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Monday, June 6, 2016

Widows & orphans antique rosary show

Stephen Miller Fine Jewelry to showcase local designer and religious artifact dealer

Stephen Miller Fine Jewelry will present “Mysteries of the Rosary,” a showing and sale of antique rosaries and medals with Susan Reeks of Widows & Orphans, from 10:30 to 2:30 p.m. June 23, at 6424 Line Ave.

Reeks is a local vintage jewelry “redesigner” and antique religious artifact dealer who will show her collection of rosaries and religious artifacts from the 18th century through the Art Deco period. Also featured will be select pieces from her vintage re-design jewelry collection. There will be a brief presentation on the history of the rosary at 11 a.m.

It was Carol Gardner, who has been with Stephen Miller Fine Jewelry for 25 years, who found the collection at a small sale at Reeks’ home in Highland, after having been neighbors for years. “I came to Susan’s house not even knowing that she does this, and I just fell in love,” she said. “It’s not just her jewelry or antique rosaries. I’m drawn to Susan and her knowledge and passion.”

Reeks began collecting rosaries a few years ago when she stumbled upon a rosary in a little shop at the Fort Worth stockyards.

“I came back to Shreveport and began looking for them in antique shops, but I just never see the old ones here,” Reeks said. “So I started looking for them on eBay. Now I get them from a few select dealers in Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and Germany.”

Reeks began to research and catalogue her finds, which include 18th and 19th century German Bavarian filigree cord rosaries and French pilgrimage pieces from Lourdes, France. There are also some early Prosser bead and Czech glass rosaries, as well as pieces with beads made from silver, lapis, coral, bone, carved wood and garnet glass.

“I think some of the rarer examples I have had include a first communion rosary from France, with the name and date of the communion on the back, and a Chartreuse Monastery rosary that had bone beads that had been dyed green with the exact herbs the monks use to make their famous liquor,” Reeks said. “But I have wonderful Jerusalem crosses, and a variety of crucifixes and medals, far too many to catalogue.”

“What I love about antique rosaries is, of course, the spiritual connection, but also how tactile they are,” Reeks said. “They are meant to be held in your hands, so you can feel the weight of the beads and see the finish as the light reflects off of them. They are true works of art.”

That status as historical artifacts is what found the pieces a new home at Stephen Miller Fine Jewelry. “My background is art,” owner Stephen Miller said. “I got my B.A. in English literature, and then I got a master’s degree in art. Then I got a master of fine arts degree in art, and I studied metalsmithing. So, I came from the gallery background. When I originally set up the store, I wanted it to be a gallery of fine jewelry with the emphasis on the art of it.”

“We’re just committed to being different,” Miller added. “I very much identify with being a local neighborhood jeweler. I identify with the art of jewelry. That’s my whole background, and we approach everything through that lens.”

Miller helped three generations of jewelry collectors in his previous location at Evangeline Square, but he just recently moved into a new shop built to his exact specifications across the street at 6425 Line Ave. The new location has delivered several things on Miller’s wish-list. “The first thing is natural light,” Miller said. “But the location is better and more accessible. I also feel like I’m the neighborhood jeweler. We built this place to fit into this neighborhood. I wanted it to be a South Highlands-type bungalow.”

“And we have neighbors who do walk here,” Gardner added. “We love that, and that’s what sets us apart: our attention to our customer. We listen, we listen, we listen. Then we try to implement exactly what they ask us to do.”

Also featured in the Widows & Orphans show will be Reeks’ Vintage up-cycle or re-design jewelry featuring English Albert watch chains, fobs and tassels. Reeks also makes necklaces out of cast-offs such as 1906 Lady Liberty pop-out repousse half-dollars and sterling silver baby teething ring charms that still bear the engraved names, dates and times the babies were born. “Each fabulous vintage piece I use to make necklaces and bracelets has a story,” Reeks said. “These hundred-year-old Albert watch chain necklaces would have hung on a man’s vest.

“English silver has such a yummy gray color and weight. Each link is hand-made and stamped with the lion passant or hallmark. Then I incorporate other watch pieces like fobs, T-bars, dog latches, old Queen Victoria coins or tassels as accents.”

“What amazes me is that Steve and Carol have seen everything the jewelry world has to offer over the past few decades, and yet they are still moved by my vintage finds,” Reeks said.

“Vintage is the root of what we do,” Gardner said. “I think today, much of the new jewelry is so much alike. Susan’s pieces are different, and when I pick them up and I hold them in the palm of my hands, they take me to a place of calm and peace and history.”

Miller pointed to one of the Widows & Orphans vintage re-designs Gardner was wearing. “That piece is all handchased repousse,” he said. “That was a coin that somebody pushed out from the back. I have an antique pen collection that is made using the same process. It’s that integrity of design that we love.”

“I am all about the character,” Reeks added. “I like the finish that time has given this world and its people and places – and certainly the vintage pieces that I find. It’s about the finish, color, texture and patina.”

“I think there’s always been an interest in vintage jewelry,” Miller said. “It’s hard to find pieces that aren’t worn out or that people haven’t manipulated in some way, like pulling out the really nice diamond and replacing it with a not-so-nice sapphire. We’ve always had lots of estate jewelry here, and we also have modern jewelry that has that vintage look because it’s more secure.”

As Reeks passionately explained the significance of some of the rosaries, from the humble and simple to the museum-quality rare, her passion was evident. “I could never sell something I don’t absolutely love,” she said.

“And we don’t either,” Miller added.

“In fact, that’s how Carol and I bonded.

We buy it because we love it. But Carol and I have talked about it a lot, and we feel that this the way God uses us. This is our calling.”


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