We’re lovers of jewellery at Atlas, but we’re even bigger fans of it when it’s been created with love and passion. When Paddy Dickinson’s story of her brand “Totem Adornments” came to our attention, we could feel her love for her work immediately. We’re so excited to have been able to interview her about her brand, and share her story with you all.
Hi Paddy! Please tell us about yourself. Where are you from?
My father was a lifelong US army man. I was born in Atlanta, raised in Virginia and St Louis and moved to New York at 21.
What were you like growing up?
I was an introverted extrovert. I could laugh and muck about, but am basically quite reflective as a person and have always found that being in nature, having meaningful discussion, dancing about and reading were the things that brought me back to center.
Has art and creativity always been a part of your life?
It’s interesting because you go about your life doing what you need to do, often thinking you’re not creative. Yet, creativity has always been there. From the things you choose to learn about to the way in which you carry out your daily tasks, I think you develop this sense of mindfulness. In that way, what you do becomes an expression of creativity. That sounds terribly grand, and I don’t think I’m creative when I’m scrubbing out the sink, but I think that age does a wonderful thing where you discover creativity in yourself that you never realised was there before. It’s there sometimes, even when I don’t notice it. That is a wonderful surprise in my life.
You have a background in dance. Can you tell us why you love dance, and what drew you to it?
Dance for me was an essential. It was a way to get out of an often hostile and aggressive environment. There’s that wonderful song from A Chorus Line called ‘Everything Was Beautiful at the Ballet’. It was a lifesaver for me in many different ways. I could be seen for me, I could excel at something physical and I could create a world where order always kept chaos manageable and just that little bit exciting. I think it was my first real understanding of relationship, because you have to have a concept of your own boundaries as a dancer and a concept of another’s boundaries when you dance together. I think learning how you move both separately and together is a wonderful teaching to have as a young person.
You made a pretty dramatic move from dance to political science and communication at University. What made you make that change?
I was always interested in telling stories. I’ve always admired women like Katie Adie reporting from Tripoli – I loved strong women telling the stories that needed to be told. Kate was ferocious and seemingly unafraid to go into the most compromised situations. From my little front room, this seemed like the coolest thing anyone could ever do. There weren’t women doing serious hard news reporting, and she was my hero. Years later I got the chance to meet her. She inspired me that there is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it.
You lived in New York City in the 80s. What was it like to be there at that time?
Neon. Madonna. Fingerless gloves. Socks and high heels. Ridiculous makeup. It was the most fun, wonderful, crazy time to live in NY. I had a dream of working for the UN, which at that time under Regan, was all but shut down. By a crazy turn of fate, I got a job with Tom Freston at MTV and began one of the most rewarding and fun times of my life. At a point when politics wasn’t working, we were Live Aid and Amnesty International. Music was changing the world in a way that politics couldn’t. We were all kids. The eldest of us was maybe 30. It was the most creative hotbed I have ever been a part of. We had corporate money, fearsome motivation, great spirit and bags of talent. I feel incredibly grateful to have been a part of those first years of MTV. Many of us are still friends these 30+ years later. It was an extraordinary time with extraordinary people.
You later moved from the USA to the UK. How did the two countries differ, and did you find the move to be creativity stimulating?
I absolutely love the UK. From the moment I landed, it was home to me. I have lived here for nearly 30 years and don’t see that ever changing. I am a Celt. I have a special place in my heart for this landscape and its people. It is why I base my products and packaging here in the UK. I firmly believe that acting in a truly sustainable way entails working to support local, family-run businesses.
When did your interest in jewellery first start?
Like any woman, I probably began loving jewellery with my first breath. Playing dress up is something I still do. I am interested in what we find precious. I love the idea of adorning ourselves with what is precious and valuable to us. Some of my friends wear jewellery as almost moving, changeable stories around them every day. I love that idea that you can share a special story or quote of love and let someone know how much they mean to you. I think that reinforces the bond of love and friendship in a unique and beautiful way. That really inspires me on an individual and a community level. We can bond through jewellery, through story, through the preciousness of our everyday lives.
What was it about Bali that inspired you to begin creating your own jewellery?
Indonesia and its people are so beautiful and inspiring. I have loved every opportunity I had in working and creating these pieces. I think the love of nature, beauty, art and of life really comes forward when you spend time with people of deep and profound spirit. You become very aware of the impact of seeds, harvest and communities sharing the meagre supplies that they have, for the benefit of all. I am continually humbled working with people who are so generous in their spirit.
Tell us about Mala beads, and why they’re so special.
Mala beads are a beautiful and natural way of being mindful. These pieces are blessed throughout the whole of their creation and stringing process. The beaders bless the room first thing in the morning, they bless each piece as it is made and the High Priest then blesses them before they are shipped to the UK. Each step of the creative process is carried out as a blessing, which is so unusual for any kind of produced good. It is the sacredness and the beauty of them that has made them essential to the Totem line.
What is the idea behind “Totem Adornments,” your jewellery brand?
A Totem is a symbol of a tribe, clan or family, which was carved onto large wooden poles. These symbols celebrate the spirit, strength and wisdom of the individual, their ancestors and community. In aligning themselves with the virtues depicted in the different spirit animals, the person and the tribe all receive benefit.
Where did you learn to create jewellery?
It’s an ongoing learning process. I think it’s wonderful to try new skills out. Five years ago, I knew nothing about the process of jewellery making. Now I know much more and look forward to becoming more skilled and knowledgeable as time goes on. I’m not a trained jewellery designer – I am doing this out of a love for working with the deep stories of people, and trying to do that in a way that is respectful and meaningful. Trying to be artful and beautiful in that is an ongoing process.
What materials do you use to create your pieces? Why are they so special?
The first three lines are made from organic seeds, strung on silk and hung with recycled silver. The Story Weaves line is made from hand-woven rose gold chain hung with recycled silver leaves. I think that using seeds for luxury jewellery is unusual. These seeds are the finest, most delicate and most beautifully shaped that I have seen. You take on a living thing when you take on organic products. The seeds begin to take on the oils from the owner’s skin and become a real part of them. All of my friends become very attached to their malas and keep them for years.
Can you tell us more about the “Totem Foundation”?
The Foundation was a way that I could open up revenue streams for smaller, local projects preserving storytelling, which would probably not find funding from other sources. Imagine a project coming forward that helps record the story of people in hospices for their relatives. There are many worthy and inspiring projects around the country that celebrate stories of students, family members, hospital patients, artists, businessmen and women, people doing good work in their communities and so on. By offering these organisations to sign up, I hope to create a culture that celebrates the value of our stories.
What inspires you the most?
People. Every day, when I do my work, when I am a mum, or a wife or a friend or a co worker or a citizen, I think about how strong and how good people basically are. I know there are the exceptions, but in all the work and all the interactions I’ve had, I notice that people are basically decent, good, kindly humans that strive to impact the world in a good way. I see that every day in my children and my husband. That inspires everything I am. I see good people in the people that have come from me and from my community.
What’s your favourite piece from your collection?
My favourite piece is the story – the love that someone gives to another through giving the jewellery.
This entire collection, although it can only document story in a small way, was born out of a desire to give people a way to share their story. To give a person a way to let another know how much they mean to them and in a way that acknowledges the sacredness of our story and seed heritage.
When we launched, we asked two calligraphers to document a two-sentence story for each person who wanted to give that to a special someone. “Thank you for this weekend. You mean the world to me.” “You make me laugh so much, I can’t wait for this summer.” “Thank you for babysitting. We had the best night out.” “I love you. I sometimes don’t say that enough.”
What’s next for “Totem Adornments” and for yourself?
I am so happy and focused on what is in the now. What is next will roll out the way it will. Isn’t that the same with all our stories? I’d like to do this in an ever progressively deeper and more effective way. Libraries, National Archives, museums, oral history programs, local organisations. It will all happen. If you build it, they will come.
Where can our readers keep up with you and your work?
Tell good stories. Be kind to people. Champion those who don’t have the voice you have. Record the special stories of your life and the lives of those you love. Hear the stories of those you don’t understand. Try and be humble and empathic within that. It’s the most valuable thing we have.