Get personal with your gifting this holiday season by giving irresistible items customized by these talented artisans
Written by BRIENNE WALSH
METAL SUGAR JEWELRY
Melissa Cohen never thought she was particularly talented at any one thing. Then, while working a corporate job in Atlanta in 2006, she took a metal smithing class and realized she had found her calling. “It was literally like a lightbulb went off,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it was that simple.”
It’s taken many years of work, but Cohen is now a full-time jewelry designer and the owner of Metal Sugar, a showroom and studio in Starland Crossing (114 E. 40th St.), which is a strip of mostly women-owned businesses in the Starland District. Decorated with portraits and landscape paintings culled from local antique stores — Cohen loves shopping at Picker Joe’s and Tapley’s Mercantile — the studio is intended to be more than just a storefront.
“I really enjoy giving new life to stones and jewelry that people have in their drawers but aren’t looking at or enjoying.”– Melissa Cohen
It’s also a gorgeous gathering place where Cohen invites potential clients in for free consultations. In particular, she specializes in transforming estate jewelry into one-of-a-kind, bespoke pieces that suit their new owners.
“I really enjoy giving new life to stones and jewelry that people have in their drawers but aren’t looking at or enjoying,” she says. For example, she recently extracted over 100 diamonds from a vintage Hamilton watch and transformed them into an engagement ring and wedding band for a childhood friend in Atlanta.
Cohen, who lives on Tybee Island, can trace her maternal lineage to the Jewish settlers of Savannah, who also designed custom lines of rings, necklaces and earrings that utilize unique, ethically sourced stones from around the world. For the holiday season, she’s particularly excited about bold statement pieces. “I love a good, balanced asymmetry,” she says.
BRITT’S FUNKY STITCH
Brittany Milward, the owner of Britt’s Funky Stitch, has always had a passion for creating beautiful things for other people. She gets it from her maternal grandmother, who lived in Kentucky, and gifted Milward with hand-embroidered quilts throughout her childhood. “The quilts hold the most amazing memories of her,” Milward says.
A Savannah native — and St. Vincent’s Academy alum — who graduated from Georgia Southern University with a degree in fashion merchandising in 2008, Milward didn’t start hand embroidering until the pandemic.
At the time, she was pregnant with her fourth child and living in Houston, Texas. Milward, stuck at home, wanted a hobby that would keep her hands occupied. Before long, she was stitching names and light-hearted doodles — hearts, smiley faces, stars — on table linens, infant onesies and her own clothing.
“Every time I stitch, I picture my own grandkids being like, ‘Oh, Grandma made these napkins,’” she says.
It wasn’t long before the hobby blossomed into a business, Britt’s Funky Stitch, which provides custom hand-sewn embroidery starting at $15. Within the past year, Milward also started offering one-of-a-kind necklaces made from gemstone beads, freshwater pearls and recycled glass African beads. Inspired by the three years she lived in Gabon, Africa, with her husband, the necklaces are totally unique and intended to be worn with T-shirts and jeans.
“My ideal customer is someone who wants to accessorize and likes a funky look with a lot of flair,” Milward says.
To place an order, contact Milward via her Instagram page, @brittsfunkystitch.
If you’ve been to Forsyth Park on a recent Saturday morning, you’ve likely run into Seth Bilkis, who sells his matchbox-inspired artwork amid the live oak trees. Bilkis, who graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2020 with a degree in interior design, started creating collages made from matchboxes earlier this year.
He was inspired by a collection of matchboxes his aunt kept in a bowl on a shelf in her apartment on the Upper West Side of New York City, which he used to study during visits as a kid. The appeal, he says, was a sort of universal nostalgia. “Even if you’ve never been to the place advertising itself on the matchbox, the composition itself can bring you back to your own favorite place and what it felt like to be there,” he says.
Bilkis purchases the matchboxes from Facebook Marketplace or at antique fairs and arranges them based on colors and themes — Asian restaurants, Americana, steakhouses or the color pink, for example. After arranging the matchboxes in a shadow box, Bilkis scans and prints them out as high-quality photographs.
“Even if you’ve never been to the place advertising itself on the matchbox, the composition itself can bring you back to your own favorite place and what it felt like to be there.”– Seth Bilkis
Under the moniker Matchbox 912, Bilkis sells both the original compositions and the prints. An 11” x 14” print costs $40; a larger poster-sized 18” x 24” print is $90. Bespoke compositions are priced depending on the scope of the project.
By far, his most popular matchbox prints are the ones that feature local Savannah businesses — The Grey, The Pirate’s House, Johnny Ganem’s Wine & Package Shop and Vinnie Van GoGo’s, to name just a few examples. Not only does Bilkis love sending customers home with a slice of local nostalgia, but the conversations he has with potential buyers are just as appealing.
“I love the social aspect of being out in the park at 8 a.m., talking to people, seeing friends pass by and being with my artwork,” he says.
Art is also available for sale via his Instagram page, @matchbox_912.