Kit Carson at work on a sculpture with moose antlers and more

Romancing the Rust: Recycled Metalsmithing with Kit Carson | Jewelry

Kit Carson is an artist who sees beauty everywhere he looks. “I call it romancing the rust,” he says about his signature style. “The rust is what makes this stuff so interesting. People love the antiqued surfaces of my jewelry pieces and artwork, and everyone wants to know the secret of how I created the beautiful, multi-hued patina. The secret is . . . I didn’t.”

Above: Kit Carson at work on a sculpture with moose antlers and more. Photo: Terri Haag

Look for Beauty Everywhere

If you want to incorporate rust and discarded objects into your jewelry and into your work, Carson advises: “Be mindful. Pay attention. See the beauty in the prosaic, in the discarded. New life is everywhere, even in the junkyard. Especially in the junkyard.”

A series of license plates ready for their next life. Photo: Terri Haag
A series of license plates ready for their next life. | Photo: Terri Haag

The way Carson sees recycling is, “It was new, it got used, it ‘died’ and was buried, and I came along and resurrected it. I give it an entirely new life, but I try to keep the sense of its history alive and well. First, I pick up a license plate and brush off the dirt and termites, and then I let it guide me, to guide it, to a new life as a bracelet, pin, bola tie, belt buckle, sculpture, whatever.”

Related: Recycled Jewelry Made By Upcycling Unique Found Objects

Kit Carson’s Recycled Jewelry

Carson says his work is a combination of basic techniques and vision, adding “The process is simple, the materials are accessible, and everyone with a vise, a saw, a grinder, and a few hammers can pretty much do what I do. It’s how someone’s artistic temperament and sense of design come into play that’s important.”

Recycled steel, 14K gold, gemstones Photo: Courtesy Kit Carson
Recycled steel, 14K gold, gemstones | Photo: Courtesy Kit Carson

If bracelets could talk, Carson’s would sound like Gene Autry, or Mae West, or even Onnie, my own antiques and minerals-dealing grandmother. They would speak of assembly lines and cotton mills, or a ranch forge, or a road sign from Route 66. His work has a romantic, shabby chic flavor that’s less shabby and more chic, with a strong whiff of Steampunk lurking about.

Decades of sun and weather randomly strip away paint, revealing layers of color right down to the aubergine-cinnamon rust. I love that color, says Carson. The combination of colors and composition is so rich it would bring tears to Cézanne’s eyes,” he says.

Everything’s O.K. found steel and turquoise cuff by Kit Carson. Photo: Jim Lawson
Everything’s O.K. found steel and turquoise cuff by Kit Carson. | Photo: Jim Lawson

Mixing Old and New

Carson explains mixing the old and new, “I take rusty scrap steel, enhance it with whimsical and precise engraving, and add high-grade turquoise set in 22 karat gold. I think it’s this unexpected juxtaposition of the prosaic and the refined that defines art jewelry. Or at least my art jewelry. It’s an innovative risk, to say the least.”

“Of course, the realm of ideas is more perfect than the reality of manifestation. A sudden idea and a quick sketch on a napkin can lead to weeks at the bench to actually build it. That’s how it works with creativity in all the arts; the ideas come when you aren’t consciously trying. Like Bob Dylan said, ‘I don’t feel like I actually write a song, I just see the words go by and try to get them down before they all disappear.’”

Free Projects: DIY Recycled Jewelry Projects


Excerpted from “Kit Carson Jeweler to the Stars” and “Steel and Turquoise Cuff” by Terri Haag, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, August 2017.

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