Felieke van der Leest’s Grey Heron Airplane ring is full of the whimsy which is an integral component of the artist’s imaginative and sophisticated design process, which incorporates techniques such as bead weaving and crocheting. This ring, like much of Van der Leest’s work, focuses on the use of mass produced toy animals, highlighted by the addition of worked textiles and metalwork. A combination of play and seriousness can be found in her jewelry; while her pieces are generally light in spirit, some of her work addresses issues relating to the poor, or abusive treatment of animals.

The most arresting feature of Van der Leest’s creations is their sculptural quality. This ring features a gray heron poised for flight upon a strip of airplane runway. At first glance, it is hard to discern that the piece is a ring, yet when examined more closely it becomes apparent that the wheeled base, upon which the heron rests, is actually an open form  made to surround a finger, while the bird above sits like a featured jewel. Special detailing of the form, including the crocheted body and wings and the beaded tail feathers, adds interest and depth to the ordinary plastic of the bird, raising it from the mundane to an object of value and importance. An unlikely focal point, the bird is lavished with textural details and highlighted with jeweled elements, making it worthy of display.

Van der Leest expresses her interest in giving her jewelry life even when not being worn. When describing the difference between her pieces and others, she notes that most jewelry when not worn is stored in a drawer or box, which she believes is a pity. This underutilization is what inspires her to make small sculptures of her pieces, sometimes making the entire piece of jewelry a miniature sculpture. In the case of the Grey Heron you can take the heron off the landing strip and wear it as a ring. The landing strip stays at home. After wearing, the ring can be placed on the landing strip again and you have a small piece of art that brings a smile and lightens a day!


This ring is one of 150 pieces of contemporary jewelry featured in Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection, now on view.


Susan Teichman is a design historian who specializes in jewelry history and the architectural history of synagogues.

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