Niki Ulehla is an artist, jewelry designer, puppet maker and performer. Originally from Tennessee, she lived in Texas, Alabama, Germany, Georgia, Massachusetts and the Marshall Islands before coming to California in 1997 to study painting at Stanford University. Her work is all hand-made in her San Francisco studio.
My work as a jewelry designer is strongly tied to my work as a puppet maker. I first learned to make marionettes in the Czech Republic (where my father is from) when I was 20. Immediately after I returned, I studied jewelry making at the Revere Academy in San Francisco. Since that time, I have worked in both of these areas. Each one lends ideas and forms to the other. Many of the techniques and materials I use in making my jewelry come from techniques or discoveries in the puppet-making process. Wood, paint, gold leaf, fabric and plastic are paired with traditional materials of gold, silver and gemstones. I do not attempt to hone my style into a narrowly focused body of work-- it diverges. I understand my jewelry to be the exploration of isolated areas of a puppet. And the puppets benefit from these explorations as well.
I split my time between working on jewelry and working on puppets and puppet shows. I have been performing in the San Francisco bay area since 2005. I continue to work on a version of Dante’s Inferno, which I began during a residency at Recology in San Francisco. Recently, I have begun to explore the overlap between puppets and jewelry more deeply through smaller scale performance.