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Posts tagged ‘jewelry’

Finding my muse

As a jewelry artist, I often get asked where I come up with my ideas.  It makes me wonder:

Where DO I come up with my ideas? 

Do I have a muse?  After thinking on this, I realize…it’s complicated.  There is a lot of repetition in the jewelry arts.  Most jewelry is a variation on the same basic designs that people have been making for centuries.  Hoop earrings, pearl studs, gemstone rings. These things inspire themselves.  I see one and I think:

I need to make one of those.

And then I do.  I am proud to be a craftsperson, pounding out the classics with my own two hands in my own little way, when anyone can see that it’s easier and cheaper to mass produce them in China.

So what about the muse?  Where does “my own special way” come from?  I will confess that I feel a little ambiguous about art.  I’m always sad when my favorite potter stops making coffee mugs in favor of sculpture.  As if the natural progression from craftsperson to artist demands a transition away from useful objects.  It makes me sad because my walls are covered and my mantle is full.  I have no more space for art without purpose.

But I’m always breaking my coffee mugs.

It goes a little deeper than that:  To make a stunning objet d’art is a fine thing.  But to make beauty spring out from within the defined parameters of a functional object is truly magical.  Lucky for me, jewelry must be worn, so it automatically has purpose.  Yes… the very serious purpose of personal adornment. It is the perfect medium in which to merge art and craft.

I have a few categories of ideas.  Some inspiration arrives out of thin air.  I’m sure it came from somewhere, but hell if I know where.

I’m a natural problem solver, and some ideas arrive as a solution to a problem.  It goes something like this:  I have piles of beads, and I like rivets.  How can I combine them? I won’t tell you how many beads I crushed trying to rivet them to metal objects before I came up with this idea:

Sometimes I get my ideas direct from my customers.  A friend asked if I could make a small vial for a loved pet’s ashes.  The request pushed me to try something I never would have thought of doing, and now I’m completely hooked on vials.

Some of my best ideas are born from my limitations.  I’m impatient (who knew?), and

Pearl necklace

I’m on the beginner end of the craftsman spectrum.  So, I do simple things. Instead of getting fancy, I try to maximize the impact of each design element; contrast, proportion, shape, color.

My favorite muse is a phenomenon that I will call Concept Transformation and Appropriation.  I catch a glimpse of someone’s necklace in the elevator.  It is incredibly cool, and I am stabbed with a jealous desire to make it, right now. I can’t believe I never thought of it myself.  I agonize over how I can use the idea without straight copying. The next day I lurk in the vicinity of the elevator to find the person with the fab necklace. I find her and stare…  and see that the necklace was not even remotely what I had imagined. Somewhere between eye and brain, the design morphed into something entirely new and entirely my own, without even pausing to consider my expert guidance.

Inspiration works in funny ways.

Check out where the other Aspiring Metalsmiths find their inspiration:



The first entry in my new blog is something old.  Something I wrote at the passing of my 95 year old grandmother and read at her funeral.  Why do I start my blog, an entry about jewelry and my prettiest, most precious stones, with this?

You will see.


 My grandmother was not your typical grandma, or a typical woman at all. When I think of her, I don’t remember any homemade cookies or hand-knit sweaters or warm hugs. I certainly don’t ever recall feeling spoiled by my grandma.

The grandmother I see is walking through the high desert, surrounded by sandstone cliffs and searing heat and heartbreaking beauty, and she’s a perfect reflection of that landscape: full of richness and depth and quiet history, a little mysterious and intimidating sometimes. She’s walked a thousand miles out here, in her apron and her white Keds. And she doesn’t carry water, or a Power Bar either.

I do recall feeling privileged to be her granddaughter.

I see an educated woman from a distinguished family, taking to her mother’s china with a hammer. She’s building a

Roberta on top of the Uintah Bank Building in 1923

ranch with her husband, raising it from scratch out of the sagebrush and river mud. She gives birth to her boys at home in her own bed. And she never complains about any of the hardships or difficulties in her life. She just sets fire to them.

She keeps her stories to herself. Her heartaches and triumphs over the long years are left for us to imagine.

I see a beautiful garden full of daylilies, roses, and fruit trees, and a yellow tomcat on her doorstep. He’s a little intimidated by my Grandmother too, or anyway he ought to be. And the deer browsing her garden outside her bedroom window— they should be terrified. Grandma was a crack shot and she did like venison.

It’s hard to describe the kind of influence a person can have on your life just by living. But my grandmother looms large in the catalog of forces molding my life. I believe most of us would say that she didn’t so much touch our hearts. Rather, she branded them, with her fierce dignity and independence, her strength of character. We will forever be grateful to have had such a woman in our lives.


Grandma loved her stones.  She was a dedicated rock hound, something she got from her mother.  In the last year of my grandmother’s life, she left me a message saying she had some rocks for me.  This is what she had:

A pile of cabochons.  She figured maybe I could get some use out of them, since I was making jewelry now. She cut these cabs herself, undoubtedly from stones she found herself.  Grandma would never dream of buying rocks.

The next step in my stone odyssey starts here, with this jar of Wyler’s Chicken Bouillon.


Open the jar… carefully, carefully dump it out… and what do you find?


Hundreds of rough Montana sapphires, found by my grandmother and her mother in the early 1900s near their home in Phillipsburg, Montana.

I can see my Great-Grandma Dolly pluck this little river-washed beauty up out of the gravel bar and stash it in her apron pocket. Maybe it’s the year 1917 or so, and a little toddler girl splashes in the stream beside her.

My dad tried his hand at lapidary and cut some of these gorgeous specimens.  Here is what they look like turned into bona fide gemstones.

So, what’s next?  I now have my dad’s gem cutting machine and I really need to learn to use it.  It’s in my bones.


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