Just as nature inspires a poet to compose a poem or an en plein air artist to paint a landscape, Dina Varano's wearable art is directly inspired by her environment — the Connecticut River and the woods surrounding her Chester home.
Everything Varano sees sparks her imagination for the next piece of jewelry she will painstakingly craft in sterling or oxidized silver or gold and distinguish with the mark of her hand.
The way marsh grasses are rooted in the ground, yet free to move with the wind, translates into the delicate lines of wire she hammers into a pair of earrings that brush a woman's collar bone, replicating the motion, the asymmetry in nature.
"There's a poetry to it that works," Varano says, her expressive brown eyes lighting up, dramatically framed by a cascade of chestnut curls. "The most important thing for me is the process."
Varano describes that process as "inspiration, exploration, and conclusion."
She begins, for example, with a branch covered in berries that she plucks from a tree. She takes apart the branch and draws the organic shapes in ink and charcoal. She then concludes in metal—cutting, drilling, soldering, hammering, capturing the essence and gesture of the deconstructed branch.
I get it down to its essence," she says. "That transition is where I make it mine."
The final interpretation of a piece is out of her hands — the statement it makes when worn, the playful interaction she hopes will occur, the new life she imagines it takes on when a woman dons a pair of her earrings, a bracelet, a necklace.
Varano grew up in Essex and credits her parents, both dancers, with teaching her the rhythm of grace and movement from an early age, which became a formative influence in her work.
A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, where she received a BFA in jewelry and light metals, Varano studied and lived in Rome and continues to study and take classes to learn new techniques or work with new materials.
In 1995 she opened Dina Varano Gallery in the village of Chester, featuring jewelry she designs and hand crafts, along with a chosen collection of artware for the home and innovative gifts designed by fellow artists.
Over the years, Varano's designs haven't changed dramatically, although she is now incorporating more stones into her pieces: gray quartz, Labradorite, Tahitian black pearls, black diamonds, found objects.
There are always trends in jewelry, Varano says, but she prefers to set them not follow them, and create timeless pieces that are always in style.
She is thinking of reissuing some of her classic pieces.
"It's such a pleasure to design something new and see people are still wearing it (years later)," she says.
Varano says she absolutely loves to create. She loves the physicality of executing a piece as much as designing it.
She recently counted the number of hammer blows on a newly made pair of earrings—"260 on each earring," she says with satisfaction. "I'd never counted before."
It never crosses her mind that she'll run out of ideas for her jewelry.
"There are too many. I don't have enough time to do them all."
Particularly now, she says, being so busy multi-tasking with two young children, a husband, and life in general.
Art, she says, is in her DNA, her soul.
" I keep trying to follow my heart—it all comes back to wanting to simplify, edit. I make my best work when the focus is on what's most important."
In addition to jewelry, Varano also makes wire tabletop sculptures and participated in an exhibit in Chester titled NEST this past Mother's Day with fellow artists Lori Warner and Pat Smith.
Varano's woven copper nests considered a bird's timely process of placing each twig, vine, or delicate grass—"and in those delicate lines building a strong structure, an ordered chaos that has purpose and grace," she says.
Reflecting on the project as a mother, she says, "I've always loved the confinement, the safety of a nest, the duality of protection and at the same time, letting them go—they eventually have to fly away."
Varano was invited to do a palette for last year's Florence Griswold Museum Holiday Tree exhibit in Old Lyme. And she recently collaborated on two handbag designs with artist friend Jacqueline Kangley.
"It's really exciting to collaborate. I'm so lucky to be surrounded by a community of artists.
"It's great to put your love and care into something you make," she says. "I'm really lucky."
"Wednesdays Full of Wonder" will be held each Wednesday in December from 5 to 9 p.m. at Dina Varano Gallery, 27 Main Street, Chester. 860.526.8866. Varano will unveil a new line of limited edition jewelry created just for the holiday, including (today) Dec. 12: oxidized sterling and gold, and Dec. 21: precious gemstones—earring, necklaces, pendants, bracelets, and rings.