Concord artist Martha Mae Emerson loves everything about the outdoors — gardening, hiking, eating breakfast on her back porch. She can’t get enough of it.
“I find nature exciting. I find it soothing. I find it nurturing,” she said during an interview at her home studio last week. “If I had my choice, I would spend much of my life outdoors.”
Naturally, this theme plays out in her jewelry business, Pebbles and Pearls, inspired by elements you can find outside — tiny stones and freshwater pearls, combined or standing alone in minimalist earrings, bracelets and necklaces.
“Because I’m a minimalist in my life in general — except when it comes to color — I find limiting my materials feels very comfortable to me,” Emerson said, who that day sported a teal Marmot turtleneck, striking fuchsia eyeglasses and pearl orb earrings — her most popular design, featuring a mother of pearls against baroque pearls. (“They go with everything. They’re my go-to jewelry,” she said.)
Emerson’s downtown Concord apartment was indeed bursting with color, decorated with art she made, art she bought, and art made by her two granddaughters, ages 2 and 4, whom she watches every week. The eldest especially loves art, Emerson said, gesturing toward the colorful framed pieces leaning against her stairway and hanging on the walls. They have this in common.
“I have a creative urge that cannot be denied! It expresses itself in different ways, depending on what’s happening in my life,” Emerson said. “I think it’s in my cells.”
Emerson turned to jewelry-making about 10 years ago, but before that, she was a sewing and fiber artist.
“Right out of college, I had my degree in French, and what did I do? I opened an original design dress shop in Portsmouth,” she said, laughing.
Emerson also worked as a photographer, juried with League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, for 25 years. As an elementary school guidance counselor, she hosted integrated art programs. One of her students found working with clay especially soothing — and actually, so did she.
“He was kind of my inspiration. We’d be sitting together talking. He would be rolling clay, and I would be rolling clay. That was when I made my first pebbles,” she said. “We ended up developing this really fun little jewelry business for him in the staff room.”
During this recent visit, Emerson was working on restocking the New Hampshire shops she sells through, which include the Currier Museum Shop, Gondwana and Divine Clothing, the Mill Brook Gallery and MainStreet BookEnds, whose “New Works 2017” exhibition she’s participating in, March 24 through May 1.
“All the participating artists who were invited have to deliver totally new work. Last year they asked me to make three pieces. I was in the middle of my move, and everything was packed up. But it was such a wonderful inspiration, to have to produce, and I came up with six new works,” Emerson said.
Sitting on her workbench were polymer pebbles waiting to be assembled, and in the corner hung some of her first pieces — chunky, colorful necklaces. On a side table were some of her newest designs, which contained stones flecked with gold.
Often production is tiring, particularly around the holidays, but other times it feels organic and meditative, and her jewelry reflects this, with design names like “Zen,” “Wave” and “New Moon.” On these days, Emerson doesn’t mind working alone in her studio, with only her cat, Mr. Stitch, to keep her company. The reward is when customers react in the same way seeing the result.
“Some people have said to me my designs give them a sense of calm and peacefulness,” Emerson said.