Pearls Of Wisdom

Alizah Greenberg

Pearls Of Wisdom
Words by Boyce Myers Images by Nicola Harger

Now an accomplished artisan and jewelry maker for her eponymous Alizah Greenberg Jewelry company, one would never guess by looking at her that as a child Alizah Greenberg swore off pearls. “The pearl is my birthstone. My sister’s is the diamond. Of course, growing up, I thought it was better to have diamonds than pearls!” Pearls didn’t fit into the image Alizah had of herself—they were too traditional, not her style —and so for nearly fifty years, she kept them compartmentalized as something that was simply not meant for her. She went about her life as though it were an unspoken rule of her personal fashion—Alizah didn’t wear pearls. It wasn’t until a few years ago that she began to reevaluate her relationship with the gem and came to a surprising conclusion: not only did she enjoy working with pearls, she actually enjoyed wearing them. Interestingly, Alizah’s journey as an artist and jeweler experienced a similar renaissance. “I never considered myself an artist—even now, I experience imposter syndrome.” Alizah spent the first part of her working life not as a jeweler, but as a special education teacher in a psychiatric hospital. After moving to Nashville and having children of her own, Alizah found it difficult to continue to pursue her former career. “When we moved to Nashville, I was initially going to look for a job in the same field and found that I just couldn’t. I felt compelled to find something for myself that was just bright and happy, and for good reason.” It wasn’t until she was nearly forty that she decided to venture into jewelry making, at the prompting of her sister. “My sister was always the creative one. When I expressed an interest in pursuing something for myself, it was she who pointed out I already had a knack for designing jewelry—I bought most of my jewelry at the time from a particular store in Nashville, and would often collaborate with the owner to get the piece exactly how I wanted. My sister said, ‘Why don’t you try doing it yourself?’” 

Art is fundamentally an expression of one’s inner self and one’s view of the world. Whether or not Alizah considers herself an artist, it is undeniable even to the most untrained eye that the jewelry she creates is nuanced and beautiful in a way that can only come from a lifetime of experiences. Each piece carries a part of Alizah in its creation. “Maybe it’s just a defense on my part, but I don’t ever make anything that looks perfect. I love all the cracks and imperfections, and when somebody sees a piece that I’ve made, they’ll know it was handmade.” All of her creations are a story that spans across multiple genres. Each one varies not only in the materials she uses—her pieces often combine more traditional metals and gems with more rugged, natural pieces such as bone and wood—but also because she often incorporates special items people bring to her. Alizah forges new life into old jewelry and sentimental items—sometimes by melting pieces down completely and other times by incorporating the original in a new and exciting way. One piece that’s particularly special to her is a ring she created featuring a money clip that belonged to her father. By transforming this sentimental token into a piece that she wears each day, she carries a bit of him with her wherever she goes. “I love making pieces that are a part of history, that have a feeling to them and some kind of tradition that is brought forward. I just think it feels great that way.” 

Alizah’s inspiration comes not only from the past, but also the present world around her, including nature. As a homeowner at Alys Beach, her appreciation for the grandeur of nature and its intersection with thoughtful design shapes her creative approach. Alizah and her husband have been coming to Alys Beach for many years now, and she often finds herself inspired by not only the beaches but her home itself. “I love the beaches and our house there. It’s one of the older houses, and I have all of these shelves filled with all of the things I’ve collected. Some of the things I’ve found are too big for jewelry, but I’ve made other projects, like a driftwood mobile, and it’s just beautiful.” She finds herself inspired by the natural and imperfect beauty of the world around her, and it’s this unhindered rawness that she seeks to emulate in her work. She often leaves the different stones and gems in their rough cut rather than filing them down to have smooth edges or perfect angles. “I don’t do casting. When you cast something you can have multiples of exactly the same thing, but I actually love the fact that even though I might make a ton of chains, for example, each one of them is going to be slightly different.” 

She allows the materials to speak to her and forms her design around what they naturally want to do. “I often look at a piece and think ‘Okay, how is that going to work?’ I love looking at it and trying to figure out how to get one piece to stick to another, or figure out how something will solder. Sometimes things work, and sometimes they don’t, but it’s usually a cool thing no matter what.” 

Part of her design process is the time that she allows herself to create each piece. “My husband is retired and we travel a lot, so it kind of just works that I can let all those things take time, and it’s better for me that way.” Often she’ll find herself leaving different projects on her studio bench until she has her “eureka” moment of inspiration, or revisiting seemingly complete projects and transforming them when they don’t seem quite right. She recalls a recent instance where this was the case: “I had melted down a bunch of gold and made a bangle. I wore it three times and it just wasn’t right ... so it was sitting in my studio for a while and it hit me. I made diamond bands out of it, and now I just stack them all up and made three rings and it looks great.” It’s clear from the way she speaks about all of her creations that she takes pride in her work, and goes to great lengths to preserve the unique elements of the materials she chooses. Alizah’s jewelry, similar to her own life’s journey in becoming an artist, holds beauty in both its discovery and rediscovery—discovery that she’s always held within her a sense of creativity and a connection with the natural elements in the world, and a rediscovery of meaningful moments in her life, being presented and preserved through this gift that is art. 

So often people categorize themselves based on who they think they should be; they put away their pearls. Alizah’s career is an example of what people might be capable of if they’re willing to push beyond their own self-imposed limitations. “I’m always shocked people think I’m creative, or that I’ve gotten as far as I’ve gotten, but I love it.” While it may still at times come as a surprise to Alizah that she’s carried creativity within her for decades, it is evident that it has been there all along. It has been made manifest through her many interactions with the world around her, and perhaps allowed her to see what was within herself more clearly. She has pulled out those pearls again and seen the beauty in them, not just because of what they are, but because they are hers.