I was fortunate enough to stumble across Katie Thompson’s work on Instagram, and I couldn’t get her spiral cuff bracelets out of my head. Fortunately for me, Katie made me a few to choose from and sent one Cypress cuff (above) and a couple Black Walnut Cuffs (below) my way. I couldn’t resist photographing them on another Low Country staple: a handcrafted Sweetgrass basket. The two really make a perfect pairing.
Just outside of Charleston, Katie and her husband Joseph live on the edge of Black Swamp, where together they design and build furniture at Joseph Thompson Woodworks. Katie helps design the furniture and Joseph brings their visions to life. In the midst of all this wood working, Katie found a way to breathe new life into the exquisite wood shavings left on the floor. And so, Black Swamp Co. was born. When I asked Katie about owning her own business she promptly replied, “I get to do what I love with the person I love!” And each piece of jewelry from Black Swamp is a little labor of love.
My mom told me a story about how Black Walnut is so valuable, that once she went on vacation, and she came home to find that a neighboring, enormous Black Walnut tree had been felled in her absence. Tree theft! You can understand why though, when you look at how beautiful these Black Walnut cuffs are. Katie used sapwood for these cuffs, which explains the color variation.
The Cypress cuff is really special. A sunken Cypress log washed up out of the swamp behind Katie and Joseph’s house, as if it knew it was destined for more than an eternity in the muck and mire. After aging and drying out for three years, mine (below) was the first bracelet Katie made with it.
Sunken Cypress is so special because it is old growth Cypress. Felled up to a century ago, the trees were easily 700 years old at that time. When these trees were logged in and around the swamps of the Southeast, they were floated downriver to sawmills. However, many of these logs sunk and were subsequently entombed in the beds of the rivers and swamps for the next century. “Deadheaders” and “River Loggers” often dive for the submerged old growth Cypress logs and salvage them. Katie was lucky enough to have one show up at her back door. And I am lucky enough to have a small piece of it.
To make the cuffs, Katie uses an ancient technique of steaming the wood, bending it around a form, then letting it dry for 24 hours. She seals all her wooden jewelry with a water-proof and UV-proof sealant (although she doesn’t recommend wearing any of her pieces to the beach).
Katie also makes earrings and necklaces from their wood shop’s wood shavings. Remember when I spotted her at the High Wire Distillery in Charleston?
Turns out, High Wire is owned by Katie’s family – it’s such a small world! If you’re in South Carolina, you can find Black Swamp at these fine retailers:
But thanks to the internet, we can all have a little piece of Black Swamp Co. to call our own.
See more of Katie and Joseph’s work at: www.jwtwoodworks.com
Read more from Katie herself on her blog: www.ktthompson.com
And shop Black Swamp Co. for yourself on her website: www.blackswamp.co