York City that she decided to take a metalworking class at The New School of Design, also in Manhattan.
“I decided I really wanted something to balance out the time I work on my computer, which was sort of mind-numbing,” she said. “I wanted to work with my hands. I found a vintage book on silversmithing and decided it was something I really wanted to learn.”
Suess accidentally enrolled in a class intended for experienced metalworkers but decided to stick it out. Luckily, other students showed her the basics.
“From there on out I decided to teach myself the rest,” she said. “There’s so many techniques to learn and so many ways to grow in this craft because it is so old.”
Today, Suess runs two companies, Points East Design and the jewelry company Common Ground Adornments, from her Greenport home.
But unlike website and logo designs, there is no undo button when it comes to working with metal. Mistakes are inevitable in silversmithing, a messy craft that involves corrosive ingredients like hydrochloric acid. It doesn’t necessarily matter, though, since Suess embraces the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi, which celebrates imperfections.
“Silversmithing, and really all metalsmithing, is more of a science than it is an art,” she said. “A split second can mean your piece going from beautifully reticulated — which is heated to a specific temperature — to completely melted.”
Anyone who frequents Greenport Village businesses has surely seen Suess behind the counter at the The Weathered Barn. She sells her wares at the Front Street shop and helps owner Rena Wilhelm create other handmade goods.
“She is probably one of the most driven people I have ever met,” said Wilhelm, adding that Suess’ jewelry is a top seller. “We are very blessed to have her. She’s had a lot to do with how we evolved.”
Wilhelm rebranded her store two years ago, changing its name from The White Weathered Barn and embracing a darker aesthetic. She credits Suess with helping her tap into another facet of her creativity.
“Things are just a little more peculiar and it’s definitely stuff you couldn’t find anywhere else,” she said.
Wilhelm is just one of the East End artisans Suess credits with giving her support and inspiration over the years. In fact, there is an entire community of people on the North Fork working to produce art in all mediums — especially in Greenport.
One such collaborator is artist Kara Hoblin, who has hosted pop-up events with Suess at local restaurants like First and South and Love Lane Kitchen.
“I think that’s something that’s really special about the North Fork in general — in wine, food and restaurants — we’re all connected,” Hoblin said. “There’s this great mentality of ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ ”
Living among other artists also means there is constant interest in new ideas and endeavors. Suess, for instance, will offer a silversmithing course at Little Creek Oysters in Greenport on Monday, Feb. 13. Participants will learn how to make three sterling silver stacking rings during the two and a half hour class.
She also recently launched the Conservation Collection, a line of hand-cut brass and silver shadow box-like pendants and chains that celebrate endangered species. All proceeds will be donated to the New York City-based Wildlife Conservation Society. The necklaces are available at The Weathered Barn.
For Suess, the act of creating is a meditative exercise. In a world where digital distractions are constant, silversmithing allows her to tune out and focus on her craft.
“Generally when I’m silversmithing, my phone is off. I don’t usually have music on,” she said. “It’s all-encompassing. It really centers you and makes you think about how the only thing you’re doing is what’s in front of you. There is no room for anything else.”
To learn more about Suess and her work, and to sign up for the silversmithing workshop, visit commongroundadornments.com.