Something’s happening in Suttons Bay — the gateway from Traverse City to Leelanau. A new generation of entrepreneurs is on the move. As the Traverse City Record Eagle put it in April, “Eight businesses operated by relatively young adults have invested in various operations throughout Suttons Bay over the last 24 months, bringing a wave of new business owners to a traditionally older generation town.”
Now we have a ninth.
By Vaughn D. | Art Aficionado
Kelsey McQuown, a millennial from Frankenmuth who charms with a focused wit and intellect, is about to celebrate the grand opening of her jewelry-centered Moraine Shop & Studio, at 412 N. St. Joseph St., Suttons Bay, MI, on August 3rd. I sat down with her in her new space in order to figure out what’s what.
My main questions: Who is Kelsey? What’s the deal with her modern filigree jewelry? And what are the ambitions of this interesting new space, Moraine? And why is it called “Moraine”?
For whimsy’s sake, let’s start with the last question. She answers,
“This area is so influenced by glacial activity, historically speaking. That is why we have the Great Lakes and the dunes. And a moraine is a pile of rock and rubble of different sizes left behind by a glacier. Whaleback is a moraine. And there are hints of it at Windy Moraine in the national park.”
“On another level, it’s also kind of metaphorical. A lot of us live here because of those geographical features, and I think in a certain way the communities also are kind of left here because of the glaciers. We are gathered here because of that glacial activity.”
I loved that metaphor. Many of us Leelanau denizens are indeed a collection of rocks united by the force that brought us here and keeps us here. We’re gathered here thanks to the power of the landscape.
It’s a metaphor that also ties into Kelsey’s line of jewelry, KelseyGrape. The name comes from her sister’s childhood nickname for her, and she kept it because during stressful times, it connects her with her “childhood of trying new artistic pursuits and just sort of going for it and not holding back artistically. It’s a reminder that it’s about the art, it’s about the fun, it’s about sharing that creativity.”
Kelsey’s jewelry, though unmistakably modern — with “negative space, clean, simple lines, and asymmetry” — is mostly inspired by nature, and which often evokes beach rocks and flora and whatever grabs her attention while she’s hiking or chasing sunsets. Why do some people think modernism is incompatible with nature? Because they’re not zooming in enough…
“I’ve always been a big fan of macrophotography of plants, because I think abstracting, going so close that you’re taking a piece of nature just for its shape, and not for its context, can really open your eyes to a lot of what nature is – a lot of really interesting shapes but really clean simple curves and lines. I can’t walk down a path in the State Park or in Clay Cliffs or anywhere without stopping, and just one curve of just one branch of a fern is slightly different than I’ve seen in any other fern there, and that curve is enough to stop me in my tracks, and I have to take a photo of that plant, because there’s something special in that moment of how that one plant is interacting with the elements and its surroundings. So I think I zero-in on those little moments in nature, but at the same time zoom out to a more holistic view of the Great Lakes and this area.”
Little moments in nature…That brings me to the detail-obsessed minutia of filigree, the core of Kelsey’s current artistry. What is filigree? A dictionary tells me “Delicate and intricate ornamental work made from gold, silver, or other fine twisted wire.”
Kelsey explains it’s a “very traditional metalworking technique, dating back to 3,000 BC. The process is really hands-on. There are no shortcuts. You touch every part of the process, from making the wire to then using the wire to create pieces. All of the filigree wire I make is rolled by hand. I take a long piece of fine silver, double it over on itself, and I roll it between two pieces of wood – a soft wood on top and a hard wood on bottom. The soft wood catches the wire and creates the twist as you push it forward. When you see someone doing it, it’s mind-blowingly simple in appearance, but it takes a lot of attention, because wire can break if you over-twist it. You have to stop and know when to heat the metal back up to soften it. I can spend days just making wire, just to get to the point where I can start making a piece.”
Kelsey fuses the modern with the ancient, with an eye toward tradition.
”At most points in history, filigree was the way to get fine detail in a piece of jewelry. As more modern machinery and techniques were developed, filigree somewhat fell out of fashion because it’s so labor-intensive. There are these strongholds of filigree all over the world in different countries: in Ecuador, in Colombia, in certain parts of Russia. Malta. Yemen. And it’s usually a tiny little town that revolves around that art. But all of those places have a different take on filigree.”
“Two pieces of wood, a hand, and tweezers.” Oh, and “a torch to solder it, and a heat-resistant surface,” she says.
So, if you’re keeping count, we have six things needed for filigree. Six fairly simple things.
And I daresay the vision for Moraine also consists of six things…
Kelsey’s exquisite jewelry. And other hand-picked jewelry, art, and select home goods, many from people she knows…each with a story. And her plan to host make-and-take workshops and events starting in the fall, in which the community will be welcome to participate and partake in learning metal-working — no experience required. And also more focused sign-up sessions. And also just the incredible promise of the space in Suttons Bay, in large part thanks to the wooden table, seating ten, which Kelsey commissioned to be crafted by artisans in Traverse City.
We’re missing the sixth thing! I would say it’s the dynamism of Kelsey McQuown, who describes herself as “Just one person,” but who is obviously multiple — obvious to anyone who has met her.
If you’re interested in art and human beings, you might want to attend the Grand Opening of Moraine from 10am-6pm, Saturday, August, 3rd! From what I gather, fun is in the forecast.
Find Kelsey online at