Amy Solis is not just a jewelry designer, she is a “Manufacturer of small objectsAnd an artist. She saws, files, soda, polishes with care and makes each piece of hers shine.
In his garage workshop, Solis has set up a neat work area. Beside her stacked washer and dryer, a wire cloud sculpture hangs and sewn around a pig wrap.
“I played with corroded metal with that, it makes it green,” she said after apologizing for how the heat can bring out an odor in the casing (the sweet incense that floats in the air masked any possible unpleasant odor).
As she begins a demonstration of how she makes one of her pieces, as reporters watch and record, Solis walks nervously around her workspace, trying to remember the process of what she is doing. up to nine hours a day, six days a week.
She works on a 1 x 2 inch brass pin with looped letters and several intricate cut holes. Usually she does each step in batches, but this time she shows her process with one piece.
After the first step of cutting and pasting a paper template onto a brass metal plate, Solis dons safety glasses and pulls a tool out of his wall of hammers. She hammers impressions on the metal plate to create a guide and uses a dentist’s burr to create the holes.
Once that’s out of the way, she begins her favorite part: sawing.
âIt’s almost like coloring, you don’t have to think about it,â she says.
Passing a wire saw through the pre-made holes, she carefully cuts out the entries for each letter, slowly looping around each cursive lowercase letter: abolish.
Almost through the lower part of the “Pol (ICE)” block, its saw blade snaps into place.
“Some days I spend a ton, other days it’s just a ton,” she said, reaching out to thread a new blade through her jeweler’s saw.
Solis has been making jewelry for only two years, but she’s been creating things since she can remember. She and her family immigrated to the United States from Ecuador when she was 6 years old. Solis is undocumented and has always been told not to talk about his immigrant status while growing up in his conservative Christian family in Riverside County.
That’s why her jewelry still makes a statement now: “Sans-papiers”, “Queer”, “Abolish Pol (ICE)”, “They Them”
âI have been told to remain silent about a lot of my identity,â Solis said.
She began to learn the phrases for the problems she was having in college while taking feminist studies classes and studying fine art.
âIt blew me away to have all this language around, you know, there is the patriarchy and the misogyny and all these things that I felt like I had no language,â she said.
Solis recalled how shocked she was when she heard a student activist at a rally shout into a microphone, âI am undocumented and not afraid! She was not yet aware of her document status at the university, fearing that she would have to pay more for the courses than she already had to pay without financial aid.
She started working with activist groups like Long Beach GRRRL collective, shows and group learning sessions.
After college, she was able to get the DACA, a work permit for people brought to the United States as children. She worked full time for a nonprofit worker co-op, but found herself in front of a computer all day, not creating.
âI can’t find a greater joy than doing things with my hands,â Solis said.
So she made a plan to quit her job, she and her partner bought their house, and she started saving all of her money by taking evening jewelry entrepreneurship classes at Long Beach City College. She started working part-time for six months, then eventually quit.
She intended to sell her work at art fairs and events, then the pandemic struck.
Solis struggled to sell her work, which was mostly âcute stuff,â but says it wasn’t up to her standards now. To her, it was as if she lived two parts of her life separately: her activism and her jewelry making.
âThe pandemic really made me sit down and think about what I wanted my stuff to say and do, not just aesthetically,â she said.
Her first piece with this idea was bent wire earrings saying “gua gua chullita”, an Ecuadorian phrase meaning “a creative child”. After the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests against police brutality, she added other designs to her line.
She took a course in Adobe Illustrator and learned to design patterns that she could recreate with brass, copper, and silver. She slowly built her studio throughout 2020 having started out with just a small jewelry anvil and a saw frame – she just got fitted with a professional ultrasonic jewelry cleaning machine.
Solis said she creates with metal because she knows metal will survive her, but she also has hopes that one day she won’t need to make jewelry that makes a statement because being queer or undocumented will be more widely accepted and the use of different pronouns will be more standardized.
“If somebody comes across that random piece of metal that says’ they ‘in maybe 80 years and they say’ what are they? Why should you use it? âThen I succeeded,â Solis said. “I guess it just gives me hope that someday these things won’t matter anymore because we’re beyond.”