Meet the Maker // Hannah Sheehan

Meet the Maker // Hannah Sheehan

From a family of carvers and stone workers, Hannah Sheehan has forged a reputation as a jeweller and carver of super wearable stone pieces. We caught up for a chat with Hannah at her Tāmaki-makaurau studio and workshop.

Hannah shares this industrial-style space with other makers.
How did you begin your practise?
I started carving when I was pretty young through my family. My dad is a carver, he carved all through my life growing up then he started his company called Mountain Jade where I had my first job in the store at 13 years old - it had always been a part of my life.
In my teenage years I started carving a little bit, then for my 21st birthday I was gifted a basic workshop set up by my Dad. From there I was able to really just dig in and start experimenting.
HS: There is nothing modern about my workshop, I pick a lot of my equipment up secondhand or donated.
Do you have any formal training?
I studied jewellery in Wellington at Whitirea for a short time, I didn’t stick it out. I left and then self taught by trial and error, that’s how I learn. I took a six week night course in silversmithing in Wellington which kickstarted my metalwork and silversmithing skills. From there I’ve just taught myself. The Internet helps!

I leave a lot of my processes in the work. A lot of people would say they are flaws. My ethos with this work is that I like to see how it has been made by hand.
Roughly how long have you been making jewellery to sell?
I was making jewellery from the age of 16 but it was definitely just a hobby, then I moved onto making jewellery full-time about 10 years ago.
How does it feel to be able to make a living through art?
Oh my God it’s my dream come true! It’s amazing. I get to come here every day and create things that just come from me, and through all the blessings of my life it works and I don’t have to do anything else. Honestly sometimes I just go "What the heck?"
Each facet is hand-rubbed to get the perfectly flat and flush surfaces. It's 'slow jewellery' and super time-consuming, but it creates a beautiful finish.

Where does your inspiration come from?

It comes from everywhere. I think about that all the time and it’s really not just one or two things, everything influences me. Being in this space, in this industrial setting, being around the guys model-making - I get inspiration from that. From Music, from the people in my life and things I see like architecture and design. I don’t draw or plan, I’ll just start going and things will happen. Often it doesn’t work but that leads to something else and being a self-taught jeweller I think enables me to create jewellery in a different way. My designs are created through not being able to do something and then just finding a way, as opposed to planning, measuring it out and drawing it up.
Can you share more about your process?
I leave a lot of my processes in the work. A lot of people would say they are flaws. My ethos with this work is that I like to see how it has been made by hand. So when little things happen, which they do - no matter how long I've been doing this - I like like to leave them there. In this day and age of highly processed, fabricated, manufactured things, I want to see little file marks and melt spots so you can tell it's been made by a person.

With our NZ pounamu, for instance, the things that make it so beautiful are actually flaws. But those are the points of beauty. It's oxidised, and different minerals have crept in through a crevasse and created the beautiful tones. I like seeing the life in it.
The Caim work you make has been very popular with customers, how did that design come about?
I was just trying to create something that’s for everyone. It’s interesting with Pounamu there is a real gap in jewellery where a lot of the work is large, but more and more people I talked to were looking for something small. They wanted something modern, delicate and easy to wear. A lot of jewellery is occasional jewellery but the Caim is catered to people having their piece of jewellery with them anywhere - at work and throughout their life.
Was the Caim design your first work?

No I think I started making them about five years ago. Before that I was making faceted pieces, which is something I love to do.
Tell us about those pieces - your latest collection is filled with beautiful faceted pieces in Pounamu and Black Jade.
For safety reasons Hannah doesn't wear a lot of jewellery while she's in the workshop, but when she does put on a piece she favours bold designs like this faceted NZ Jasper pendant and chain.
All my faceted work is done on a flat wheel, it’s all done by hand I don’t use a faceting machine, I do it just by feel and that’s why it looks so organic. Each surface gets that treatment. Each facet is hand-rubbed to get the perfectly flat and flush surfaces. It's 'slow jewellery' and super time-consuming, but it creates a beautiful finish.
Every piece is made in the moment, there’s no pre-planning of the facets I just cut and I look, cut and look and it just forms as we go. And that’s the beauty of those pieces because each one is completely original. I do make some more standardised 4-5 facet pieces but with the faceted rock pieces each one is completely original.

They are my favourite to make. I’ve just been working on some new ones, there’s something almost a bit brutal about them. The black jade is found in Australia.
It’s beautiful to work with, particularly for the faceted stuff because you can really see the facets so much more than a lot of other stones.
I’ve been collecting more and more stones and it’s really phenomenal because Pounamu is so special and has this amazing depth, but it's exciting this kind of colour range that comes out of our earth - jasper, argyllite, volcanic mud stone from Taupō. 
Often the stone dictates what will come. When I'm looking at a stone, I'm assessing which parts I can use and where to cut it. When I cut the stone, it might uncover itself more and sometimes it'll fall apart in my hands. After 15 years of practice reading Stone, I still get it wrong, and I'm still humbled by it. But nothing is wasted either, so if a piece separates, you end up with two pieces. So again, it's the process where something new will come out of it.
Does your father still carve?
Yes, he’s making some cool stuff. He’s semi retired but he has space in his life now to be able to delve back into the creative process and that has been awesome.

Do you run ideas by him?

Not really but I have five siblings and we're all connected through jewellery and stone making in different ways. My sister makes stone work, two of my brothers are stone workers and another brother and my Dad are carvers. We all get amongst it a little bit. Everyone’s got their own vibe and a different thing going on but it’s really phenomenal to be connected with people using stones in different ways, being able to get in touch with somebody and saying “I’m trying to do this and I’m having a problem, has it happened to you?” and we can just hash things out.

What is your favourite part of what you do?

All the bits are good, but completing things is good, especially if they have come from a challenge. My greatest satisfaction is probably that piece you thought was over, becoming something new. Seeing that realised is probably my favourite part.

I'm pretty invested in everything I make. No matter how big or small, there's a real energy in each piece.

Kai pai Hannah, thanks so much for having us!