Melanie Wahlen’s jewelry design company Reclaimed & Co. is truly a family affair. The Wahlens, a tribe of six, manage the business’ entire operation: Melanie’s husband Jay manages the company’s books and operates the drill press, twin daughters Hannah and Grace are responsible for packaging and shipping, daughter Abigail manages inventory and Lillian, their youngest, functions as the office manager.
“Lillian is really good at sorting. She likes all the shiny things,” Melanie added with a chuckle. “They’re really good with anything when it comes to the business. They’re good at keeping records. Abby helps me clean a lot in my studio … Grace is learning to be a photographer as well; she’s helping me take photos. They do have a good work ethic and that helps a lot. They like to help.”
Reclaimed & Co. uses locally sourced materials, and often those materials are found while the family is out and about in Door County.
“We hike a lot. We love Door County and living here, so we take full advantage of the parks and Crossroads,” Melanie said.
Many of those found items are repurposed.
“She likes to be really creative with it,” Jay observed. “I think people would find it interesting how many different things she’s been able to pull into some of the pieces…to look at her stuff and to know where the stuff actually came from.”
Some of the items Melanie has reused include an old antique Christmas ornament, buttons, leather strips, a buckle from a pair of overalls, and vintage metal bobby pins.
This repurposing allows Melanie to fill a special and rewarding niche: giving old jewelry and heirlooms a new lease on life.
“She gets a lot of custom orders from people who will say, ‘My grandma passed away and I have this jewelry – none of it is my style. Can you do something so I can still have something from my grandma?’” Jay explained. “And she’ll put something together.”
The jewelry in Reclaimed & Co.’s collection is created using this same recycling and repurposing philosophy. Some of the company’s most striking pieces come from its Isanti collection. The earrings and necklaces are made of teak cut into triangles and accented with wire wrapping and green and turquoise beads. The collection calls upon the region’s maritime history; the wood for the project came from Palmer Johnson Yachts, which closed its doors in Sturgeon Bay last year.
“When Palmer Johnson’s closed, they left huge stacks of wood outside. I frequent there; they always had extra wood and any artist/hoarder knows that that’s a good spot to get it,” Melanie said. “When they were closing, they had tons of teak that was marked for captain’s chairs. So I grabbed all of that.”
Taylor Havel, another local artist, collaborated with Melanie on the project by laser cutting the pieces into their final shape.
Melanie hopes to continue her maritime theme with a “beach mermaid” collection. The collection uses materials found at the beach, including shells and beach glass.
“That’s coming out really, really soon,” she affirmed.
One of the most challenging parts of working on these collections, Melanie explained, was following trends in the industry.
“I wouldn’t consider my work trendy necessarily, but I really like to follow fashion trends; that’s important. It’s so fast-paced and I really like that, but it’s very difficult also.”
Melanie is always working to expand her skills, gaining experience in subjects previously unexplored – blowtorches being among those mentioned. In addition to her work in jewelry, Melanie pursues painting and photography. Her work will be on display at Glas Coffeehouse from August through September.
Melanie explained that her experience working with galleries has been one of the most fun elements of the entire endeavor.
“I sold my work in a few places, like The Flying Pig and then Greco Gallery and Sourced when they were open,” she said. “I really like selling in galleries, that’s really my favorite to see. I sell a lot online but it’s really nice to see locals that fall in love with my work too. That’s special – small-town special.”
Melanie Wahlen’s work is available online at reclaimedcojewelry.com.