On a recent evening my husband and I were enjoying dinner on the roof at the Raven Cafe, and I noticed the earrings a lady at the next table was wearing. I asked her who made them and, sure enough, they were made by Lesley Aine Mckeown. The lady said she has a number of pieces by Lesley, and picks up a new one every time she comes to Prescott.
Lesley’s work has evolved and changed over the 38 years she has been a jeweler, but her signature style is very recognizable, even from across the room. Her jewelry incorporates sterling silver and high-karat gold with designer cabochons and gemstones. It is sculptural, with carefully chosen stones that are allowed to really sing through placement and design. She pays particular attention to making the back of a piece as finished and pretty as the front, roller-printing the backs of the bezel cups. Sometimes she’ll set a tiny stone on the back of a piece as a “private little conversation with the wearer.”
“I work every day. I’m always thinking about new designs, even dreaming about them!” Lesley spends time studying all forms of artist expression, including architecture,sculpture and ceramics.
Right now she is doing a deep dive into work that is more sculptural, finding resonance in different 3D media in deep form and working to see how they translate into metal while remaining functional.
All her life she has been surrounded by art and by artistic activity and perspectives. Her parents met and married while students at the Kansas City Art Institute, and have successful careers as makers and past gallery owners. She says she benefited immensely from watching them navigate between making art and running businesses, and she has created an active presence online through social media and her website. Lesley has been in the world of fine stones and fine jewelry long enough to gain significant national recognition, and has several related initiatives branching from her jewelry-making.
While Lesley has been teaching for 20 years, lately she has really honed her course development and focus, especially since the pandemic forced so much teaching online. The inner and technical work she has done over the years show in her teaching and has been very well received by those seeking mentorship for their own jewelry work. She teaches now both remotely and in person across the country, and her classes fill quickly. Teaching brings her back to the basics she learned decades ago, and reflects her depth of technical skill. Her classes are not project-based, but focus on design, technique and creative thinking.
Lesley’s success also allows her to take on other projects. She is starting a jewelry-making support group, by invitation only, for artists seeking to hone their design and technical skills. She started a Facebook group just about stones, Addiction Stone Exchange, which is almost strictly educational and includes as members stone enthusiasts, lapidary artists, dealers and geologists.
Lesley publishes articles on the site on a wide range of stones and minerals, how they formed, the different colors they come in, and where they originate. It’s a fascinating resource to learn more about stones.
Twice annually Lesley holds sales of very high-quality stones. She is working on creating a website so people can see the stones and purchase them online.
Having worked in this world of stones for so long, she has cultivated relationships with stone-dealers worldwide. “I look for small, family-owned businesses. If they’re not mining the material, they are directly connected with the mine. There’s a really small degree of separation between where it came from and ending up in my jewelry.”
Lesley completed four years of study in lapidary arts under Keith Horst at Yavapai College. This has transformed how she designs pieces, as now she can cut her own stones. Sometimes she’ll have an idea for a concept piece and cut the stones to fit, and sometimes a cut stone will inspire the piece. She works a lot with color. Until recently she was grooving on blues and greens; now she is excited about purples.
“Sometimes you don’t realize what might have sparked your creativity or your interest in expressing yourself in your art until later in life. You think it’s one thing, but later you realize it’s this other thing.”
Growing up in a household of makers certainly informed how Lesley learned to see the world and creatively find her voice. “What’s happened in my life is that I’ve reached a point in my career where I can take an entire week to design a piece, to explore a deeper narrative in my work.”
Among fine galleries and museum shops across the country, Lesley Aine McKeown’s work is represented exclusively in Prescott by Van Gogh’s Ear on Whiskey Row and can be found on ArtfulHome.com. Learn more about Lesley at lesleyainemckeown.com.