Rhody Maker: Leslie Block Prip is Forging a Comeback in Metal and Stone
The jewelry designer's second eponymous line is a labor of love with her husband, Peter.
In the 1970s, Leslie Block Prip enrolled in night classes at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in pursuit of a long-held dream — one built on a reverence for self-adornment. There, she honed a line of one-of-a-kind jewelry and traveled to Manhattan to see what she could make of her passion project.
Her cold-call courage paid off. The fledgeling designer left the city with five major orders and a Fifth Avenue rep to keep them coming. Throughout the 1980s, her popular eponymous line, Leslie Block Design, graced Hollywood films and glossy magazines (including this one).
“But selling wholesale to big stores all over the world and waiting to get paid, you find yourself constantly cash poor,” says Block Prip in a telephone interview from her home in Edgewood. “I really saw a need for a partner or an influx of money, so I sold [the business] and stayed on” as creative director.
By the 1990s, she gave up the directorship to “go to the other side,” she says, as a designer for Rhode Island-based jewelry manufacturing companies including Bernardo Manufacturing, where she works today. This Mother’s Day, through her connection at Bernardo, Block Prip was tapped by Chico’s to create a custom line for the retailer’s top 100 stores, including Garden City, and online.
“Over the years, after I gave up my business, I wanted to continue to find a way to do both: to design during the day and earn a living that way and continue to make and create my own jewelry,” she says. “I think I always hungered for re-entry into some sort of creating my own collection.”
Now, four decades after she launched her first line, Block Prip has taken another courageous step toward creative fulfillment. And, this time, she didn’t need to go too far from home.
Block Prip’s husband, Peter Prip, is a retired RISD professor and a metalsmith. The pair met in the 1980s — he fabricated a model for a cuff bracelet for Leslie Block Design — and they’ve been married for thirty years, so it was only a matter of time before the pair looked to one another for collaboration. Three years ago, they opened up their backyard studio to visitors for a trunk show of early designs under the moniker, Leslie Block Prip.
The couple works well together — “thank god,” she says. First, Block Prip sketches out her ideas — “Peter always says my drawings look like folk art,” she says — and Peter fabricates her designs. Their daughter, Lilly, serves as a studio assistant.
Their most popular design, a pair of lightweight earrings, is named for Lilly. Each earring begins as a small wire that’s shaped into a teardrop. Peter solders the ends together and stretches the silver or gold via a controlled hammering process. Each pair coordinates, but the individual earrings are unique.
The Prips’ passion for metal is evident, but they also have a love for stone. They search local beaches — South Shore in Little Compton and Sachuest Point in Middletown are favorites — for wave-worn rocks to transform into eye-catching necklaces and rings.
“There’s so much we can do with them,” Block Prip says. “They’re like little jewels.”
Block Prip incorporates other eclectic items from her travels into Charmy Cluster necklaces, including antique buttons, little pendants and beads that recall her early design work.
The jewelry business might look different from when Block Prip got her start, but her aesthetic instincts are the same — heightened, even, given the natural collaboration with her husband and daughter. One can imagine, like the vintage Leslie Block earrings and necklaces up for grabs on Etsy and eBay, that her newest designs will live on in the annals of jewelry design, too.
“These are timeless pieces,” she says. “They’re like modern heirlooms.” leslieblockprip.com