Local Jewelry Artist Clare Mills
Inspired by nature and beauty, Louisiana native Clare Mills designs jewelry to make women happy
article by Ariel King
Louisiana’s bayous and swamplands have helped the state earn its nickname “Sportsman’s Paradise.” They also have served as an inspiration to artists for centuries. For Shreveport native, Clare Mills, nature and the world around her has served as one of her biggest inspirations.
Mills is a jewelry designer that got her start creating her products in northeast Louisiana about eight years ago, but she has been a creative soul for much longer. Mills’ love affair with all kinds of art began at five years old when she brought a drawing of a frog home from school. Her parents were so proud of her creation that, instead of the standard display spot for children’s art — the refrigerator —they chose to hang it in a front window of the house for the world to see.
Mills saw how her art affected her parents and making them happy made her happy. It was then that she embarked on her journey as an artist and began creating everything from paintings to embellished birdhouses.
Like many other successful and unique artists, Mills found her signature style and turned heartbreak into her best work yet. By her early twenties, Mills was married and had amassed a large collection of art supplies and machines to help her create her work. A few years after walking down the aisle, Mills lost all of it in the midst of a divorce. But like the powerhouse songstress Adele, Mills channeled the breakdown of her relationship into an opportunity.
Naturally, she used artistic expression as a form of therapy in the months following the separation and — since supplies for making jewelry are cheaper than other art supplies — Mills began using jewelry as a medium for her creative outlet. She really liked the idea of creating art for women that could make them feel more beautiful and that they would be able to carry with them throughout the day.
“I feel that there is so much beauty within all of us,” Mills said. “Within every woman, there’s something that needs to be tapped into, and it’s the true beauty of a woman — the true heart of a woman. I want to bring smiles to people’s faces and warmth to their hearts.
“I know that sounds like a Hallmark card,” Mills laughed. “But I really love people, and I love what a piece of jewelry can do for a woman to just make her day, week or whatever it may be. Just to make her feel special.”
The first design she created was a pair of beaded chandelier earrings, and those earrings were good enough to get the attention of someone who opened many doors for her.
Mills sported her new earrings on a trip to the now defunct Shreveport location of String A Bead to get more supplies to make jewelry. While Mills was shopping, the owner of String A Bead — who just happened to be visiting from the flagship store in New Orleans — loved the earrings and was impressed that Mills had learned how to make jewelry just from reading a single pamphlet.
“She said, ‘You seem to have a knack for this. Would you like to sit down and learn a little more?’ and it just snowballed from there” Mills said. “I was in there every day after that and just in heaven. It felt so good, and it was so what I needed at the time. I feel like God really just placed the right things in my path at the right time.”
Jewelry design quickly went from hobby to a passion for Mills, and she has since turned it into a successful career. Mills began traveling to Arizona annually for the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show to get higher quality materials for her jewelry and she hand selects every stone that goes into her one-of-a-kind, handmade pieces.
Mills jewelry frequently incorporates interesting and rare accents as well. Just a few examples of these are: a bracelet design that includes an actual fossil; the “Stalactite Burst” necklaces that use slivers of geodes in their design; and pieces that use what Mills refers to as “religious metals,” which depict religious symbols and figures from the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, as well as Buddhism and other religions. It can be difficult for jewelers to track these kinds of supplies down, but Mills will search far and wide in order to create the perfect piece.
“I have antiques dealers in Buenos Aires, Belgium and Russia,” Mills said. “I get them from all over the world. (Religious medals) are actually our pieces that do the best –obviously, most of our pieces are one-of-a-kind — but definitely, the locket-style pieces from the late 1800s to early 1900s are really, really cool.”
Mills prides herself on the fact that no two pieces of her jewelry are alike. Mills is inspired by natural beauty, and because the majority of her materials are formed in nature as opposed to a lab, each stone, metal and fossil she uses in her designs has its own unique flaws and characteristics — much like the women she designs them for. She believes that the sale of each of her pieces is predestined and meant for a specific woman.
“I like to consider that my buyers don’t pick the jewelry but that the jewelry actually picks the buyers” Mills said. “I like to think that it speaks to them and calls them by name and says, ‘I am yours.’ That’s really my mantra and the running theme through my jewelry.”
Mills was not content with just being naturally gifted in jewelry design. She wants to be the best at what she does, and in order to accomplish this goal, Mills uprooted her life and moved to Carlsbad, CA in February to attend the prestigious Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
Mills is currently attending school full-time and will soon obtain her Gemology degree from the Jewelry Design and Technology program at GIA.
Even with full days of school and exploring her surroundings on the West Coast with new friends, this Louisiana native’s heart is still completely committed to creating new designs and maintaining her brand. Mills receives help assembling pieces from a couple of associates back home, but she is still the brains of the Clare Mills Designs operation and hasn’t let the stress of her new life slow down her production. She creates new designs constantly and — at the very least — releases new collections seasonally.
Mills’ pieces currently in the works include more precious stones. She aspires to create pieces like those produced by one of her major jewelry design influences Kimberly McDonald — who uses geodes like Mills does, but sets them off by incorporating diamonds and other gems.
Things are looking up for Clare Mills, and her designs are currently being carried in three different stores in Louisiana (McCary’s Jewelers Inc. and Absolutely Abigail’s in Shreveport and K-Sera Boutique in West Monroe) and, as of late, a new retailer in California. Her pieces are also available for purchase on her website www.claremills.com and she regularly posts updates about new designs to her company’s Facebook page “Clare Mills.”
Mills is optimistic about her company’s potential for future growth, but for now she is just grateful for the opportunity she has been given to hone her craft.
She looks forward to creating art that makes people happy and makes women feel beautiful.
“I feel so blessed to have this opportunity, because GIA is a world-renowned institution,” Mills said. “And with all the doors that have been opened for me, I feel so fortunate and blessed to be able to pursue my dream further.”