November 28, 2021

Visual + Aural Alchemy

Dana C. Fear’s jewelry might be the most beautiful thing to ever happen to your anxiety
By Brighid Driscoll | Sept. 11, 2021

Dana C. Fear has a name that sounds like a sentence.

“I’ve just realized that in the last couple of years, ‘Oh! my name is a sentence,’ she says. “Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of an over-thinker, but what I realized too is, it’s not just my name, it’s like a personal philosophy. To see fear is a step in overcoming it.”

A studio in downtown Cedar is where Fear slips away to design her unusual and beautiful jewelry. Near the large front window stands her workbench, where she creates and greets customers. The location away from home gives her undisturbed quiet time to work — and to listen to her jewelry.

Fear creates kinetic jewelry — but the movement she builds within each piece is only one part of their brilliance. She designs them in a way that elicits soothing rhythmic sounds.

She slides a single silver ring on her finger up to her ear and moves her wrist. A tiny row of rods held in the center of the ring slides back and forth, in a neat cadence with her motions, making a delicate cascade of pleasant “clink” sounds.

“I don’t design them to have sound, but it’s something that ends up being crucial to what people like about it. You could have the movement without the sound, but why?” Fear says. “It took me a long time to figure this out, but making this kind of jewelry was my way of exploring relationships and what I wanted out of them — or maybe, at the time I started, exploring what I lacked in my relationships.” 

FORGED FROM FIRE
Fear’s life arc influences her jewelry. As a child, she grew up in a religious cult and witnessed and endured many cruel control tactics. She left the cult in early adulthood, but it would take many years to move beyond the emotional toll her upbringing took.

Art and creating had long been escapes that came naturally to Fear, and she gravitated to jewelry early on. As a kid, she loved making friendship bracelets. In high school, she took jewelry-making classes that introduced her to working with metals. During senior year, she was voted Most Artistic, an accolade she wasn’t moved by.

“It just didn’t land for me. I still felt like it didn’t mean anything.”

Punishing imposter syndrome aside, she was awarded scholarships to college, earning a BFA in metals at Ball State University. Her first-ever design excited one of her professors so much that several grad students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison metals program were recruited to help execute it. The end product was a silver cuff bracelet with square, thinly tapered scales that flipped when the wearer moved his or her wrist. The shimmery vision, like all of Fear’s designs, was beautiful when still but stunning when its scales shifted in a fluid motion.

FINDING FOCUS
The unforgiving nature of the bracelet’s intricate visual and aural nature demanded exacting focus, but its creation lit something within the artist. “I was pulling all-nighters. I had no problem spending all of my time in the studio, and I was really excited about this design, so I pursued it passionately. The type of soldering involved was very intricate, and I’m good at hinges now because of it. Something about that bracelet sparked more kinetic jewelry ideas.”

The bracelet inspired the rest of her senior art show and won some awards. Fear found herself sharing the Senior Artist award, too, but struggled to write an artist statement. “When you get an art degree, you don’t have to write a long research paper. You have to write a one-page artist statement, which is so painful,” she says, laughing. “I had no idea why I was making jewelry like that.”

That uncertainty about the meaning of her work followed her after graduation. So she worked as a bench jeweler, doing repairs on existing jewelry and learning many technical skills that she hadn’t learned in school. Although her hand was still in jewelry, she wasn’t designing work of her own. Busy with geographical moves, marriage, and then children, the idea of sitting down at her bench and creating from nothing again seemed impossible. 

“My bench was no longer a place where I could nourish myself. It became a place where I either succeeded or failed. And if I failed, it was too devastating to be worth it,” she says. “So, I just packed it away. And it stayed packed away for 10 years.”

REIGNITED
Until nine years ago, when she and her family moved to Traverse City. Fear was born in Traverse City and had lived here until four years old. Visits back to the area were a rare enjoyable and uncomplicated part of her childhood, and she had long wanted to call it home again. An eventual move to Cedar led her to silversmithing jewelry with beach glass for a woman in Leland. Her thrill for jewelry-making reignited, Fear pulled out her kinetic work from her senior show.

“I just felt like I had an idea here, and I wanted to make a go of this.”

Fear says that sorting out her past and the resulting trauma with a counselor has lead her to understand her work in a way that she never had before. And it seems her work has found a ready audience.

After all, explains Fear, many fidget-spinning and popper-popping kids grow up to become leg-jiggling, pen-clicking adults. Although not designed as a device to combat anxiety or hyperactivity, Fear’s jewelry has been especially embraced by customers who report that it has helped them in both respects. Each kinetic design must be made perfectly so that each moving part contained within slides with ease.

The interaction with the jewelry — human motion prompting a subtle but satisfying sound — can provide the wearer a soothing distraction from temporary worries.

Beyond the aural satisfaction they offer, the simple lines and modern-industrial vibe of Fear’s designs are simply beautiful to look at. (Note: She also designs non-kinetic jewelry — a little less pressure to make and just as fun to look at. It’s hard not to smile at a silver charm of Cheese Shanty pretzel bread.)

MOVING FORWARD
Being able to provide a grounding tool for people has given Fear a lot of pride. After years of trying to understand her relationship with her jewelry, she learned that creating interactive art was a way for her to escape invisibility. Individualism, she says, is unacceptable within the rigid confines of a cult, which profoundly impacted the relationships she had with those around her through her earlier life. 

“I think I had relationships with people that just kind of repeated themselves: You can’t be you unless you’re what somebody else wants you to be. And so, I was always dealing with this feeling of being invisible,” she says. “My jewelry was the antidote to that feeling. You wear it, so it becomes a part of you, but it also calls back to you. So my jewelry was something that I lacked and desired, and something I think most people desire, which is to be heard, to be seen.”

Dana’s jewelry can be seen, and heard, all over the world. With a sizeable Instagram following (@danacfear), collectors, custom design requests, and loyal customers abound, she’s enjoying all of the freedom to express herself with her work — fearlessly.

Find Dana C. Fear’s studio at 9044 S. Kasson St., in Cedar. (231) 499-7345, danacfear.etsy.com

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