The Artisan Series: Meet Robert Thomas Mullen, Metalsmith and Jewelry Artist

By Jessica Leitch
In Culture

I’ve long been passionate about connecting with and telling the stories of the creatives who make up St. Louis. As part of an organization dedicated to raising awareness for local artisans, and as someone with a deep interest in the narrative of the handcrafted movement, I’m collaborating with Craft Alliance to explore the scene and share a few interesting stories of local makers along the way. First up is Robert Thomas Mullen, a former metals artist-in-residence at Craft Alliance. 

Robert Mullen Portrait with Jewelry

At first glance, the studio of Robert Mullen looks more like an exhibit on minerals than the workspace of a metalsmith and artist. Carefully laid across tables and stacked on shelves are found objects—stones, brick, pinecones—and materials ready to be crafted into Mullen’s next piece. Mullen is combining his background in metalsmithing with his curiosity of found objects to create unique art jewelry.

Robert Mullen Jewelry Materials

Mullen wields a BFA in metalsmithing and photography from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and an MFA in metalsmithing from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. Having been a part of several national and international exhibitions in the last few years, Mullen found his way back to the Midwest in early 2015 when he was recruited by Craft Alliance for its artist-in-residence program.

The variety of materials in Mullen’s work immediately catch my attention upon entering his space. As he tinkers with small pieces of brick, stacking and re-arranging the dark red pieces, he explains the array of his stock. “I will use practically anything. I only use materials that I am drawn to at the time I am drawn to them,” he tells me. And, it immediately makes sense as I see the transition of silver to wood to steel and stone. Drawing influence from artists around him, Mullen is often introduced to new materials and methods, which are, in turn, reflected in his work.

Robert Mullen Metalsmith Saw


Robert Mullen Studio


Robert Mullen Proccess

Mullen’s pieces come together through a contemplative process. He rarely uses pen and paper to sketch his ideas, but rather covers every surface with bits and pieces from his collection of materials, shuffling stone fragments or wood chips around until the jewelry on the table matches the piece in his mind. Mullen describes his recent work as juxtaposing the real with the fabricated freely. As his work continues to evolve, his skills remain sharp from teaching metal classes at Craft Alliance on a regular basis.

The diverse textures in each body of work Mullen creates complement one another through their differences. Whether earrings or a broach, each piece is a statement within itself. Though Mullen is no longer the metals artist-in-residence, he will continue to mix unexpected materials while teaching Jewelry and Metalsmithing as well as Wood and Found Object Jewelry at Craft Alliance this fall.

Robert Mullen Stone Materials

This post was created in partnership with Craft Alliance Center for Art + Design.

About Craft Alliance Center of Art + Design
Established in 1964, Craft Alliance Center of Art + Design provides inspiration and education in contemporary craft to a national community of artists, collectors, students and the art-viewing public. Amongst the classes offered at Craft Alliance, you can take a course in the Metals Studio taught by Mullen himself. 

About the Author
Jessica Leitch is a St. Louis creative with a passion for supporting local and telling the story of how the makers’ movement is manifesting right here in St. Louis. As the Associate Creative Producer for ALIVE Magazine, Jessica lends her talents as a writer, stylist, event planner and everything in between. She also writes and art directs her own award-winning blog, City in A Jar.  

All photos by Hannah Foldy. 

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