The local artist is creating jewelry from pieces of gentrified neighborhoods

Leatherworker and jewelry maker Tiffani Smith spent the day before her birthday in rubble.

The longstanding building at North Garfield and East Long in the King-Lincoln District was demolished on May 8, shocking much of the community. Murals of black icons like Mahalia Jackson and Nancy Wilson, painted by the late black artist Jeff Abraxas, were knocked down in the process.

“I was able to free up two cinder blocks that had his signature on them,” said Smith in an interview at the Idea Foundry. “And one I delivered to [Abraxas'] best friend.”

Smith returned to the site on her birthday with tools and a dolly, hoping to dig out another signature and faces that were still intact. But she was too late; an excavator was shoveling the remains away. All she could do was film the heartbreaking scene on Facebook Live.

“There were so many black artists that showed up and were as devastated as I was,” Smith said. “It is only the black artists that are talking about it. So, it is our responsibility, collectively, to make people aware. But clearly we are the ones that are the most affected.”

Smith also noted that people of color are the most affected by gentrification happening in multiple Columbus neighborhoods, including King-Lincoln, the South Side and Olde Towne East. In response, she is creating a line of jewelry from brick and mortar in areas that have been gentrified, or will be in the near future.

The collection — “My Hood. My Heart.” My Home.” — will be available Sunday, May 19, at the Maroon Arts Group festival on Mt. Vernon Avenue.

“I had the initial idea to do this probably about a month ago,” said Smith, who sells African-inspired jewelry and accessories via her business, Sankofa Arts. “I started collecting from certain sites like the Livingston Theater and what used to be Kent Elementary.”

She also chipped away some of the brick from what's left of the historic Poindexter Village housing project on Champion Avenue, and bagged up the soil.

“The brick that I took, I ground down into a powder,” she explained. “I added it to a translucent clay, which makes a pliable material that I can manipulate into any shape I want.”

The results are unique pieces like a bracelet spelling out “Bronzeville,” the previous name for King-Lincoln, and a necklace with a brickwork pattern designed to resemble the original building. Smith encapsulated soil in additional three-piece necklaces. One preserves a plant that sprung up in the dirt after it was removed from the site.

“There's so much life in that soil, so much history in that soil, you can feel it,” Smith said.

There will be many pieces made from what Smith was able to salvage from Abraxas' murals the day before her birthday. She looks forward to seeing people exercise agency in selecting their jewelry.

“I alone can't stop gentrification,” she said. “This was my way of saying, ‘I see you guys. You're not alone. It's happening to me, too. But here is a little piece that they can never take from you.'”