Monday, April 11, 2011

Susan Braig: Pharmaceutical Art

61 year old jewelry maker Susan Braig was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Braig had private insurance but was under-insured and left many thousands of dollars in debt. She found a unique way to combine her illness and her art to help pay off her medical bills.

In 2007, Braig went to a medical themed art exhibit and got the idea to use her own leftover pills in her jewelry. "I bought my first round of medicine and it cost $500 out of my own pocket," she said. "I looked at the drugstore receipt and then at the little pills and wondered if they were precious gems." One of her first pieces was a princes tiara made from her cancer medications. Now Braig gets old medications donated to her by friends to transform into her jewelry art. She launched a line of jewelry called Designer Drug Jewelry.

My first thought, is this even legal? Apparently, she seals the pills so that they are unusable. (I wonder if she has rules about what pills she uses, like no Schedule IIs.) As she uses pills and gel caps, some of the jewelry is very fragile and heat intolerant. She uses old medication bottles and with cotton balls to package her jewelry.

I was intrigued by the story because I liked the symbolism. She has turned her old medications into "precious gems". Turning somethings that are likely symbols of her illness into something very unique and beautiful. I never saw pills, with all their different colors and shapes, as beautiful before. (I guess that's why she's the artist.) Also it just amuses me to see a necklace with "Zofran" written on it. Apparently her Viagra necklaces are quite popular.

Braig's story was recently featured in the LA Times which is where I found it. She has also been on NPR in the past, talking about her cancer debt and being under-insured.

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