Local artist shines with African-inspired jewelry business

WILMINGTON, Del. (WPVI) -- "It's very important to know where you come from," said Gwanyan "Gwen" Barker.

The first-generation Liberian-American has always admired her parents, who emigrated from the West African country three decades ago. So, when she started her own jewelry business, she made sure to represent their heritage in every creation.

"The name of my business is Kpelle Designs," said Barker. "It is a tribe in Liberia, my father's tribe, my tribe, where they are known as agriculturalists, so they work with their hands."

Across the world, Barker using her hands to craft jewelry in Bear, Delaware.

"It's almost like an ode to my ancestors, my heritage," she said.

However, Barker realizes that others may not be able to pinpoint their heritage as easily.

"We know there's a lot of black Americans that don't know where they come from," she said. "And so, that's what I want people who wear my jewelry to feel. Feel like this is familiar, like this feels like home."

Kpelle Designs showcases earrings made from Cowrie shells that populate the shores of Liberia. Larger, hoop-shaped earrings depict empowering messages that Barker wants other women to hear.

They read: "Be present...Protect your energy...Own your truth."

Barker was able to execute this complex design with the laser cutter at NextFab in Wilmington, Delaware. It is one of their three makerspaces in the tri-state area that provides access to tools and education for aspiring artist members.

"We're really trying to help build that foundation so people like Gwen can take off and have a really successful, sustainable business," said Anna Solomon, the Sales Manager at NextFab.

She notes how Gwen was a recent graduate of NexFab's Accelerator Program, in which established creators can take a formal step forward to turn their ideas into a business.

Those who are interested must apply by February 21st, 2021. The workshop will take place virtually from March 24 to May 21, 2021.

To learn more about NextFab or Kpelle Designs, visit their websites.

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"I noticed there weren't that many African American sculptures, so I just started making them myself."

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