creek van houten has been on a lifelong scavenger hunt of sorts—collecting keys, coins and odd bits of ephemera since she was a kid. luckily, though, this finder isn’t a keeper– her line of steampunk and victorian-inspired adornments are made with flea market foraged pocket watches, uniform buttons, watch chains and skeleton keys. she’s also willing to share a secret or two about what makes her lovely line of found object jewelry tick….
i have a really long name – lia creek jeannette hull van houten, but i’ve gone by my middle name, creek, for the last 15 years (having a lot of names is a dutch tradition).
my mom was born in rotterdam and came to california with my oma and opa in 1953. i grew up in the woods south of san francisco, and spent my 20’s in santa cruz working in the non-profit sector in organic agriculture. i loved the passion, but i burned out.
in a 2 month whirlwind– i applied and got into a business school in the netherlands, witnessed the serene and difficult death of my mom, left my sweetie and jumped into two years of living and working overseas. when i came back to california to marry the previously mentioned sweetie, i spent a long year looking for jobs and trying to figure out where i fit. when my etsy shop took off, i stopped looking!
now my husband and i live just north of san francisco, where we have a nice soldering shop and take breaks in our garden. when not working on the jewelry business, i’m working on starting a small beer business with my husband… but that’s another story!
what do you make or do?
steampunk jewelry and victorian-inspired adornments for women and men. i work almost exclusively with antique objects– mechanical pocket watches, antique watch chains and victorian fobs, antique buttons, skeletons keys, escutcheons, railroad uniform buttons, and other vintage finds.
this year, i launched the antiquity collection– made with authentic victorian fobs, gold-filled watch chains and semi-precious gemstones.
much of my work falls into steampunk or victorian, but my work is understated. i aim to have my collection wearable with a corset, dress, or suit.
where can we find your creations?
how long have you been creating and is it your full-time job?
i took the leap at the end of 2009. i had been making jewelry and stained glass for about 15 years, so i decided to make upcycled victorian button and watch jewelry for my own wedding party.
people began requesting pieces and encouraged me to try etsy. i went for it and began approaching galleries. the reception has been fulfilling in a way that i did not anticipate – building a loyal community of customers has been a delight.
now i work about 9-14 hour days, but i love it. at some point, i’ll need to learn to delegate– but i currently do production, web design, accounting, etc. my husband recently started helping with photography and soldering to keep up. we work really well together.
when you’re not making things, what do you do?
i like to have my feet dirty and soil under my nails. gardening brings me the most calm and gratification in my off-time. it’s a real challenge to find time to stop – given the endless nature of my work.
is creativity a luxury or a necessity for you?
both. at this point, i’m not sure i could work for someone else again!
in the first year, i had to shift and learn to enjoy the creative outlet and develop efficiencies in production and supply ordering. at some point, i’ll need to think about hiring some production assistants.
what obstacles have you had to overcome to lead a creative life?
it’s been a long journey to feel confident as an artist. i think of myself more as a maker. getting out, doing shows and getting feedback from my consignors and customers has helped me grow into this identity.
my consignors have helped me a great deal with pricing, mostly by raising prices to value the craftsmanship of my work and to assist in supporting a living wage.
it’s a challenge to compete with made overseas and hobby prices (folks with low prices just trying to cover materials)…. but having confidence in my pricing (and a very complicated spreadsheet) has helped find a reasonable place.
did someone in your family, a friend or teacher introduce you to your creative side or have they helped you along the way?
my dad is a native san franciscan who practiced dentistry for 20 years. he then became an inventor– making a living with a swim fin and small rodent exercise wheel (both of which sell internationally).
he taught me that with hard work (and cultivating the skills you love and are good at) it is possible to work for yourself.
i grew up playing in sawdust piles in his machine shop – and he instilled in me a confidence in technology…with a computer or drill press.
where do you find inspiration?
my dutch family has had the most influence on my creative aesthetic. growing up surrounded by old things – a sense of a lives lived before – is at the center of my family and what i do.
i’ve been a collector and scavenger my whole life, filling treasure boxes with old keys, coins, and papers – remnants of older times. i love scavenging – whether it’s shells on the beach or good finds at a flea market.
i like the weight of old things- the invisible but palpable change i feel wearing antique pieces.
if money wasn’t an issue, how would your life change with regards to your art?
i would go on frequent buying trips to flea markets in paris and amsterdam.
what would be your perfect day off?
actually having one…