Pieces of Thekla by Erica Ko

Jewelry company honors the artist’s grandmother, Thekla, a World War II survivor, a teacher, a mother, and a person who was living with dementia
Pieces of Thekla is a jewelry collection inspired by the artist’s charismatic, opinionated grandmother, Thekla, who was a person living with dementia.

What is Pieces of Thekla and how did it come about?

Pieces of Thekla is a small-batch jewelry company named after my charismatic and always-opinionated grandmother, Thekla. You won’t find her on Wikipedia, but she’s a World War II survivor, mother of 4, activist, teacher, grandmother, and great-grandmother. While growing up, her boundless creativity and fearless nature fueled my creative fire.

Naturally, her energy spilled out into everything she touched. My grandparent’s house was the most magical place for me as a kid. They lived in a unique house in the woods for over 55 years. Grandma Thekla eventually dressed the entire house in her experiments of handmade art, ceramics, jewelry, clothing designs, and quilts. The house had a uniquely powerful presence I have never felt anywhere else. It was enough of a core memory for me to apply for architecture school and later craft spaces that had semblances of her and my grandfather’s house.

I was gifted a chunk of her handmade, self-designed jewelry and loose beads. I didn’t know what to do with them for a long time. As time progressed, parts of my life shifted, and something critical clicked into place for me and helped me make sense of what to do next with my perhaps insignificant life. In the grand scheme of things, neither she nor I matter. The world will continue to revolve without us. Still, I would like to use my energy to continue to carve and make space for multiracial creatives like me and raise dementia awareness.

Who initially inspired you to grapple with dementia? 

I experienced it mostly secondhand through my mom, Grandma Thekla’s primary but long-distance caregiver. My mom is one of four siblings, but my grandmother would pick up the phone to call her at all hours of the day. It was through my mom that I realized how dementia has a much larger impact than just on the person who is living with the disease. It takes a family to take care of someone with dementia, even if they are at a facility with dementia care.

How has working on dementia-related art changed you?

It makes me worried about what will happen to me or my friends when we are older, given that much of my age group is already unable to buy a house or have children of their own during a time with rampant inflation. It’s changed the way I exercise and eat, but ultimately it’s about the cards you’re given genetically. I have always looked forward to aging and being a cool grandma, but the thought of potentially living in a future with dementia terrifies me in many ways.

How has the work been received? 

So much love and support! Friends have reached out asking me to take their keepsakes from loved ones and transform them into pieces they can wear to keep their loved ones who have passed close to their hearts.

This work is dedicated to: My grandmother, Thekla, my charismatic and always-opinionated grandmother, the activist, teacher, grandmother, and great-grandmother. While growing up, her boundless creativity and fearless nature fueled my creative fire.

Find more from Erica Ko on Instagram, TikTok, and the web.

What is a Spotlight?

The Dementia Arts Spotlight promotes visual and performing artists who are grappling with dementia through original work or innovative arts programs. The Spotlight—in a Q&A format where artists describe the details and significance of their work or program—connects each artist to the Dementia Spring community. Find examples of prior Dementia Arts Spotlights here. Know of an artist whose work should be Spotlighted? Send them this link!

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