Voices of the Bay: Bristol Jewelry Maker Kendall Reiss

From her Wood Street studio, an artist’s passions for location and geology form a foundation of textural work


Tucked between a fish market and a century-old clapboard hardware store on Bristol’s Wood Street sits a mid-century building housing the Kendall Reiss Gallery & Studio. A contemporary jewelry artist, Reiss has a BS in Geology from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and received her MFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing from Rhode Island School of Design. The Bristol native is a professor and the 3D and Performance Department chair at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMF) at Tufts University in Boston. A tactical learner from a young age, Reiss was drawn to geology because it allowed her to use her hands and be outside. After college, she worked for her family’s Newport charter boat business and was often drawn to the windows of Alloy Gallery, propelling her on a path of handicraft classes before pursuing her MFA. Reiss’ work is inspired by the world around her, including the daily activity and history of Wood Street. With its magnificent floor-to-ceiling glass pane windows, the space also functions as a gallery showcasing the work of emerging artists. KendallReiss.com


Boxes of Baubles: As a kid, I remember sitting in front of my mom’s and my grandmother’s jewelry boxes, spending hours, fascinated, looking through those things. I’ve always sort of been a collector of stuff, walking and picking things up along the shoreline. I took black-and-white photography in high school and loved that. I could never draw really well or paint so I thought, “Oh, I must not be a real artist.” 

Window Dressing: On my walking commute in Newport early in the morning and late at night, I would look in the window of Alloy Gallery [before it moved to Bellevue Avenue]. One rainy day, I went in. That was my first entry point into not commercial jewelry, thinking about an artist who has a different take on design. That was really different for me.

Touch and Feel: Hands-on has always been my way. I didn’t do great in high school and had a hard time with it. Geology was something I could see, touch, and understand in a tactile way. A  lot of my art derives from walking, collecting things, moving through space, and then being able to sit down at the bench with an idea in my head, which I can fabricate in metal. That’s just mind blowing to me. It still is. 

Finance Reality: [Seeking a loan to buy the building for her studio], I walked into probably 20 banks. They said, “I don’t think so.” One literally laughed at me. [Finally, at a local Fall River bank], I learned about a program through South Eastern Economic Development Corporation (SEED). Maria Gooch-Smith was the founder and then-Governor Gina Raimondo was pushing hard for small business. SEED is in Massachusetts but they were able to partner with Commerce RI and did a program where they were willing to give loans to people like me. 

Art Equation: I think a lot about identifying opportunities for emerging artists to engage with professional practice, get their work out into the world where it can be seen, give them feedback and interact. We did a show last spring with Rhode Island College (RIC), which was really well received. This spring we are doing a collaboration between RIC and SMF to showcase student work. As a society, we need art really badly at this moment. Art can be a communicator between a lot of different ideas, cultures, people, ways of being, and ways of thinking. It can bring people to the table.


Know someone who might be a good fit for Voices of the Bay? Email Nina at YourHomeWithNina@gmail.com


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