MEET | NORA ANN McCARTHY

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We had the pleasure of meeting Nora at one of our events and it is through that introduction that we've connected with Lillstreet. From day one we noticed her amazing taste in jewelry, so we weren't surprised to learn that Nora is the Jewelry Curator at the Lillstreet Gallery. With a passion and drive toward beautiful things her keen eye translates into gorgeous displays and creative shows. We were lucky enough to make it to the latest reception, Ring It On, and we can't wait to continue watching what Nora does to take jewelry to the next level. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
I grew up in Rogers Park, Chicago with amazing parents who always encouraged my creative interests and three older brothers to keep me tough. I earned my BFA in Metalsmithing from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, worked some odd jobs and then fairly recently started working as the Jewelry Curator in the Lillstreet Gallery. I’m seriously obsessed with jewelry so this is pretty much my dream job. Outside of Lillstreet Gallery, I am also an artist assistant for Christy Klug but that “job” is more fun than work. Christy is the coolest and she has an adorable 4 month old puppy named Mabel and we blast music and make her beautiful jewelry.

Walk us through a typical day in the life of Nora.
Waking up is very difficult, I love sleep and am not a morning person. My dogs don’t make it any easier - by the middle of the night they both end up sandwiched between me and my partner and it's hard to extricate myself from the cuddling. I usually drink (at least) two cups of coffee, get dressed, get jewelry dressed (put on jewelry) and walk to work while listening to an audiobook (which is so nice to be able to do). Write and respond to e-mails, merchandise jewelry, sell sell sell, social media, research new artists, organize trunk shows and exhibitions. It’s a wild time!

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Where do you find inspiration?
Wherever it finds me. When I’m not looking, I usually get my best ideas as I’m trying to fall asleep. When I am looking for inspiration I usually go to a few specific Instagram accounts and websites. On Instagram I love @artjewelryforum, @jewelleryactivist and for my glitter indulgence @gemgossip (just to name a few). I also love seeing other makers in their workspace/at their bench. It’s just really cool to see how other people make it work. 

How do you make time for creativity and collaboration?
I bring a sketchbook everywhere so I can always jot down ideas. Sometimes I don’t get to them for months or ever but it’s all practice in creativity anyways. It helps that I’m surrounded by creativity at work and much of my job is collaborating with other artists - I’m always reaching out to other artists to see if they want to show with us, organizing shows, etc.

What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started? 
Network. You never know when you might meet someone who you will want to work with down the line - even if it is 2 weeks or 2 years from now.  I know it sounds boring but it doesn’t have to be - plenty of networking happens at parties, in classes you take in your free time, or even in your current (seemingly-unrelated-to-your-dreams) job. My last bit of advice is: Don’t be afraid to ask for help/advice. Creatives (usually) want to share!

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What do you do in your free time?
Puppy Playtime, concerts, yoga/weightlifting, cooking, beers with my crew, and less sleeping than I would like! Concerts I’m most excited to enjoy on my upcoming nights off–St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Whitney. But actually, on a nightly basis: Netflix and chill with my man and my dogs. Right now we’re watching Shameless. 

Do you like collaborating on projects? What are some perks? Some challenges?
Yeah! In a gallery setting we’re always kinda collaborating. On a daily basis I work with other artists to bring in collections and shows that both parties like. A major perk is the uniqueness of each partnering - things are always fresh and exciting.  Another nice thing about it is having the extra brain power, sometimes a project can seem daunting if you are solely responsible for it but when you have a team of creatives ideas and results just seem to flow - sometimes overboard! Challenges are unique to each collaboration but communication is always difficult especially with visual learners as a lot of artists are.

What have you learned from your career that you wish you would have figured out earlier? 
Good Design reigns supreme. Everyone has differences in taste but when you are looking past the style and are considering a piece strictly in terms of design and quality you’re gonna end up with a better, more marketable piece. Good design is just good design. It  should endure time and wear, be comfortable and make the wearer feel good about themselves. Also in most situations I think “pulling something off” like a bold earring/lipstick/funky clothes is just not worrying too much and owning it. 

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What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Make something every day. It can be big or small, elaborate or not but just make. A couple of people have given me that advice and I find in general when I follow it I am more inspired and more productive and doing better work.

If you weren’t doing this what else would you do?
Dad, if you’re reading this, obviously business school! But in all seriousness probably something in math or science. I really enjoy both of those subjects which might be why I enjoy metalsmithing so much. A lot of chemistry and engineering goes into making a complex piece of jewelry. I’ve also enjoyed my previous jobs in the food industry and I love cooking, but then again how can you live in such a culinarily loaded city as Chicago and not dream about being a part of the magic?

Photography by Mike Killion and Olivia Ozner