Hannah Carnegie: Unified with Nature

Hannah Carnegie, creates jewelry that is interchangeable, ethically sourced, and inspired by nature. Growing up on an island, she developed a strong bond and appreciation for nature. As an advocate for conservation, Carnegie’s jewelry endows a percentage of sales to nature conservation foundations and initiatives. Continue along to read more about her fascinating story.

Can you tell us a little bit about growing up in an island lifestyle? What would an average day look like for you?

Growing up on a remote island, or in any remote area, you learn to live closer in harmony with your natural surroundings. The rhythm of your life is generally set to these nuances vs. those, of say , the morning traffic rush that you find in the city. You think more about when the tide is high, or when to not be on the beach at night with a car or a flashlight, which could interrupt a nesting sea turtle. In this sense, I think life is simpler, or allows more freedom and space for the mind and spirit to find unison. 

When did your interest in jewelry begin? What was the first piece of jewelry you ever designed?

I would say that my interest in jewelry goes back to being a very small child, and sitting with my mother in her studio while she was stringing necklaces or working on a new design. My mother is a jewelry designer as well, so it was naturally a huge part of my life growing up. I knew that I wanted to be in the design world ,but when I was a teenager I did not yet know if this was in jewelry design, or if I would lean more towards textile design.

I loved creating pieces, and had a line that my mother carried in her stores when I was 13. This line was picked up by a dear friend of ours, New York-based fashion designer Nicole Miller, and was used in her runway show of the season. I think this recognition from her was the moment that I realized continuing to study jewelry design was something that I wanted to do as I grew up.

What inspired you to design your own jewelry collection? Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My biggest inspiration is, without a doubt, my mother. She is an incredible woman. We were very lucky to have a wonderful man come into our lives when I was six, who eventually became my adopted father; however my mother started her business as a single mum trying to make ends meet and create a name for herself. Thirty-plus years later she has pieces that are in presidential collections; one of her designs was gifted to the participants of the Olympics when they were held in Atlanta, Georgia.  A few years ago, she was honored with a 6-month installation of her work at the High Museum in Atlanta. She consistently taught me to look for beauty beyond the norm, and to never give up.

Even though I worked with my mother’s company for years, I always knew that I would one day venture to build my own company. For any artist, I think we strive for true creative freedom, to let the way that we experience the world around us shine through, and as such, I needed to have my own company to do so.

In your designs, you incorporate a variety of Coleoptera. What is your connection to beetles? Are they very common on the island?

Yes! The first collection is entirely comprised of Coleoptera and is called the ‘Architecture of Insects.’ We do have many beautiful beetles on Cumberland, however, I have always had a fascination with beetles that goes beyond what is indigenous to the region. I am most inspired by nature. I love expressing the different patterns and colors that are so vibrantly on display in the natural world and yet often overlooked. I like to bring attention to these things ,and what more diverse and vast a species to begin with!

Can you elaborate on how your fine jewelry raises awareness for nature conservation?

On a fundamental level, I hope that wearing one of the designs will simply remind others of the many other incredible creatures that we share this world with. That just because we may not interact with them, we are aware of the many actions that directly impact their existence on a day to day level. I have worked to support the Georgia Department of Natural Resources before alongside my mother. As my little company grows, I hope to continue to work in support of nature conservation and to help educate people that this is a responsibility that we should all feel.

When you’re feeling uninspired, what do you do in order to reconnect?

It is natural for everyone to feel uninspired at times. If we are speaking from a design standpoint, to be honest when this happens I try not to push myself too hard and perhaps focus on something on the business side of things and try to come back to the design. Often it is as easy as giving your mind a break from obsessing over something.

If this is not enough for me, then I generally make myself a cup of tea and take my sketch pad out into the garden to let my mind relax and work on something else entirely. Sometimes I will lay down in the grass and watch the miniature world of all of the little creatures who live between the leaves, or I will lay on my back and just reconnect to myself and the earth and then I will start to draw.

We are living in such high-stress times right now to begin with, and sometimes simply placing my feet bare on the earth and reminding myself that this is a basic comfort every single person can do somewhere ,and I begin to feel more grounded and centered again.

Can you share with us a little about Cumberland Island’s history, and what it looks like today?

It is so difficult to express all of my feelings for Cumberland in a paragraph or two, as there is simply no other place like it. My heart will always be tied to the island no matter where in the world I am living.

My family has been on the island for seven generations now. My great great great grandparents came over from Scotland and bought property on the island as a winter retreat in the early 1880s. My great great great grandfather was Thomas Carnegie, who was the younger brother and business partner of the very well-known Andrew Carnegie. Sadly, Thomas died at 42 from pneumonia, but not before he and his wife had 11 children. Many of whom built their own grand houses on Cumberland.

In the 1960s, as the family continued to grow, the descendants of Thomas and Lucy Carnegie decided to work with the National Park and made a deal to sell a portion and donate a portion of the land so that it would never be developed. As such, those who still live full or part-time on the island live within a national park. This means that on an island larger than Manhattan you can reconnect with nature on a level that most people are not accustomed to. You can walk 14 miles down the beach and maybe run into one person and a few wild horses. There are no paved roads, no bridge to the island, and not a single store. We have 250 wild horses and an abundance of bird species, and we are one of the largest nesting sites for loggerhead sea turtles on the southeast coast of the United States.

My branch of the family turned one of the homes that they grew up in, Greyfield, into an inn and this is the only commercial enterprise on the island. Greyfield is family owned and operated to this day and is currently managed by my aunt and uncle. It is a true retreat. We have garden-to-table dining and naturalists who give tours around the island. Cocktail hour hosted by a bartender and hors d’oeuvres is served every evening before a formal dinner. Although a luxury hotel, we do not have televisions in the bedrooms and we do not allow cell phone use inside the house. This allows our guests to truly disconnect in a time when it is difficult to not answer work emails even when on holiday!

Can you share with us a short Cumberland Island tale?

My Great Grandmother, Lucy Carnegie Ferguson, was a woman quite unforgettable. She was the matriarch of the island for many years, and certainly did not follow the gender norms of the time, choosing instead to lead with her fiery personality and not take any nonsense from the men that surrounded her.

I stand at five foot one, and she would probably have come to my eyebrows. She was strikingly beautiful. Slight with olive skin, dark hair and dark eyes. She was born in 1899 in New York City, and moved when she was three to Cumberland Island with her parents where she resided for the rest of her life.

Lucy was born nearly deaf and as a child and young woman growing up on Cumberland she nurtured an incredibly close relationship with her wild surroundings, and fostered a love of animals. She was very good friends with the then veterinarian of the Ringling Brothers circus and ended up taking in several exotic animals to care for on the island. In many ways, she felt more closely connected to animals than she did with people.

It was this love of nature that she passed through the generations of the family. Whether it was out gathering oysters and clams, calling alligators from the water, or raising abandoned animals in need of help. She loved spending as much time hiking around the island as possible and took her grandchildren on many wild adventures. These adventures may not be deemed age-appropriate now but are certainly remembered fondly by my mother, uncles, and cousins and the stories have been shared through the generations. This closeness and respect for nature was passed on to all of us and deeply affected the way that we view and walk through the world. There is an incredible painting of Lucy hanging in my family’s inn and it is how I will forever think of her. A bandana tied around her head and a buck knife at her belt.

In your collection, “The Architecture of Insects #1,” you created each piece to be interchangeable, how does this work? How did you come about this brilliant idea?

I loved the idea of creating something for the modern collector. As a lover of both jewelry and travel, I understand that it can be difficult for one to travel with their entire collection. The idea was to create a collection focused on earrings that can be used with a bracelet base or a ring base. One day you choose to wear a particular pair of earrings and use a single earring from a different set in the ring. Or perhaps you wear a larger pair of earrings to create your mix and match look with the bracelet base. Not only is it fun but incredibly versatile in creating different statement looks for different styles and outfits.

Do you have a new jewelry collection in the works for the upcoming future?

Yes, indeed. There are a couple of collections that are in process, but I won’t yet share a release date! The goal is to eventually work against the fashion industry’s calendar so two collections per year. Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. We hope to be there soon!

Your pieces are ethically sourced and hand-made in Spain, why is it important to ensure your jewelry is ethical and crafted individually?

As we grow further as a global community it is our responsibility to work through ethical channels. We must know that each piece used to create a design was sourced from an origin that is supporting its community whilst not endangering either the environment or the people. All businesses need to strive towards more conscious ethical and charitable business practices.

This is why my business at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic decided to take part in a collective of jewelry designers from around the world who have come together in support of UNICEF and their continued battle on the front lines. They bring much needed medical equipment, PPE, food, and educational resources to communities most critically affected by this pandemic. We have chosen to donate 20% of our gold sales to their efforts. You can find out more about the collective and the other designers involved at www.shineoncollective.net

In terms of being made to order, we love that each piece is made just for the person who ordered it, and each piece is numbered. It makes it such a personal experience. For the customer to know that each piece was made by hand for them is pretty wonderful and unique.

We noticed you incorporate exquisitely colored rubies in your Coleoptera designs, such as the “Shield Bug Earrings.” How were you inspired to make these insects into stunning, colorful pieces?

With the gold pieces, I have tried to stay as true to the insect itself as possible. That is to say that most of these exist in nature close to how you see them as jewelry. Size, shape, and color. Nature has an incredible variety of mesmerizing colors and patterns and in many ways, I am only bringing light to the beauty that already exists and turning them into wearable pieces of art.

With the new silver collection, I have allowed my imagination a bit more freedom however even some of the most fabulous and wild colors can be found on other species of beetle! We live in a truly incredible world!

Hannah Carnegie exemplifies a truly remarkable story of a family business in support of something greater—nature. By mimicking some of nature’s mesmerizing colors and patterns, like the many Coleoptera, and creative brilliance of interchangeable jewelry, Carnegie continues to produce fine jewelry that goes beyond. To learn more about Hannah Carnegie’s jewelry and nature conservation efforts please visit https://www.hannahcarnegie.com/ .

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