On a bitter cold morning, an artist stands by a space heater in her backyard studio near Carytown. Behind her is a white wall that resembles flattened angel wings, though on closer inspection it’s revealed to be hundreds of coffee cup lids, arranged to emulate the current system of the northern Pacific Ocean.
“It would be nice if these [concrete] floors were heated,” says Susie Ganch, a 43-year-old who sports a semi-mohawk and large-frame glasses while petting her rescue dog, Santi. It may be a little cold in this cozy studio, filled with tools and boxes of donated jewelry, but it perfectly suits her utilitarian needs.
Ganch, who teaches metalsmithing at Virginia Commonwealth University, is a highly visible figure in the growing movement for ethical jewelry making. In 2007 she started a program in Richmond known as Radical Jewelry Makeover, which is sponsored by the nonprofit Ethical Metalsmiths, based in Ohio.
The program seeks community donations of used jewelry — “tangled chains, unmatched earrings and banged-up bracelets,” it says — to mine and recycle while forging a transparent supply chain from dusty jewelry box to reasonably priced product.