Kelp jewellery making with pakana artist Aunty Vicki West


Image: a kelp jewellery making workshop with Aunty Vicki West at the Queen Victoria Art Gallery at Royal Park. 

Seated among a group of workshop participants at the Art Gallery, Tasmanian pakana artist Aunty Vicki West prepares to share her knowledge of contemporary kelp jewellery making.  

Kelp is an important material for many traditional and artistic purposes, notably the creation of jewellery, water carriers and clothing.  

When creating kelp jewellery, Aunty Vicki has a clear message to convey; the ongoing disastrous environmental impacts effecting deep sea kelp forests.  

"I studied at the University of Tasmania and started working with jewellery design in the early 90s," Vicki said.  

"When making my jewellery, I start by collecting the kelp that gets washed up on the shoreline of beaches--I never collect living kelp.  

"Most times, finding kelp washed up on the beach is pretty well guaranteed. For workshops, such as my recent jewellery making workshop, I will source washed up kelp and freeze this for participants to use. 

"By freezing the kelp it locks in moisture, allowing it to be moulded into shape easier once thawed out. Once you have created your design with the kelp, it can take up to a week to fully dry into shape.

"As the kelp dries, it's very common for designs to experience shrinkage. So, for instance, when making a kelp bracelet, you might choose to wrap the design around something circular to hold its shape and size through the drying process. 

"After the design has dried, it's common to use oils on the design to help maintain it in the long term." 


Image: kelp being used as part of a jewellery making workshop with Aunty Vicki West at the Queen Victoria Art Gallery at Royal Park. 

Traditionally used to create water carriers, the use of kelp in Aunty Vicki's jewellery practice is linked to a metaphor of survival. 

"The use of kelp represents survival because it was used traditionally to make water carriers that are essential for survival," Vicki said.  

"During this workshop, I wanted to share the message of just how important our natural environment is and to think about what is available in the environment around us."


Image: a bracelet design using kelp as part of Aunty Vicki West's kelp jewellery making workshop at the Art Gallery at Royal Park.

When asked why the key takeaway for participants of the workshop should be, Aunty Vicki said it's all about appreciating what's around us.  

"I want people to walk away with awareness," she said. 

"We have so much beauty in our environment and we need to be really respectful of the nature around us." 

This workshop was delivered as part of the Precious: excellence in contemporary jewellery exhibition program in 2023.