LM deLeon

August 31, 2023

LM deLeon_Headshot-sm - L M deLeon (1)

LM deLeon

Pronouns: she/her they/them
Identity: artist class white bi non-binary femme
Instagram | Website

Introduce Yourself:

I’m a queerdo living my best life dancing in the liminal space between dichotomies.

During one fateful semester in college, I fell in love with hammering metals in Dawn Nakaishi’s class. I’ve since built a home studio in which I explore adornment and wearable art.

With the types of materials invited into my pieces, careful planning is required as each poses interesting challenges. As combined elements using traditional metalsmithing and fiber arts techniques fall into place as a cohesive piece – I can almost hear an audible click.

Making jewelry and adornment the primary focus, but not exclusive to my practice.


Tell us about your work:

Drawn to the debris of industrial practices, interesting nature tidbits, that which glitters, makes bold shapes or has bright color. Gathered bits are a love song of the city & nature. Focusing on the liminal space between dichotomies, strung taut between fascination for human ingenuity, bemused by our penchant for generating detritus and my awe of the slower pace of the seasons, tides, nature’s cyclical deconstruction in which nothing is wasted. Coveting the cast off or remnants of a whole.

Necklace No 09, Copper, telecommunication wire, glass, cotton, 2020

How did you start your metalsmithing/materialsmithing/adornment journey?

I was busy taking (and acing) all of the art classes at my local city college, Cabrillo in Aptos, CA when I decided to shift gears and take Dawn Nakanishi’s “Small scale metalsmithing and Jewelry” class. I immediately fell in love. I think in part because I was primed after taking ceramics during high school and these mediums have properties in common. There were so many other amazing artists (some of whom still practice jewelry professionally today) in that class who really inspired me as well. Ultimately, the feel of working in metals is what continues to draw me to the practice today. I ended up taking almost every class she offered at least twice! Because I really had no idea what I was doing (generally, at that time in my life) and at that age I had subscribed to the notion that “art” was not the way to make a living, I didn’t pursue the field professionally for many years. What I did instead was slowly buy equipment over a couple of decades while keeping a spot in a corner of my house and continued to create pieces in metal.

How does your identity relate to your work? If at all?

My work is not necessarily an exploration of my identity but more of an exploration of aesthetics and materials. And it is absolutely an expression of myself and I am a part of a wonderfully wild and diverse community.

Crown No 01, Brass, gold fill, telecommunication wire, pearl, shell, glass, cotton, 2021

If you feel comfortable discussing your queer identity, what is something you would like share? 

Referring to myself as “queer” is something that I’ve come to very slowly in my life and it wasn’t until my late 30’s that I began to even consider queerness as a defining part of who I am.

I have always felt different in my sexuality than my peers, and I knew in high school that I was “bi” but I think that some of my life experiences made me hyper focused, almost, obsessed with pursuing heteronormative intimate sexual relationships in ways that others were not. I often wonder if I would have explored relationships more focused on friendship and community building instead of this obsessive pursuit of the prescribed dynamics had my life taken a gentler turn.

I remember describing my attraction to others, like, “hey, I’m bi. I’m open to falling in love with whomever I fall in love with” – but even that wasn’t entirely an accurate way to describe the ways in which I am attracted to people or even the types of bonds with others that are most important to me.

I think it was in part because the language to describe my sexuality, relational dynamics (and especially my thoughts around gender) felt prescriptive, or limited, until I gained access to more comprehensive descriptions and terminology via the growing internet community.

I shared that I thought of myself as “man in a woman’s body” with a few close individuals, while at the same time still embracing hyper femininity. I think I lacked the vocabulary to say that the whole of my person embodies more than the narrow definition of the gender I was assigned to by society at birth. Somehow, I’m fine with being called “Mom” (a very gendered title) and it’s okay if someone says “she” or “her” when referring to me in the third person, but using “woman” as an identifier is a tad ill fitting (like a cotton shirt that ever so slightly shrunk around the neck and if you move a certain way it’ll choke you). So, I am grateful for those non-binary individuals who’ve come into my life and helped me name the discomfort and to shift my perspective on gender within myself and my own assumptions as I perceive others. My heart does a little dance of joy when someone refers to me in third person using “they/them” pronouns.

What are the main concepts in your work?

“There are two wolves….” I’m absolutely fascinated by items cast off from industrial practices or interesting nature tidbits. I am a magpie for that which glitters, makes bold shapes or has bright color. What I collect and incorporate into each piece is a love song of the city, of nature. Strung taut between fascination for human ingenuity, bemused by our penchant for generating detritus and my awe of the slower pace of the seasons, tides, nature’s cyclical deconstruction in which nothing is wasted. In my struggle to conceptualize the reasons for doing what I do, I seek to be bolder in my self expression, to become an eccentric loud human without saying a word. To highlight all that I observe in myself, in others and what surrounds us, to celebrate what is normally cast off or a remnant of a whole.

Can you share a bit about your conceptual development?

Materials tend to be the starting point, particularly found or reclaimed. It’s like someone left a puzzle piece out for me and I am compelled to see where it fits and I build the rest to make sure it has a place to fit into. Once I’ve got that image in my brain, I must somehow make it exist in physical plane. And when I get into the flow of making, I feel like I’ve attained the ultimate goal of timelessness. The moment when you are so focused on what is sitting in front of you, on what your hands are doing and the getting the vision from your head into physical reality until all else fades away and becomes quiet.

Necklace No 11, Copper, telecommunication wire, glass, cotton, sterling silver, 2020

How do you take a break and reset?

I don’t break – I must always be working on something, giving my hands and my head something to do to keep it occupied. If I need to take a break from making jewelry, I’ll switch to another project in a different medium (making clothing, doing puppetry, hair cutting, cooking) or return to something I put down for a few years to let percolate or start exploring a fresh idea. But I pace myself – even when on a journey elsewhere I am always packing (a project).

What is your favorite tool, material, or process? 

When I learned the science behind and experienced direct results of what annealing does to metal and the similarities between clay, I fell in love with the torch. Being able to form and shape metal is so exciting to me!

Investing in a Smith torch and a tank of acetylene was a huge step towards building my studio. With the set chasing & repoussé tools I made in Dawn’s classes, I gravitated towards the process and made many chased and repoussé pieces, pushing metal in new directions.

What is something no one has ever asked you that you would like to answer?

Everybody focuses on the metals, but we hardly talk about the other side of my work, which is obsessive crocheting! >_<

I learned to crochet around the same time as metals using a series of books that helped me (my favorite I can’t remember the title of and I’m not home to check, so if we end up talking about this I’ll find the title to share because it’s the best). Then I learned about how crochet was used to create large scale sculpture and started to play with form and shape. Then figured out ways to incorporate it into my jewelry.

What do you want to see in the field in order for it be more supportive?

One of the most difficult aspects of working with jewelry for me was that it was cost prohibitive – those who I knew that decided to pursue the field were often left with not enough funds to support themselves sustainably in my area, even if the rates of pay is/was competitive for the field they were often forced to have multiple jobs to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Over the years, I have chosen to support my practice via a day job (an arts aligned one whenever possible). This has traditionally made consistency in practice more challenging which impedes my ability to market my work to find customers. Also, because I practice out of my house, I am limited in the amount of tooling I can invest in. I would love to see more communal/community studio practices to make the tooling more accessible to folks – currently these tend to be centered around educational programs which is wonderful – but wouldn’t be lovely if we worked on a way to expand that!


*** All interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity


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