A recent posting on the Facebook page for the Danielle Gori-Montanelli Studio shows a photograph of the artist as a little girl clad in a romper and sandals, her face playfully covered with floral decals.
The caption? “I’ve been crazy for flowers for a long time!”
Indeed, the artist’s work in felt is filled with flowers and leaves but also plenty of candy – licorice allsorts are a trademark – as well spring hats, crayons, birds, fruits and more geometric motifs such as waves and links.
It’s all a sweet spin on jewelry’s more traditional glittering mode but no less creative.
“I guess the licorice was a turning point in my life,” Gori-Montanelli says, crafting a sentence you certainly won’t hear every day.
Indeed, for Gori-Montanelli, who switched from metal jewelry to felt some dozen years ago, coming up with the candy-based theme was a design breakthrough.
“When I finally got it, I screamed,” she says, having translated her grandmother’s beloved candy into part of her livelihood.
Customers have been equally delighted, turning these wildly colorful licorice-themed pieces into instant bestsellers.
“It’s funny,” she says. “I feel like it’s been my bread and butter for three years now. … It has touched such a nerve. I think it’s the nostalgia.”
And it’s also a glimpse into various twists and turns of her creative life.
Gori-Montanelli, who grew up in Potomac, Md., went to Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers to study painting. One day she saw a poster advertising a year abroad in Italy.
“I remember walking through the hallway,” she says, when the images of “little golden rooftops” from the 12th century caught her eye.
“I saw that poster and I was so moved. It changed my life.”
Gori-Montanelli would go on to spend her junior year in Italy, where she studied painting. She was also involved in jewelry during her college years, taking a jewelry-making course in Danbury, and would find early success following a chance encounter at Julie Artisans Gallery on Madison Avenue.
“I walked in there with my mother, and they looked at the pin I was wearing,” and were hooked. Julie Artisans would go on to carry her work until last year, when the gallery shut its doors after some 40 years. (Today, Gori-Montanelli’s pieces are among the offerings at Marimekko in Manhattan.)
Gori-Montanelli – then using her maiden name, Berlin – built a strong reputation during 15 years in metalwork, her figural works with moving parts and unique themes earning her much attention. She was exhibiting at the finest craft shows and finding success, eventually ending up back in Italy, where she would live in Florence for more than a decade. It was a homecoming of sorts for her husband, Lorenzo Gori-Montanelli, who had moved from Milan to New York at age 11.
It was during this time that Gori-Montanelli not only became a mother – but also had a monumental switch in her work.
“Basically, I got pregnant,” she says. “It’s as simple as that. I knew I was having a child and I wanted to get away from the blowtorch and chemicals.”
Choosing to work with felt seemed natural.
“At the end of every craft show, if it went well, I would buy myself a felt hat.”
And soon, she began to think she could make felt her own medium.
After “15 years of just silver, one color, well, silver and bronze, it was so exciting.”
Her early pieces tended to focus on nature.
“They were very organic. They were leafy shapes and polka dots. Very fun.”
She continued to develop her signature look, eclectic bursts of colorful designs and now sells her necklaces, pins, collars and hats not only at shows, but also online through her own site and others such as ArtfulHome.com.
Home base is now Middlebury, Vt., where she lives with her son, daughter and husband, a filmmaker and photographer who has taken on the business side of her work.
The circuit of prestigious craft shows – spring has already included stops at CraftBoston and the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C. – has also brought Gori-Montanelli to the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan. In October, she was again showcasing her work amid a selection of jewelry artists from around the world at “LOOT: MAD About Jewelry 2013.”
She was also in Westport for CraftWestport in November, her work striking a chord, says Stacey Jarit. She’s the director and founder of Artrider Productions, which puts on CraftWestport and other shows, including Crafts at Lyndhurst in Tarrytown. (The spring edition is May 2-4).
“From the moment I saw her work, I went crazy because she’s so incredibly special,” Jarit says. “We see hundreds of new artists each year, and Danielle is one of the most exciting. She possesses the special creativity that pushes great artists to constantly explore new things and reinvent themselves and their art.”
Shows serve to bring Gori-Montanelli’s work to a wide and savvy audience, and she’s always happy to discuss her process with customers.
Her method is most laid-back, as she rarely plans it all out in advance. Usually, she’ll just grab some felt and start cutting. The felt, she shares, is primarily 100-percent wool designer felt sourced in Europe.
“It’s really, really beautiful,” she says, adding she uses quite a lot.
In fact, one company in Germany so values her business they send her a bottle of Champagne every year.
Gori-Montanelli cuts most pieces by hand, though she has begun using dies for the more geometric shapes. She most often sews, but sometimes glues, the pieces together. It is, she says, time-consuming and hard on her wrists.
But when she’s at a show, she realizes once again just how much she enjoys it all, especially connecting with people.
“I love being at a show and talking to the people,” she says, adding with an infectious laugh. “You get compliments and money all day. It’s great.”
For more, visit studiodgm.com.