By Michelle Graff
The L’Enchanteur table at the “Dinner” event hosted Monday by New York City Jewelry Week and Brooklyn Metal Works. The artists of L’Enchanteur were one of seven different sets jewelers at the event, each of whom had their own table. (Photo credit: Emilija Guobyte-Krzeminski)
On Monday night, I was invited to an event I approached with a bit of trepidation.

Organized by the women behind New York City Jewelry Week and art school Brooklyn Metal Works, it was a “Dinner” party that came with this disclaimer: “Edible dinner won’t be served, but drinks will be!”

Intrigued by the somewhat-ambiguous invitation and buoyed by the prospect of free drinks, I headed uptown a few blocks from my office to check out what this dinner without any food was all about.

What I found was a well-organized event in which I got to meet and learn from interesting people outside the jewelry world—something I think we should all do more of—and become immersed in a designer’s process from start to finish, but in a manner presented as a four-course meal.

The Setting
The dinner took place at R & Company, a New York City gallery that was hosting an exhibition of the same name.

R & Company’s “Dinner” was a celebration of the tradition of dining, with a mix of new and old table-and-chair sets and chandeliers set up on the gallery’s lower level, creating the perfect setting for the event—seven different (and beautiful, I might add) tables replete with seats.

Each of the seven jewelry designers featured had their own table, and there was no assigned seating; guests were welcome to sit at whichever table they liked.

Intrigued by a card that mentioned vintage viewfinders, I took a seat at the mid-century modern table where Philadelphia-based jewelry artist Melanie Bilenker was presenting her work.

Bilenker works out of the JV Collective art studio in South Philadelphia and sells her work—her own drawings recreated in hair and then incorporated into one-off pieces—online and through museums and exhibitions nationwide.

Some of her work also pays homage to souvenir viewfinders, those four-sided, mini-telescope-like picture holders you get as mementos of trips to amusement parks and other major tourist attractions.

The ‘Meal’
Much to my delight, the first course of my dinner/not dinner at Bilenker’s table consisted of the aforementioned viewfinders.

A server brought the viewfinders to the table on the tray, as any waitress or waiter would with a first round of drinks or an appetizer.

20190621 Viewfinder shotA guest at my table enjoying a peek into one of the souvenir viewfinders passed around for the first course, with Melanie on the right. Interestingly, a few of the people I was sitting with said they had never before heard of or seen viewfinders. (Photo credit: Emilija Guobyte-Krzeminski)

The artist then proceeded to pass them around the table and explain how she loves the souvenirs because they preserve a moment in time, many of them happy ones.

For the second course, the artist distributed baseball card-sized versions of the drawing recreated in the final piece.

Then came the third course—bags of hair.
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Though hair jewelry is definitely not for everyone, and bags of hair even less so, I found this course to be the most compelling because it reminded me of what we sometimes forget working in the industry day in and day out—that jewelry is really interesting and cool when explained properly. The average person knows little about it, but is keen to learn.

A few of the other guests seated at the table were blown away when Bilenker explained the historical use of hair in jewelry, which inspired her technique today—she creates a sketch from a photograph then recreates the drawings in hair, gluing strands to paper and then incorporating the tiny works of art into necklaces, pins and rings.

In case I am doing a crap job of explaining it (and I fear I might be), you can see one of Melanie’s rings above (pictured right) next to a Victorian lover’s eye, and below is the final course from Monday night’s event, the necklace that combines the previous three dishes.

The Leftovers
Now, I would not say that the finished piece I saw Monday night is something I personally would wear; it’s a little big for my taste. It also is probably not something a ton of retail stores would stock, as Melanie’s work definitely falls more into the category of art jewelry.

But that’s not the point.

The point is that I enjoyed learning about Melanie’s design process, how she gets from start to finish, and the others at the table did too. And I thought the format of the evening was clever—presenting the designers’ works in courses, like a meal, with the last course being the finished product.

I also liked getting to know the artist behind the work, and was particularly struck by something Melanie said when explaining why she decided to go into jewelry instead of creating her incredible drawings as wall art, which they easily could be.

She’s attracted to the personal nature of jewelry, she said—the fact that you have to get close to another individual to really look at their jewelry, and that they let you.

“It’s a very physical, intimate kind of interaction,” she told the table. “You have to get very close to see someone’s jewelry, in their personal space.”

To see more of Melanie’s work, visit her website or her Instagram, @melaniebilenker.

The second annual New York Jewelry Week is scheduled for Nov. 18-24 in various locations around the city.

For more information, visit the event website.

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