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Inspired by nature, RVA art teacher launches online jewelry business

Posted by: Amy – Dec 08, 2016

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People turn to nature and the outdoors for many different reasons. Some to clear their heads, some for pure enjoyment or exercise, some go full on Reese Witherspoon in Wild to find themselves, but for Melody Milleker, it was the inspiration for her business, Lonely Pine Jewelry.

The Prince George County middle school art teacher launched her online jewelry business in 2014, selling earrings, necklaces, rings and bracelets made with different pieces she's collected from nature.

In September of that year Milleker's grandfather passed away, which is what led her to the outdoors and eventually launch her business.

“I was really sad about it and nothing was really helping me feel better and a few months after that happened, I got a dog and we started going on nature walks and it was very calming and soothing and made me feel a lot better,” Milleker said.

On these walks, the VCU graduate would find everything from dead flowers to insects to plants along the trail and would put them in her pocket to take home.

“I ended up having this pile of stuff that I didn’t know what to do with so I started playing around with it and making things with it until it evolved into where it is today,” she said. “It started out as a relaxation, hobby thing and blossomed…no pun intended.”

Putting her skills as an art teacher to work, Milleker started creating little pieces of jewelry with the plants and other objects she had collected on her walks.

“I press and dry everything for about a week or so, my boyfriend hand-built me a flower press that I use,” she said. "I have molds, a lot of which I made myself, and I’ll put the dried pieces in the mold and pour in the resin and it takes about a day to cure, then I can drill holes and put the metal pieces in and put it all together.”

Using metal from Bangles and Beads in Carytown and Beads and Rocks on Broad Street to make the jewelry, the 24-year-old started making the pieces for her friends who encouraged her to sell them which led to Milleker opening an Etsy shop.

She has everything from simple pressed rose petals or buttercups that she turns into a necklace, to a butterfly wing necklace, to a bee ring.

“I love working with the weirder stuff that’s harder to find,” she said. “I’ve done custom orders with people’s wedding flowers and those are really fun.”

Milleker said her dog has helped her find some of the more unusual pieces for her jewelry collection.

"My dog helped me sniff out a little skeleton one time, so some bones but that wasn’t super strange, but the weirdest thing would be the bugs," she said. "In the summer time it’s a lot easier to find things like cicadas, when I find a butterfly wing or moth wing, those are the most interesting to me.”

But don’t worry no living creatures die for your fashion.

“It’s silly to kill stuff for art,” said Milleker explaining she only uses things from nature that are already dead or she picks up along her walks on trails.

Ashby in Carytown started selling her jewelry in early 2015 which allowed her to meet the producer of the jewelry show for RVA Fashion Week where she also sells her jewelry each time it comes around.

“It kind of spiraled out from there,” she said.

In addition to her website, Lonely Pine Jewelry is also sold at The Valentine Museum gift shop, Orange in Carytown, and Kitsch in Norfolk.

“That’s the fastest, easiest way to get your stuff out there,” he said. “Craft shows and events only come intermittently, there’s a lull from January to March so that’s a more consistent way of getting business."

In fact, Milleker said she’s looking to get her collection into more stores because that's where she receives the most business.

“People buying in person, they can actually see things, try it on…whereas if you’re just clicking through a website you’re like ‘oh that’s pretty’ and moving on,” she said.

Prices for her jewelry depends on the type and the rarity of the object, but her rings and smaller earrings are usually anywhere from $12-15, necklaces are $20-30, and bracelets and larger earrings are $18-$20.

“The more oddball an item is, the higher the price,” she said. “The bee necklace I made is $45, because I never work with bees.” Everything that I’m putting in there by nature a once alive thing, is unique, so I can't make the same exact thing twice."

One piece can take anywhere from eight or nine days to complete.

And while she’s just doing this on the side for some extra money and still enjoys teaching, Milleker said there could be a possibility of taking it full-time in the future.

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” she said. “If it gets to the point where its sustainable and paying the bills then I would consider it.”

Check out Lonely Pine Jewelry on their website or Instagram.

Words by Amy David

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