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Sustainable, natural jewelry artist Deborah Kerr at Deer Path Art League Gallery

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From the dawn of time, we, humans, have decorated our bodies with exotic objects from nature. Early humans started by donning necklaces made from the bones, claws and teeth of slain animals. In more modern times, when we think of exotic, natural jewelry, shiny pieces of corals, pearls and precious or semiprecious stones come to mind. But more recently, some of the most unusual and striking jewelry in the world comes from plants. In fact, in terms of aesthetic beauty and intrinsic value, plant jewelry may rank as high as any gemstone.

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Chicago's Deborah Kerr is a Brazilian born sustainable jewelry designer whose jewelry collection is made from natural, plant-based materials harvested from her native country. Sustainable jewelry is jewelry which has been produced using socially and environmentally responsible practices and methods. These practices begin at the harvesting stage and continue through the design and production process. "I have been traveling to the Brazilian rain forest over the past 15 years. During my trips I’ve learned about the wide variety of plants and trees found in the forest and, in particular, in the Amazon region" said Kerr.

Kerr's travels have proven deeply inspirational. "[On my trips], I’ve come in close contact with the indigenous groups of several regions and have learned about their rituals and celebrations. Every detail of their daily lives has been a revelation. From the patterns in the clothes they sew to their body paint to their tools and their basketry and pottery. These trips inspired me to start designing jewelry pieces using indigenous seeds, nuts and pods. This started about six years ago with the objective of creating unique hand-made pieces" says Kerr.

Today, Kerr includes a vast array of plant-based materials in her work. She uses the semilla, or seeds, of unusual plants with truly exotic names like huayruro, camajuro, abrus, and acai. Kerr makes use of the bat pollinated sea bean, which in Spanish is called "ojo de buey" because of its striking resemblance to the eye of a bull. Kerr incorporates the nickernut seed (nicker is an old English name for marble) which was used by natives as an amulet to ward off evil spirits and had other magical powers including a cure for dysentery. Kerr employs mescal beans, coral bean seeds, seeds from the soapberry tree, guanacaste seeds, precatory beans, jimsonweed seeds -- to name only a few. Kerr's unique, closed loop and exotic collection of plant-based jewelry promotes compassion, socially responsible working conditions, and fair labor practices for her native suppliers. According to Kerr, "by purchasing materials directly from various indigenous groups, I’ve been able to contribute to the local economy and create a sustainable art jewelry business".

Deborah Kerr's sustainable, wearable art collection is currently on display at the Deer Path Art League Gallery, Gorton Community Center, 400 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest, IL, now through February 14, 2014.

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