Wednesday, May 10, 2017

05.15.17 STATEment Jewelry

Texas is a big place. If you take a map of the continental US and fold it in half from California to the Carolinas, the Rio Grande Valley will reach into Canada.  If you fold the map in thirds, east and west of the state, one edge, or the other, will reach into the ocean on the opposite coast.

It is also full of proud people - even if we don't always see eye to eye on politics - there are LOTS of things we do agree on...including, but not limited to...

wildflowers (we love them), barbecue (it's all about the smoke and not the sauce), and chili (NO BEANS).

Because I love my adopted home state as much as the next Texan (hey, I've been here two-thirds of my life, and I'm married to a native) I decided to show some Lone Star love by using the shape in some of my jewelry.

I made little "Texas" charms out of PMC and fused them onto pendants.  Then, after I purchased my Green Lion saw, I started cutting the outline into the back of some pieces.  They were all a huge hit!

As it turns out, Texans are not alone in their state pride or their search for a piece of handcrafted jewelry to express it.

Recently, I've been thrilled to make pieces for friends from California and the state I grew up in, Virginia.

I love telling stories for friends and clients through custom pieces - please let me know if I can make a special piece to share your story.

Until next time.

Monday, May 1, 2017

05.01.17 Celebration

A very full fridge
Ostensibly, this is a blog about jewelry, but you (gentle reader) and I both know that sometimes I write about jewelry, and other times I use it as an excuse to write about something else.  This post is very much in the latter category.

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Passover, which has (almost) always been my favorite holiday - although when I was growing up and my April birthday fell during that week - not so much (because the birthday cake was off the table, so to speak). As an adult, that's not really an issue, and there are so many things I love about Passover - the message of redemption, renewal and hope, the celebration at home with friends and family, and of course THE FOOD!

Chocolate-toffee matzo bark
Since our children were young we have shared the first night Seder with a core group of friends at their home.  Some years the crowd is bigger, some years smaller, but there is a sense of connection and community that moves me deeply, and I look forward to it every year.

So...about the jewelry...earlier this year I had a custom order for a piece with a purple stone, and one of the ones I bought (although the client didn't choose it) was this big, gemmy amethyst.  I love amethyst, and after looking at it for a while I was glad the client decided on something else, because I wanted to keep it. I just had to determine what to put on the back.

Photo credit: ShangriLa Gems

I was at the bench a couple of weeks before the holiday - working and thinking through my plans for shopping and cooking - when genius struck - I would put a wine glass on the back! Because we are commanded to drink four glasses of wine over the course of the Passover Seder, this would be the perfect piece of jewelry for both the gatherings we were attending (on the first and last nights).

In some years, we had attended the last night Seder hosted by our congregation - but this year we had the opportunity to do something new, different and wonderful!

A few months ago an Italian restaurant opened in our neighborhood, and it has become of our very favorite places. The amazing food and wonderful staff made it easy to become regulars. As it happens, L'oca D'oro is also owned by a member of the Jewish community, and they hosted a last night community Seder.

In some ways, it was very much like every other Seder I have attended since childhood.  The crowd gathered and was seated - some people I knew, some were new to me. The candles were lit to mark the separation between the day that was ending and the one that was beginning. The hosts, Adam Orman, the owner and Rabbi Rebecca Epstein of Congregation Beth Israel, identified the ritual items on the Seder plate and led us in prayer and song.

But...THE FOOD...did I mention I love Passover food (yes, yes I think I did).  Chef Fiore Tedesco prepared the most amazing Passover meal I have ever had! Traditionally, the first "course" of the meal is a green vegetable (usually parsley) dipped in saltwater - but we had fried snap peas in a salty dipping sauce that were divine!

Furthermore, by the last day I am generally doing everything I can do avoid eating another piece of matzo (they don't call it the bread of affliction for nothing).  Not so with Fiore's incredible house made unleavened bread.  Toasty and topped with sea salt, everyone at our table agreed we'd eat as much as was set in front of us.

Everything that followed - matzo ball soup, brisket, a grain free potato and tomato lasagna and flourless chocolate cake - were gastronomic works of (kosher) art...and now, every time I wear my wine glass pendant, it will remind me of the joy of celebrating with my community.


PS - with a busy summer ahead I'm going to drop back to posting every other week, so I'll see you next time - on May 15.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

04.24.17 Read My Pins (and GET OFF MY LAWN)

I don't get very many comments on the blog, but when I do - I also get an email notification - and I do a little happy dance...until recently...

After I wrote about the Women's March and my pink pussy cat pendant, someone left a comment that said (essentially) I should stick to jewelry and leave politics out of it (not unlike telling the Dixie Chicks to "shut up and sing").

I deleted the comment (because it was rude, and it IS my blog) and considered sending a private message to the person who posted, but then thought better of it - and I'm putting my response right here - on the blog.

Photo credit:
Jewelry doesn't have to be political - but it certainly can be - and there is no better example of the use of jewelry to make a statement than former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Let me confess right now that I am a huge admirer of Secretary Albright. When her memoir, Madame Secretary, came out I bought and read it immediately.  After reading it, I was so moved that I wrote her a letter. Well, damned if she didn't write me back and send me a bookplate. I treasure that bookplate and her gracious letter.

Years later, after she finished her term as Secretary of State, she wrote another book, Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewel Box, in which she describes how she used different pieces of jewelry to express herself as America's most senior diplomat.

On the inside flap of the book jacket she writes:

"Before long and without intending it, I found that jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal.  Former President George H.W. Bush had been know for saying 'Read my lips'. I began urging colleagues to 'Read my pins.'"

Photo credit:
I was fortunate to be able to see the exhibit of pins at the Smithsonian in 2010, just after the book was published - and I spent hours looking at the over 200 pieces of jewelry.

The brooches run the range from molded resin, to plated metal department store costume pieces, to this exquisite diamond encrusted panther from Cartier.
Photo credit: Katel Riou, Cartier

The exhibit of pins continues to travel - it is currently in California at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library through late June.  If it comes to a museum near you, I encourage you to go see it - for both the rich lesson in political history and the beautiful jewelry.

Until next time.

P.S. In support of the March for Science, from now until the end of April - purchase the Cherry Pi or one of 3 Chem Lab pendants currently featured in my Etsy shop and I will donate $20 from each sale to the Nature Conservancy.

Monday, April 17, 2017

04.17.17 What's My Line?

Photo credit: Wikipedia
In the 1950s and 60, the game show What's My Line ran on CBS television.  It featured celebrity panelists trying to guess the line (of work) of a guest.

If I learned anything (and actually, I learned a lot) in my Creative Side class with jewelry business expert Marlene Richey, it was that no one should have to guess what your jewelry is about - everything you say and do to market your work should be as clear to the buyer as it is to you.

Photo credit: Creative Side

I've been in business for myself for a long time - nearly 20 years - as a policy consultant...and there are some things about running your own shop that are the same no matter what you are selling. However, there is a big difference between selling a service, and producing, branding, marketing and selling stuff.

...and when that stuff is a luxury item (jewelry, even moderately priced jewelry is an economic luxury) it's even more important understand the process...

As Marlene said at the very beginning of class, people buy jewelry because they WANT it, and it is always a gift (even if it's a gift to yourself).

Ladybird Wildflower Love Note
What's my line is also a way to think about how pieces of your jewelry work together.  A collection of jewelry is often called a line. Some jewelers only have one line; some have several - and they may or may not mix and match.

When marketing jewelry, it's important to decide if you are going to try to create a line and go into production, or if you want to focus on a wider range of pieces and styles.  My pendants do all have a similar look and feel - but after taking the class - I realize that I might have some "lines" forming.

Currently, on my Etsy site, I have pendants classified as "Love Notes" or "Other Pendants".  I realize that "other" is probably not the best way to try to sell my I'm rethinking those categories.  I like the Love Note theme, and will keep that one -  but I'm considering grouping my western and Texas themed pieces together, as well as creating an "Art for Good" section. Watch the shop for changes, and let me know what you think.

Photo credit:

Marlene literally wrote the book on how to succeed in the jewelry business, and spent two solid days walking us through it step by step, with the benefit of her personal knowledge and wonderful stories. By the end of her class, my head was spinning with new ways to think about approaching my continuing journey.  As always, I'm glad to have you - my blog readers - along for the ride.

Until next time.

Monday, April 3, 2017

04.03.17 Hot Stuff!

We had a great time raising money for Hill Country Ride for Aids and hanging out at the Salado Glassworks a couple of weekends ago.  Watching glass artist extraordinaire and gallery owner Gail Allard and his colleagues heat, shape and blow glass for hours was a blast.

When you walk into the gallery you are met with an explosion of color...there is glass on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, on the shelves - in all sizes and shapes - and all created by Gail and his fellow artisans.

From the gallery you can walk through to the huge studio where, on this particular Saturday afternoon, Gail and three others, were all working together to make amazing creations.

The studio is huge - with bleacher seating so that you can sit and watch (for hours...) as glass artists work their magic.  The process starts with a small amount of clear molten glass (about 2400 degrees and it has the consistency of honey) - called a "gather" - collected on the end of a long pole.

The hot glass is then rolled and dipped into chips of colored glass, heated in a furnace and shaped - often multiple times - before the blowing a small amount of air into the pole and trapping it - causing a bubble to form and expand the size of the glass.

It was amazing to watch one of the guys blow just a puff into the tube, cover the opening and see the glass expand as the air inside got hot.

It's definitely a team effort - and takes at least two people to make a single large piece.  After the air bubble is created, there is a transfer to another pole (made me nervous just to watch) and then the open end is heated, shaped, and you can see the piece evolve until it is finished.

Gail spinning a huge bowl open
Photo credit: Salado Glassworks.
The finished pieces are separated from their poles (another impressive and highly skilled task that appears to involve just a few taps - but watching you know better) and placed in an annealing cabinet to cool.

When I first learned that in glass making the term annealing refers to the slow cooling that takes place to ensure that the piece doesn't crack when subjected to future changes in temperature (such as mug that hold hot coffee or cold beer).

When I first heard someone talk about annealing glass (last summer at the Corning Museum) I was a little confused - because while glass annealing involves cooling, in jewelry making (or most other types of metal work) annealing involves heating the metal to make it more workable.

Photo credit: Creative Side 
As metal is worked, it becomes harder - so you anneal a piece as you go in order to make it softer and ensure it doesn't break as you bend or shape it - because metal, especially argentium silver (my metal of choice) can crack if you stress it when it is too hard.

Back to the glass...I spent a lot of the day watching, and learning - and the staff was so gracious with their time and information - they even sent me home with a couple of trinkets and some glass to play around with.

Until next time (which will be in two weeks - the kiddo is coming home for break - so the blog will be back on April 17)..

Monday, March 27, 2017

03.27.16 Aw, shucks....

Last month, I walked into the Creative Side studio ready to get to work - and the staff stopped me, pointed to a certificate in an acrylic easel in the lobby and said "congratulations - you're our Golden Bench Award winner for February."

They put up this great post on Facebook, I received a gift certificate, but mostly, I got the warm fuzzies.

For years I worked from home - which was ideal when I was driving the mom bus - but there were a lot of days I didn't interact face to face with another person from the time I dropped kids off in the morning until I picked them up again after school.

Now that I'm no longer on the carpool team I have an extra 30 or so hours of free time each week - and I love spending that time at the studio. Not only do they have all the special tools and products I need (and would be a fortune to set up at home) it's wonderful to be around other people.  There's a great creative energy that happens when people share a workspace...I feel like I really found my place...

I love being able to spread out my stones, plan my pieces, and ask my benchmates what they think.  I appreciate their insights, suggestions, and encouragement as I work.

But mostly, I am grateful for all the wonderful people that have come into my life since I walked through the studio doors for the first time.

Photo credit: Hannah Wilson

Until next time.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

03.20.17 The Wright Stuff

Photo credit: Rebecca Kohout
We live on a beautiful tree lined street in an old central Austin neighborhood...before it was subdivided, the property was a dairy farm.  At the end our block is a small Epsicopal church, and in addition to their main building and fellowship hall, they own a historic two story Victorian home known as the "Wright House".

We moved into our home in the early 1990s, and became neighbors with the Wright House - and the non-profit HIV/AISD wellness center housed there.

Both the church and the wellness organization grew over time; the church took back the house as office space, and the Wright House organization moved to larger quarters, but kept the name.

By now you know that this story has something to do with jewelry - so here's the connection - one of the most satisfying things I can do with my jewelry is donate a piece, or the proceeds from a sale, to a good cause...and this time that cause is the Hill Country Ride for Aids Wright House team.

Hill Country Ride for Aids (HCRA) is a great organization, and my husband - an avid cyclist - has been participating for a few years, and rides with Team Wright House.

Held every April, HCRA is the largest fundraiser in Central Texas for HIV/AIDS services. The Ride raises funds that are given directly to ten Austin/Central Texas nonprofits who help those in our community affected by HIV/AIDS. Since it's inception 17 years ago, the Ride has raised over $8 million. Each team holds fundraisers, and this year I've created a special pendant which will be auctioned off on March 25, at the Team Wright House event being held at the Salado Glassworks.

I knew I wanted to create a special Love Note because hearts are an important theme for the HCRA organization and the Ride. I chose a Rainbow Calsilica (the rainbow flag being the emblem of gay pride and unity) and put a house on the reverse.

As I've said before - creating art for good helps me feel like making jewelry is about more than just pretty things - it's a way for me to make a contribution to causes and organizations that matter.

I encourage you to learn more about - and contribute to - HCRA, the Wright House, and the other organizations supported by the ride.

Until next time.