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Structure & Function: Albuquerque artist Karole Mazeika utilizes her architecture and engineering background to create innovative jewelry

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A cascade of tiny hexagons spills across a buttery soft scarf.

Grady Jaynes and Karole Mazeika pose in their Albuquerque studio. (Robert E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Endless spirals orbit into a pendant.

Chevrons fold into drop earrings like some secret cache.

First-time visitors to Karole Mazeika and Grady Jayne’s studio usually ask, “Is that leather?”

Yes, their geometric, New Mexico-based jewelry, shoes, bags and baskets are hand-crafted of leather, sometimes steel or polyethylene. They also offer a “faux leather” option for vegans.

A seed pot clutch made by Karole Mazeika. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Venezuelan native Karole boasts a professional background in architecture and structural engineering. Grady is a New Mexico native, writer and literary editor. He writes the couple’s Oropopo website (named for a village near Karole’s home town), takes care of the business end and researches Karole’s ideas.

After working with famed New Mexico architect Antoine Predockfor 16 years, she began exploring the concept of craft. Using a laser cutter, she made herself a suede scarf like the one she couldn’t afford to buy. People started giving her orders. She took some pieces to the Albuquerque Growers’ Market with a friend.

A Tierra bracelet by Karole Mazeika. (Robert E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“It was more of a hobby,” she said, sitting in the former garage/workroom-turned-studio of her Albuquerque home.

“I didn’t see anything I liked that I could afford, so I started making it.”

Then a low-rent trip to the New York gift show exploded into multiple museum orders.

“The comment is, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before’,” Karole said.

Karole Mazeika’s “interference” bracelet. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Today the couple’s work can be found in shops at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Phoenix Art Museum and the Albuquerque Art Museum. Their work was featured in the 2018 “American Jewelry from New Mexico” show at the Albuquerque Museum.

“They’re beautiful and functional,” Albuquerque Art Museum curator Josie Lopez said.

“They also appear to me to be sculptural,” Lopez continued. “You have something that could be in a gallery or a museum that you wear.”

Jewelry artist Karole Mazeika and a selection of her jewelry. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque journal)

Karole’s inspiration comes from New Mexico landscapes and landmarks, including Chaco Canyon, the Very Large Array, cow skulls, rattlesnakes, seed pods and the herb Devil’s Claw. But her designs are never imitative or representational. The twisted coils in a cuff bracelet echo a rattlesnake’s skin. The triangular shape of a pendant resembles a cow’s skull. The carefully placed openings in a “Luna Bonito” table sculpture could be the kivas and dwellings of Pueblo Bonito.

A chevron-shaped earring became an “eye-dazzler” when Karole folded it, creating a three-dimensional look. The style is her best seller.

“I like to explore things until I can’t explore it anymore,” she said. “There’s always a sense of mystery.”

The pieces resemble objects from a distant past.

A pair of slides made by Karole Mazeika. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“It’s so traditional looking that it almost has a futuristic feel to it,” Lopez said. “They have this deep-rooted sense of the history of the Americas.”

The steady hum of a laser cutter purrs in an outbuilding behind the couple’s home. Karole does light sketches in pencil on paper before entering them into the computer that etches the designs.

She recently completed an “Above the Clouds” necklace in a tribute to Georgia O’Keeffe. The ripples of tiny rectangles could be bacteria or Morse code.

“Our craft is not derived from jewelry; it’s more naive,” Karole said. “We’re working within our own language.”

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