At work in her Steuben studio, Cynthia Lech creates one-of-a-kind designs in silver, gold and stones. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY ANNE BERLEANT

Artist creates clean, cutting-edge pieces



STEUBEN — Tucked off a lane, Cynthia Lech’s studio is filled with light and the leaves and berries from a small tree pressed up against the front window.

The best part about her new home may be that she does not have to lug water and supplies a mile into the woods anymore. She spent her first four years in Maine living off the grid in the Washington County town of Columbia.

“I had a cabin with my studio and I somehow managed to do a ton of inventing,” Lech said. “I don’t give myself enough credit for what I accomplished there.”

There, she built up an inventory of custom, hand-crafted jewelry that stayed true to her own aesthetic, which mixes Art Deco themes with those from Brutalist-style architecture.

“I’m not alone in saying [Brutalist style] is cold and lacks any kind of soul,” Lech explained, “but when I take these big hunky cement blocks and textures and bring it down to the size of jewelry it becomes more interesting.”

A Providence, Rhode Island native, Lech originally enrolled in college for a “practical degree” and instead ended up in metalsmithing after taking one class. “I was hooked,” she said. With a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in hand, she quickly found work in Providence, a jewelry design and manufacturing headquarters.

Lech’s designs are inspired by Art Deco and Brutalist architecture.
CYNTHIA LECH PHOTO

Now Lech is a veteran of jewelry “factories” like Tiffany & Co., where she spent four years as a stone setter. Next, she worked for a smaller Providence company that was a modelmaker and account specialist for major New York City jeweler David Yurman.

And then Lech moved to Maine.

“I got laid off. I learned a lot…but it was factory work. No windows and 40-plus hours a week,” she said. “I just wasn’t passionate about it anymore and felt I learned all I could.”

Her layoff sped up her moving plans and she has stayed in Maine ever since.  She spends a few days each week behind the counter of 86This! and continues her work for Cynthia Lech Metals at home.

“I’ve been making jewelry since I was five,” she said. “We had these big plastic beads — pony beads. I think that’s where it really started.”

Lech calls herself a minimalist in her work, and it shows. The Brutalist influence is evident in the sharp angles and uncompromising lines, particularly evident in her Inspired By Grandma line of earrings. Triangles, circles and squares, created as stud earrings and dangling ones, are engraved with the same shape in a maze of lines.

And in her Everday Essentials line, necklaces of thin silver chains are interrupted with an angled bar that breaks the natural curve and draws all eyes to its simple, stark shape.

“My goal is to have as little information as possible in my jewelry work while still drawing people in,” she said.

Cynthia Lech Metals carries different lines, like the F***ed Up & Fancy line of rings and earrings.
CYNTHIA LECH PHOTO

Lech works in sterling silver and gold and in snowflake mahogany obsidian and other stones. She uses recycled materials when she can, just like she did in junior and senior high school, where she used bits of fabric and odd pieces of metal to create her designs. Her materials are ethically sourced and sustainable, and she believes in transparency in tracing her materials: “That’s really important to me.”

While sterling silver is a very accessible metal, “the properties of gold are just amazing,” Lech explained. “I never liked yellow gold until I had the opportunity to work with it. Now I know why it’s been used for thousands of years.”

Lech also is now experimenting with electroforming, taking organic materials — like poppy pods or beetle husks — and using an electro-chemical process to coat them with metal after first varnishing or lacquering to seal the material.

“I’m kind of in transition right now,” Lech said. “I’m trying to build my own aesthetic and experiment. I’ve done some shows here and there but I’m not really passionate about the show circuit. I’m more interest in the creative than the business side.”

“If my work can speak to anybody then I’ve done my job,” she added. “That’s the goal, to do what I want to do, realizing it does have to be sellable.”

See Lech’s work at cynthialechmetals.com.

Anne Berleant

Anne Berleant

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking local trails, reading or watching professional tennis. Email her at [email protected]

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