Janine Pfeifer, the silver smith and designer behind Elkame Emporium, has enjoyed creating as long as she can remember, “when I was younger I did a lot of drawing for personal enjoyment, however I have always been attracted to and fascinated with metal, and draw inspiration from the natural world around me.”
Entrée into the world of metal work and silver smithing is far from simple, however, with no formal traineeship programs or mentoring. “Smithing can be quite a closed world, and one very much dominated by men, so as a woman trying to break in and gain skills and experience, I did find it quite difficult,” Janine shares.
Holding fast to the desire to with metal, Janine studied an Advanced Diploma in Jewellery and Object Design at Melbourne Polytechnic, and took every opportunity she could find to get her hands dirty in the forge. While many in her course aimed to work in formal jewellery design, Janine wanted broader experience and to better understand and work with the metal itself. To this end she has enrolled in an Engineering - Fabrication and Industrial Design course at NSW TAFE, which has offered exposure to new techniques and equipment, plus valuable industrial connections and a network of black and silver smiths from across the country. “The TAFE course has an interesting mix of people (yes, mainly men) all with different backgrounds and objectives, and we’re in the studio together for 8-10 hours a day together, all week during intensives. Its exhausting, but a very joyous experience and incredibly rewarding.”
Bringing together her broad technical expertise, design nous and love of nature, coupled with her background in naturopathy, education and production, Janine launched Elkame Emporium in 2018.
Based at her home studio in Melbourne, complete with forge, hammers and anvils, Janine produces bespoke handmade jewellery and metal object d’art infused with love, as a stand against fast fashion and our throw away society.
Janine uses recycled and upcycled silver, hand fabricating the sterling silver she works with – literally melting and mixing pure silver with copper to make the much stronger and durable sterling silver.
“I love the challenge of working with sterling silver. Its much harder and more fragile than other metals like pure silver, copper or other alloys, but the delicacy required - working within what the metal can do, pushing it to be the shape I want while respecting the limits of the metal – it’s a dance, and each piece is unique. Not every piece turns out how I expect, but this is part of the creative process, and I’m often surprised and delighted.”
The dance of the silver smith, combining brute force and delicate shaping, is an opportunity for mindfulness, and Janine infuses her deep connection to the land and the natural world in the design and making of her work. Janine is well known for her exquisite cicada and dragonfly silver earrings, made with real insects - which have died naturally, of course.
“When my kids were younger, we would go exploring in parks for cicada shells, and the more interested we all became, and the more I learnt about them, cicadas especially seemed to me to be the perfect allegory for the creative process.”
“The cicada earrings are quite romantic, I think,” Janine says, and are really cherished by people – they’re symbolic of re-birth and getting your wings, and encapsulate the delicacy and strength of nature. They’re pretty special, and I love making them.” You can see Janine's cicada earrings here.
A career highlight has been Janine’s involvement in the Waterside Metal Art Blacksmith Festival. The bi-annual event brings together thousands of the passionate and the curious to showcase the art of blacksmithing. Janine co-taught the sold out womens-only blacksmithing Master Class at the most recent festival in 2019. “Just seeing all those women together, learning about black smithing, learning from each other, from myself and American metal artist Elizabeth Belz as Forge Master, was just so powerful. I hope we can build on this momentum, as I’m really passionate about building an empowered community of creative women working with metal.”
You can see Janine's Cicada Wing earrings here.