creating beauty from tragedy: rebecca lewis of gramercy eight

I've met a lot of inspiring souls in my day, but every so often, there's someone who really stands out. Maybe it's the way they tell their story, maybe it's the way they're healing from a painful situation, or maybe it's their humility. In the case of jewelry designer Rebecca Lewis of Gramercy Eight, it's all of the above.

Rebecca & I recently became acquainted due to the magic of the World Wide Web. I fell in love with her gorgeous pieces synonymously with the beautiful soul behind them. Rebecca's story is a haunting one: a fashion illustrator working in Los Angeles, two years ago she fell 30 feet and broke her back. Through her extremely painful and arduous recovery, she learned she was unable to draw the way she used to. While navigating through this new normal and in search of a fresh creative outlet, she eventually stumbled upon silversmithing.

And thus, Gramercy Eight was born.

Although our stories are very different, I really resonate with the fuel that drives Rebecca — creating beauty from tragedy. I asked if I could interview her to share a bit more of her story. She graciously obliged. Meet the beautiful soul behind my new favorite jewelry line:

The motto behind Gramercy Eight is “creating beauty from tragedy,” a very personal and beautiful synopsis of your story. Will you share with us a little more about what happened to you that inspired the launch of your gorgeous jewelry line?

Just a little over two years ago, I fell 30 feet and shattered 60% of my spine, and am now fused with rods and screws between my T6-L3. Miraculously, I am still able to walk and talk  but, obviously, everything changed for me in an instant — and I went from being healthy to helpless in about .03 seconds. Gramercy Eight slowly came to life when I was in San Diego during my early recovery stages. I was on bed rest, and I had watched about every episode of every show ever made and I had to find something else. My mom brought me some friendship bracelet string, and I tried to relive my homeschool days and make bracelets, but was honestly too medicated to keep up with all the little strings. However, it did spark something inside of me — I've always created with my hands, and just attempting that again brought life back to me. I was very isolated, stuck in bed, and was only sleeping a few hours a night due to pain  so I would just lay in bed and research everything on making jewelry. The first piece I made was with some scrap metal from Home Depot, a rock, and an industrial hammer  I forged out something resembling a cuff. Following that I figured out how to wire wrap a Knot Ring with tweezers, a plier and used a sharpie as a mandrel (the knot ring is a piece still in the shop — although much more evolved). After those early days, I started making a few other pieces and posting them on Instagram, and was encouraged to start a shop — Gramercy: The street I fell on, Eight: The hospital floor I recovered on. And here we are! 

Could you outline what you were working on and creating before Gramercy Eight was born?

Prior to the fall I had been working in Fashion Illustration/Fashion. I had worked in many different sides of the field, and truthfully wasn't happy in it anymore. I grew up determined to work in fashion, and parts of my identity were very wrapped up in it. During recovery in San Diego, I realized I could not draw the way I used to because of my fusion, and accepting that reality was hard. It felt as if another piece of who I 'thought' I was, was being taken away from me. However, I feel such a huge difference in my spirit when I wake up to work when it comes to Gramercy Eight, there is a deep joy for me in it. I understand why now. Fashion will always be in my heart, and I'm sure I'm not gone for good. 

What does your recovery look like today?

I live in a lot of chronic pain, and pain is very selfish. My mind is always focused on just getting through that day. Every day I wake up and make the choice that I will live, I will experience, and I will feel. I will not stay in bed, and I will not wallow (some days I still wallow). My current physical recovery is a lot of physical therapy, pain management therapy, ptsd therapy, chiropractic work and I've had 8 little surgeries since my major one. After two years of healing with my family in Georgia, I am embarking back to LA to be closer to my surgeon and specialist. The way my spine shattered, it was actually severed in half leaving my spinal cord keeping me together. Many doctors see the fact that I am not paralyzed or dead from this as a medical one off, and view me more as a case study, and less of a person. My surgeon is one of the only doctors who views me as a person and not just a case study — so I'm really hopeful being out with his specialist will finally get my pain levels down so I can move on some more from all of this. 

I’m sure your outlook on life, health and recovery has drastically changed in the past few years. If you could give one piece of encouragement or advice to someone who is currently adjusting to a “new normal” through an unexpected tragedy, what would you share?

It gets better. No matter how horrible your 'new normal' is  it'll get better. A large part of that for me was learning how to accept my reality, and deal with all the things that come with that one by one  instead of just coping with them. It's a constant battle for me. I'm facing more surgeries and a lifetime of pain, but I'm alive. As corny as it sounds, find the silver linings. Find the joy. Finally getting off painkillers was a huge part for me, my pain is more heightened — but I can feel joy again. I'm alive. 

Tell me about your beautiful jewelry. What materials do you use? How did you learn silversmithing?

My littles are made from sterling silver, 14k gold, rose gold, the occasional base metals and tons of gemstones, crystals and rocks. I have a wild gemstone obsession, and an ever growing collection. When you're on bed rest, you have a ton of time to learn  and there was a lot of self teaching. With my short term memory loss and many pain killers, it was an uphill battle to remember almost anything  however, I absorbed all this jewelry right up. I think because it was my escape from everything. No matter the pain, I could get lost in creating. Once I was able to walk and stand normally again, I went to a few silversmithing classes and learned the basics, then went to that same studio for months after just teaching myself as I went along. I'm still teaching myself as I go along. I dream that when my back allows to take a fine jewelry apprenticeship somewhere in a little Europe town from an old wise man. You know, have a real eat, pray love moment. 

Okay, the big question: if you could go back and forever erase February 28, 2012 and it’s repercussions, would you? Who would you be today if that day never happened?

THE question. I'm just a little over two years from my accident, and am occasionally asked this question by people. I have always when asked if I could take my fall back promptly responded with a "Yes". Recently, just before my two years came up I was asked and I responded without hesitating "No". I kinda shocked myself with that answer. Despite the chronic pain, the emotional devastation and everything else that has happened in between — this fall shaped me into someone I can be proud of. I truly believe it was one of the best (and worst) things to happen to me. Does that make the day to day pain and limitations any easier? No. However, finally accepting my injury, and living in reality of my 'new normal' makes the mental/emotional recovery much easier, and healthier. I have been very isolated at times during these last two years, and have had to rebuild my entire life. I can say that I am at peace with myself for the first time in my life. From a medical standpoint, I shouldn't be walking and I shouldn't be alive  I know that God protected me, I know there was a purpose behind the accident and I know that Gramercy Eight was one of those purposes. It is a silver lining, and a huge part of my joy. I don't know who I would be if I hadn't fallen, but I do know that I'm proud of who I've become.

I love this girl. Rebecca's littles are beautiful, dainty, and delicately handcrafted. My new rings perfectly fit my fingers, which is hard to come by due to my big knuckles! I will cherish these pieces forever.