If there’s a symbol that especially spells South Dakota, it’s the ring-necked pheasant. People from all around the globe come to hunt the bird that brings big bucks to the state. 

Now a Brookings woman has found a way to design hand-made jewelry that also has a distinct touch of the Mount Rushmore State.

“I got my inspiration from a woman in the (United Kingdom) that was a friend of mine,” said Gayle West. “She decided to make whatever she wanted to, earrings and necklaces, out of bird feathers, not specifically pheasants. They have different kinds of birds over there than we do.

“So she posted on Facebook a couple of photos to me. I thought, hmm, pheasant feathers are even prettier than some of these, more colorful. So I started making these.”

“I’ve never sold any. I just make them for friends,” West explained of her pheasant-feathered jewelry, such as brooches and lapel pins. But there was one exception, she added, pointing to a picture of a dog on a wall.

“That’s Sidney. We have four of those dogs; they’re ‘Spinones,’ they come from Italy,” she said. “They’re a hunting dog. Every year they (Spinone owners) have a national convention, and they have a huge auction that’s a big money maker.

“So I thought, OK, I’ll make some pins and give them to them for the auction. So I did. That’s the only time I’ve ever made pins for anyone other than friends.”

Gayle’s husband, Jeff West, is an avid pheasant hunter who uses the dogs when he takes to the field, and he’s the source of the feathers his wife uses in making her jewelry.

“That’s how it started,” she explained, smiling. “Since he went pheasant hunting a lot, I thought, ‘All these gorgeous feathers. I want to use them.’ So I did. I just pluck them out when they’re dry. I don’t use the big tail feathers. I do use them in different kinds of decorating at Christmas. I put them on the Christmas tree. I do all kinds of stuff with them. I just hated to see these feathers laying around and not making something beautiful out of them.”

For some of the jewelry, a section of the brass casing of a shotgun shell is worked into the design. “That’s my contribution,” Jeff said. “I shoot the shells and then I clean them, polish them, seal them and cut them down. I belong to the gun club, so there’s no end to shell casings available to me.”

While Gayle knows that she could sell her creations, she doesn’t. 

“It’s fun,” she said. “I guess I could, but I don’t have a business or anything like that.”

She said that making a piece of jewelry is not especially time consuming, about a half hour or a bit more to complete a piece, but it demands intricacy and attention to detail. She’s made a total of about 30 pieces to date.

“You have to use a tweezers because the feathers are so light and they fly around,” she explained. “It’s kind of hard. Each piece can be worn as a brooch or a lapel pin, classic or dressy. No two pieces are ever alike.”

“It dips into South Dakota culture,” Jeff said, of his wife’s creations.

For now Gayle still has no plans to sell any she has made, instead giving them as gifts. And while she stresses that her jewelry making is “not a business,” she is amenable to making some pieces on request. “I love making them.”

A renaissance woman 

In addition to being skilled in designing and making unique jewelry pieces, Gayle is recognized for several other ways that she exercises her artistic talents. One of those is photography – albeit she is not as well known in that medium as her award-winning husband.

Right now the couple have a little friendly intramural competition going in the 40th annual Fine Art Photography Exhibition at the Brookings Arts Council. She’s entered in the color category; he’s entered in that and also the black-and-white category.

All entrants’ photos in both categories go on display today at the BAC, 524 Fourth St., and will remain on display through Feb. 1. The winners will be announced at a reception from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday at the BAC.

Gayle is no stranger to BAC displays. She had a hand-decorated Christmas tree, one of 18, on display in the 32nd annual Festival of Trees from Nov. 21 through Dec. 22. And since the 23rd annual Festival of Lights theme was “Dachshund Through the Snow,” her tree featured plenty of dog-themed decorations.

Finally, Gayle is noted for her handmade high-quality stuffed animals that include teddy bears, rabbits and dogs. She uses “luxury faux fur” and other materials from “all over the world: Australia, the UK, Turkey, Belarus.” 

For additional information about Gayle’s unique jewelry and other hand-made items, she may be contacted at 605-651-7257.


AUTHOR: John Kubal

Contact John Kubal at jkubal@brookingsregister.com.

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