The Coastal Star

Acklen Dunning of Delray Beach displays jewelry from her new line of collar necklaces.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

    Eight years ago, when Acklen Dunning fell in love with a beautiful gemstone necklace that she saw in a fashion magazine, she had a problem — the exorbitant price tag. So she came up with a plan.
    She went to a bead show and found a way to duplicate the necklace using much less expensive materials. Her interest in jewelry-making blossomed, and she made more necklaces, one of which caught the eye of someone from a local boutique, who offered to sell them for her. Eventually she began exhibiting her jewelry in shows and selling it on her own website.
    “It’s a wonderful hobby that’s turned into a very fun small business,” said Dunning, a resident of coastal Delray Beach since 1998.
    Although jewelry designing is not a full-time job for Dunning, she creates hundreds of pieces a year, including necklaces, earrings and bracelets, using materials such as semi-precious stones, baroque pearls, turquoise, coral, rock crystal, agate and jade. Her new line features a series of collar necklaces made of printed neoprene and big, chunky acrylic beads.
    “I’m really excited about it. It’s just totally different from what I’ve been doing before,” said Dunning. “It’s very glamorous, I think.”
    This month, Dunning will be selling her latest creations at the Wayside House Spring Boutique and Trunk Show, Feb. 21-23 at Old School Square in Delray Beach. The annual event is the main fundraiser of Wayside House in Delray Beach, which has been providing addiction treatment services to women since 1974.
    Now in its 27th year, the trunk show will feature more than 40 vendors from around the country selling home décor, jewelry, high-end adult and children’s clothing and accessories, with a portion of the sales going to Wayside House.
    The show also features the highly popular Trifles and Treasures section, which sells donated gently used items, such as designer handbags, vintage clothing, costume jewelry and artwork.
    A preview party will take place Feb. 20. Last year, the preview party drew some 250 people, while more than 3,000 people attended the trunk show.
    Dunning has participated as a vendor in the Wayside House fundraising event for the past four years, and before that she served as a volunteer.
    “A lot of people come to the show specifically for her jewelry items,” said Ann Weinwurm, director of development for Wayside House. “She has a following.”
    Before designing jewelry, Dunning was known for creating the Nuri evening bag, which she launched in 1995. These gilded, hand-lacquered oval bags with flowing tassels were inspired by the miniature inrō cases traditionally carried by Japanese samurai as early as the 15th century.
    “I’ve always been fascinated with the Asian cultural arts, and that’s how that started,” Dunning said.
    The meticulously crafted bags incorporated lacquer finishes that Dunning had learned at the Isabel O’Neil Studio Workshop in New York City, where for five years she studied under O’Neil, a renowned authority on the art of the painted finish. Dunning later became a teacher at the studio.
    Her Nuri bag was selected for the prestigious Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, where it won first prize. It was also exhibited at the Smithsonian Craft Show and the American Craft Museum.
    Each Nuri bag was different, and took about 60 hours to make, with up to 60 layers of lacquer applied, and sanding required every five coats.
    “It was a very intensive labor of love,” said Dunning.
    The bags were very successful, and are the creation Dunning is most proud of; but after about 12 years, she stopped making them.
    Today her creative focus is on her jewelry, which she exhibits at several charity fundraisers in Florida each year, preferring those to the big shows she used to do in New York.
    In addition to her jewelry, Dunning has time for something she is equally passionate about: bridge, which she has been playing for 10 years.
    “My life is full,” said Dunning, who is retired. “I have lots of things to do, and jewelry is my creative side, which I love.”
—  Marie Puleo

Where did you grow up and go to school?
    A. I grew up near Boston and went to the Holton-Arms School in Washington, D.C.; Briarcliffe College in New York, and the Sorbonne University in Paris.

What professions have you worked in? What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
After college, I worked in New York at the Ford Foundation in the public education department for five years, and at the Wenner-Gren Foundation for anthropological research, then married and moved to Connecticut.
    I then became involved in taking classes, then teaching at the Isabel O’Neil Studio for 10-12 years. She taught and perpetuated the art of the painted finish from its origin in the Renaissance using 21st-century materials she formulated.
I believe that Isabel O’Neil was a great influence in my involvement in the arts.
    I left the studio to start my own career designing evening bags, the Nuri bag, that incorporated her lacquer finishes. After moving to Delray Beach, I then started to design jewelry and opened a website to display them.
What advice do you have for a young person selecting a career today?
Selecting a career today must be a tedious step-by-step process that takes years of investigating. You will probably have several jobs before finding the right one. Be positive and become a person of vision, because nothing is impossible.
How did you choose to make your home in Delray Beach?
My husband and I had family from this area.
What is your favorite part about living in Delray Beach?
We love this area and are very happy because there is so much to do; lots of wonderful choices from dining, cultural events, performing arts, museums and most importantly, the people who choose to live here.
What book are you reading now?
I love historical novels and I am reading The Spy, by Paulo Coelho, about Mata Hari.
What music do you listen to when you need inspiration? When you want to relax?
Classical music for relaxing; guitar music (Ottmar Liebert, Gipsy Kings) for inspiration; and ’60s music, including the Grateful Dead, for fun.
Do you have a favorite quote or book that inspires your decisions?
Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking.
If a movie were made of your life, who would you like to play you?
Helen Mirren.
Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry?
My favorite piece of jewelry is a bracelet that my grandmother gave my mother, who in turn gave it to me. My grandmother had it engraved with a special greeting to my mother that I cherish.

    For more information about Acklen Dunning and her jewelry, visit

If You Go

What: Spring Boutique and Trunk Show. The annual event is the main fundraiser of Wayside House in Delray Beach, which has been providing addiction treatment services to women since 1974.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 21–23 at Old School Square in Delray Beach.

Cost:  $5 per person for a wristband that allows multiple entries for all three days.
A preview party will take place 6-8 p.m. Feb. 20. Tickets cost $100 per person, which includes valet parking, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and nonstop shopping.

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