I meet Gillian Trask in her tiny, meticulously organized, home-based studio on Isle of Hope, curious as to how this relative newcomer to the jewelry world will be representing the U.S., Savannah artists, and Kobo Gallery at the prestigious Milano Jewelry Week this October.
Growing up in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia as the daughter of a government contracting business owner, Trask graduated James Madison University with a BFA, and subsequently earned a second BFA, with a concentration in Graphic Design, from the California Institute of the Arts.
She had minored in Art History and in Jewelry Design at JMU, but ended up following her father’s practical advice of pursuing a career in graphic design for the financial stability it offered.
However, a freelance graphic design career proved unsatisfying to Trask’s creative soul, and by 2010, she had moved to Florida and was working in retail sales with Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry, eventually becoming store manager.
Five years later, her father’s illness prompted a move to Hilton Head Island to help her mother care for him.
“Honestly,” Trask says, “That ended up being the best move.” She was able to spend time with family and was with her dad when he died.
During bereavement leave, her store got held up at gunpoint, and that traumatic event, combined with her dad’s death, made her reevaluate her life’s direction. She realized, “If I’m going to do something, I want it to be important. Be something I love. And I want to give back.”
“Literally, that same week, I met my husband Zack,” Trask continues, “And I enrolled at SCAD for jewelry. My goal was to create a recognizable line of jewelry, something that would be uniquely mine, with pieces that I absolutely love.”
She graduated SCAD with a Master of Art in Jewelry degree in 2019, and it was while working on her thesis project, that her goal serendipitously manifested itself…
“I’d been working on this particular piece for three weeks. I was heavily pregnant with my daughter Gabby. It was three in the morning, and I had to show it to my professors at nine, and I melted the whole damn thing! It just collapsed.”
But out of that meltdown, a new technique was born.
“I had a breakthrough.” Trask calls this breakthrough technique, hand sculpting.
“I want to push the boundaries of what sterling silver can do by melting it down and then riding that fine line between complete destruction and the creation of something empowering and unconventionally beautiful.”
The jeweler goes on to explain how silver has a gorgeous rolling motion when it’s in a molten state and that she is sculpting and moving the metal with her tweezers while it’s liquid.
Other jewelers use reticulated silver (a technique whereby localized heat is applied to the surface of the metal) but, “I’m pushing and pulling the silver while it’s molten. It’s all about controlling the heat with air and with different torch tips so I can sculpt it.”
It is this incredibly unique technique that led to Trask’s acceptance to Milano Jewelry Week.
“They actually reached out to me. I think they saw that I had received a Top Ten Award from Halstead in 2019.” The Halstead Grant National Competition is an annual award for emerging silver jewelry artists, which “put me on the map in the jewelry world. It was an exciting way to start my first year of business!”
More honors followed for Trask’s fledgling business. In 2020, she was appointed an Ambassador for the NYC Metal & Smith Show, an intimate and modern jewelry trade event with a curated selection of indie designers.
Next she received an Honorable Mention in the 2021 International Design Awards (IDA) when she and her SCAD intern, Ruchita Newrekar, collaborated on a “Star Ring,” and in March of this year, she scored a double page spread in the luxury, jewelry, and lifestyle magazine, HUESERS.
In the HUESERS article Trask discussed her business model during the pandemic. She managed online sales and social media, and hosted livestreaming shows on Instagram and Facebook. The livestreamed events proved to be her “saving grace” resulting in higher exposure for her brand and in robust sales during a time when many artists and makers floundered.
Now, Trask is one of 500 exhibitors from 40 different countries selected to participate in October’s international Milano Jewelry Week, a highly influential and esteemed event featuring over 200 collective and personal exhibitions, vernissages, exhibitions of international galleries and schools, award nights, cocktail parties, high-end jewelry ateliers, goldsmiths’ workshops, academies, art galleries and fashion and design showrooms spread all over the city of Milan.
But back to Trask’s ambitions of creating something she loves and of giving back… The award-winning “Star Ring” is now part of a bestselling “Stardust” collection, created with an intention of donating a portion of proceeds to Savannah’s Brightside Advocacy CASA program (Court Appointed Special Advocates) ensuring every child in foster care is supported.
“I was a foster baby,” Trask says, “I was lucky to be adopted.”
In fact, she is so enthusiastic about this cause, she participated in this year’s “Dancing with the Savannah Stars,” raising $18K towards a record-breaking CASA fundraising total of $225K.
Trask also supports CASA through her recent collaboration with Savannah’s Love & Moxie line of handcrafted accessories, bags, and trinket trays.
The resulting “Raise Them Up” collection is a mix of vintage, classic, and edgy. She says, “Think Jackie O meets Joan Jett!” These bold pieces are my personal favorites of her work – particularly the sterling silver asymmetrical earrings that incorporate an acrylic rectangle of neon yellow, and a gold vermeil bar ring that spans three fingers. Definitely sexy. Definitely unique.
Trask loves to meet her customers at pop-ups and shows; her bubbly and enthusiastic personality lends itself to direct sales. At last year’s Plant Riverside’s Savannah Christmas Market, she enjoyed record-breaking sales and garnered several commissions.
She says it is magical to see someone try on her pieces, be transformed, and feel empowered. Ultimately, “I would love to have my own little place. After being able to spend time with people who “got” my work, and after receiving so much love and appreciation, I’m thinking I could thrive in a brick-and-mortar space.”
I have no doubt that she will continue to thrive, brick-and-mortar space or not! Between her energy, her social media acumen, her business savvy, her awards, and her groundbreaking technique of metal sculpting, Gillian Trask is on fire.
See Trask’s pieces at Kobo Gallery, 33 Barnard Steet, at Rachel Vogel Designs in Tybee Oaks and at GillianTrask.com. Stay current on new work, consignments, and upcoming pop-ups on Instagram @Gillian_Trask_Jewelry