Crushing on Bebe Mae
Q. Is Bebe your real name?!
A. Yes, I adore my name. My Mum was a fan of Bebe Neuwirth's character 'Lilith' from Frasier, which is where my first name came from and Mae is my middle name, after my great grandmother, Lily-Mae. I am yet to encounter anyone else with 'Bebe' on their birth certificate!
Q. What made you want to start making jewellery?
A. It was never something I planned for myself, it happened quite organically. I used to paint hyper realistic animal portraits…I appreciated the process but I found it limiting and never really loved the results. I desired to make things that I would want to own and love but I struggled to find that in painting. While I was in Dunedin, I lived with a friend who attended jewellery making night classes at the Polytech and had a small jewellers bench set up in her room. So, I decided to sign up for a term and it really resonated with me. Once I moved to Christchurch, it took me a while to take up jewellery making again but I fell in love with the lost-wax technique after discovering it on another jeweller's Instagram. From there, I very quickly became obsessed.
Q. What makes you want to continue making jewellery?
A. Creating things I love to wear is incredibly gratifying and when others appreciate my work, it is the biggest compliment. Part of what drives me is the chance to connect with people, be it individuals, businesses, or other jewellers. Making commissioned pieces is so special as I get to collaborate with clients to create something meaningful that will hopefully be treasured for generations. Beyond that, jewellery making is vital for my happiness. It revived my somewhat dormant creativity and ambition, providing me with purpose, a tangible goal, and a genuine sense of pride. Jewellery making has helped me to honour an integral part of myself again.
Q. Why make one-of-a-kind pieces?
A. All my pieces are made-to-order and the majority are one-of-a-kind. Since this isn't my primary occupation, I have limited time to devote to experimenting with new techniques or materials. So, this approach helps me to maintain an element of playfulness and experimentation in my practice. It also means each piece holds a distinct charm that can't be replicated.
Q. What do you like about the craft / working with silver?
The technique I primarily use is lost wax casting. I really enjoy the sculptural process of the material, it's very versatile. I also love the transformative effect of lost wax casting - being able to preserve delicate forms into metal. Lost waxcasting also strikes a balance between careful planning and creative impulse. There is a lot of variation, unpredictability, and trial and error which has forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. I really value these things in my practice as I am usually such a perfectionist!
Q. What advice would you give those who want to start up?
A. Start with the basics. There are so many avenues and techniques to explore in jewellery making but starting with the basics will help you understand what you like and what tools you might need. There are lots of great courses throughout New Zealand and online, so that can be a good place to start. Connect with other jewellers; so many are willing to offer help and share their knowledge. That said, new innovative methods are constantly emerging, especially with wax. I feel that it's important to value the time and effort invested in developing these techniques. So, if some jewellers choose not to share all their insights, don't let it discourage you. Through experimentation and mistakes, you'll discover your own style and what brings you joy and satisfaction in the process.
Shop all of Bebe Mae's beautiful works here