As a third-generation metalworker and the first woman in her family to pick up the trade, Emma Macchiarini is accustomed to balancing tradition and innovation. Growing up in San Francisco, she began making jewelry at the age of 11 under the tutelage of her father, Dan Macchiarini, and grandfather, Peter Macchiarini, who still run Macchiarini Creative Design in the North Beach neighborhood.
The Macchiarini men instilled in her that metalworking isn’t a high-minded endeavor but a practice, rooted in a physical relationship with objects in the material world.
“The physical practice of how to be in the metal studio, of how to hold the tools, how to sit at the bench, how to use a file, use the power tools — all that stuff I learned from them,” Emma Macchiarini says.
They also taught her the importance of accessibility to tools for people of all backgrounds and genders.
“When I was growing up in the ’80s, there was still a big difference between the way that you treated girls and boys [in metalworking] — and there still is to some degree,” she says. “But they never made too much of a big deal about that, which is really a cool thing.”
Finding the path
Though she didn’t feel pressured to carry on the family tradition, Macchiarini was drawn to metalwork early in her life, and her appreciation for the craft has only grown with time.
Part of the appeal, she notes, is the deceptive nature of metal. “It seems like it’s really hard, but actually it’s incredibly malleable and easy to manipulate and affect. It has this look of eternity, but you can make it into different forms and shapes,” she says. “And it’s beautiful. I think deep down inside, we’re all still just these monkeys who, when we see something shiny, we all go, ‘Ooh!’ So it appeals to that part of me, too, on a basic level.”
Macchiarini additionally earned an MFA in studio art and, largely independent from the family practice, learned how to make jewelry, which has become her primary focus.
“I don’t shy away from trying new things. I always try to make each piece somewhat of an adventure, and sometimes mistakes can point the way toward doing something a little bit differently,” Macchiarini says. “The process is the interesting thing to me — not just, ‘Oh, I want to make this.’ It’s more meandering than that for me.”
She also never makes the same piece twice, which sometimes causes issues when she applies to be in shows. Organizers, she points out, often want consistency across a body of work. But Macchiarini favors diversity, moving between cast and fabricated work, enamel and the Japanese procedure of mokume-gane.
“It can be challenging for some people when they look at my work and they want to see a body of work that’s consistent — but that’s not what they get,” Macchiarini says, with a laugh. “I’d say that’s a strong point for me.”
Relocate and restart
After establishing MetalworksSF in 2015, Macchiarini moved with her husband, Sean Morris, and children Hanna and Leif Morris to Asheville in 2020.
“I like the vibe here, the pace of life and down-home quality. It’s not snobby, but it still has a sophisticated vibe,” Macchiarini says. “There’s interesting artwork going on and people doing different stuff — not just the same thing that everybody else does. There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on.”
Leaving the well-connected metalworking community in San Francisco and starting from scratch in Asheville has presented some challenges, Macchiarini notes. But overall, she’s experienced a welcoming group of jewelry makers in WNC. She’s also enjoyed getting to know members of the local gem community and is impressed with the number of “rock hounds” in the area.
At her Mountain Metalworks Asheville studio in Biltmore Village, Macchiarini continues to design and create rings, earrings, bracelets and other wearable art — all with an eye to ethical sourcing, another value handed down by her father and grandfather. Noting that there’s “plenty of stuff above ground,” she tries to recycle metal as much as possible, and most of her goldwork features melted and reshaped gold that she gets from the customers themselves.
But Macchiarini’s signature offering may be her workshops for people who want to create their own wedding rings together.
“I get to meet people who are at this place in their life where they’re just starting out together at the beginning of a journey, and I get to be part of that exciting time,” she says. “Being willing to sit with people and go through the fire and the intensity of creating something that needs to last for a lifetime — it kind of has to be good. If it’s not good, they’re walking around with this wedding band that they don’t like, so it’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also definitely a special process.”
As for whether her 9-year-old daughter will become the fourth generation to carry on the tradition, Macchiarini is in “wait and see” mode. She describes her child as “sculpturally inclined” and brings Hanna into the studio for short spurts when she’s not at school or summer camp. The experience has given her daughter a head start over her peers, and while Macchiarini says Hanna’s making quality work, she doesn’t want to force metalworking on her.
“Really, it’s got to come from her,” Macchiarini says. “So far, she’s kind of lukewarm about the metal studio and spending hours and hours in there. So when she comes to me and says that she wants to do it, that’s the time when we’ll start doing it.”
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Editor’s note: This article is part of our feature Creatives in the Crowd, which focuses on local artists — both established and new. The feature spotlights unique stories and innovative artistic approaches within our creative community. Unlike much of our Arts & Culture reporting, these stories are not tied to upcoming events, exhibits or releases. The feature strives to represent a diverse range of voices, experiences and artistic mediums. If you’d like to nominate a community member for consideration, please reach out to email@example.com with the subject line “Creatives in the Crowd.”