Yupadee Kobkulboonsiri, Designer of Otherworldly Jewelry, Dies at 51

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Yupadee Kobkulboonsiri made fantastical jewelry — neck cuffs with silver springs ending in pearls that looked like asteroids, necklaces that looped over a shoulder and erupted in diamonds and pearls. She won awards at every trade competition she entered.

She transformed everyday objects into artworks, too: She would buy sandals and weave shells into them. She would crochet flowers with saffron yellow yarn for the Buddhist temples she frequented (and knit tissue-box covers for the monks there).

She could peel an apple in one stroke with her eyes closed.

Ms. Kobkulboonsiri died on April 27 at Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn. She was 51. Steven Fishman, her husband, said the cause was the novel coronavirus.

Ms. Kobkulboonsiri was a couture jewelry designer whose whimsical pieces made her stand out at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she learned her craft and later taught.

In the late 1990s, James Grunberger, the third-generation owner of a jewelry company in Stamford, Conn., called the school to ask for its most creative graduate. “I was tired of boring designers, and I asked them for their savant,” Mr. Grunberger said.

The professors recommended Ms. Kobkulboonsiri.

She remained at Mr. Grunberger’s for two decades, introducing him to one of her favorite bands, the Velvet Underground, and challenging his fabricator, Rupert Scheufler, a master jeweler who was classically trained in Vienna, to make ever more complex and beautiful pieces from her designs.

Ms. Kobkulboonsiri was born on Aug. 10, 1968, in Bangkok. Her mother, Pornthip Sae Wong, was a homemaker, and her father, Manus Kobkulboonsiri, worked in finance.

She earned a B.F.A. in decorative and visual communication design from Silpakorn University in Bangkok in 1986, after which she worked as an art director at Grey/Thailand, the global advertising agency’s Bangkok headquarters. (Nice for the résumé, she felt, but her heart wasn’t in it.)

She came to New York City to study at the Fashion Institute, where in 1999 she earned an associate of applied science degree in jewelry design.

For nearly a decade she lived at the Jeanne d’Arc Residence on West 24th Street, women’s housing run by the Sisters of Divine Providence of Kentucky. Her room was spare: a bed, a desk, an office chair, a Buddhist shrine, with the drawings she was working on tacked to the wall.

The residence was a cost-saving measure so she could send money home to her family, which she did every month until her death. The nuns were strict, and male visitors were allowed only for brief visits and only in the dimly lit waiting room.

Mr. Fishman, who is also an artist, was teaching sculpture at the School of Visual Arts, and, in the years before she moved into his loft in Williamsburg, he would dash over for lunch or to steal a kiss.

In addition to her husband and parents, Ms. Kobkulboonsiri is survived by her brothers, P’Yuth Kobkulboonsiri and Satta Kobkulboonsiri, and her sister, P’Jim Dusdi Pinpradup.

In recent years she had been eager to design less rarefied work, and she and Mr. Fishman had been making furniture together, mosaic tables and brass lamps etched with whorls and spirals.

Even Ms. Kobkulboonsiri’s hair was gallery ready, cut in an asymmetrical bob. It was as strong as steel, Mr. Fishman said. Either he or she cut it, because she didn’t trust anyone else to get it right. As a Buddhist, she was practiced in letting things go, Mr. Fishman said, but she was also a perfectionist.

“That’s good, but can you try to make it straighter?” she would urge him.

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