I first came across Legacy Collection on Twitter where it caught my eye. When I went to their page and saw the bio I knew I had to know more. Taking something that represents the hardship of imprisonment during South Africa’s Apartheid Era and turning it into something beautiful is what makes this collection of jewelry unique. Robben Island is probably most well-known as the prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. In 2009 the prison fencing was replaced during conversion into a museum. Artist Christ Swift saw the fencing being thrown away, got permission to keep it and turned it into beautiful artwork. Charmaine Taylor was inspired by this and Legacy Collection was born.
Recently mentioned in The New York Times, Legacy Collection is starting to make waves all over the world with it’s inspirational story. Here’s hoping everyone can get on board and live through their example of “inspired freedom.”
The Whole (S)tory (TWS): You were inspired for the Legacy Collection by an art series originally started by fellow South African artist, Chris Swift, what has it been like collaborating and continuing his work through your jewelry design?
Charmaine Taylor (CT): Chris Swift is a dear personal friend of mine. I loved the story of how he rescued the original fence from Robben Island that was written off as scrap metal and bound for a landfill in 2009.
At the beginning stages of the Robben Island Art Company & Trust (RIACT) (the fence supplier and now my business partners) created all their print marketing and point of sale through my graphic design business, so I always worked with the “fence guys.” Then I needed a creative change in my life and RIACT asked me to try something with their Robben Island fence. I started creating artworks that I loved out of the fence in 2013. Then I saw people not only wanting a beautiful piece of wall art, they also wanted to carry the story around with them so I created jewelry and the line has blossomed since then.
TWS: What does using the fencing from Robben Island in your artwork symbolize for you?
CT: My main creative concept and vision for Legacy Collection is:
“When you’re covered with love, grace, and forgiveness you transform a broken past into something beautiful. Legacy Collection symbolizes that while scars still remain, they also remind us of how peace and reconciliation was achieved in South Africa and can occur across our world.”
There is a universal beauty in a story of overcoming. It can be told and understood in any language across the world, anyone can relate. I never had the opportunity to meet the late great Nelson Mandela, but he is a man who will always be a shining light in this world. One of the greats who has ever lived. I’m so proud to say he lived in my time. I was a child of the old, and now a woman of the new South Africa. While we sill have our scars to bear, we have a beautiful story to tell of forgiveness, grace, love and peace.
TWS: Every piece is unique and after it’s shaped it’s encased in silver or gold, how do you think turning something that represents such a trying period of time for your country into something beautiful helps preserve history? What kind of stories do you want to tell through your work?
CT: I want my pieces of jewelry to represent stories of freedom. Each piece is unique in its grooves, ridges, and scars. This also represents the human race where each person has their own DNA, hurt, and personal tragedies to overcome. My pieces are also named in honor of our road to democracy. Each piece has a title and testament to the past, such as Grace, Mercy, Freewill, Choice and Justice. So when someone is wearing Release, Grace, or Love, it’s a beautiful reminder that while the past was dark and hurtful, good and light will still come in the end.
TWS: An inspiring aspect of Legacy Collection is 10% of all sales go to different organizations representing different aspects of South Africa’s further development. I always find it important to contribute to your community through whatever work you are doing, how has the collection itself further developed the surrounding area?
CT: I’m very passionate about organic farming and Legacy Collection supports Harvest of Hope in Cape Town, through this program farmers go are trained and able to distribute produce into the suburbs of Cape Town where they can get better money.
TWS: Legacy Collection was recently featured in an art show in Oslo, Norway. What was the significance of this collaboration? Who were the other artists involved and what did they bring to the table?
CT: Legacy Collection was invited by the South African Embassy in Oslo by Ambassador Queen Anne Zondo and Oslo Trend Magazine who did a beautiful spread on the Robben Island Fence Project. This was in celebration for Woman’s day (https://en.wikipedia.org/
We did a Mandela Day event in Cape Town (Mr. Mandela’s birthday, celebrated worldwide every year) where we celebrated his life and did something in our communities for someone else. We erected an installation, Nelson Mandela’s Cell built to scale out of the Robben Island fence, titled The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword. We then took this whole concept for Mandela Day over to Oslo, including the Mandela Cell.
In Norway I spoke on a panel of woman who are in the clothing and design industries. This was a mixture of Norwegian and South African designers who are making a difference in the fashion industry by creating fair trade, organic and upcycled art.
Norway was also very involved in the struggle against apartheid and they still have close ties to South Africa. The whole concept was very well received.
TWS: I really love the Inspired Freedom Collection. Can you tell us more about it and what you want to show through this series of designs?
CT: I am creating a new range (out in two weeks) where I am now showing the raw Robben Island fence in my designs. This is very unique and shows the rawness of what the fence once looked like. It is going to be mainly silver, white gold, gold and rose gold with one piece of small raw fence.
TWS: Coming from a background in design and marketing, what has the transition into being a jewelry designer been like?
CT: It was a VERY interesting process. I had to learn from my jewelry manufacturers how everything is made. I always say “every day is a school day” and have learned a lot about jewelry, how it’s made, and about the precious metal forming process. I started forming gold and silver over raw fence, it was a very tricky process due to the rusted raw fence. Nobody in South Africa did this intense thick forming process. I have had to import certain gold forming solutions from Germany and the UK.
TWS: What’s next for Legacy Collection and where can the readers go to purchase a piece of jewelry?
CT: I plan to get more into the international markets next year and do a lot more exhibitions with Chris Swifts installation of Nelson Mandela’s cell built to scale. Incorporating the South African diamonds into our range (conflict free) is where the collection is headed.
I plan to start using more jewelry students to assist in creating my fence jewelry. I would love to create more job opportunities in my local community through these processes.
You can purchase my jewelry on my online store where we ship internationally. Watch out for my launch in two weeks time of my new range using more of the raw fence into my jewelry designs.