While speaking with him in his Brooklyn studio, it becomes clear that Aaron is an artist that lets details speak for themselves. He isn’t afraid to tell it how it is; to pull the veil back from the story at hand, and expose the man behind the curtain.
Digby and Iona is proof positive of this. A name befitting the byzantine quality of his jewelry, Digby & Iona holds no personal meaning or nostalgia to Aaron. “They’re just two names of two towns in Nova Scotia that I picked off a map.” Aaron explains. “They were right next to each other. They were very antiquated names; they sounded perfect.”
Originally from Mid-Coast Maine, Aaron came to New York working construction doing high-end carpentry. When he found his passion making jewelry, Aaron chose a name to separate himself from his work: “the long and short of it was I wanted to pick a company name that wasn’t mine because I didn’t think people would take me seriously since I was a dusty construction worker.”
I can’t help but insert my own meaning into the name. Digby and Iona seem like characters from a book, and it feels as though at any moment they will walk in and find us standing in their room of secrets. Like being in the treasure hold of an old ship, with it’s type drawers full of treasures, paintings from far off places, books, dusty bottles, Aaron’s studio tell a tale of adventure. There is a crate on the ground that says “Ernest J. Tyndall. Captain U.S.A.F”. My eyes wander to soak in details. A bison on the wall watches us as Aaron explains how he got into jewelry making:
“I was taking classes in school, I was just playing around with stuff, and I had some work in design shops around NY at that time; furniture. They also carried some of my jewelry. The jewelry was selling, the furniture wasn’t, so it was a clear choice.”
Aaron goes on to explain the freedom that he was afforded in jewelry making. It was something that inspired him the first time he started casting metal from melting down old answering machine tapes:
“the level of detail that you could get was insane. If you burnt them out you could actually get the ink sitting on top that said Memorex. It would actually show up in the metal casting. So it really got me, it opened up the idea that you could create anything in this medium.”
Aaron still turns old into new, in more ways than one. We start talking about recycling materials, and he demystifies the process for me when I ask him if he’s picky about where he sources his metal from:
“Yeah, I just work with one guy. He uses recycled stuff. But you don’t really have to. It’s cheaper for them to use recycled materials. It’s much cheaper to melt down Grandma’s ring and use that as a material source than to dig up one ton of earth to pull out one ounce of gold. So, I hate to pull back the veil, but the whole recycled materials thing is kind of a misnomer. It’s all recycled, because it’s in everybody’s self interest financially for it to be recycled.”
It seems a rarity to find an artist who’s so practically minded about his work, but who also creates so organically. Aaron speaks about the experimental approach he takes to his work. He talks about his drawers of failed pieces. He creates a lot, and then finds that the “cream rises to the top.” so to speak. In his iterations of jewelry, Aaron finds what makes sense, and reinvents it.
In all of his work, Aaron seems to strive to discover his pieces as he makes them: “I try for it not to be too conscious.” He says. “It’s never been my design style as to do anything too intentionally.” His dog saunters up and drops a ball by my feet.
It’s hard to forget the images I have in my head of the adventures that the nonexistent treasure hunters Digby & Iona must have. It makes sense though. Aaron has created a place and a style so rich that I could’t help but fill it with a story.
I imagine people do the same when they wear his work.