Longmont-based artist Ada Schwehr’s jewelry and portraits inspire healing through foraged botanicals.
By Kate Jonuska
Turn a corner, and your life can change.
This was the case for Ada Schwehr, an artist and a forager of nutritional and medicinal plants who turned a corner in the Pacific Northwest woods to find a life-changing leaf in 2009.
“I saw this gorgeous Oregon red grape leaf all by itself, and it was—for me—a big, magic moment,” Schwehr says. “I immediately knew I wanted to preserve the leaf because it was so beautiful—to take in this fallen botanical and give it new life.”
Schwehr, who moved from the Pacific Northwest to Longmont last year, has since created a small business, RAD by Ada (RAD stands for “renew all designs”), selling jewelry and portraits made from lightweight wood adorned with an extensive collection of foraged botanicals. Schwehr breaks, crumbles or tears the botanicals, arranges them into a design, then uses a special epoxy sealant to preserve the finished pieces.
“I’m drawn to preserve the beauty in what is broken,” she says. “I love all the colors and textures and shapes. I love being able to be curious about what will preserve well and what holds color well.”
Oregon grape leaves are still Schwehr’s favorite material, but she also enjoys working with birch bark, ginkgo leaves, iris and rhododendron petals, and fallen leaves of all varieties. By recombining these dying and broken materials into new art pieces, Schwehr hopes to inspire people—especially women—to find the beautiful paths still possible despite the broken places in their own life stories.
“Renewal is something I wish collectively for the world and people individually. Things that hold brokenness and pain are still worthwhile because they’re renewing,” she says. “I try to infiltrate the culture with compassion and grace for one another. The heart of my work is wanting to instill honor for one another, no matter what.”
That dedication to healing is what drew Schwehr to start producing portraits made from foraged materials. She recently hosted an Instagram session to produce “foraged selfies,” which helped women cobble together broken botanicals to make self-portraits. She also makes portraits of people who have died, which are especially poignant for people in mourning.
Though she’s growing the business slowly, she hopes eventually to add pendants, journals and other products to her RAD by Ada line. Much as her journey began, Schwehr is ready to go wherever her healing imagination takes her.