Handmade: Artist’s jewelry shines at DIA shop

Jocelynn Brown

Brenda Barnes of Troy has been making and selling jewelry for nearly three decades, but it wasn’t until recently that she experienced what may have been her proudest moment to date when she stopped in at the gift shop inside the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), just moments after someone purchased several pieces of her jewelry.

“It’s very rewarding when you walk into a place and you’re told a lady just bought a couple of your pieces and wore them out! I’ve had that experience,” she said. “I’ve also been there (at the DIA) when someone purchased a piece. It’s very well- received. As a matter of fact, every time I go to visit, or just check ( on the phone, pieces have been moving. I’m thinking it’s been remerchandised, but it sold out! I’m thankful for the display.”


Jewelry artist Brenda Barnes of Troy shows off a collection of her jewelry pieces she created with semi-precious stones and various beads.

DIA museum shop manager Kelly Oaks wrote in an email, “Brenda’s jewelry is beautifully handcrafted of various colorful gemstones, pearls, and shells. She pays close attention to every detail and each necklace is as unique as the wearer — we have seen a very positive response from our visitors!”

Barnes, 57, describes her knack for creating such unique and elegant jewelry as “a God-given gift.” She said, “When I first started, I would buy necklaces that I liked in the store, and break them down for the centerpiece. I would restructure the beads and put them back together to my liking. Then, one day a friend suggested I make my own centerpiece. So, I started out in metal work. I learned to solder and fuse metals, and I’ve done a lot of different metal pieces. The beading evolved around it as a backdrop. It was the finishing process to the metal piece design.”

Unlike her jewelry making days of the late ’80s and early ’90s, Barnes now does less soldering and more beading, which she enhances with large, irregular shaped semi-precious stones and wire wrapping, one of the oldest techniques around for creating jewelry by hand. “I like the irregular shapes. They give the pieces more character and a more exotic look,” she said.


Barnes created this wire wrapped pendant for a choker using three semi-precious stones and pearls.

Inspiration for her designs stems anywhere from how leaves are arranged on the ground, to the way lights are sometimes draped in a store window, but she said, “A lot of times I don’t know how I arrived at the design. It’s God-given — you never know which way it’s going to go.”

Barnes, who earned a degree from Michigan State University in fashion merchandising, sells her work under the name “Simply Awesome Neckpieces,” and prices range from $100-$350 for necklaces, and $40-$50 for bracelets and earrings. She said the idea behind her business is: “keep the concept simple, and make the product awesome.”

When wearing her jewelry, Barnes suggest customers keep their clothing simple, as well, so as to make the jewelry pop. “Wearing black has saved a lot of women painstaking decisions about what to wear and how to wear things. And, even if they don’t do a lot of black, they can do a lot of solid color and introduce (more) color with a floral scarf that ties into the outfit.”


Here, Barnes framed the large smokey quartz using wire strung with seed beads.

Most of her customers are women, ages 30 and up, but because men are inquiring about pieces from her collection, Barnes is planning to start producing metalwork items again as a way to add a men’s line — mainly sterling silver bracelets. Besides, metalwork is her passion, she says.

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, or


Contact Simply Awesome Neckpieces at (248) 383-3728, or Email: