● By Richard Gaw
(Originally published in the Fall 2011 edition)
When she was eight years old, Estelle Lukoff attended an art class at the Everson Museum of Art in her native Syracuse, New York. The assignment was to create a mosaic painting using the trace of one's hands. Immediately, she saw the project in terms of earthy colors, the palette of nature, and in between the outline of her fingers, she painted musical instruments. The painting hung in the family home for years.
Her mother Pauline was not surprised at her daughter's work of art. She'd encouraged a sense of creativity in Estelle way before the art museum class. Often, she would look outside the family home and see Estelle looking up at clouds in the back yard, then drawing them into a sketchbook. Even at a young age, she was captive to the beauty of textures, patinas, colors, shapes and materials. She was an artsy spirit and dreamer extraordinaire whose mother had set her creativity free.
Years later, the creativity of Lukoff, a Landenberg resident, is being showcased from Newark to Southern Chester County. For the past six years, Estelle Lukoff Designs has created some of the most eclectic jewelry and accessories seen in fine gift stores and artisan craft shows. Working out of her Landenberg home studio, Lukoff's work bursts with colors, textures and patinas inspired by nature, that infuse a long list of materials which include crystals, antique brass finishes, gemstones, pearls, coins and beads of many sizes and shapes.
It has been said of artists that they all live in a romantic world ruled by the allure of constant inspiration. On many nights, Lukoff thinks of new designs that drive her straight to her studio the next morning. On other occasions, she tinkers with her inventory. She plucks and picks and matches one material against another. She lets the juxtaposition of shapes, sizes and colors serve as a roadmap to the design of a necklace or a bracelet or a pair of earrings.
"I almost feel like something comes over me when I work," she said. "A lot of times, I'm not quite sure of where I'm going at first, but I love the challenge of working things out. It's almost like I want to make beauty out of chaos."
If her mother served as Lukoff's first inspiration, then it was her work in the local arts scene over the past 30 years that further developed her already creative mind. After moving to Delaware with her husband Stan in 1974, she worked as a framer at Finley's Art Shop in Newark. Eventually, she moved to Artisans III in downtown Wilmington, then onto Carspecken Scott in Trolley Square, and the Hardcastle Gallery and Station Gallery in Centreville.
In 2001, her mother and father moved from Syracuse to Pennsylvania to be closer to their daughter. Orchestrating this transition was complicated by the health issues her mother was going through, and "to maintain my sanity," Lukoff began to use her skills as an artist to alleviate the stress. After several years of building up an inventory of decorative crafts and ideas, she brought a wooden box she'd made -- finished with metal elements, wire and beads -- to Bloom in Newark in 2006.
"Mimi Sullivan-Sparks, the owner, took one look at the box and asked me, 'Do you make jewelry?'" Lukoff said. "A week later, I had created wire-wrapped necklaces that resembled birds nests, brought them to Mimi, which led to my foray into jewelry making."
Sooner or later, any artist has to make the decision to get out from his or her room of invention and enter their work into the public marketplace. Soon after, Lukoff began her relationship with Bloom, quickly followed by Sanity, a now-closed fine jewelry and craft store in Hockessin, which displayed Lukoff's designs beside the work of nationally-known artists.
"Estelle's workmanship was stellar, filled with colors and textures and just so incredibly beautiful to look at, touch and wear," said Sanity owner Lindsay Lowry, now of Little Nest Portraits in the Glen Eagle Square. "Her work uses all of our senses. Jewelry is a personal choice, and wearing it gives one a personal connection to the artist. Everyone seems to find something of themselves in Estelle's work."
Currently, Lukoff's inventory can be found at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts' museum gift shop, at Bloom on Main Street in Newark, at Mystique in the Trolley Square section of Wilmington, and at the Diving Cat Studio in Phoenixville.
Throughout the year, she also maintains a healthy craft show schedule. In the coming months, Lukoff's work will be showcased at the Frolic! For the Kennett Square Art Stroll on November 4; at the Annual Artisans Show at the Center for the Creative Arts in Yorklyn on November 11 and 12; and at private home shows.
Lukoff recently completed a new custom-designed display system, which incorporates infinite options for showcasing her work. Over a year in the design and construction process, the rotating displays were unveiled at her appearance at the Brandywine Festival of the Arts in September. Working with Stan, she recently developed a new website, a Facebook page, and eventually plans to have a presence on Etsy, an online site that enables artists to showcase and sell their work around the globe.
In addition to her high tech internet presence, Lukoff said she continues to enjoy the contact with the public that craft shows bring. "Being at craft shows allows for connection and feedback on my designs, from current and new customers," she said.
Lukoff's mother and father currently reside in Jennersville, and when their daughter and son-in-law visit, Pauline no longer recognizes them. She is in the latter stages of Alzheimer's disease, and whenever Lukoff finishes a fine piece of jewelry, gets her work into yet another store or appears at a craft show, "I think of how much my mother would enjoy seeing this part of my life," she said. "I think in many ways, what I've been able to do now is a way of giving back, to say that I've taken my mother's support and inspiration farther than she could have imagined."
For more information about Estelle Lukoff, visit www.estellelukoffdesigns.com.
A portion of the proceeds from Lukoff's jewelry are being donated to the Alzheimer's Association.
To contact Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.