Artist Kathleen Plate sees beauty where others see trash. Whether she’s sourcing post-consumer bottles from restaurants, friends, or the occasional dumpster, she’s ready to convert glass into sparkling rings in her Georgia art studio for her Smart Glass brand of eco-friendly jewelry.
A lot of Smart Glass recycled jewelry is made from Coca-Cola bottles. The small brand has been collaborating with the soda giant since 2006. Additionally, other colors come mostly from alcohol bottles — aqua from Bombay Sapphire, cobalt from vodka, pine from red wine and periwinkle from sake. These are an especially nice gift for sober folks, showing a metaphorical triumph over the bottle.
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Plate cuts and fires the glass, using a patented process. Following, the result is beautiful pieces of jewelry that resemble sea glass. Plate talked with Inhabitat about her company and what it’s like to be a professional eco-jeweler.
Inhabitat: Tell us a little about how you first got interested in making old bottles into jewelry.
Plate: I was in graduate school getting my first master’s degree in English literature. School was so cerebral, and whenever I had a long paper to write, I liked to make things while I thought it all out. I used to solder up little sun catchers and things in the attic of our house. I had to go to a birthday party and I decided to make my friend a pair of glass earrings. I was a broke grad student and didn’t have money to buy stained glass, so I looked around and saw a beautiful emerald green wine bottle. Looking at the glass that way, I was struck by how beautiful it was. I made her earrings out of it. They looked great!
Inhabitat: Tell us about the current employees and your studio.
Plate: Everything is handcrafted in my studio in Tucker, Georgia, which is right outside of Atlanta. We are a very small team and it’s crazy what we can produce together! I’ve had more assistants at other times but I find the perfect balance of talent and personality makes long days in the studio fun and stress-free, for the most part. I do everything from cutting glass and producing jewelry to answering emails and processing orders.
Inhabitat: How do you come up with new designs?
Plate: I love to travel and often I will find ideas or themes, colors and designs that I’ve seen in my travels emerge in my new designs. Part of working with the bottles is I have to design with the shapes of the bottles in mind, as well as how prevalent they are in the dumpsters.
Inhabitat: What part of your business do you enjoy the most?
Plate: I’ve been working as an independent artist in recycled glass for most of my adult life so the joy moves around. Sometimes I am passionate about new designs or new studio techniques, other times I feel passion around growing the business or new partnerships that stretch me. I do think keeping the passion alive is important, but where that comes from shifts. Every year I sort of set an intention around where I will grow and learn that year, and that helps keep it fresh and fun.
Inhabitat: Will you expand the color palette, or are you maxed out with available bottle colors?
Plate: I actually like the challenge of having a limited palette and having to think of new ways to play the colors off of each other to make them read [in] different ways. Of course I am dying for a red bottle but that most likely will never show up in beverage packaging because red is the most expensive color to produce.
Inhabitat: What do you want readers to know about Smart Glass?
Plate: Well, that is twofold. First, I think it’s important to be open to new perspectives and see average things — garbage — in ways that can be beautiful. I make amazing jewelry out of items you see every day. I just change the perspective and allow you to see them in a new way, and what is considered trash comes to life and the colors and beauty that were there all along are amazing. Second, I love to share my personal story as an artist. That you can follow your passion, do something you love and actually make a great living at it, as well as work with some of the largest companies in the world. It’s possible. I know this because I’ve done it and that means others can do it, too.
Images via Smart Glass Jewelry