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Musings

Heritage Month: Celebrating My Grandmothers’ Lives & Legacies Through ‘Emma1925’

 I infrequently get asked why I started making jewelry. No actually cares why I make jewelry, and I understand why. We live in a consumer driven world and the assumption is that I (like many other people who rightfully to do so) am merely tapping into the $2.4 trillion dollars that the fashion industry generates each year and attempting to eek out my share. The conversation usually takes a more interesting turn when I explain the genesis of this particular passion.

“I’d been suffering with headaches for years,” I begin. “At the end of 2016 it became unbearable. I needed something to focus on besides the pain, so I started tooling around in my crafting room. I discovered the source of my headaches when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in February 2017…”

“A what?!? WOW!” goes the usual response.

“Yeah. It was pretty hectic,” I reply with the nonchalance of a rugged outdoors-man who’s just fought off a lynx with his bare hands. “Thought I was going to die. My grandmother had a similar tutor. She died after it was left untreated.”

And then the conversation segues into other passions: Black women’s health, access to and quality of care, forces that inspire our creativity and culture.

My paternal grandmother, Emma Acheampong and I in her courtyard in Larteh, Ghana

I don’t think I’ve ever shown you all my tumor, have I? Well here it is, in all its benign glory:

There are so many privileges that come with growing up with/near one’s grandparents. For the most part, they are eager to share the wealth of their knowledge, pocketbooks and – in my case – wardrobe with their grand kids. (You still couldn’t sit on their good furniture or eat off their good china, no matter how beloved you were.) By the time folks reach this stage in their lives, they have achieved a level of self-confidence and comfort in their own skin, which means you also get to hang out with someone who has discovered and living the most authentic version of themselves.

I have met few people more dedicated to living their most authentic lives than my maternal grandmother – Thelma – who did everything with gusto. Memory and stories swapped with elder cousins confirm what I know about her. She rarely found middle ground for any of her endeavors, whether it be shopping, dressing up, cussing out, smoking, drinking and loving.

My Grandmother, Thelma (R), with favorite accessory: a cigarette.

Both of my grandmothers were incredibly generous women with their own unique philosophies on life and approaches to style. What excited me most about spending time with them is how they individually curated each visit. My American grandmother loved to take me for car rides in Buick and my Ghanaian grandmother delighted in finding ways to make groundnut soup (my fave) more exciting. They were my first instructors in bespoke as a concept. This is what has guided my approach to making jewelry.

Monique’s Blues, named for a dear friend whose favorite colors are a specific blue and gold.

Although I have a store here on MOM, my truest joy comes from making pieces that are a reflection of the wearer. It’s very rare that I make the same piece twice. The process for making each piece is as different as the person I’m crafting it for. The color choices, patterns and history of the raw materials are a reflection of the woman they adorn.

Making pieces that suit the woman, collaborating with her and letting her voice guide the outcome of the final product gives me a thrill that I haven’t found in any other medium.

Denene is wearing ‘Rock the Boat’ earrings in lotus and ivory

I indulge in many other creative pursuits, but none yields as much variety as jewelry making. When you bake a cake, the recipient expects it to taste/look/smell exactly the same way it did as of the last order. When I design these pieces, I get to scour different shops and unearth raw materials that would’ve not likely been married otherwise.

Of course doing business this way means I’ll never be a kajillionaire from jewelry making, but nothing beats the gasps and grins that come with wearing something you love and that was made intentionally and specifically for you.

Why Emma1925?

I named this project in honor of my two grandmothers Emma and Thelma, the latter who was born in 1925. It’s in celebration of two women who were as different from each other as the continents they were born on, but who managed to instill the best parts of themselves in me despite those monumental differences. Emma1925 is in praise of the heritage they’ve left me.

September is Heritage Month in South Africa. On some of my social media pages, I asked what ‘heritage’ means to you. Legacy, property, and favorite recipes were among the responses. What does heritage mean to you?

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