Art Can Save Mississippi

Art Can Save Mississippi
Words by Ashley Locke
Photos provided by John Love
Art has always defined Mississippi. William Faulkner wrote the story of the south, the good, the grit, and all. Walter Anderson’s coastal watercolors explored Mississippi’s beauty.

B.B. King and Muddy Waters sang the state’s struggles, while Natasha Trethewey put Mississippi’s bleeding heart into her poetry and prose. Without its art, Mississippi might still be a mystery to outsiders. Art has always defined Mississippi, but Nicole Rottler thinks art can save it.

“Art can strengthen the state,” Nicole said. “Supporting artists supports local economies and creates jobs. One of my goals is to grow my company enough to be able to provide gratifying jobs for Mississippians, to prove that you don’t have to leave the state for good opportunities.”

Nicole is a part of the makers’ movement, a group of independent artists and designers across the United States who create and sell local, handmade goods. She began creating and selling her jewelry line, Niett Metals, in the spring of 2016 after studying art and business at the University of Mississippi. Upon graduating, she and her then fiancé bought a home in Taylor, Mississippi, a short, winding drive from Oxford.

“Whenever we found a home in Taylor that had the studio space to make this possible, that really initiated the process,” she said. “I couldn’t have done this in New York.”

In an urban area, Niett Metals would have been one of many metalworkers. Staying in Mississippi gave her start up the benefit of less competition and the full support of the community. With Mississippi experiencing a steady brain drain, deciding to stay made a statement.

“Mississippi is totally in my heart. The Oxford area has a unique interest in art, and it’s so proud of what it has to offer. I felt such an outpouring of encouragement,” she said.

Most of her sales are online, but she’s slowly making her way into specialty shops. Cicada, a local Oxford boutique, was the first to carry her line. Saint Claude Social Club in Louisiana and The Market Asbury Park in New Jersey followed along shortly after. Niett Metals has gained popularity so quickly that Nicole has been putting in extra long studio hours to keep up.

Currently she runs the business and produces the pieces on her own. “It’s definitely an obstacle as I grow,” she said, “but I’m happy that soon the growth will allow me to create jobs.” Part of the growing popularity of her jewelry is its simplicity. “I want my jewelry to compliment the wearer. From painting and figure drawing classes, I learned how to pay attention to the natural lines of the body- the jaw, the collar bones- and make my pieces work with them, not distract from them.”

Nicole’s careful attention extends beyond the design of her pieces; she also cares about their environmental impact. Her rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets are all made from ethically sourced metals. “I want to feel confident about every material I’m using. All of the gold and silver I use is recycled. There’s so many problems with the mining of metals, and I don’t want my brand to support that.”

Look through her website, and you’ll see where she does throw her support. “I started naming my pieces after women artists and scientists that I feel didn’t get fair recognition. It’s important to me as a woman starting my own business.”

Pieces are named after astronaut Sally Ride, writer and archaeologist Gertrude Bell, poet Phyllis Wheatley, and others.

“Growing up, there was a book I loved called Girls Who Rocked the World. I would spend hours practicing drawing the faces of the women in the book. The stories really made an impression on me, and I grew up with the confidence that I could do anything on my own.”

Taking inspiration from the past, Nicole has become part of the next generation of inspirational women, helping Mississippi along the way. She is at the forefront of the growing makers’ movement in Mississippi, encouraging other creatives to use their talent at home. As Niett Metals flourishes, so, too, does Mississippi.