The metal earrings and pendants contain detailed landscapes reminiscent of Desolation Wilderness and other natural environments. Tiny fern leaves, shadows, crescent moons and lakes are etched into an inch-long piece of metal. You can see the Tahoe Sierra in Ritual Remains’ work, which was created for people who want a unique heirloom of the Sierra Nevada or want to show off a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry.
Helen Corley and Tavo Montavo of Ritual Remains launched their jewelry business in 2014, scraping together every last penny they had from their jobs, using them to turn their jewelry-making hobby into a business. They had lived together in Oakland and were best friends for years. Corley began collecting bones and recycled materials and making things inspired by her hikes. She soon discovered silversmithing and media tempering for metal processing using brass and silver sheet.
“We don’t do any casting, it’s all hand cut,” Corley says.
She pulls out a few tools from a leather handbag —hammers and Dremels — to show how she applies forming, chasing and texture. Both she and Montavo loved creating jewelry and say it was easy to continuously bounce ideas off each other, so they started Ritual Remains.
“Our styles sync up together. We had a shared path and were both self-taught. We watched a ton of YouTube videos to learn how to do this,” Corley says.
As a child, Corley learned to ski at Homewood Mountain Resort. As an adult, she continued to visit the Sierra to go hiking and backpacking and moved to Tahoe permanently in December 2016. She came at the start of one of Tahoe’s biggest winters and had never lived in snow before, but fell in love with the area.
“There’s so much to explore. I love Desolation Wilderness,” she says.
She spends around seven to eight hours a day, five days a week, making jewelry in her South Lake Tahoe home and hiking in her free time. Looking at an intricately cut fern pendant, Corley says that it took her three hours to make.
“Sometimes I get in the mood and will be up until 3 a.m. It’s so fun. I just can’t stop making things,” she says.
Corley will venture into Desolation Wilderness, Fallen Leaf Lake and other remote areas and take photos, then come home and try to recreate some of those scenes in metal.
In one pendent, a crescent moon shines above a silhouette of pine trees and stars dot a clear sky.
“This one reminds me of when my boyfriend and I hiked Pyramid Peak in Desolation and there was a meteor shower that night. You could see the silhouette of the trees, stars and moon,” she says.
She likes it when it’s just her surrounded by wilderness and tries to capture the experience to transfer onto metal later. Sometimes she names her designs and sometimes she lets them be. One of her pendants is called “Lake of the Woods.” She admits that the three elements that show up most often in her work are pine trees, mountains and the moon.
Montavo, who lives in Oakland, also draws jewelry pieces off of wild and rural places. Montavo focused on component-based pieces until five years ago during a randomly overheard conversation. Someone was talking about a jeweler saw and Montavo rounded up the money to get one.
While they both reside in different places, the distance apart doesn’t faze the business partners.
“I wish I could come up a lot more often and escape the city,” Montavo says.
They talk pretty much every day, sharing equal operational sides of the business.
“My favorite is to play with photos taken in nature or plants. I like experimenting and playing, drawing what I see straight onto metal,” Montavo says.
Montavo also stresses the luxury of having someone to lean on when one of them needs to get away for a while.
“We can talk through technique and have emotional support. It’s just a close connection with everything. When [the business] gets overwhelming sometimes, Helen can just go hike and I’ll hold down the fort,” Montavo says.
“We’re just small businesspeople following a dream, being thinkers and got lucky in finding each other. It’s a lot of hard work, successes and failure, but it’s beneficial to never give up and keep the seeds of intention,” says Corley.
“And never underestimate the power of YouTube videos,” Montavo adds.