Dan Telleen’s perfect circle opticals and fine leather satchel rest on his desk as he steadily flips through the pages of a large book on ancient forms of money. It’s more than the qualities of currency that Telleen finds fascinating.
“I think I got started in jewelry because when I was 8 years old I started collecting coins,” he shares, “and I still collect them, so I think the metallurgy and designs just angled into my jewelry.”
The medium of exchange makes its way into some of Telleen’s themes, as money and trade has held value in our heritage and beyond. One piece, a money clip, features coin of Janus from the 119 BC Roman Republic.
“Janus was a Roman god that was two-faced,” explains Telleen. “Not in a way that he was dishonest; what it meant was that he could stand in the present and look into the past with clarity, and into the future with imagination.”
The relics that Telleen highlights in his truly timeless pieces are like collections of bookmarks in history, he says. Each Navajo pearl necklace, iron bracelet or abalone pendant stands for something that tells its own story, but not the whole story. The whole story is the body of work.
Ask Telleen for a story about a piece and he’ll tell you one, or he’ll pull a book down from his stacks and let you have a look yourself.
“Before coins and before they knew how to write, people would use seals,” explains Telleen as he displays a dozen uniquely carved stones onto his desk. “Everyone had their own unique seal, and they would carry it with them.”
On a wide cuff bracelet made of sterling silver and 22-karat-gold disks, Telleen made impressions from an ancient Assyrian cylinder seal. Etched into the seal, and now forever set into the bracelet, is a scene of a hunter riding his horse through a herd of horned animals, prancing.
“I rolled it out in wax, and then once I got it rolled out the way I wanted it, I cut out the circles and cast them in gold, and I cast the bracelet in silver,” Telleen says of the piece.
Telleen makes his own tools, almost primitive themselves. A diamond tool he pulls out of his desk is simply a needle stuck on an eraser at the end of a pencil.
“I use both ends,” he says, holding up the tool, “and it’s not going to give me anything like anybody else.”
He creates tools out of all kinds of things, from sticks, reeds and grasses to fossils. He borrows from other disciplines, too: leather working, textiles, dental health, ceramics and more.
“We’re going back and back and back in history — that’s what ties all these things together — rather than a file that I bought from a jewelry distributor that gives me a consistent curve or a consistent look … these homemade tools give me a product that is all its own.”