In a studio in Birmingham, Alabama, old, broken pieces of jewelry are re-imagined. An old belt buckle or a bit of an earring is set as the centerpiece for a necklace. A long chain of a necklace is repurposed as the beginning of a bracelet.
Ex Voto Vintage is a jewelry store in Mountain Brook Village, started in 2009 by Elizabeth Adams. Tucked away amongst other shops and restaurants, it looks like any other boutique, but Ex Voto Vintage is more than just a retailer. According to its website, “Art, vintage patina, mysterious history, blessings of encouragement and gratitude to the Redeemer who has the power to make beauty from ashes, these are the concepts behind Ex Voto Vintage.”
Ex Voto Vintage gives a portion of proceeds to The Cure Starts Now Foundation for Pediatric Brain Cancer Research, a foundation close to Adam’s heart, as her 4-year-old daughter, Madeline, passed away from an inoperable brain tumor.
Growing up, Adams was always interested in art, and she began to paint more after losing Madeline. “I think in the beginning she used her art as a way of dealing with her grief and her ‘empty hands’ after losing Madeline,” explains her sister-in-law, Camille Latimer.
Adams stumbled into jewelry making by accident. She was working in the collage medium, using old pieces of broken jewelry to add texture to her work. She started threading those pieces together onto necklaces. She reminisced on this transition, noting “jewelry was a little more interactive with people than paintings.”
As she began to explore making jewelry, she also explored selling it. Some of the galleries that carried her paintings also sold jewelry, so she began to sell her pieces at the galleries before moving into wholesale. Eventually, she didn’t have enough space in the studio in her house to continue creating, so she found a studio that had retail space in the front.
Adams decided to sell jewelry on-site because the space was there. When coming up with a name for her business, she did not want to use her own name, so she looked for inspiration elsewhere. At the time, Adams was fascinated with ex votos. “They mean an offering of gratitude, and they are placed outside the altar in Catholic Latin American faiths,” she explained. “They are handmade and are placed there to offer others hope that their prayers will be answered too.”
And Ex Voto Vintage works to help answer the prayers of families who are suffering because a child has been diagnosed with cancer. “Childhood cancer only receives 3.8 percent of government funding, which is not enough to find a cure. I love how generous she is to donate to the Cure Starts Now; it shows how passionate she is to find a cure so no one else has to experience what she went through,” says Adam’s niece, Grace Anne Latimer.
Seven years later, her business has grown enough that she now has showrooms in Montgomery, Alabama and Nashville, Tennessee, as well as her Birmingham site. As Ex Voto Vintage has grown, it has stayed true to its original concept: bringing beauty out of brokenness.
Her sister-in-law, Camille Latimer, is now the showroom coordinator of the Birmingham store. According to her, this idea is even true behind-the-scenes. She says, “God has brought together a group of employees that are quite broken and has used us to encourage one another each day as we laugh, ache, grow, and work together to run a business and walk through life that is very broken. A business that started from the ‘empty hands’ of grief in a very broken world is now a place of beauty and encouragement. There is beautiful jewelry and beautiful relationships with customers and other employees.”
Adams has created a venue for beauty from a place of deep hurt. She has turned broken bits of jewelry into a business that provides hope for others. But, as Latimer ruminates on Ex Voto Vintage, she realizes “The Jesus Story Book Bible says that, ‘He is making all the sad things come untrue.’ God uses His people to redeem the brokenness of this world. That is why I like going to work every day. Jewelry is one way to redeem the brokenness—there are endless other ways.”
For more information or to shop Ex Voto Vintage, click here.
Story Edited 10/24/2016.