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Faith and art combined
Chantilly artist Melissa Lew Bradford’s jewelry business inspired by faith
Though she is relatively new to the Catholic Church, local artist Melissa Lew Bradford, a parishioner of St. Veronica Church in Chantilly, is no stranger to using the gifts God has given her. As the artist behind her own jewelry line, she has figured out a way to make beautiful things that also make a difference for local charitable organizations.
From a young age, Bradford was creative. As a Methodist growing up in the small town of Bedford, Va., she was trained classically in piano and always was interested in the arts.
“My parents always encouraged art as a child,” she said. “I can remember sitting in the kitchen with my mother making jewelry.”
As she grew up, her creativity flourished. She became the music director for her church, and in 2005 she earned a bachelor’s in art and visual technology from George Mason University in Fairfax.
After college, Bradford began working as a graphic designer, eventually landing a job at an environmental engineering firm in 2008. In her spare time, she began designing and crafting her own jewelry. Once people began offering to buy pieces she was wearing, she started her own business, selling her designs on her website, melissalew.com, and at local craft markets.
Around this time, Bradford and her husband, Scott — they married in a Methodist church in 2005 — began looking for a new spiritual home.
“We loved that church, but we didn’t feel at home yet,” Bradford said.
After spending time searching for a new church, the couple stumbled into St. Veronica. Instantly, they felt at home.
“We started going to Mass and felt a connection,” she said. “We felt at peace and just knew it was right.”
Together, the couple enrolled in Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes in 2008 and joined the church at the Easter Vigil in 2009. Today, Scott is RCIA coordinator for the parish with Bradford helping.
“It’s an amazing experience being able to lead a group of people on their spiritual journey,” she said.
Since her conversion, Bradford feels more at peace with her life and where she is going.
“Definitely my faith is stronger now,” she said. “Before, you’re not quite sure why things happen, but you want to take charge of everything in your life. After joining the church, I learned to let that go. There’s definitely a type of peace in my life now because I know I can’t control everything.”
Through the years, her jewelry business has continued to grow as well. Her work is available for sale at the Asia Society and Museum Asia Store in New York and monthly at the Ballston Arts Market in Arlington. In recent years, several of her pieces have won international honors.
Her newfound faith has influenced her art in a major way, she said. She sees making jewelry as a kind of meditation. Taking inspiration from her Chinese heritage and a deep respect for nature, she tries to create jewelry that is eco-friendly, using sustainable materials like bamboo and recycled silver. Often her pieces depict flowers, fish and other animals.
“I feel like my jewelry is a celebration of God’s creation,” she said. “There are so many things in the world that people don’t pay attention to that, but my goal is to capture it.”
Besides being eco-friendly, Bradford also wants her jewelry to benefit others. That’s why many of the profits from her pieces are given to charitable organizations in Virginia and around the country.
“Giving back to the community gives meaning to my artwork and that makes me want to create even more,” she said.
Together with another local artist Jennifer Elizabeth Miller, Bradford started The Love Project, a line of jewelry in which 50 percent of all the profits are donated to various charities. The line, which was announced in February, officially launched during the MTV Movie Awards in June.
So far, the jewelry line’s profits have supported Facets, a Fairfax nonprofit that helps families and individuals in poverty, and Becky’s Fund, a nonprofit that works to fight domestic violence. In recent weeks, the designers have partnered with the Stymie Canine Cancer Foundation, an organization based in Aurora, Colo., that is raising money to help the victims and families affected by the July 20 movie theater shooting.
In the future, Bradford hopes the line will partner with more locally based organizations, like the D.C. Central Food Kitchen and Miriam’s Kitchen in Washington. Bradford also has contributed profits from her jewelry to families seeking adoptions.
“I’ve always been attracted to the idea of helping others because I feel so blessed,” she said. “This is a way we can make a difference.”
One of Bradford’s biggest inspirations is St. Thérèse, who focused on little ways of spreading love in the world. For Bradford, making jewelry that is beautiful and helps others is her way of spreading love.
“This gives meaning to me and my art,” she said. “It makes it more than just a pretty thing to wear, but something that means something to someone. It’s going to go to someone who needs help.”