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Antigonish jeweller shocked to see her Ulu earrings on Kate Middleton

Antigonish-born jeweller, Yukon resident and NSCAD University graduate Shelley MacDonald has been overwhelmed with orders since the Duchess of Cambridge wore her Modern Ulu earrings while visiting the Yukon earlier this week.

Antigonish jeweller Shelley MacDonald was shocked to learn that Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, wore her earrings on her Yukon tour.

Now she is swamped with orders through her Etsy site and wonders how to fill them as she continues to teach in Iceland and make all her designs by hand.

On Wednesday, MacDonald, who lives in Whitehorse, was sitting in a Reykjavik coffee shop updating her Etsy site. She checked out a news video of the Duchess in Carcross, near Whitehorse, to see if it included MacDonald's seasonal Carcross store and sign, which it did.

“Two minutes later, I get a message on my Etsy site saying, 'Hi, I'd like to know if you'll be selling the earrings the Duchess was wearing on her Canada tour,' and I was in shock. I called my sister and we were looking up images.”

A woman sent her a Getty Images picture via Twitter that showed the earrings and MacDonald zoomed in to see that they were, indeed, her Modern Ulu design. “I was trying to process it. The Duchess is wearing my earrings! It felt great.”

The demand is high now for the earrings that sell for $95 for bronze and brass and $115 for silver. “I'm just finishing up eight pairs right now,” says MacDonald, talking on the phone from Iceland. “I have over 250 orders so far and counting. I have messages on Instagram and Facebook and people are messaging me on Etsy and I haven't responded yet.”

macdonald-268Antigonish-born jeweller Shelley MacDonald at work in her Yukon studio. (Vanessa Falle)

MacDonald's new Ulu Modern design was inspired by the Inuit ulu knife, traditionally used by women. "I wanted to make something that was significant especially to women. 

“Because I am not Inuit or indigenous, I didn't want to make an exact replica. I ended up making my own design.”

She is not sure how the earrings got to the Duchess but suspects a British woman who bought two pairs in her Carcross micro-boutique in the summer. She learned the same woman bought a locally made Sentaler cardigan coat the Duchess also wore in Carcross.

MacDonald opened her business, Shelley MacDonald Jewellery Designer-Goldsmith, at the end of 2013 in the Yukon, but her first business goes back to when she was 14 and selling jewelry at the Antigonish farmers market.

At 16, she bought a car so she could sell her work at the Halifax farmers market and while she was studying at NSCAD University she got up at 4 a.m. every Saturday to get to the market.

MacDonald graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in jewelry design and metalsmithing from the university in 2011 and moved to Vancouver where she had friends. She couldn't find her dream job of being a silversmith, so she moved to Carmacks, Yukon, working as a waitress, a substitute teacher and a clerk for Yukon Wildland Fire Management before she was hired to work at a jewelry store in Whitehorse. 

"The quality of my education was amazing. I learned so much in my program I was teaching these older goldsmiths and I was getting bored. I wasn't getting challenged as a designer. I need a challenge." 

She spent three months as a volunteer in Thailand teaching silversmithing. “I remember my dad saying to me when I was in Thailand, I was skyping my parents, and my dad, who always calls me Kid, said, 'Kid, I think it's time you go on your own,' and that really stuck with me.”

2252The Modern Ulu earrings designed by Antigonish-born jeweller Shelley MacDonald and worn by Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge retail for $95 for bronze and brass and $115 for silver. (VANESSA FALLE)

MacDonald loves the Yukon and expects to live there at least another two to three years. “It has been amazing. Every day is something new and exciting and people in the Yukon are so supportive of local people starting a business. It doesn't matter where you come from or what you do, they love and support you.”

The artist rarely visits Antigonish but last week took advantage of a seat sale from Iceland to Nova Scotia to visit. Her partner is from Iceland; she met him last August at a Reykjavik coffee shop when she was in Iceland as an artist-in-residence.

MacDonald's work, including anchor rings, squirrel earrings and and the Arctic Fox Fur Necklace, has always been influenced by nature and her surroundings. In Iceland she created the Lava Collection using the island's lava.

“Ever since I was a kid, I've been obsessed with shapes and textures and I'd come home with pockets full of sticks and stones.”

When she got to the Yukon, “I was surrounded by beautiful mountains and lakes and beaches. I had an overwhelming amount of designs and I don't see it stopping.”

Once she finishes her fall term of teaching in Iceland, she is going back to Whitehorse to create work for the Christmas season and teach.

“I don't want this to change or take over my life. I'm still going to teach. That's my passion and that keeps me going as a designer. I learn from my students."

MacDonald's work may be seen online here



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