How Eleanor Patton is using Kintsugi jewellery as a channel to communicate mental illness
Eleanor Patton is challenging the way we view mental illness. After dealing with mental illness herself, she realised that it "should not be hidden, but celebrated". Using the process of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken objects, Eleanor set out to emulate the fragility and damage of people with mental health challenges through jewellery. Eager to learn more about the woman that's changing the conversation surrounding mental health and making it less taboo? Read the interview with the founder, Eleanor Patton below.
Describe a typical Eleanor Patton wearer?
My typical customers tend to be women aged 30-70 with an interest in art and design. A lot of my customers have been personally touched by mental ill health, either themselves or a close loved one.
You use the process of Kintsugi to repair jewellery pieces. How does the process of Kintsugi work?
Kintsugi is about turning something damaged into something beautiful rather than trying to hide it. Traditionally this was done with ceramics, rejoining them with lacquer then painting fine gold dust onto the final layer. As I work with glass mirrors, I use a slightly different version on the technique. Ceramics are porous so lacquer works well, glass is smooth so I use a special glass adhesive, and mix the golden dust into that adhesive. Once that is nearly dry I apply another layer of gold dust which I brush in for a brilliant finish.
Typically, people want their jewellery to be perfect and flawless. However, the process of Kintsugi goes against this norm and highlights the imperfections. Why use this process?
My collection is about challenging how we view mental health, and helping people feel more positively about themselves. The philosophy of Kintsugi is about treating damage as a part of the history of an object. I treat my history of mental illness as something that doesn't need to be hidden, but something that should be celebrated. Coming out the other side of mental illness, or living with it daily is hard work and I'd like people to be celebrated for that.
What motivated you to use jewellery as a means to discuss mental illness?
I've always been interested in creating jewellery which has a concept behind it. One of the things I struggled with, my own mental health, was simply communicating how I was feeling. My therapist suggested I try making work to explore the emotions and experiences I was processing and I found it so cathartic that I wondered if other people with mental illness would find some comfort and strength from jewellery about them and their experiences.
I had also noticed that people are still very uncomfortable talking about mental health, my designs are abstract enough that people won't instantly know they are about mental health unless you wish to share that, so they can be a good way of opening a conversation about mental health should people feel comfortable doing so.
How has jewellery helped you personally cope with mental illness?
There is a strong correlation between recovery from mental illness and creativity. As I've always been creative my anxiety tends to get worse when I'm not making. It can be anything really; baking, sewing, but there's something about taking metal, which is associated with rigidity and inflexibility, and totally transforming it which I find especially connected to. I also love the idea of being able to wear a token of my mental health journey, to subtly tell people a very personal thing about myself in a way that is both obvious and obscure.
What's your favorite piece of your collection and why?
My favourite piece does change, but currently I am wearing my necklace titled "Well/unwell" all the time (seen below). It is a spinning pendant, on one side it is broken, on the other it is repaired. It brings me comfort and is a reminder to be more kind to myself as mental well-being is not a constant, we can be perfectly well one day, and the next be crippled with anxiety or depression. It reminds me that this is a normal part of recovery, and just as easily I can have a week of anxiety, then wake up the next day perfectly fine.
You were recently featured in the Sick! Living with Invisible Illness, an art exhibition which highlights the work of artists who live with invisible illnesses. How was the experience of interacting with other artists who also live with an invisible illness?
Taking part in Sick! was such an honour. I loved being around other artists like me, who have used subjects often associated with pain and turned them into things of such beauty and inspiration. Art is a wonderful way to bring attention and understanding to different subject matter, it felt exhilarating to see so many artists using it to highlight invisible illness.
You started your own brand in 2016 after you had been working for other goldsmiths. What motivated you to start your own jewellery line?
I have always wanted to work for myself, I spent the last 4 years living in Bermuda, which is where my husband is from, it's an interesting place, but there isn't much interest in contemporary jewellery there. Moving back to the UK was the perfect chance for me to start creating work that was meaningful to me.
Your brand runs on a 'sustainable and ethical business model'. What does this mean and why is this important to you?
Sustainability and ethics are such tricky subjects for businesses, mainly because they are such vague terms when applied to business practices. For me, creating sustainable and ethical jewellery means working with recycled metals, I think that fair trade and fair mined, which is what most people relate to ethical jewellery, are very important, however within that a lot of people forget that mining is terrible for the environment. There's so much metal in circulation already that we could all be using recycled metals which wont have a negative impact on the environment. I also try to encourage customers who want stones in their jewellery to consider synthetic stones. Chemically they are identical, and often of higher quality than mined stones. People can be very romantic about diamonds, but is it romantic that their stone has ruined the environment for wildlife where it was mined? If people insist on mined stones I have a supplier who works with small mines, run by co-operatives of about 10 people, so they have less impact on surrounding lands and I know everyone will get a fair wage and working conditions.
There's also a lot of things to do with everyday running of my business, I use a green energy supplier in my studio, my work bench is sustainable wood, I don't use toxic chemicals to clean my metal, my packaging is 100% recycled, my website host has sustainable practices and so on!
This should be important for everyone, but it's important to me because we are all responsible for how we treat others and our surrounding, it's too easy to dismiss consequences we can't see, we need to be aware of what our choices mean to the wider world.
Best way to wear an Eleanor Patton jewellery piece?
However you want! I would never tell people how to wear my jewellery because it's so personal. I wear mine at my workshop over a scruffy jumper and jeans. I also wear it to a fancy evening out with a vintage dress from the 30's. I like to think it's pretty versatile!
Where do you see your brand going in the next 5 to 10 years?
Save the tricky questions for last! As my brand is relatively new I'd like to branch out to America and Europe with my work, continue to be an advocate for Mental Health Awareness and create some more interesting collections of jewellery!