The room was filled with the deafening sound of metal hammering and the buzz of jewelry-making machines. In the center of all the commotion stood UGA jewelry and metalwork professor Demi Thomloudis with a blowtorch in her hands and a smile on her face. Her hair was tousled and she was wearing a casual striped T-shirt with a tattoo that read “Optimistic Optimist” on her arm.
“Is it too loud in here?” she inquired with a laugh.
Demi Thomloudis grew up in Philadelphia with her sister and parents. She went to undergraduate school to do medical illustration and decided to take a jewelry elective on a whim. To her surprise, she ended up falling in love with jewelry making. “I was like, this is it for me. This is perfect,” said Thomloudis. And that was the beginning of her renowned career as a jeweler. She received her MFA from San Diego State University and her BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art.
The buzzing and hammering noise in the room continued. “It’s just loud in here in general,” Thomloudis shouted over the noise.
Next to her was Angelise Sleeman, a fifth-year student majoring in fine arts with a concentration in metalwork and jewelry. They were both hunched over the table with goggles strapped across their faces as they soldered a piece of metal. “Ms. Thomloudis is always pushing me to be better and create better art,” said Sleeman.
Thomloudis currently lives in Athens, Georgia with her husband and 2-year-old son. “Spending time with family is what I do in my free time,” she said. When asked about her son, she smiled and said, “He takes up a lot of my time.”
Her creations focus on vernacular architecture and landscape for inspiration. She uses a wide range of materials, such as copper, brass and silver to make creations that represent the landscape around us. The appearance of her work varies depending on what she is focusing on, however, most of her jewelry resembles modern architecture with many chunky, linear features. “I really like architecture and the landscape, because I think that as people who wear jewelry, one of the things that jewelry does is it kind of identifies us. So, if you put on a pair of earrings or a necklace it’s like you’re displaying part of you,” she said as her large industrial-style earrings dangled from her ears. She grabbed one of them and said, “A friend of mine made these. I wear my own stuff sometimes but I really like supporting other artists.”
Thomloudis ventured into the metalsmithing room where more noise ensued. “So, for this class we have a final critique where everyone is making a table setting and we’re gonna have a dinner,” she said, pointing to a student hammering a piece of metal. “So, one of my students is making a popcorn shooter to make popcorn.”
Thomloudis’ work has been featured all across the United States from California to New York. Her work has also been exhibited internationally in Spain, Greece, Germany, Australia, France, the Netherlands, Austria, China, Mexico, Canada, and Brazil. She stays busy through all the invitations to exhibit, lecture and teach at institutions, fairs and events. “I think wherever you are is always gonna inspire you. You know?”
Thomloudis’ Summer Travels
This summer she plans to go to Athens, Greece, to do a residency at a jewelry museum. The museum is giving her studio space to work in for two months, and she will be scanning site-specific locations to be used to create jewelry. “I have a theory that place and sight-specific places are also really connected to our identity like when you meet someone you usually tell them where you’re from, right? So, I think that jewelry and connecting that to place can give you a heightened sense of self.”
Her unique creations have won nearly 20 awards since 2005. Her most recent award from 2016 was the “Research/Scholarly Activity Award” from the Kent State University Research Council.
Finally, in the midst of all the noise, she sat down at her desk and readjusted her wide-frame glasses. Her desk was ironically located in the same room as the commotion. “In my free time, I’m always doing stuff that revolves around like art, so as a family we love going to museums, we love going to Atlanta, going to exhibitions, you know, all that stuff,” she said while glancing at the family photo on her desk. Her husband works as a building inspector so she said she gets a lot of inspiration from the photos he sends her.
She sells some of her jewelry but said she makes it more for the purposes of communication and not necessarily for a retail experience. “There’s an art market for contemporary art jewelry and there are these collectors that pay significant amounts of money for these more ‘avant-garde’ pieces of jewelry that push the limits of what we conventionally think of as jewelry,” she said. “It’s kind of like the difference between getting a painting at Ikea or getting a painting from, like, Picasso.”