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Was it Einstein who said, "time is not a straight line"? It certainly never seems to be straight when one looks back at the events and courses one’s life takes. Western society insists time is linear, but there are many cultures that believe time is circular.   Indeed, one’s life experiences, at times, seem to come "full circle." When jewelry designer Rebecca Rockefeller was a baby, she created elaborate miniature worlds out of clay. Many life passages followed: studying political and social reform, feminist theory, marrying, traveling the world, divorcing, searching in a variety of vastly different career paths to find her life’s work. In the last 5 years, Rebecca has returned to working with her hands -- her earliest inclination -- and she is creating beautiful, exquisitely intricate, delicate, and detailed jewelry. Her necklaces, chokers, earrings, crowns, and tiaras all contain the synthesis of her lifescape.

Vulcan was the Roman god of the smith (for the Greeks he was Hephaestos). He was the architect, armourer, chariot builder and artist of all works on Olympus. He forged precious metal into beautiful objects for the gods in his smith, and shod the celestial steeds. Vulcan’s hammer is passed down, from a time primeval, to the present.

We spoke to Rebecca from her studio in Seattle.

Rebecca Rockefeller’s company
5 Dogs & A Hammer is located in Seattle, Washington.
Studio: 206-916-2867.
Or email:

A list of stores where Rebecca's
jewelry is sold is at the end of
the article.

Photos of Rebecca Rockefeller
by Airyka Rockefeller.

Makeup by Grantley McIntyre.

Rebecca Rockefeller: I grew up on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. I was actually born in Washington, DC, but my parents moved out here when I was six months old. So I’m really more or less a Northwest native. That’s all I remember.

Where I grew up on Bainbridge at that point, it’s an island about a half an hour ferry ride west of Seattle, close to the Olympic Peninsula. It’s a totally idyllic childhood. It was this beautiful, really rural island at that point -- I could walk a half a mile through the woods to my best friend’s house, rode bikes, and I was like the quintessential tomboy, except that I wore dresses everywhere I went.

My middle sister and I climbed trees, and pulled frogs out of ponds, and kind of had an unstructured childhood mostly. And I went to school there for the most part up until sixth grade, when I started commuting on the ferry every day to go to schools in Seattle, and then back again in the evening.

One of my earliest memories is actually of playing with clay in my high chair.

My dad used to put me in my high chair and give me a lump of clay to keep me busy. And I would roll little snakes out and make little baskets. I spent a lot of time when I was a kid making absolutely tiny little vignettes out of Fimo clay. Tiny like zoo scenes and whole house sets and I built little doll houses in a shoe box, and furnished the entire thing with little food and animals and all sorts of stuff that I had made out of clay.

So that was really my only artistic endeavor as a child.

Necklace of sterling silver, Austrian crystal, fresh water pearls, antique German glass, antique Parisian clothing ornaments, Czech glass, peridot from Arizona and India.

I guess the first sort of interesting training I had, or interesting classes I had, were at my high school in Seattle which was Seattle Academy of the Arts & Sciences. And it’s a school that requires that you get an equal number of credits in science and in art.

And so at that point I started doing a lot more visual art than I’d had a chance to do before, and just with a better endowed art department. So I had a chance to get my hands on some sort of cool art supplies.

But I’d never envisioned myself as an artist or somebody who would do something creative like that for a living. I really wanted to be a scientist or a writer all the way through high school basically. And when I went to college that’s really what I thought I would end up doing.

So I think I surprised everyone.

Necklace and earrings of sterling silver, freshwater pearls, antique crystal, Czech glass, antique Parisian clothing ornaments, hematite, sterling silver chain and wire work.

FF: Yes, yes. Are you the oldest of the ...

Rebecca Rockefeller: I am, yeah. I’m the oldest.

FF: And so where did you go to college?

Rebecca Rockefeller: I went to a state college called the Evergreen State College in Olympia. And it’s a very non-traditional college, where you don’t get grades; you get written evaluations and you write an evaluation of yourself and of the professor, and the professor does the same for you. And I did a lot of -- let’s see -- natural history and a lot of political economy and social change. And my degree is basically in political economy and social change with an emphasis on feminist theory.

I took one quarter of a fine arts program. Everything that Evergreen has, has been taught by a group of professors, and you actually enroll in it, and in a program that lasts either one quarter or all year.

And this team of professors will basically approach a question or a theory from a lot of different angles. And they have a fine arts program where all you’re doing is basically -- all of your writing, all of your mathematics work, all of your computer work is all geared towards fine arts. As well as a lot of studio time.

And I enrolled in that, and I made it through one quarter of it, and I just loathed the professor that I had in charge of my seminar group. So I quit doing it and did a feminist theory contract the rest of the year instead. So I really am not a trained, trained artist or crafts person. I’m just completely self taught basically.

FF: And so, since this was the concentration of your degree, what had you planned to do for your career once you left college?

Rebecca Rockefeller: Well, you know, I got married actually my last year of college.

FF: Did you really.

Rebecca Rockefeller: Yeah.

FF: That’s young to get married.

Rebecca Rockefeller: I know. Too young. I would advise against it.

FF: Yes, so would I.

Crown of sterling silver with freshwater pearls, Austrian crystal, sterling silver wire work.

Rebecca Rockefeller: So I had very indulgent parents who were willing to let me make my own mistakes, and I got married my last year of college. And at that point my husband and I were running a kayak guiding business in the San Juan Islands north of Seattle. Living on a sailboat and taking people on either four-hour or four-day or ten-day kayak trips around this group of islands.

And I loved doing that. I honestly thought I would probably do that for a couple of years and then go back to school and get my graduate degree and then get my doctorate and end up teaching feminist theory or you know political economy at some small college somewhere. I didn’t have very, very clearly defined career goals at all.

I loved being in school; I loved learning. I loved all the sort of heady intellectual stuff but I guess the whole time I was doing that I couldn’t keep my hands off of clay and off of beads.

FF: And it must have been beautiful doing all that kayaking.

Rebecca Rockefeller: Oh it was incredible.

FF: And so then what did you do after that?

Rebecca Rockefeller: Well let’s see; at a certain point I actually injured my shoulder kayaking and I couldn’t do it professionally any more. I ripped my rotator cuff. So I went to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned, and the dentist, who had been my dentist since I had teeth coming in, said, "What are you doing?" And I told him I had hurt myself, and he said, "Well, why don’t you come work for me?"

But I said, "Well, I don’t know anything about dentistry." He said, "Oh, it doesn’t matter. We’ll teach you." So I took a job there as a dental assistant for about a year and a half, which was really interesting; very tiny, very minute sort of work, and lots of sanitizing things and autoclaving instruments and very detail  oriented work, which I really kind of enjoyed, but I burned out on it after a little while.

And I was looking through the classified ads in my newspaper and found one that said nanny/housekeeper needed for Saudi family. And I said oh, that sounds really interesting. I applied for that which I didn’t think I’d get. It’s like a good Jewish girl getting a job working as a nanny for a Saudi Arabian family. But they took me, and I flew over to Saudi Arabia to take care of three kids who had just lost their mother to breast cancer.

FF: Oh no.

Rebecca Rockefeller: Yeah, which was just this really horrible situation. And I just really felt for the kids. And I really wanted to get over there and do something good for them. So I did that for six incredibly long months; felt a lot more like six years.

Tiara of sterling silver, with antique satin glass, German glass, antique seed bead, freshwater pearls.

Next, a turning point in Rebecca's life....