People are often products of their environment. And it’s not until they are removed from that environment that they discover new passions. That’s exactly what happened to jewelry maker Alex Tadder when he moved to Michigan to pursue his post-secondary education.
“I’m originally from urban Illinois, the suburbs of Chicago. I grew up in subdivisions full of cookie cutter houses and never really had a deep connection with nature,” he explains. “It wasn’t until I moved to Marquette, Michigan to go to University that I felt that connection.”
As his love for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan strengthened, Tadder’s passion for nature deepened. He decided to leave the country to experience more of the world. And that’s how he stumbled into jewelry making.
“While on my travels, I came across this farmer’s market on the east coast of Australia. There was a booth with these nature sculpture pieces and I happened to notice this pinecone piece that I took with me,” he explains. “It inspired me.”
After being moved by this pinecone art, Tadder decided to shift his life and focus on making a living creating jewelry inspired by nature. That’s how his business, UP Pinecones, began. (UP stands for Upper Peninsula – in reference to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.) It’s definitely not the direction he thought his life would take!
“If you would have asked me years ago if I was going to be making jewelry right now, I would have said ‘probably not’,” he laughs.
While he found a jumping off point from the sculptures he saw in Australia, the way he uses pinecones is quite unique.
“I started coming up with these ways of cutting up the cone and preserving it. My friends, family and community started to notice the simplistic beauty of it and started to support me.”
At first, Tadder was using other resins but he was uncomfortable with the toxicity of these harmful products. And, because he didn’t have a workshop, and the winter climate in Michigan is so cold, he couldn’t easily ventilate his workspace. That’s when he discovered EcoPoxy.
“I was working with resins where you’d open up the bottle and you could see the vapors rising out. I was terrified to even get it on my skin,” he says. “I quickly realized I had to search for a better alternative. That’s when I found EcoPoxy.”
While his health and safety were a main priority in his craft, he also needed products that would allow him to preserve the pinecones while making them durable.
“It’s great because there are all these different options of consistencies with EcoPoxy,” he says. “Pinecones are really strong and they just do what they naturally want to do which is open up even with the coat of epoxy on it. The thin Clear epoxy seeps into the core and solidifies it. Then I cover it with the UVPoxy which is thicker. That gives it the scratch resistance and protects against the UV.”
Currently, Tadder makes a living creating his nature-inspired jewelry. He sells most of his work at local arts and crafts shows and music festivals, and plans to travel to more locations this summer. You can also see his amazing work on Facebook, and in his Etsy store.