A jewelry box full of shabby necklaces and rusty earrings may be seen as a pile of junk to some people, but Annette VanMeter sees potential. With enough inspiration and with enough time and effort, the local jeweler may just turn that collection of battered bling into works of art.

“People have jewelry boxes full of old jewelry and people don’t wear it anymore,” said VanMeter. “It’s not modern enough anymore, so I take that and redo it so people can wear it.”

VanMeter will display her jewelry at booth No. 59 during the Sioux City arts festival ArtSplash this weekend. There, guests can browse her collection of one-of-a-kind, upcycled vintage jewelry, like a navy enamel anchor necklace with gold tone accents and hand-wired beads sharing the colors of the American flag with a lobster claw clasp to hold it all together.

Or perhaps rhinestone earrings made from old, ornate spoon handles. Or a brooch made of a mountain lion tarsal bone. The latter appears to be a remnant of her time spent making skull, bone and goth jewelry. Lately she’s enjoyed making pieces from repurposed bracelets, pendants and other knickknacks from the 1950s. Whether a treasure is sparkly or rustic or a bit of both, VanMeter can add her own spin on it.

“I love that style, I love that time and I love anything that sparkles,” said VanMeter.

She sells her art under the shop name The Rusty Spiderweb, specializing in handcrafted jewelry that VanMeter makes in her home studio when she has spare time. And when you’re a mother and also working a full-time job as a surgical technologist at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, it’s hard to find the time to work on new pieces.

“So when I get home, I want to take a nap,” said VanMeter with a laugh. “Other times I’ll go down there to the studio and I’m just not feeling it. I’ll be tired or I’ll be thinking about something else that I need to get done. But I try to get down there when I can.”

When she does get a chance to tinker with jewels and beads and wires, VanMeter gets in the zone. Eclectic music reverberates throughout her house (she listens to everything from Cannibal Corpse to Johnny Cash to the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack).

She sits on her chair, swiveling from her worktable to her computer, hastily switching between songs. Inspiration fuels her movements. The wire twisters and wire cutters and her trusty Dremel tool work their magic. And sometimes she dances. She’s in her own little world. The kids or her husband will have to bang on the door with their fists if they want any hope of getting her attention.

VanMeter has been creating her repurposed works since 2011, but her jewelry making dates back much further. She taught herself everything she knows. A passion for it developed after purchasing jewelry kits and the right types of tools. She started out small by making “cheesy beaded bracelets.” Once she got bored with making items that she wouldn’t normally wear, she started experimenting with skull- and goth-themed trinkets.

“Then I started incorporating some of the vintage pieces into those [skull and goth] pieces,” said VanMeter. “And then it just escalated.”

Now she ventures to thrift stores or estate sales or browses online shops for vintage necklaces to take apart and reuse for her art.

“I try to use as many vintage pieces as possible,” she said. “The only new stuff I really use are the connectors to hold them together because they’re stronger and sometimes the chains are new. Sometimes people will give me their grandmother’s jewelry and then I can make something new out of it. Then they have something they can wear that they couldn’t wear before.”

This year won’t be the first time VanMeter has held a booth at ArtSplash. Ever since 2014, VanMeter has been displaying and selling her works from The Rusty Spiderweb at the local arts festival. She even earned the “Festival Favorite” honor that same year. Her art is also sold on Etsy, a website dedicated to handmade or vintage items and supplies, and has also been featured on consignment in select shops around New Orleans, VanMeter’s favorite destination.

And whether she’s making bone necklaces, goth jewelry, throwback ornaments or something else entirely, VanMeter can rest easy knowing she’s conveying her own unique style.

“Everybody says, ‘You might sell more if you made stuff like this or like that.’ I don’t want to. I like this. People like different kinds."

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Weekender reporter

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