By Kelly Baughman

When the beauty of nature is all around you, inspiration can strike when you least expect it. That was the case for jewelry artist and photographer Melissa Manning. When life got her down, she took to the beach and created a jewelry line that is one of a kind. Her ‘Sand Treasures of the Gulf Coast’ are sure to make your day at the beach one you’ll cherish forever.
A native of Pensacola since the age of one, Melissa grew up enjoying the beach and the beauty that came along with it. Soaking in the colors and textures of the sand and emerald waters led Manning to pursue a degree in Interior Design at Florida State University. “I went to school a little later than most, but I think taking that time to observe my surroundings as an adult and what was naturally occurring around me allowed me to excel in interior design,” she said.
Upon her graduation, Manning opened her own interior design firm, where she worked for several years before taking a position with DuPont/Corian and Cambria, working with home improvement products. “When the market crashed around 2008, I lost my job and everything but my house. I knew I was headed for a change, and after some soul searching, I knew I wanted to begin creating again,” Manning said.
That soul searching and urge to be creative led Manning back to the beach. A place she had always found solitude and answers to life’s hardest questions, Manning found her inspiration lying right there in front of her on the sand. “I was walking and saw this beautiful, unique shell. Shelling had always been a passion of mine, so it seemed natural to want to make beautiful jewelry and art from the treasures I had found right in my own backyard,” she said.
With a collection of one of a kind treasures from the sands from Navarre to Gulf Shores, Manning spent the next several months creating beautiful coastal themed jewelry and home pieces that were truly unique, affordable, and organic to the shores of the Gulf. “It took me a while, and a lot of broken shells, to learn how to handle this delicate medium. I still break shells sometimes, so each piece is a challenge,” she said.
What Manning said makes her pieces special is that each shell is hand-picked from the sands right in our own backyard. “Every single piece I make is one of a kind and is crafted from shells that I myself have picked up over the years. I do have clients that bring me their own shells that ask me to create a piece for them, and I’m happy to do it. Sometimes people know what a gem they’ve found, they just don’t know how to display it. That’s where I come in. I like to make them a piece they can wear and show off that brings back personal memories of the beach,” Manning said.
In addition to her hand-made jewelry, Manning is also a talented photographer. “I spend much of my free time combing the sands for the treasures of the day, and I started taking pictures while on my walks. I’ve learned that each day is different, and capturing the same place a hundred times on the Gulf Coast will never look the same,” she said. “That’s what makes photographing nature so special.”
Manning takes time every day to take in the beauty the coast offers, but said it’s the days after storms that are her favorite. “The most unique things wash up after storms. Things you don’t normally see that come in from the deep water. Sponges, mermaids purses, etc. Things you never imagined you’d find,” Manning said.
But it’s her time to reflect on her blessings that Manning feels is the real reward to her life as an artist. “I just think how lucky I am to be able to comb the beach and be creative with my hands every day. When the economy crashed, I felt like life as I knew it was over, but now I feel so grateful to feel my toes in the sand and express myself through art,” she said.
Life may throw us some curveballs, but you just have to keep swinging for the fence.
Manning plans to release a spring and summer collection in the coming weeks. Each collection will be themed, yet Manning said she is always open to custom orders if shoppers have something else in mind.
To see Melissa Manning’s one of a kind, custom jewelry, or photography, visit Sea, Surf, and Sand on Facebook, or call Melissa directly at 850-207-5853.