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Made in St. Louis: Former flight attendant is inspired by art from Africa
Made in St. Louis

Made in St. Louis: Former flight attendant is inspired by art from Africa

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Strong hands wrap bright fabric around sculpted heads of handsome women.

“I never wrap the same way twice,” artist Debra Ware says. “Each tiny wrap and fold that I make on these small pieces is an exercise in patience.”

She doesn’t bemoan the fact she cannot control the outcome; she embraces the individuality of each piece.

The wrapped heads grace her cuff bracelets, earrings and brooches. The pieces celebrate women all over the world who look like her. Ware values the importance of representation.

“When I was working as a flight attendant, I collected all kinds of jewelry and beads from around the world. In 1990, I bought a piece by artist Coreen Simpson that really impacted me.

“I have always loved cameos, but when I looked at cameos I never saw my face reflected back to me. When I saw her black cameo for the first time it took my breath away,” she says.

Small hands and the magic of a jewelry box • Ware’s love of jewelry began in childhood. “I have loved jewelry since I was a little girl digging through my mother’s jewelry,” she says. “I loved watching her get dressed for church on Sundays because with jewelry, shoes and a hat she would transform a basic outfit into something magical, transforming herself in the process. She looked taller and regal and beautiful.”

Today, Ware designs jewelry that is invested with meaning in each considered component.

Taking flight • “I always made jewelry as a hobby,” she says. “When I worked as a flight attendant, I would make jewelry in my down time and sell it to my team members.” After she retired from the airlines, her jewelry work continued, but with a new intensity and focus.

After a short stint as a corporate paralegal that didn’t work out well, Ware took a breather to reassess her future and recover her battered equanimity.

“I started making jewelry. It was fun, it was healing, it brought me joy, and I wanted to share that with people. I took a step of faith. I started selling online with my Etsy shop, then I began doing popup events,” she says. Fierce Love Soul was born.

The hand of Miriam • Ware hand selects each bead, gemstone, symbol and component of her pieces with focused intention. “I traveled all over the world when I worked for TWA. I think that’s what gave me such an appreciation for different people and cultures,” she says.

“I like using pieces like the batik bone from Kenya and Ghana, and hilltop silver from Northern Thailand; things that have been made the same way for generations. I know the meaning behind each stone and gemstone I choose,” she says.

Ware incorporates age-old Adinkra symbols from the Asante people of Ghana in her work. She often integrates the Hand of Miriam, a symbol said to represent the hand of God. Its meaning is twofold: The amulet offers protection as it opens minds and hearts to the universe.

Living through chaos • During the pandemic, Ware concentrated on production, hampered only by delays in deliveries of supplies. In this later time of racial unrest, turmoil and grief, her work centers her.

“I’m heartsick about recent events. My biggest challenge is to keep my heart open. We see injustice, violence, hatred and depravity in our world, but there is also so much goodness,” she says.

Ware believes the qualities that make us human include the ability to love, to show compassion and to be creative.

“Making jewelry is one of the tools that helps me stay connected to my humanity and reminds me to honor the humanity in others. When I look at the beautiful components that I use in my designs, I remember my connection to the Earth and its people.

“It is very important to me to create jewelry that helps each of my customers celebrate their unique beauty,” she says.


Fierce Love Soul

Artist • Debra Ware

Age • 66

Family • One daughter, Shannon

Neighborhood • Shaw

What she makes • Ware handcrafts statement jewelry using natural gemstones, lead-free brass, silver and unusual elements, charms, beads and other wares from artists around the world. Her pieces include earrings, cuff and bangle bracelets, chokers, necklaces, statement pieces, pins and more.

Prices • $18 to $75

Where to buy • Ware sells nationally through from her Etsy store (etsy.com/shop/FierceLoveSoul) and locally at special popup events throughout the city. Follow her on Instagram @fiercelovesoul to preview her newest designs and follow her popup event schedule.

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