Interview with artist Nannette Davis

Sawtooth Instructor designing for New York Fashion Week

Sawtooth Instructor Nannette Davis has just finished designing jewelry that will be at seen during New York Fashion week. She sat down with us and told us about this exciting project!

What kind of work do you do?

My name is Nannette Davis and I am a jewelry designer and fabricator. I also teach beginning metals and texturing classes at Sawtooth.

Tell us about your current body of work. 

I’m doing a body of work with about 40 pieces for New York Fashion Week 2019. This work is for a design house called HiTech Moda. This is their second year doing it and they are a “tech forward” runway show. This will take place at the National Geographic Encounter in Times Square. There’s even going to be an aquarium behind us – it should be really cool. I’ll get to walk like the designers do at the end of the collection.

I’m designing specifically for a designer, Puja Arora of Studio Ivey.  She’s a designer from India and has been designing there for a long time. She’s trying to do a Western line. I met her last year at Winston Salem Fashion Week and she got curated to do the New York fashion week. After they asked her who did her accessories, she let them know and then they asked me to submit. I submitted designs, drawings and photographs of work my work and they accepted me.

Talk more about your connection with fashion and Winston-Salem Fashion week. 

I wanted to design for fashion. As a jewelry designer (or a designer in any art form)  you need inspiration. I love fashion. I love the process that fashion designers go through with material, thought process drawings and things of the like. That’s how I design  in metal. I draw and I use inspirations.

So I thought of getting into the fashion industry as a way of inspiring me to design. It gives me a narrower field. I see her line of clothing, I see the neck lines, I see the materials, I see the embellishments and I use that to start concepts. Then I design jewelry specifically to fit each dress and to elevate her design. Not to compete with it, but to elevate it.

So, it’s like a creative writing prompt?


You’re kind of continuing the narrative with your work.


Have you ever done a project like this before?

Not to this scale. Winston-Salem Fashion Week was last year and it was my first dipping of the toe in the pool, if will. And I loved it. And I love supporting Nikita Wallace who is the head of that. I’ve been with her since her concept of it and it’s been five years now. I begged her to let me be a part of it. I only had 10 days, no two weeks, and she had 10 designs. It was crazy, but it was fun and it pushed me. It let me know that this is something I’d love to do. So when I was given this opportunity, I said yes, freaked out a bit and then I got to work.

What materials are you working with?

Right now, I’m working with Sterling silver and new gold (which is called jeweler’s brass). New gold is an alloy of different metals to make it look like gold, but it’s a lot less expensive. I’m also using a 14 carat gold fill, sterling silver chain, pearls and semi-precious stones (that I use in beading). I’m using a little bit of everything, but the majority of the work is in sterling silver, new gold and brass.

You were really excited with those pearls…

You bet. Yes. I got some pearls from for a collar piece that I’m doing. I had a specific design in mind and I needed specific pearls to pull it off. I ordered them and it took five weeks, but they got here and I was able to complete the piece. Yeah, I’m really excited about those.

Can you talk about why you’re working with those materials differently?

So again, I’m drawing from not only the color but the texture of the designer’s fabrics. A lot of her designs involve custom embroidery. She has an embroidery factory in India. She designs the actual design that the embroiderers hand bead and hand embroider all her silks.

She’s a very specific designer. So for me, that makes it so easy because the graphics are there. I could literally take a flower off of one of her designs and create it in metal, like a pattern. I did some of that. I recreated some of those fabric patterns last year. This year, I’m not being as literal. I’m doing a lot more conceptual work, but I’m using her color palette, embroidery design and her material drape to design pieces.

Wow. What have you learned from this project?

That I can do a lot more than I thought I could. That I love doing this work. And so for me to step out and to really put myself into been very scary, but also very exciting. And I love working in metals. I used to do it full time. And I’m gonna try to make this my career again. So that’s what so exciting! I see New York Fashion Week coming up in a few weeks, not as my end for this project but just the beginning of a new career for me again.

What advice would you give someone who’s going to start a project like this?

Don’t doubt yourself. That was the hardest part. The first few weeks, I was just doubting this overwhelming thing that I just committed to. The fact that they accepted me was huge and I’m learning about myself again and trying to gain my self confidence. So the biggest thing I would say is don’t self doubt, don’t self-talk. Just tell yourself you can do it. Surround yourself with people who appreciate you and tell you to go for it. Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the money you’re investing. Don’t worry about any of that. Just do everything you can to the best of your ability and see what happens. Cause you never know.

Let’s actually talk about your beginnings. What brought you to the metal work?

I have a degree from the University of Kansas. I double majored in Graphic Design and Communications. I have a BFA in Jewelry Metal Smithing. I worked as a bench designer for a designer in Chicago for my first three years out of college and then started my own work. I started my own line of jewelry for several years and then life took me in a different turn. I became a mom and got a different career for awhile. I’ve always been working in metals on some level, always had a side gig. I love teaching and sharing what I know.

Why metals?

Metals to me is the best thing to work in. I’ve tried ceramics. I’ve tried almost everything here. I love wood. But each material people will find, if you dabble in it, you either get it and you know how to do it and it speaks to you or it doesn’t. Like ceramics, I cannot stand it. It’s supposed to be relaxing. It was the most stressful experience in an art studio! I remember, it stressed me out so much. But metal, you can manipulate and you can’t really mess up metal. You can always rework it. It’s an amazing, amazing medium to work in. You have to learn about it. But once you learn the basics, it’s really a wonderful thing and it’s an immediate gratification. Other art forms take forever. Not metal. You can hammer it, saw it, you know, then it’s there.You’ve got it right in front of you.

You tell me a little bit about the different divisions. So I started out in a small studio and the preschool department in the [inaudible]. I think I’ve been here 12 years. I was the youth director and built that program into quite a large thing for eight years. Then I stepped out of that position to take care of some family stuff have been a youth teacher for the last few years. Then I finally stepped back into metals and I teach teen and adult metals classes now.

Is there anything you wanna say about the project?

Just that I couldn’t be doing this without Sawtooth and without use of the Metals studio. I don’t have the equipment in my home studio that I have access to here. The staff and students… everyone is so supportive and it is such a necessary piece to the puzzle. I really couldn’t do this project without Sawtooth being involved and allowing me to utilize what we have here to get what’s in my head into a piece of art. It’s an integral part of what I’m doing and with this project, and I’m so thankful. I’m so thankful to have Sawtooth in my back pocket to allow me to do something like this


Take a class with Nannette.

She will be teaching several classes for our metals department the fall!