Isabel Silva Melo graduated in Sculpture by the College of Fine Arts of Porto, a formation which greatly contributes to her author pieces of jewelry made from fish scales, which modernizes an Azorean secular tradition.
First I wanted to address this ancient technique of fish scales in the Azores.
Isabel Silva Melo: Yes, that I know is a technique used since the eighteenth century, at the time the fishermen had very small boats when they could not go too often to the sea this was the way that the wives had to help in the household economy during the winter. Usually they worked always in blank, made up small hearts to decorate religious images, was an art intended solely to a religious context, in communions and baptisms also to decorate the children. The fish scales were work with a purl, who was a silver or gold thread, still we use this technique as in religious context, but I use color of course. To use this technique in terms of jewelery I retreat the "cantilho" and I take the very scale of the setting that is beautiful, it's almost like it was an appointment of a petal and then "play" with this material.
Is any kind of fish scale that can be used?
ISM: No, usually in the Azores works with several fish, but I like parrotfish because it has a large scale and has a drawing of a petal in this particular case the female is red and more striking, contrary to what it happens in nature where males are more lush, here are gray-brown and it is not funny at all. I also like the wrasse because it has a long scale, which gives the feeling of small leaves, there is still a mullet that here we work a lot, but I do not like it.
What are the challenges facing using this ancient technique for making earrings, pins and other pieces of jewelry?
ISM: I had a training organized by the craft center and the museum, was a workshop of fish scales where I learned to work the traditional way with purl, but after I got home I started "playing" with the material and had the good fortune to thoroughly enjoy the scale from the plastic point of view, elastic, flexible and began to work it my way. I am embarrassed to say, but it's easy, I double it, remodel and do what I want, I invent and the pieces come out.
What is the piece that women like more?
ISM: Maybe the earrings inspired by bougainvillea, it happened one day that it was raining a lot, I have a huge plant in front of house and then decided to transpose it to the scale. The first thing I did was four petals, then picked a flower and saw that they had only three and now the earrings are made with that number of scales.
And what is the most emblematic piece that you produce? That just says it's Isabel Silva Melo?
ISM: I do not know.
Or what distinguishes your work from another jewelry designer who use fish scales?
ISM: I cannot explain, you will have to ask my clients. (laughs). I'm always vary the pieces, do not do the same as at the beginning, it was about a year and a half that I started the project, I like to introduce other materials, from acrylic, lace, embroidery, Murano glass, go mixing and combining unusual materials that would not be part of this context. I now have a craftsman of the island of Santa Maria that will bring me polished stones and I want to see how this works. I love to "play", do a combination of colors depending on the time of year, I now have a winter collection, beyond the summer one.