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Gilded Memories

October, 2023

Read project description from Unconformity festival here

I’m a jeweller: making beautiful things is my passion. I love the stories of jewellery, and of the people who made it, and wore it. I came to Queenstown in 2021, when I became custodian of the former Uniting Church on Dixon St. I could sense the history everywhere. This curiosity led me to the Queenstown library. There I saw something that seemed to have almost been waiting for me to discover it: a magnificent necklace that held a lifetime of collected charms. I was entranced.

The necklace was that of Marion Oak Stage, who arrived in Queenstown from Colorado in 1895. Marion was married to Robert Carl Sticht, the metallurgist who transformed the region when he became manager of the Mount Lyell mine, overseeing the transition to copper extraction. The story of Marion and Robert is entwined with that of Queenstown’s earliest days. They lived and raised a family in Penghana, one of Queenstown’s most magnificent and significant homes.

Robert gave Marion the necklace in 1905, as a tenth wedding anniversary gift. The necklace grew over years as charms were added to it.

Robert died in 1922. Marion was forced to vacate the fabulous Penghana: it was to become the home of the next mine manager. She carried the necklace with her; in a way it was all that remained of the life she and Robert shared. She endured a dramatic shift in life, ending up in a shack with a dirt floor in Balfour, with Ethel, the maid from Penghana by her side. Marion became ill. A move to Melbourne could not save her: she died there in 1924.

The necklace vanished from history when Marion did; it may have been gifted to Ethel. It resurfaced, bizarrely, in Atherton Antiques, Queensland. Frances Herriot became its custodian, and she deduced its Queenstown origins. Frances and her husband Bruce visited Queenstown after keeping the necklace safe for 25 years. Chance led them to the West Coast Wilderness Train, where the patter of the steward made the final connection needed: a pink enamel map of Tasmania had borne the inscription MOS RCS.

Marion and Robert.

The necklace came to Tasmania, purchased by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Staring at it, an idea emerged. A new necklace, modelled upon this old one. Marion’s necklace told of love and life on the West Coast a century ago; a new version would create a connection from then to now. Working with The Unconformity, I set about creating a new charm necklace, collecting stories about the town, slowly and reverently creating new charms. I made twenty-seven in all; the twenty-eighth was constructed by resident Queenstown jeweller, Yvania Bartholomeuz.

The necklaces sat together, old and new, creating a bridge through time of glittering stories and a strong community.

I felt humbled and fortunate to have done this work; it’s a culmination of everything I believe jewellery can do and be. It’s a great privilege to have created this homage to Queenstown, and to celebrate Marion once again. 

Click here for the detailed guide for each charm


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