The Trinidad Express Women's Magazine profiles a German jewelry designer who landed in Tobago.
Some Girls Have Other Best Friends
By Cedriann J Martin
Show me your accessories and I'll tell who you are.
Monika Schenkel isn't your delicate gold necklace or diamond solitaire type. As a girl she was fixated with stones on beaches and river banks. A fashion design degree notwithstanding, she made an early exit from the cut-throat industry. ("I didn't like the competitiveness," she drawls. "And money was not my main interest.") Though originally from Germany, she detests the cold. She was once a global nomad, chasing sunshine and culture everywhere from Africa to the Arab word. The steel pan lured her to Trinidad.
18 years ago, when her three-year-old flopped onto a bed in a Tobago fishing village and declared 'mummy, this feels like home' Schenkel readily agreed.
So the hand-made aquamarine necklace encircling her sun burned neck is testament to a bohemian spirit and creative soul. She didn't plan on crafting those quirks into a career in jewelry design. She began dabbling with gem stones and making bracelets for herself and her daughter several years ago. A market for her anti-symmetrical, individual take on jewelry sprouted up through friends, word of mouth and exhibitions everywhere from the sister isle to London to Germany.
"I learned little by little, with patience," she recalls from Meiling's Woodbrook verandah. "When I thought I was limited with respect to stringing and manipulating the materials I took a silversmith course in London."
Creating the pieces remains a freestyle exercise. Schenkel is inspired by driftwood or walks on the beach with her dog. She arranges the beads on a board and works pieces together into an organic puzzle. And she takes pride in her one-woman show.
"I don't want anything mass produced. And I like to know the people I'm doing pieces for. Stones have an energy and sometimes even a healing power. You can wear a necklace and feel it getting warm against your skin. It helps to know what stones suit you," she explains.
Her beaded indulgences are all precious stones and exotic knick knacks stringed onto silver. Red coral, onyx and shells were the raw materials for a collection in celebration of the Soca Warriors. Hand painted Chinese porcelain forms an unusual choker. Aquamarine, her favourite, is a symbol of the sea. But feel free to assign your own meanings. A necklace of lapis lazuli, an intensely blue stone from Afghanistan, reminded model Rhian Vialva of the washing blue her mother used long ago to brighten whites.
Schenkel shops for her exotic fare all over the world, from Indian fairs to massive European gem exchanges. Her clients are as diverse as her sources: "It can be a young girl or an old woman," she says. "It depends on how brave the person is and whether they'd rather go with this than some more traditional item of jewelry."
Over the last few years she's struck up a relationship with a couple of the island's premiere designers and their clients in Trinidad. But after so many years she's most at home in her slow paced Tobago sea village. Assimilating to the island's easy-going pace was no problem.
"Mummy," her daughter told her 18 years ago, "this feels like home".
Schenkel still agrees.
If you'd like to contact Monika you may email her through firstname.lastname@example.org