Mic Urban: Tinkering Silver & Brass

Born and raised in Connecticut, young Michael Urban woke up one day with an ultimatum that changed his life at the age of 17. Leaving his home state and family behind, Urban spent his senior year of high school in Paraguay. Like a fish in the water, he felt finally at home; the warm, Latin culture, the language, and the effervescent happiness he glowed were enough for him to stay in Latin America. At eighteen, he came across a small island in the Greater Antilles: Puerto Rico. 

While studying his B.A. in Modern Languages (majoring in Portuguese and Italian) in the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, he intended to be a translator afterward, but things didn’t really turn out that way. He started out his jewelry career when he sold his first handmade pieces as an artisan student in front of El Teatro (UPR Theatre in the Humanities Faculty). Post-Bachelors, he traveled across Asia for a year and then came back to the island; Michael certified himself as an artisan and years latehir, is building a name for himself in the crafts community of San Juan. 

I had the pleasure to sit down at my home desk and chat with him over the phone on the thirteenth quarantine day in Puerto Rico; here’s what came out of it. 

 

Her Campus at UPR: Your website’s biographic page said that your takeaway from your parent’s traveler spirit is essentially these three pillars: quality, culture, and design. Can you give us insight on your upbringing? 

Mic Urban: My parents were not rich, but they always loved antiques; here in Puerto Rico, there are not that many antiques because the tropical weather is really hard on the products, like antique furniture and the like. Back where I’m from in Connecticut, the dry and cool air preserves them better and we’d always go to the market to enjoy the workmanship. My mom loved jewelry, she would always get herself beautiful, sterling silver pieces. 

 

HC at UPR: Did you always dream of tinkering hot metal for a living, or was there another path in mind? 

MU: I think I always knew I was going to become a jeweler; I have always loved seeing embellishing items, the sparkle of metals and beadwork. I believe it's really the one artifact that preserves itself. Everything else, sculpture, ceramics and furniture, decay at a faster pace. Jewelry’s cool ‘cause you can wear it, express yourself and it's like wearable sculptures you walk around in, take with you wherever and carry memories. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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HC at UPR: What’s your favorite metal to work with and why: silver, gold or brass? 

MU: If all metals were the same price, gold because it's that crazy metal that no matter where you put it, it’s always going to shine. But I like all metals because each one of them represents a different kind of person, like how we’ve socially come to identify people by the metals they wear. Brass is like more for hippies that like the metal and don’t care that it’s not shiny. Sterling silver people also, but want to invest in something that’s good quality but doesn’t care for gold. Gold is for either somebody who wants to buy a piece to wear for the rest of their life or somebody reckless who just wants to spend a load of money. I personally wear silver. 

 

HC at UPR: We understand you were an apprentice for silversmiths in Mexico; can you describe your experience?

MU: I was traveling in Mexico and I really wanted to study; everyone I met pointed me towards Taxco because that city is known for metalwork (they’ve been working silver for 500 years.) My teachers were these two old men with hateful and altruistic egos, but I was just a guy in his twenties bending spoons while they had years of experience, so I listened. One of them retired and is now 97 years old, he had traveled to Chiapas and learned how craftsmen practice pre-Columbian casting. They always said that jewelry should always be done by hand, demonizing mass-production, but I won’t get into that—it’s a whole ass detour. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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HC at UPR: What are the cornerstones you learned to become the artist you are today? 

MU: Originality. You have to study jewelry to create something new, and I see so many big brand name designers just redoing Roman and Greek jewelry all the time. You have to study all types of jewelry from around the world to get a sense of what’s been done before and avoid it. You should also express who you are and where you’re from. When I say that, I don’t mean the place you were born in, I mean that country or city that really hits you home and gives a connection you can’t avoid. Just be genuine and humble, I would say.

 

HC at UPR: We continued to snoop around your website for purposes of this interview—he laughs on the other end of the phone as I say this—and we noticed that thanks to your research, you’ve realized that lines, dots, and spirals are arranged in similar patterns in different cultures. Concluding that even elements as simple as aesthetics unite us all as humans. 

MU: Yeah, definitely, that’s exactly what I’m trying to express. All the cave drawings and ancient writings are the same around the world. The human fiber was that more present back then, we were closer to nature and reacted to elements in similar ways. A lot of my work just tries to highlight those links, that we were closer to nature in our primitive times, and not so encrusted with borders and race. Jewelry is so ancient. I’m just trying to do my version of the Caribbean artform using the symbols that have come before me, and teach history, too. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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HC at UPR: What's your current obsession and does it show potential for a future collection you’d launch? 

MU:  “You know, technology isn’t all horrible,” he said before pausing with a laugh of irony. This guy on Instagram posted a picture of him with taíno petroglyphs and I grew obsessed. Puerto Rico has more petroglyphs than anywhere else in the world, but they are so hard to find, I literally had to go to the same river nine times before finding one. But I love it, it’s a new scavenger hunt I’m hooked to. But no, I feel like Taíno scripts are far overworked, so I don’t think I’m going to focus on that, I’d dive in the natural world from the time or work with endemic wildlife species. I recently made a ring like the Puerto Rican Boa. I see myself working more bird species in the future, like the Guaraguao’s claws. 

 

Forty minutes later, the conversation was reaching its end, and I signed off the interview with one last question.

 

HC at UPR: It was a pleasure talking to you, Mic! Do you have any last comments to add for our fellow readers? 

MU: He giggled before winging out, “¡Viva Puerto Rico!”.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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You can find his jewelry at his website Mic Urban!

This interview has been edited for clarity and comprehensibility.