Jewelry-Designing Alumna Speaks at Newcomb

April 4, 2004

Ashley Lord, <i>Hullabaoo</i> news co-editor

Newcomb College alumna and jewelry designer Mignon Faget returned to Tulane Tuesday to discuss her experiences at Tulane and the inspiration behind her work. Faget, a native of New Orleans, graduated from Newcomb College in 1955 with a Bachelors of Fine Arts. Faget's road to success was not an easy one, though. She told the audience that upon leaving college she was unsure where her collegiate training would take her.

"I tried to be a wife and mother and take on the persona that I was supposed to in the early 1960s," Faget said. "But soon I realized that just wasn't me, and it wasn't going to work, so I started to get back into the things I was good at, such as designing."

With no business experience, beginning a jewelry design company proved to be difficult for Faget, until she made connections in the city of New Orleans.

"I was fortunate to meet a banker who happened to be president of his bank," Faget said. "He was a generous Irishman who believed in me, which I still don't know why."

With the bank's assistance in the form of a $3,500 loan, Faget began sending designs to individual stores around the greater New Orleans area. Now, over 30 years later, Faget owns three retail stores and is one of the most prominent businesswomen in the South. Her collections span from nature-based themes, such as coral and conch shell collections, to architectural designs, usually inspired by columns, archways and entrances to buildings that Faget has seen. No matter the design, Faget said she approaches her work with a common purpose: constructive detailing.

"What intrigues me is penetrating the surface of the obvious," Faget said. "If you can reproduce something from nature, then that's a nice idea, but if you can deconstruct that something and find a unique aspect about it, then that's art."

To perfect her technique of dissecting before designing, Faget enrolled in biology courses at Tulane 15 years ago. "I felt I was stale and was using primary material, but not really understanding it," Faget said. Her classroom experience led to the Zea collection that focuses on the grain and wheat products in the South, including corn.

"I had been around campus a lot and met someone who was studying corn, and I learned about it," Faget said. "I got excited about the geometry of the rows on branches, and a collection wound up coming out of the fascination I developed for it."

Another collection inspired by her time at Tulane is the Newcomb collection. This group of jewelry, available only to those in the Newcomb community, features oak trees, acorns and other symbols of the college. Along with the Newcomb collection, Faget said all of her designs are her continuing effort to find the art in everything around her.

"The process of producing art is an unlearning," she said. "As a child we are true artists, but once we have a word to call and identify all things, everything around us becomes objects and not art, and we lose that subjectivity."

For now, Faget is continuing to create new designs, with a new collection expected in her fall catalog. She said she wants to continue her work, finding the art in what's around her, including the city she lives in.

"This environment is so rich and sensual. The smells and weather and vegetation are all so stimulating," Faget said. "It helps to live in a city like this, and it's a city that has been good to me. I just try to remember that I am inspired by the march of time around me, no matter where I am, and the challenge of my art is to catch those moments that are worth remembering."

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